SMX West 2016: All Your Google Manual Actions Questions Answered

by | Mar 4, 2016 | News | 0 comments

by | Mar 4, 2016 | News | 0 comments

At this year’s SMX West in San Jose, we got to get a glimpse into how Google deals with manual actions and their process for handing them out.

Juan Felipe Rincon, from Google’s Webmaster Outreach department, was asked several questions from the audience which were moderated by Danny Sullivan.

What Generates a Manual Action?

Juan explained that it is a combination of a few things, some of which include: monitoring systems, reports from users, and non-commercial reports.

When the team is alerted that there may be an issue, Juan explained that Google has a team that looks at the sources to begin the manual review process. The manual review process has a laundry list of things to identify in order to make the decision that a page or website has indeed gone against Google’s guidelines.

He explained that this manual review team is a dedicated job position at Google and the position is called an Anti-use Specialist. He said the team was “significantly” large and that candidates for the job are experts in data mining and open source analysis.

Common Manual Actions

To no one’s surprise, website hacks account for more than 50% of the manual actions that are handed out. The main tip-off to the manual action team is when content is added to a site in which the site-owners didn’t add themselves.

Juan explained that these types of actions are given priority to be dealt with because of the seriously negative effects it can cause to a large user base. He also explained that they don’t go into a manual action process with the notion that the person did it intentionally. He said “don’t assume bad intent” is a mantra for his team and that thinking in this way helps them to outreach to website owners in a more helpful way.

Danny pressed him a bit on this and asked if they ever do recognize people who know what they are doing and who ‘churn and burn’ spam.

Juan said that repeat offenders send them a clear message that someone is not operating with good intent and that their websites may be scrutinized and looked at much more often than someone who is not a repeat offender.

He also said that users that report spam with a good track record of finding “real” spam, also get prioritized when it comes to action taken.

Does Anything Surprise Google Anymore?

Danny’s intention with this question seemed to be that he wanted Juan to give him a juicy story of something crazy they’ve seen when handing out manual actions.

While Juan very carefully danced around the question with his corporate approved answer, he did say that there was something that continues to surprise his team when it comes to large companies who get manual actions.

He explained that you would think that a large company would pay people who understands the webmaster guidelines that Google has set forth and who would make sure that the company’s web efforts reflected those guidelines. He said that what shocks him is when “People act that they are not cognoscente of what’s going on.” Playing dumb so-to-speak is what baffles them the most from the large companies they hand manual actions out to.


When a manual action is being considered, Google assesses page level and site level. When an action is given, a few things can take place: the page can be demoted, it’s ranking can be adjusted, or the page can be completely de-indexed. The same results can happen at the site level as well.

Juan explained that site level actions are much more significant and are considered more carefully as it has a negative impact on business and “shouldn’t be taken lightly.” He said that he and his team understand that thousands of jobs can be effected at a company when a negative action is given and that they try to prioritize these types of situations in order to get them resolved as quickly as possible.

Danny then asked if someone gets a warning on a page, if they should also look at their entire site to see if those problems exist elsewhere. The response was that yes, you should.

Juan explained that while Google will tell you there is a problem and even give you an example URL of where they see the problem existing, that doesn’t mean that is the only page with the problem. This is especially true with website penalties where a problem can exist on all of the pages of your site. Google won’t come right out and tell you each page effected, they are simply giving you a heads up that there is a problem and expect you to do the research necessary in order to fix it.

The irony – While Google could absolutely show you every page that they deem to have an issue, it’s interesting that they don’t just give that to you in order to save you time as a webmaster. Why they don’t tell you everything, I’m not sure, and regrettably the question was not asked during the session. It is an interesting question since it was repeatedly said how quickly they want to resolve issues. Wouldn’t spelling it out for webmasters speed up the process and reduce the need for a lot of back and forth communication?

How Long do Actions Last?

The simple answer is that it lasts as long as it takes to get a reconsideration request.

When people are not responsive, penalties do eventually expire, but Google doesn’t just put your site back into the rankings and remove the penalty. Instead, they basically restart the process in hopes to get a response. If a response never comes, they simply restart the cycle over and over again.

Will Your Rankings Recover When a Manual Action is Lifted?

It depends on the type of manual action you received.

Juan explained that sites that are hacked should get their rankings back once the action is lifted. However, a website that received a manual action for bad links could absolutely see a rank drop after they have disavowed links, etc. because their initial rankings before the action were synthetically inflated.

Did you attend this session?  What announcements or insights did you find particularly interesting?  Let me know in the comments.

Greg Secrist
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