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article imageGoogle rolls out manual action notification & response tool

By Jayson DeMers     Aug 22, 2013 in Business
Google has released a new tool within Google Webmaster Tools that allows SEO professionals and webmasters to view manual actions that have been taken on their website, and request a review.
If you don't know what manual actions are, Barry Schwartz lists them here (along with Google's videos). Basically, if you violate Google’s webmaster guidelines, such as acquiring shoddy paid links pointing to your site, publishing spammy content, using hidden text, or engaging in other SEO sins of the sort, your site may be flagged by Google's algorithms, triggering a manual action. So, what can you do with this new tool?
No Manual Actions
When you access Webmaster Tools, "Manual Actions" is listed under "Search Traffic" on the left-hand menu. Hopefully, you’ll see the below screen stating "No manual webspam actions found." This means your site hasn't received any manual actions by Google.
Google no manual actions found.
Google no manual actions found.
Manual Actions
However, if you’ve been flagged by Google and received a manual spam action, you'll be presented with a list of your perceived infractions. You'll be given the option to read more about any actions taken, their effect on your site's ranking, and presented with a button to request a review.
Manual actions found.
Manual actions found.
When you request a review, you'll be given an opportunity to explain your case for manual review by a Google employee. This is a very important step, and if you want to remove any penalties from your site, you're going to need to familiarize yourself with Google's Webmaster Guidelines regarding your specific infraction. Pay close attention to what you say, because you may be inadvertently violating a guideline without even realizing it.
Do's and Don'ts of Google Reviews
Hacked Sites – Sometimes, resolving the manual action is a simple process. A recent site change may have activated their "hacked site" flag. Poor site formatting is a common trigger for an SEO penalty from Google. When Google scans your site, certain triggers in the layout can give the impression that your website has been hacked.
Before submitting a reconsideration request, correct the issues, and then write in your review request that your site has not been compromised, and you've corrected the offending code. This will likely get the manual action removed.
Unnatural Links To/From Your Site - One of the most common reasons for a manual action is a flag for unnatural links to and from your site. If you're not an SEO professional, you may not be aware of what this means or realize that some of the links on your site are unnatural. Google's guidelines outline what types of link schemes to avoid.
Make sure to avoid discussing buying or selling links in order to increase PageRank. Google's guidelines focus on intent. The same links on your site can either violate or adhere to Google's Webmaster Guidelines depending entirely on the reason they're there.
Paying for links that are easily recognizable as paid or inorganic (ie, acquired solely for search engine ranking manipulation) is the most common reason for unnatural link warnings and manual actions.
Manual Action Review Process
Once you fill out the form describing what steps you took to correct the manual actions, you must check the box acknowledging that your site does not violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Double-check your work to ensure you're appropriately responding to their concerns (always keeping in mind this form is being reviewed by a human employee), and submit the reconsideration request. From this point, you'll receive a response typically within 3-15 days, depending on the specifics of your case and the workload at Google.
If Google determines that you did not take the proper corrective actions, your request will be denied, and you'll be provided with more details on why. The manual action will remain on your site, and you'll have another opportunity to correct the issue. Learn from the last time and move forward.
Final Word
Overall, the Manual Action tool is a welcome addition to Webmaster Tools. With Google's constantly-evolving SEO guidelines (Penguin and Panda updates recently caused a tizzy in the industry), it's nice to have a quick and easy way to respond to any notices of infractions on your site. It also helps definitively answer the common question “does my site have a manual penalty?” Prior to the tool’s release, webmasters and SEO professionals could only guess.
Does the release of this tool signal an advancement in Google’s desire to increase transparency? I think it does, but I’d like to see them take it one step closer and provide more details about the specific section of the website (or inbound links) that caused the penalty in the first place. For now, webmasters will have to continue to guess about what, specifically, triggered the penalty. But at least they’ll no longer have to guess about whether they have one in the first place.
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