Don’t Celebrate Too Soon: What to Know About Disappearing Manual Actions

March 10th, 2015 by Amy Arnold

The topic of manual actions disappearing from Google Webmaster Tools is not a new issue, but it has come up a few times in the last week, which automatically deems the topic worthy to write about.

Do manual actions have expiration dates?

Manual actions do expire, and when they expire, they disappear from Webmaster Tools. The expiration date is not published in Webmaster Tools, but Matt Cutts states in this older video that manual penalties do expire and that the length of the penalty is dependent on the maliciousness of the problem.

In my experience, I have seen these disappear from GWT most commonly at one year, but that is not an absolute expiration date.

If the penalty is gone, is the problem is still there?

Eric Kaun sums it up nicely:

It looks like the manual action that was applied by the webspam team on your site expired. Right now there are no manual actions affecting your site in Google’s search results. However, even when a manual action expires, if the reason for the original manual action is still relevant, it’s possible that the manual action will return later on.

I’d strongly recommend that you continue removing any inorganic links to your site to prevent any future manual actions on your site.

John Mueller adds more in this GWT forum:

While manual actions will expire at some point, I would strongly not recommend sweeping them under the carpet and hoping that they go away on their own – at least if you’re interested in having your site be optimally represented in our search results. Even when a manual action expires (which might take quite some time), if the reason for the original manual action is still relevant, it’s always possible that the manual action is returned later on. In my opinion, if you’re aware of issues that are negatively affecting your site’s performance in search, and if its performance there is important to you, then resolving those issues is often a good use of time.

Should I still submit a disavow file?

If a website had a manual action, and that manual action notice is gone, a disavow file should absolutely still be submitted. The site likely still has the unnatural links, thin content, or other problems that originally warranted the manual action. It’s just basic cleanup and common sense. You want to rank in Google, but Google has directly told you that your site has signs of unnatural behavior. Go clean up your act, and you may win a little favor back from Google.

Also, note that it is possible for a manual action to return. If it returns, Google is generally stricter this time around and requires much more cleanup. If you get two manual actions, Google tends to no longer trust your site, and you have to work a little harder to earn back that trust.

What will happen to my rankings?

It’s worth noting that after an MA is lifted, rankings don’t always increase, especially if you just had a partial match manual penalty. Sometimes rankings won’t increase because the site also had a hit from a Panda or Penguin filter or there aren’t enough quality references to get to the top of the SERPs.

If the pages of your site were ranking from unnatural behavior before, what’s left now that those tactics are edited and the bad behavior is fixed? Among other factors, the site needs some new, engaging content and some strong, relevant backlinks as first steps on the path to bouncing back.

Do I need to submit a reconsideration request?

If a manual action disappears from Webmaster Tools, a reconsideration request cannot be submitted because the submission goes through the manual action message, which is now gone. All you can do is edit the unnatural behavior you have on the site, remove or edit the links that you can, then submit a disavow file.