4 Things I Have Learned So Far from Google Manual Actions

September 4th, 2013 by Amy Arnold

Like most  in the SEO industry, I see the addition of Manual Actions in Webmaster Tools as a move by Google toward more transparency.  Of course, it is in Google’s interest to report Manual Actions.  According to Matt Cutts in this video, Google receives 5,000 reconsideration requests a week.  I imagine any company would want to put into place some funnels to whittle those numbers down a little.

Like most SEO agencies, we have seen a few websites penalized, but up until August 8th when the Manual Actions made their debut, we debated if the penalties these sites experienced were manual penaltiesalgorithm hits, or devalued backlinks effects.  Really, a Penguin algo hit and a devalued links hit is basically the same result, so that’s just a name game when you are trying to fix the problem.  But there is a real difference between the clean-up effort for a Manual Action and an Algorithm smack down.

Manual Actions are a big red flag

The most obvious result of the Manual Actions showing up in WMT is that we–the Search Influence team–have learned which penalized sites were the results of Manual Actions.  If there is a Manual Action in WMT, we have a definitive course to follow.  Yes, a single site could have multiple penalties, but if we have a big red flag Manual Action, we have a solid place to start.  This removes some of the educated guesses — it removes a LOT of the educated guesses. I am always a fan of having more information.

Manual Actions in WMT are a big red flag

Surprise!

In some instances, the affecting backlink example given in the Manual Action tab was a surprise. The clear majority of the examples given were not surprises, but a small few raised some eyebrows, followed by, “Oh, damn.”  In these few cases, the examples were quite enlightening, and I sure would like for each Manual Action to give me just a few more examples!  I’m being a little greedy, I suppose, wanting everything handed to me on a platter.

Limits are good

Up until August 8th, no one in this industry could definitively say a client’s site was hit with this penalty or that penalty.  The general discussions were do a Disavow and a reconsideration request just to cover all of your bases.  I have not been a proponent of doing a reconsideration request just because your site lost rankings, even dramatic losses.  I don’t have to defend my opinion anymore, because now a reconsideration request is simply not allowed for an algorithm penalty.  I’m pretty excited about this.  We can only do an RR in the Manual Actions tab in WMT if a Manual Action was taken.  The RR form is gone: “Google only allows you to submit a reconsideration request, which they are now calling ‘request review,’ under the manual actions.”   I have to say I really like this.

We have had a some percentage of clients come to Search Influence because they have had penalties and need us to help them clean up after their previous SEO company who used questionable tactics.  (Yes, we do penalty audit and clean-up services.)  When we felt like the penalty was an algo hit, we found ourselves fruitlessly defending our decision to submit a Disavow but not an RR.  There are a lot of scared businesses out there wanting to throw everything at it, hoping something will fix the problem.  I understand that, but now we truly can say we simply cannot submit an RR.  It’s just not an option.  Limits are good in this scenario–they help us stay focused and give us more to reassure the nervous clients.

Reconsideration Requests don’t disappear into a black hole

So the Manual Action is a step toward more transparency.  Although, I think providing it is ultimately self-serving for Google, I still appreciate that it’s there and that we seem to be getting some quick responses. We submitted a reconsideration request, and within 24 hours we had a message in WMT saying that the request was received.  Woo hoo!  This is unlike a Disavow file where it feels a little like throwing your text file into a black hole and hoping and hoping ….

Also, we received notice at day 7 that they processed the RR, and we had some feedback.  We didn’t pass with an A+, but we had some success and just have to go a little further on that one. There are a lot of businesses out there who have gotten a lot of really ugly backlinks built over years and years.  It took years to put on that link weight, and it will take some time to get shed the excess.  Clean up is not overnight, y’all!