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This is a TRUE & SUCCESSFUL story from Bryan Stenslokken, SEO Manager at St. Louis-based internet marketing company Clix.
“Below you will see presented another interesting recovery story from one of our great customers. Even with a sitewide link penalty reduced to a partial one, the site recovered its rankings. After nine months and another disavow the Partial penalty was removed also, leading to an even bigger ranking boost. It’s a great story about organization, analysis and patience!”

 


 

In December of 2013, we took on a client who had received a site-wide match manual penalty from Google. In May of 2014 (five months later) we submitted an initial reconsideration request for the client. We were able to get the site-wide match penalty dropped to a partial-match penalty. Furthermore, last month we submitted a second reconsideration request to address the partial match penalty, and successfully got the manual spam action revoked.

Two for two you say? Gratifying to say the least!

That’s right—we submitted two reconsideration requests and received two suitable responses for both of them. However, we certainly wouldn’t have had as much success as we did without the help of cognitiveSEO’s backlink analysis tool.

Sitewide Links Penalty Applied – Manual Action

The client came to us with the site-wide match penalty. Their previous SEO vendor was automating the client’s link building using a formerly popular black hat SEO software called SEnuke. Thousands of keyword-rich anchor text links were being created on a monthly basis. Some of the types of websites that the links were being created on included web directories, article directories, blog networks, and forums.

The client was working with the SEO vendor for about three years, and had no idea that automating link building could cause so much harm to a website.

As a matter of fact, the client continuously saw positive results in keyword rankings and organic traffic while working with the shady SEO vendor. That is until Google took manual action and applied a site-wide match penalty on the domain.

Initial Manual Penalty Message

The client’s organic traffic significantly dropped, and the good times came to an end.

Cause of Manual Penalty

Below I will detail the exact steps we took in order to recover from the manual penalties.

Understand the Type of Penalty

The first step is to identify and understand the type of manual action that you’re dealing with. Here’s a list that Google has on their Manual Actions page:

Types of Manual Actions

In this case we’re dealing with unnatural links to your site. When inbound links are the underlying cause of the penalty, the main goal is to get as many spammy, unnatural links removed as possible. Trust me, that’s much easier said than done!

Gather the Link Data

This is probably the most important step in the process—especially when dealing with tens of thousands of links. For the initial reconsideration request that we submitted for the client, we only took into consideration Google Webmaster Tools and cognitiveSEO’s link data. This was a mistake and most likely the reason why the site-wide match penalty only got dropped to a partial match penalty rather than a full recovery. Unfortunately, there’s not one backlink data source out there that will show you every single link that is pointing to your site.

Whoa whoa whoa…backup a minute. You’re telling me Google doesn’t provide every inbound link pointing to my website?

No—Google does not show webmasters every single link pointing to their site (very frustrating).
So when we were addressing the partial match penalty we decided to include a couple more link data sources. We gathered link data from Google Webmaster Tools, cognitiveSEO, Bing Webmaster Tools, and MajesticSEO’s historic index.(cognitiveSEO uses by default the Fresh Index)

Import + Evaluate Links and Build Disavow File

This is where the features of cognitiveSEO came into play, and significantly made our lives easier. cognitiveSEO allows users to import links from other data sources, and automatically removes duplicates and other discrepancies during the import process.

Import Links CognitiveSEO

After getting all of the inbound links in one place, we began evaluating and classifying the links and referring domains using cognitiveSEO’s convenient and user-friendly Link Navigator tool.

CognitiveSEO Link Navigator - Manual Penalty Recovery

“The Link Navigator tool gave us the ability to easily build a domain-level disavow file for the client. This saved us TONS of time, and you know the saying…time is money.”

We chose to disavow at a domain-level rather than a link-level due to the amount of inbound links that we were dealing with. The disavow ended up having a total of 1,509 referring domains. Manually building a disavow file for 1,509 domains would have been very time consuming (and a huge pain in the a**).

CognitiveSEO Disavow File Export Manual Penalty

Link Removal Request Email Outreach

After exporting the domain-level disavow file from cognitiveSEO, we copied/pasted the domains into a Google Sheet. We then gathered whois information (names, email addresses, phone numbers, etc.) so that we could begin reaching out to webmasters to kindly ask them to remove links.
Here’s a screenshot of how we formatted our link removal request email outreach spreadsheet:

Link Removal Email Outreach for Manual Penalty

We didn’t get many responses from webmasters, and a significant amount of the responses that we did receive required payment for link removal.

We did not pay for any link removals, and I highly advise you do the same.

Keep in mind that Google does not expect you to get every single unnatural link removed. However, they do want to see that you made a good effort.

cognitiveSEO Chart Showing Drop in Unnatural Links

Drop in Unnatural Links

Reconsideration Request

According to Google, a good reconsideration request does three things:

  • Explains the exact quality issue on your site.
  • Describes the steps you’ve taken to fix the issue.
  • Documents the outcome of your efforts.

Well, we did exactly that. Here is some specific information that we included in the client’s reconsideration requests:

1. Link to the Google Sheet that documented our email outreach efforts

2. Link to the Google Sheet that listed all of the links that we were able to get removed

3. Number of links that we were able to get removed

4. Number of webmasters that required payment for removal

5. Listed previous SEO vendors that were involved in building the unnatural links

6. Took full responsibility of building the links (regardless of previous SEO vendors)

Be sure to use the full URLs of the Google Docs that you include in your reconsideration request (e.g., http://docs.google.com/….), and not a shortened URL . Also, make sure that you’ve edited the sharing settings of the Google Docs that you wish to include in your reconsideration request. Make sure the settings are set to “Anyone with a link can view”.

Sharable Link Example G Docs

Victory – Manual Penalties Revoked

The reconsideration request response seen below was received on May 25th, 2014, about two weeks after submittal.

1st Reconsideration Request Response (site-wide match dropped to partial match)

First Reconsideration Request Response

A few days after the site-wide match was dropped to a partial match I checked out the client’s keyword rankings. The results were shocking given that the client still had a partial match penalty. Here are the client’s keyword rankings from May 25th – May 27th:

Ranking Improvements

We also experienced a significant increase in organic traffic after the site-wide match penalty was dropped to a partial match penalty:

Site Wide to Partial Match Organic Traffic Growth

But we still weren’t finished. Over the following nine months, we processed even more links to prepare for another reconsideration request. After using these new links, we repeated the steps of outreach and recording. Finally, we submitted another reconsideration request, this time to address the partial match penalty. Just two days later, we received this response:

Second Reconsideration Request Response

Success! Our site has only been penalty-free for about two weeks now, so it’s still pretty early to notice any significant fluctuations in organic traffic. However, we have already seen an increase in keyword rankings:

Rankings Manual Penalty Revoked

Final Thoughts

It’s been a little over a year since the client received their first manual penalty. All manual actions are now revoked and the domain is penalty-free. We are ecstatic to say the least. cognitiveSEO saved us a substantial amount of time and effort, and truly made our lives easier throughout the reconsideration request process. We are thankful to have such a top-notch tool at our fingertips.

 

Disclosure
This is not a paid post and cognitiveSEO didn’t make any kind of agreement with the author. This is the successful penalty recovery story of Bryan Stenslokken, written and documented by himself.

 

About the author

Bryan Stenslokken

 

Bryan Stenslokken
SEO Manager – Clix

I am a Cardinal Nation native and Internet marketing enthusiast that strives to learn new concepts and share innovative ideas on a day-to-day basis. I attained my Bachelor’s of Science in Internet Marketing and graduated with Honors from Maryville University here in St. Louis, MO. I currently work for The Clix Group, a St. Louis Internet marketing company, and I enjoy it thoroughly. It’s a good sign when you wake up every morning looking forward to going to the office.

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