Once you have been attacked by Google's Penguins and Pandas feeling a bit worse for wear is an understatement. An encounter from either of these two beasts from Google;s menagerie can potentially tear your SEO link from link, or in more severe cases swallow you up completely, leaving not a trace of you behind.
We have seen it happen before; companies have been blasted into obscurity for violating Google's ever tightening Webmaster Guidelines, and with Google's Penguin update set to pop up out of nowhere anytime soon, you can be sure that Google won't spare a morsel of SEO crooks and accidental violators it catches in the act. Whereas the last article looked at how Penguin 2.0 could potentially hit your SEO, I thought this follow-up should be about providing some counsel for any shuddering SEO's out there who may fall prey to Google's looming update.
If your website has violated the Google webmaster guidelines then you will have noticed that your site has dropped in rank for certain keywords, or has totally vanished from Google's search engine. As well as this you will receive a manual penalty notice from Google. To cut a long story short; if you have received one of these messages then the first thing you will need to do is to take action so that your website adheres to Google's quality guidelines- which can be an arduous task. Once you have completed this you will then need to file a reconsideration request to have your penalty removed and your company returned to Google's search results.
The big problem is that Google are rather vague about what needs to be included in your reconsideration request, which can be unfathomably frustrating if you are making an honest attempt to clean up your site to Google standards. This will probably sound ridiculous, but when you are creating a reconsideration request you really have to treat Google as you would a dear, dear friend whose trust you have violated...badly; they are so shocked that they could potentially never forgive you. Therefore you need to strive to convince them you are truly sorry and that you won't do it again.
Why have you been penalised?
So bearing that in mind you can begin working out how to resolve your breach of Google's trust. To begin this process you will need to diagnose what the actual issue is. If your penalisation concerns your link profile then you will need to reconsider it. You will need to asses your website for any harmful backlinks, which include;
- Links in footers, blogrolls or sidebars
- Low value directory links
- Paid links
- Irrelevant links
Obviously to work out which of your backlinks are harmful you will need to use an analysis tool, such as Majestic SEO.
After running an analysis and identifying which of your links are unnatural, then you will need to remove them. At this point in time it is worth noting that creating a Google spreadsheet containing links to documents that detail the information on any unnatural links, contact details of the site owner and why the link is unnatural is vital at this point (as to why I will return to later). So, run through your website and remove any unnatural links you can, and nofollow' any links that pass PageRank. Any links that you cannot remove manually you will need to disavow them.
If you are unsure as to what Google's guidelines are on link building then you can read them straight from the source by clicking here. On the other hand, if your penalisation was due to a content issue then you will need to check the content across your website for things such as;
- Duplicate Content
- Keyword Stuffing
- Poor quality/ Irrelevant Content
- Keyword Bolding
This reverts to the age old aphorism of the web that 'content is king', which in Google's eyes is true to the point of severity. You need to make sure that your content isn't stuffed with your particular page's keywords; that it is trust-able, high-quality and a source that you would turn to for information on the topic. The exact guidelines of Google's Panda algorithm are far too broad to encompass in a single article, so once again for the information straight from the source click here. Once you have identified what the issue for your penalisation is then you will need to begin making amends with Google.
Before you begin writing your reconsideration request, if you have been working with an SEO agency or individual that has landed you in this situation, fire them asap; just to put it out there.
Creating your reconsideration request
This is the point where you need to start creating your reconsideration request. This is where the Google Spreadsheet comes in. You will need to send proof to Google that you have actively attempted to rectify any of the discrepancy that they have identified with your site. A spreadsheet that links out to individual documents detailing all of your unnatural links and proof that you have sent emails requesting removal will provide you with the evidence that Google need to believe that you are trying to get back on their good list, but it absolutely must be in this format. The reason being, and I quote directly from Google Engineer Matt Cutts; '(Google) tend to be a little bit leery if you are inserting hyperlinks that go off to random places. If we can't know where they are gonna go we need to think about if someone is going to give us malware or not.' So no external files or hyperlinks, as Google employees will not open them (see the video above).
After you have given evidence that you have identified and attempted to remove unnatural links and amended your content, you will need to explain to Google what you are going to do to prevent this happening again, as I said imagine Google as someone whose heart you have just shattered, they need to know for sure that you won't do it again. This is where you going to have to compel Google to believe that you have learn't your lesson and the slap on the wrist enough. Make sure you mention all the evidence you gathered, if you have filed a disavow on any links mention that also.
At this point in time you need to weigh all you can in your favour to make a convincing appeal. Make sure that you keep the tone of your letter pleasant too, although your penalty may have cost you thousands in cash and deprived you of some credibility, Google aren't interested. What matters is getting back in their favour for the long term; so tell them about how you intend to keep up a good record and how you are committed to following their rules. Also, don't forget to mention how you fired the last SEO, though of course you take full responsibility for it...
Once you have submitted your appeal
After submitting your request, your going to want to know how it will be reviewed. I refer again to the source directly, Cutts states that each request is read by a webspam team member (who is a human being) and while Google doesn't have the time to return all requests with precise details all feedback is generated by a human. In cases where no manual action was taken out then instead of a human response you will receive an automated message informing you that there was no spam found on your site. The time it takes to receive a response from Google is around two to three weeks.
We don't know when exactly the Penguin update is set to arrive or what exactly it will cover, but we are constantly told it will be soon, and it's going to make a big impact. Really now is the time to begin cleaning up your SEO to ensure that you stand the best possible chance of avoiding any sort of penal action from Google. While you can only do so much at this point in time to ensure that your SEO is safe, knowing how to recover if you are hit is invaluable. So take the time to familiarise yourself with this process, just in case you get caught on the wrong side of Google's Penguin.
If you have had any run-ins with Google, any penalisation or any stories of your recovery then let us know. Your advice could help many others.