Google’s algorithms play a major role in keeping websites that try to break the rules at bay, but many websites fall through the cracks and find their way into early spots in search engine rank. In order to maintain the integrity of search queries and provide users with the best choices possible, Google often hands out Manual Actions to prevent low quality, spammy websites from cheating the system.

Different than losing traffic to an algorithm update or change, manual actions allow website owners the opportunity to earn back lost traffic by adhering to Google’s best practices. Most often, websites are hit with manual actions for one of two reasons: unnatural links back to the website or from pure spam.

If you’ve been hit with one of these manual actions, find out what you’ve done wrong and know that you can fix what you’ve done.

Unnatural Links to Your Website

A common and often unseen problem encountered by website owners today is unnatural and spammy links directing back to your website. These links can send users to malicious websites that contain viruses or simply be from websites outside of your industry that are trying to piggyback on your site’s value.

This presents a problem, however, and one that can bring about two consequences. The first is, if caught by Google’s Penguin algorithm, your website will see a loss in traffic until an update is released, regardless of how quickly you have these unnatural links removed.

The second comes by way of a manual action sent by Google. While we would never suggest creating unnatural backlinks to your website, a manual action is by far a better punishment to receive. That’s because by following Google’s own directions, you have a chance to see a return to normal website traffic numbers once Google has deemed your site to be within their guidelines.

In the event that you receive a manual action for unnatural links, here’s what you need to do:

  • Download a full list of backlinks to your website. Google allows you to do this from Google’s Search Console, or you can use tools like Screaming Frog, which will crawl your website to find all links.
  • Look for similarities. When poring through a list of backlinks, especially one that’s more robust, start by finding familiar websites that follow Google’s guidelines. Most likely, these websites won’t be the root of the problem and can be removed. From there, you will turn your focus to suspicious websites.
  • Request link removal. Once you’ve found the troublesome links, contact the website owner and request for the removal of the link or that they add a “rel=nofollow” attribute. Many owners will be willing to do either of these, but some may resist.
  • As a final resort, disavow links. If you run into websites unwilling to remove the link or add the nofollow attribute, Google offers a final resort called the disavow links tool. For any remaining bad links, go straight through Google to have these links seen as “bad.”

After you’ve followed these steps, Google will review your manual action case and get back to you with either an “all clear” or with further action that needs to be taken, which is usually a list of links that they’ve found to fall within their guidelines of poor links. If this happens, just follow the steps once more.

Pure Spam

A second and easier to contest manual action handed down by Google is from Pure Spam. The major difference here is due to its focus on your website’s content, which is much easier to change and fix.

Most often, pure spam will come in three forms, both of which were once a high-risk, high-reward endeavor. Now, doing either of the following could result in drastic traffic loss to your website and a large fall within search engine ranking.


Cloaking on your website can happen in two ways. The first is through creating a page of HTML that search engines will see but consumers will not, most likely serving consumers a page with images that will provide relatively low user experience.

The second method involves websites adding multiple keywords and phrases into a page that will only show up when a search engine is the user viewing the page. That way, a regular user won’t notice a change in how a page reads or how the content looks.

In either case, when Google finds cases of this, you will receive a manual action that will either be directed at an individual page or the site as a whole. Regardless of the scope the action you receive, the best you can do to fix any issue is to go back through each page to determine where any issues may be hiding. From there, you need to go back through Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and follow along to make sure you’re within the rules.

Hidden Text & Links

To start, hidden text and links may sound similar to cloaking, but the difference lies in the fact that you’re hiding text and links in plain sight. For most, this tactic revolves around doing one of the following, according to Google:

  • Using one color text on the same color background (White/White, Gray/Gray)
  • Hiding text behind an image, which is visible only in HTML
  • Setting font size to 0
  • Hiding a link by linking only one character on a page

At the end of the day, manual actions are not the end of the world. For small websites that get hit, it can certainly feel that way, but returning to normal traffic is just going to be based on how well you follow Google’s guidelines and submit your case for manual action removal to Google.

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