Google Manual Web Spam Action or Algorithm Change?

Google Manual Web Spam Action or Algorithm Change?
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Last week, in light of the massive amount of manual web spam actions that Google enacted, I wrote an article that took a closer look at what was behind some of the actions. This week, let’s hear what Matt Cutts has to say about the differences between a Google algorithmic penalty and a Google manual web spam action. What does the Google web spam team consider an unnatural link and what can you do to recover from it?

Is Your Site Suffering from a Google Algorithmic Penalty?

Recently, on Google’s Webmaster Help Forum, Matt Cutts was asked the question:

Did you receive a Google Manual Web Spam Action? In the video below, Matt explains:

If you’re hit by something that’s a direct action from the manual web spam team, that directly impacts the ranking of your site, then go to Google Webmaster Tools and check out because it could very well be the case that, (you know, hey), we thought that there could be some keyword stuffing or cloaking or whatever going on and that’s a clear cut case. You’ll get a notification.”

Matt goes on to address the question directly and says that “we don’t think as much and really much at all about algorithmic penalties“. He also noted that when Google rolls out an algorithm change, they try to give people a heads-up, if they expect it to have a big impact.

For example, they made an announcement before they rolled out the Penguin algorithm (which targeted web spam) and the Panda algorithm (which targeted quality content). In summation, Matt says that as we change our sites, that the algorithms can re-run and they can change our rankings.

Did Your Site Get Hit with a Google Manual Action?

In August of 2013, Matt Cutts released this Google Webmaster video to address the dreaded message that your site received a manual action labeled as “unnatural links from your site” and what to do about it.

The bullet points from Matt’s video explaining what unnatural links are:

  • The reason behind a manual spam action is that sites that you are linking to have affected Google’s trust in your site.
  • Sandy explained that Google looks at a natural link as basically an editorial choice based on the usefulness of the site to your visitors.
  • Matt Cutts then went on to wink at the camera and explain that unnatural (or inorganic) links are usually related to link selling.
  • Matt also said that it could be excessive link exchanges or links to low quality or spammy sites. For example, if you have links to a forum that has been spammed.
  • The point that Matt made that resonated the most with me is to ask yourself if you would still link to that site if search engines didn’t exist. (For those of us with CommentLuv do-follow links, the question is would the person who is leaving the comment, still comment if search engines didn’t exist.)

The bullet points from Matt’s video explaining the best ways to reverse a manual web spam action are:

  • Identify the unnatural links. (Unfortunately, neither Matt nor Sandy explain how to do this. The general consensus is this needs to be done manually.)
  • Either remove the link or ensure that they don’t pass page rank by either:
    • Adding the rel=nofollow attribute to the link tag
    • Redirecting through an intermediate URL that is blocked in your robots.txt file.
  • The two things that Matt stresses that have to happen before Google will remove the action (and re-index your site) are that:
    • #1 – The issue has been fixed. (There are no “unnatural” links passing page ranks.)
    • #2 – It won’t happen again.
  • After you rectify the issues, as part of your Google Reconsideration Request, you need to:
    • Document well what you have done.
    • Explain what it was that you believe caused the issue.
    • Assure them that you’ve taken steps to not have it happen again.

 My 2 Cents:

I hope that I have not linked to this post too often but since many readers have found this post helpful, I felt that it would be worthwhile to some people. In that article, I shared many of the tools that I use not only to recover lost organic traffic but to keep my site safe going forward. Most notably are and the text link checker.

I feel fortunate that (up until now) I’ve avoided being hit by a Google manual action. I do believe that I was on that path and that if I had not noticed a significant drop in my organic search traffic last year, I could very well have been a recipient of one of these actions.

In my case, my unnatural links came from do-follow CommentLuv links. In addition to finding many 404-errors, perhaps the biggest issues were links to spammy sites.

Granted, I had slipped and (as part of a “reciprocating-comments” strategy that I had embarked on when I first started blogging). I had do-follow links to sites that led to sites that had absolutely nothing to do with the article that was being commented on.

Perhaps an even bigger issue was comment links that led to domains that were no longer being used for legitimate purposes. For example, abandoned domain names that were parked at domain registrars such as GoDaddy, who in turn directed them to pages riddled with spammy AdSense ads.

By addressing those issues, I have been slowly but steadily regaining traffic. I believe that monitoring those links keeps my site in compliance with Google’s guidelines. Would it be easier to simply remove CommentLuv from my site? Yes. Am I willing to do that? No (not at this time anyways). I still believe that rewarding my readers is worth the effort.

Over To You:

What are your thoughts? Have you ever received a manual web spam action from Google? Do you have any advice as to how to clean up your site and successfully submit a reconsideration request? Do you regularly clean up the links on your website? Feel free to weigh in on this in the comments below. As I always say, we can all learn from each other.

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Author: Sherryl Perry

Welcome! If you're looking for help building an Internet presence that fits your needs and works for you, you're in the right place. I blog common sense articles about WordPress, social media and SEO. My goal is to help small business owners and entrepreneurs understand their core business. Together, we can develop and implement business strategies that make sense to you.

41 thoughts on “Google Manual Web Spam Action or Algorithm Change?”

  1. It is always hard to figure out about bad back links. If i got in problem then which is best solution for me.Can you please tell me that which bad backlink checker is best.

    1. Shariar,
      Sorry I missed your comment. I prefer to run my site through I keep that site open in one tab of my browser and I keep my comments page (in WordPress admin) open in another tab.

      As I identify sites that are broken, I search on that URL for all comments that are associated with it. If I decide that the comment has value, I’ll keep it and delete the URL. If I feel the comment is a little spammy, I’ll delete it.

      I hope this helps!
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..How Safe Are Your Backlinks? #FridayFindsMy Profile

  2. It seems like Google is always targeting the wrong group of websites. I see so many spammy results on Google I wonder how these sites do not get caught by the algorithm or manual actions! There is a way to report them but as far as I can tell, Google doesn’t seem to follow up when notified of a spammy website. If anything, they should be listening to their end users in addition to using manual practices and algorithms.
    Steve recently posted..Polygon Solutions to exhibit at 2014 “Made in SWFL” Manufacturing ShowMy Profile

    1. Steve,
      I feel badly that so many honest bloggers were impacted by the manual web spam actions that Google took earlier this year. It does seem that Google needs to address the real spammers and not cast such a broad net that innocent bloggers are de-indexed. We have to be more careful than ever that we do not have either backlinks or links to other sites that could potentially be deemed as “unnatural”.

      Thanks for adding your insight to the conversation. Please accept my apology for not replying to your comment sooner.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..Ready To Take Your Blog to the Next Level? #FridayFindsMy Profile

  3. I have faced the problem of getting bad link. When I started my blog I was not having any idea about spammers. There are many bad bloggers who try to harm any blog by doing spam comments. I was not aware about any plugin which can block spammers. I searched and found Akismet plugin to block spam comments. Then I realized that may be there are many other ways to harm a blog. Linking to a blog which is facing Google penalty can tend to decrease in our blog. You have explained in a great way. Thanks for sharing. For every bloggers its worth reading as what Matt Cutts says.
    Ravi Chahar recently posted..Best Tips For New Bloggers : Blogging TipsMy Profile

    1. Hi Ravi,

      Thanks for letting me know that you found my post helpful. I took a peek at your blog and I see that you don’t use CommentLuv. So, you have less of a risk of spammy backlinks.

      Do you use Google Webmaster Tools to check your incoming links? When I was hit hard by Google’s algorithm changes, I discovered over 1,200 links pointing to my site from a spammy/dating site. The webmaster denied that they existed and I ended up having to disavow the site. It’s something that’s easy to overlook.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..How Do You Know Which Bad Links Caused Your Google Penalty?My Profile

      1. Hello Sherryl,
        You are for Google webmaster tools it is hard to figure out about bad back links. You may have many bad links to your website but may not be provided the proper information about them by Google webmaster tools. There are many bad link checkers by which you can check the status of bad links at your website. Thanks for getting my conversation with you forward.
        Ravi Chahar recently posted..301 Redirect And How To Apply It ?My Profile

        1. Ravi,
          It’s easy to check incoming links in Google Webmaster Tools. That’s where I found the site that was linking to me. When I went to the site to see if the topic was relevant, it was clear to me that was a spammy site. That is why I disavowed them.

          1. Sherryl,
            May be it is easy to find it out but sometimes our mind doesn’t work so much as we go and check for the niche of the blog. I agree with your approach about checking the linked blog but sometimes its hard to figure out whether the link is bad or good. Anyways I would try to learn by checking the sites which are will get linked to my blog.
            Thanks for the advice.
            Ravi Chahar recently posted..How To Block Spam Comments In WordPress Using CAPTCHA With Any Plugin ?My Profile

  4. Hi Sherryl,

    Nice and informative post. I see you’re always updated with the latest news happening in Google, and it’s so nice the way you present the information.

    I always check my links, if not everyday, at least once a week to see if there are any unnatural links coming to my site and I am happy this has not happened with me yet. However, submitting a site for re-consideration is a long process and because of these spammers, the people who do good work generally are at a loss.

    I have not yet used the tool but I think this will come handy. However, Broken Link Check does work well for me.
    Mainak Halder recently posted..31 Magical Words to Get More Facebook Shares and Re-Tweets [Infographic]My Profile

    1. Hi Mainak,

      Thanks for letting me know that you find my posts informative. I think that there is just so much information out there that it can be overwhelming. I’m hoping to make my blog a place where you can come, get a “Reader’s Digest” version and then pick and choose what you want to learn more about.

      I try to go back through my old comments at least once a month. It’s not the 404 errors that concern me as much as the links that once pointed to legitimate sites and now point to spammy sites (for example domains parked with GoDaddy that are riddled with AdSense ads). They’re more difficult to find.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and joining the conversation. BTW – I love your infographic on Facebook shares and re-tweets!
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..What Can You Do if Restoring Your WordPress Backup Doesn’t Work?My Profile

  5. Hey Sherryl,

    Luckily I have never been penalized by Google in this way either. I have been knocked down a time or two with my PR because of different things but I haven’t gotten the dreaded emails that I’ve had spammy or unnatural links to worry about.

    This last time I got knocked back down to a PR2 because when I changed hosting services I didn’t realize that they had changed my URL and although I have it set up in Webmaster tools to accept mine with or without the www, Google wasn’t picking that up. They couldn’t index any of my pages and I didn’t find all of this out until it was too late. See, all that behind the scenes crap that happens that we aren’t aware of because it shouldn’t have happened. Urggggg

    Thanks for the videos and the education. Glad I’m okay for now.

    Adrienne recently posted..Why Blogging Relationships Always Win Over TrafficMy Profile

    1. Hi Adrienne,

      I can’t believe that after all you went through with your hosting issues that you lost page rank too! Thanks for the warning. I don’t make it a regular practice to check my webmaster tools. (Who does?) Do you know how long that went on before you discovered it?

      I once had a plugin modify my htaccess file to block Google’s bots. I think it was three or four days before I received the notification from Google. It didn’t affect my page rank (as far as I know). My page rank has been stuck at 3 for years. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get it higher.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I hope all of us here stay safe. I know you have CommentLuv installed on your site too. That makes it more challenging to stay on top of the links. Although, changing the number of approved comments to 10 before enabling the do-follow tag makes a big difference. (You were one of a handful of trusted bloggers who recommended doing that and I thank you for it.)

      1. Hey Sherryl,

        Yeah, I was SO pissed. It was probably five months before I realized what had happened but what really ticked me off is that I have it set in Webmaster Tools to index my site whether it has the www in front of it or not. So when I realized what happened I wasn’t worried because I had it set up that way. It wasn’t until I checked further and saw NO activity on my blog at all that I realized that Webmaster Tools wasn’t doing their part.

        Mine went from a 3 to a 2 and I was SO mad…

        I’m on top of my links because as I get commenters in I make my choice at that time whether or not I give them the link juice. Until I know them and as I have it set, it takes 10 tries for me to get to know them before I decide to move forward or not. For the most part I think I have a pretty good handle on that part.

        Yeah, I just figured if they were there for the right reason they’d keep coming back. Of course if I have a relationship with them I might give it to them early but I like to make them prove it to me why they’re really there.

        Thanks Sherryl!
        Adrienne recently posted..Why Blogging Relationships Always Win Over TrafficMy Profile

        1. Hi Adrienne,

          That’s a shame that it took five months to discover that Google wasn’t indexing your site. When Google couldn’t index my site, I received an email from webmaster tools that “Googlebot can’t access your site”.

          That message was triggered when their bots were blocked from my site which sounds like a different issue from yours. Had you recreated and resubmitted an XML sitemap after the move?

          The challenge for me is monitoring the links from old CommentLuv comments. What I’ve been doing for over a week now is starting with my oldest comments and checking any links that I’m not 100% positive are still linking to sites that I don’t think Google will deem “unnatural”. I try to repeat this process once a month but it’s so tedious!

          Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

          1. Hey Sherryl,

            I didn’t realize that it wasn’t indexing my pages and I got no notices at all from Google. I usually check my crawl errors mostly and they were there for a few months but when they started slowing down is when I started getting suspicious. But I kept checking my settings and all was good so it should have been fine.

            I did have to create a new site and the one thing so I should be find for their next update but I guess time will tell.

            What I did was well over a year ago now I went back to the beginning and deleted all the spammy comments I had gotten in the very beginning that I didn’t realize were spammy and deleted them all. It took me probably a good couple of days to do them all but I felt really good and then when Google did their next update I got a 98% green light with my blog so I was thrilled. I’m keeping a much better handle on it now.

            Good luck and my pleasure.
            Adrienne recently posted..Why Blogging Relationships Always Win Over TrafficMy Profile

            1. Wow! That’s a good tip about noticing the lack of crawl errors as a signal that something was amiss with your site.

              It took me a long time to go through all my comments too. This is the third time that I’m going through them in the past year. There are a lot less do-follow links left on my blog from years ago. That makes the process quicker.

              What tool did you use to get the 98% green light? (I still miss Fruition’s free tool.)

              1. I cleaned out my broken links just this past week and weekend again Sherryl and it took me quite some time. I’m almost just to a point where I want to make them all nofollow just because of how time consuming it can be. Still on the fence with that though.

                When I got the green light it was through Fruition. That’s when I was introduced to that site and back when they did the free evaluation. Was definitely happy to see those numbers too.
                Adrienne recently posted..The Perfect Posting Schedule RevealedMy Profile

                1. I get to that point every once in a while myself Adrienne. Then, I get over it and think that there are fewer of us who are sticking with this strategy. So, it does have the advantage of differentiating ourselves while at the same time, are we putting ourselves at risk?

                  It’s an interesting discussion. It is taking me a lot less time to go through my old comments. I’ll go through pages where the only links left are from bloggers like you who I instantly recognize as still leaving backlinks that I trust.

  6. I have not been penalized by a Google manual action yet either. But the information you present on how to prevent this is invaluable. Thanks for the tips!

    1. You’re welcome Susan Thanks for letting me know that you found my post helpful. Hopefully, neither of will have to go through the nightmare that Patricia is going through.

    1. Aamir,

      Thanks for letting me know that you got some useful ideas. It’s I know so much easier to stay on top of our backlinks before they get out of control. Although I know we shouldn’t rely on traffic from Google, I can’t imagine being de-indexed by them. One of my close blogging friends received one of these manual actions and I can’t help but feel sorry for her.
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..What is Your Favorite WordPress Plugin? #FridayFindsMy Profile

  7. So far I haven’t had any manual warnings in Google Webmaster Tools. Fingers crossed anyway.

    I like CommentLuv, but I do have concerns about both using it on my website as well as when I comment on blogs. When you think about it, it could be considered a keyword rich backlink. It wouldn’t surprise me to see sites using it especially the dofollow ones to be a target at some point.

    I am tempted to switch mine to nofollow, but that sort of defeats the purpose of using it to begin with.
    Ray recently posted..Are Broken Links Really That Bad? – Part 2My Profile

    1. Ray,
      That’s great that you haven’t received a manual warning either. I feel the same way as you about keeping my fingers crossed though. These actions seem so arbitrary to me.

      When you just expressed your concerns about leaving comments on CommentLuv blogs, I checked and saw that you do still leave backlinks here and that made me smile. It’s a vote of confidence to me that you trust an incoming link from my site.

      I feel it’s my responsibility to monitor the links that are left here. In Matt’s video, when he mentioned unnatural links, he talked about having links to a forum that has been spammed. That same logic can absolutely be applied to a CommentLuv blog.

      So, I’ll continue my mission to clean up all old backlinks on my blog.

      As always, I appreciate your contributions to the conversation here.

  8. Hi Sherryl,

    This is a very helpful post. I know that a lot of people get confused when they see their traffic falling and they can’t figure out why.

    As my blog gets older, I find that it’s almost impossible to keep up with all the broken links from old blog posts. Many of them are due to bloggers who shut down their sites and let the domains expire. It’s a shame really to look back and see that some of them were doing so well way back then, but for one reason or another they just fizzled out.

    Thanks for the tips and tools Sherryl!
    Ileane recently posted..Harness the Power of Images to Breathe New Life into Old Blog PostsMy Profile

    1. Agree with you completely Ileane.

      Am really tired of having broken links lefta long time ago by people who have discontinued their site.

      Have not been hit by a Google manual action. Checked my blog on and they only came up with a link to J.P. Morgan (!). Removed it since who knows if someone has inserted a bad link on their site.
      Catarina recently posted..Do you drive leadership through ambidexterity?My Profile

    2. Hi Ileane,

      I am in the same boat as you. Years of blogging and thousands of comments comes with baggage. 🙂

      It is sad to see how many blogs have been abandoned. In a few cases, I know that the blogger has moved on to situations that are better suited for them. I know a couple of bloggers who launched successful careers in the corporate world through blogging but I miss the blogs that they used to run.

      Some people spend a lot of their time chasing 404 errors (and while they should be cleaned up), I suspect that there is more damage being done by the links they have to domains that now lead to spammy sites or parked domains (with registrars like GoDaddy who are running AdSense ads). Those links are “unnatural”.

      Thanks for dropping by Ileane. It’s always great to see you here!

  9. This is a really awesome post Sherryl however, I have come across a lot of articles and blog posts that say that once you are penalized (both manual and algorithmic), it is difficult (in fact almost impossible) to make a come back to the same level of traffic before the penalty. Is this something you have experienced because I would appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks
    Emeka recently posted..5 Easy Ways to Make Your Content Go ViralMy Profile

    1. Emeka,

      One problem that I’m aware of is that people submit their reconsideration requests too quickly. Google takes their manual spam actions very seriously and they expect it to take you time to comply. Submitting your request too quickly can actually hurt you. People who are doing this are receiving responses from Google to wait a “few weeks” before submitting a new one.

      So far, I have not received a manual web spam action but I believe that’s only because I cleaned up the links on my site as soon as I became aware of the impact that the Panda and Penguin algorithm changes had on my site. (I lost nearly 50% of my organic search traffic in a few months.)

      It takes time to clean up your backlinks and your incoming links.. The request itself needs to be well thought out and communicate that you know what caused the action, what steps you took to correct it and assurance that it won’t happen again.

      It took me 2 ½ weeks between the time that I became aware of the algorithm penalties and when I submitted my request. I heard back from Google in 4 days. (There were far fewer people requesting reconsideration at that time.) Google’s response was “No manual spam actions found”. I still have not recovered all the traffic that I lost but I am slowly recovering and I have avoided manual spam actions (so far).

      I hope this helps!
      Sherryl Perry recently posted..How Do You Know Which Bad Links Caused Your Google Penalty?My Profile

  10. Great post, Sherryl! It all sounds awful and I hope I never ever would have to go through this.

    I just had a major crisis with my host (wrongfully canceled my vps and wiped my sites clean!!!!) – I lost some content, a lot of comments and I am just now starting to look around and see what the damage actually is – and this is stressful. I can only imagine how I would feel if I got a manual web spam action from Google.

    I never spam but it’s sad that this matters less and less. Your posts on the topic have been invaluable to me and I am calm that even if something like that happens, I already have access to your insights to help me handle the sitiation! 🙂

    1. Diana,
      That’s terrible! I can’t imagine a hosting vendor doing that to you. Although, I have heard quite a few horror stories about vendors. Yet, that seems over the top that they would wipe your sites clean and that you lost content because of them.

      Thanks so much for the kind words and for letting me know that you find my posts on this topic helpful. I try! 🙂

  11. Sherryl — I have not been penalized by Google, yet, that I know of. I just looked and I had one of my highest organic days ever. I scrutinize every comment I get by reviewing the website it links to. If the site is poorly written or I don’t like the content I trash the comment. I’ve become much more selective in this regard. For example, I checked out a site that seemed OK on the surface. The company designed websites and offered SEO services. When I checked further one of the services was to buy links for clients. I trashed that comment in a hurry.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted..Coca-Cola Learned to its Delight that Consumers Own its BrandMy Profile

    1. Hi Jeannette,
      Changing my CommentLuv setting to not allow do-follow tags until someone has left 10 approved comments seemed a little drastic to me at first but that has helped tremendously with the amount of spam that I get. My biggest problem continues to be with comments from years ago. Even if there isn’t a do-follow attribute on them, I try to get rid of them anyways. (Google doesn’t always respect our wishes. 🙂 )

      Thanks for the heads-up on the company that buys links! I can’t help but wonder if I may have accepted links from them. If the company gives a good impression on their home page, I could very well have missed that.

      That’s a reminder that I need to go back to checking Twitter accounts for new commenters. To me, that’s usually the quickest way to see what they’re really up to.

      As always, thanks for dropping by adding to the conversation.

        1. You’re welcome Jeannette. It’s really cutting down on the amount of spam which helps when I have to go back and clean up links. There are far fewer links to check out!

  12. Thanks for this post Sherryl! It was great to see Matt Cutts video and all the other resources you shared.

    I just wanted to mention one thing though. I tried checking the site and it is currently being auctioned off. I am sure there are similar tools out there though!
    kalen smith recently posted..Who Are You Guest Blogging For?My Profile

      1. One thing I find with the Bad Neighborhood Checker is that it has false positives I guess I might call it. If you just glance at the results quickly it may report some results with a bad neighborhood warning.

        For instance, I knew a guy that simply has the word Essex in the title and url itself. I am guessing it sees the last 3 letters of the word Essex as a bad word or something.

        So to me it seems like certain words trigger a warning that are not always bad.

        I also wonder if that tool is ever updated anymore, or how long it has been since it was.
        Ray recently posted..What Is The Reading Level Of Your Website?My Profile

        1. Ray,
          Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Bad Neighborhood Checker. You could be right about it not being maintained. Before I included it in this post, I re-ran my site through it and it only came up with 3 links. When I used it last summer, it returned a couple of pages of results. That was when I was having a lot of issues with old posts from blogs that had changed hands.

          I agree with you that tools like this can return false positives. We have to make the final decision. When I recently ran the checker, two of the three results had the term sexy in them. So, you’re probably right about the way it looked at the word Essex.

          Thanks for keeping the conversation going!

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