Google hands out a lot of manual penalties for unnatural links these days, but not all of them are the sort of penalties that will wipe out your website; lots are just penalties that either devalue a few unnatural links or move you down for one particular set of keywords. These partial penalties have been around for over a year now, but the notification messages were sometimes not very clear so people weren’t sure if they were getting a big sitewide penalty or a partial one – they just had a stressful few weeks waiting to see what action Google took.

With the launch of the new tool to show people which penalties they have been hit by in Webmaster Tools there are suddenly loads of people who have partial manual penalties and are wondering whether to clean them up so we have created this post to give some advice.

We have helped over 50 businesses recover from manual penalties (sitewide and partial) in the past 12 months and we have a 100% success rate of doing this within three months, so we know quite a lot about the subject.

One of the confusing parts of the new notices is the wording, specifically the point below:

If you don’t control the links pointing to your site, no action is required on your part.

This is a slightly misleading statement because people assume that if they don’t directly control the links then they can leave them up. This isn’t the case – if you placed the links (or paid somebody to place them) then you control the links and you have to take action to remove and/or disavow them. If you have been scraped or something else out of your control then you don’t have to remove them. Google is making the assumption that if you placed the links you must control them and if not then you can at least disavow them.

Risk of attempting recovery

The only major downside of attempting a recovery is the cost of doing so. Auditing a link profile manually is a time consuming business and works out at around £10k-£20k for a three month project on average with Branded3. Not huge money but more than some people are willing to pay. Achieving a recovery usually drives a good improvement in rankings so the cost is quickly recovered.

One other potential downside is if you remove links that are still being counted by Google and lose some rankings. Our view is that it’s far better to remove unnatural links and lose a few rankings than to be hit by Penguin and lose everything.

This brings us on to the next point, the risks of not clearing this issue up…

The first and biggest risk is the fact that if you have lots of unnatural links then you are at risk of having your entire SEO campaign wiped out one day in the Penguin update. If you just have a handful of unnatural links amongst thousands of good ones then this risk is minimal but if you know that you have been building unnatural links in the past then not cleaning them up is suicide. Manual penalties are given by people looking at links on an individual basis and deciding whether they are natural – Penguin uses an algorithm to look at your link profile as a whole and decide whether you have been trying to manipulate rankings by building unnatural links. Penguin can find stuff that manual reviewers won’t.

The next risk is that Google has given you a warning and you are choosing to ignore it. This is fine as long as Google never finds you doing something wrong again but we have seen many examples where Google gave somebody a warning and then found more unnatural links or saw evidence of further links being built and delivered a devastating penalty.

If you choose to ignore this warning you better be 100% sure that the rest of your link profile is clean and that you will be whiter than white moving forwards.

Advantages of recovering

The biggest immediate advantage is that recovery usually brings around a good improvement in rankings across the keywords that you were penalised for.

The second advantage is that you can sleep easy at night knowing that Google has given your site a clean bill of health and that hopefully you will be penalty free moving forwards. If you get rid of this action you can be a lot more confident that Google isn’t going to penalise you in the future either manually or via an algorithm.

In summary

If you have a partial manual action against your site then technically you could just ignore it. However, if you know that your link profile contains a pattern of unnatural links and that you have hired people to build these links then we believe it is very risky to ignore the warning in case you get hit with further manual or algorithmic penalties in the future.

We offer free help and advice for anybody suffering from a penalty so feel free to get in touch for more details.

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