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How to Respond to a Manual Action?

By Matthew Edgar · Last Updated: June 04, 2024

Google issues manual actions when a human reviewer has detected the website violates Google’s guidelines and Google suspects the website might be trying to manipulate search results. When a manual action is applied to your website, your website may not rank in search results or your website may be removed from Google’s index entirely. This varies in degree depending on the nature of the manual action.

There are several different types of manual actions, though all deal with different types of spam detected on the website. These include problems with structured data (schema), user-generated spam, unnatural links, thin content, hidden text, and more. You can read the full list of manual action types on Google’s support page.

Google issues the manual action through Google Search Console. You will see a “Manual Actions” alert on the main screen. You can click “Full report” to view details. You can also scroll in the sidebar to “Security & Manual Actions”, then select “Manual Actions” to view the full report.

Manual Action alert in Google Search Console

How to Respond to a Manual Action

Responding to a manual action requires patience and persistence. You do not want to send a response, known as a reconsideration request, back to Google until you have taken time to thoroughly review your website, understand the issues that Google flagged in the manual action and taken steps to correct it. Sending a premature response will only delay the process. There are several steps to take before you are ready to submit the reconsideration request.

Step #1: Understand the Manual Action

First, read through the manual action message provided by Google. You will find this in Google Search Console. On the Manual Action page (accessible via “Full report”), you can “View Related Messages”. These messages are vague but include key phrases that relate to Google’s policies. Google will also tell you what type of manual action has been issued.

Google provides documentation about each manual action type. The different manual action types were linked to above but you can also review Google’s spam policies for additional details. Along with Google’s documentation, there are plenty of resources provided by the SEO community sharing additional details on what the manual action means (though, always defer to Google’s documentation as a primary source).

Your responsibility is to learn more about Google’s criteria for applying this manual action. Hiring an experienced SEO consultant can help. Make sure you hire an SEO consultant who has supported clients with manual actions. Not all SEO consultants have supported clients with a manual action recovery. (I do have experience resolving manual actions. Please contact me if you would like help.)

Step #2: Accept There is a Problem

One of the most common responses we hear from clients about manual actions is “We did nothing wrong!” I have yet to see a manual action that was unjustified from Google. What I have seen more often, however, is companies who didn’t know they were violating Google’s guidelines. To adapt the common adage, “ignorance of Google’s guidelines is no excuse.”

I’ve also heard clients say that the manual action is unfair. They do the same things everybody else in their industry does. Unfortunately, Google does not operate fairly. Some websites can get away with violating spam guidelines while others get caught. Manual actions are manually added, so are not applied systematically or universally.

Ultimately, if you receive a manual action for your website, assume it is valid and work to correct it.

Step #3: Investigate What Issues Exist on Your Website

Once you’ve learned more about why the manual action would be applied, review your website to find anything that violates those guidelines. This review of your website should be thorough and exhaustive. It is also helpful to have multiple people review the website for issues, especially if the website is larger.

The scope of your review will change depending on the manual action type. This is why Step 1 is so important: you need to understand what types of issues Google may flag for this type of manual action. For example, with the “unnatural links to your website” manual action, your review will focus primarily on backlinks pointing to the website. However, a “thin content with little or no added value” manual action will focus on the website’s content instead of backlinks.

As you review, do not dismiss anything. It is tempting to think that some issues you come across are relatively minor and couldn’t possibly be the reason for the manual action. Because the manual action does not say specifically what Google found on the website, assume that even the most minor issues could be the cause of the manual action.

Step #3a: Investigate Everything Else

While your review should be primarily focused on the issues related to the manual action, it can be helpful to investigate other issues on the website. After you submit the reconsideration request, Google’s human reviewers will be looking at your website. You do not want them to find a different issue on the website when doing so.

As a result, I have found it helpful to conduct a broader scoped SEO audit of the website during the manual action to look at everything else that could be a problem on the website. You especially want to identify other problems that could violate other Google spam guidelines.

Step #4: Fix Every Issue Found

Next, you need to fix the issues found during the investigation. Sometimes, these issues are simple. If there was a “Structured data issue” manual action because the company name was marked as a product, the fix might require a few quick adjustments to the schema code. On the other hand, a “Structured data issue” manual action because of a policy violation may require a more extensive rework of all the schema provided on the website.

These fixes should be given top priority and as many resources as possible should be assigned to implementing fixes. The website will not rank in search results until the manual action is lifted and the reconsideration request is accepted.

Having an SEO professional involved in implementing these fixes can be beneficial. The SEO professional can work with your developers, copywriters, and other members of the team to immediately test fixes and flag anything else that needs to be changed. The SEO professional can also be on call to address questions.

Once all fixes are in place, repeat Step 3 to recheck that no additional violations are found. In my experience, Steps 3 and 4 need to be repeated a few times on more complicated manual actions.

Step #5: Submit Reconsideration Request

Finally, it is time to submit the reconsideration request to Google. Only submit once you are sure you have addressed the problems and resolved the violation specified in the manual action.

You will write the reconsideration request as plain text. You can send links to additional documents (live Google Drive files) if you think those are necessary. Get as much key information as you can in the text message itself.

Your reconsideration request should start by admitting that your website made mistakes and make it clear you understand why your website received the manual action. It is often useful to provide a short summary of why you ended up with these problems on your website, especially if the reason for the problems was due to poor guidance from a former staff member or a glitch with a third-party service. However, do not make excuses in your explanation. Many have compared this to a student writing an apology letter to a principal or parents.

Next, your message should explain what you did to fix the issues detected in the manual action in sufficient detail. You do not need to explain every little detail you fixed but it should be clear you understand the nature of the problem. For example, if the manual action was for “hidden text and/or keyword stuffing”, you may want to explain that you updated the title tags on all pages of your website to remove redundant and unnecessary words. You could provide one specific example to demonstrate what you have done. This is where links to additional files can be useful, though do not assume Google will open those additional files. Some experts in this area recommend mentioning what SEO consultants or agencies you hired to help fix the problem.

The reconsideration request should also detail out how you will prevent these issues from happening in the future. Your goal should be to never receive another manual action from Google. You made mistakes and you have fixed them, but how will you make sure these don’t happen again? Here again, provide sufficient detail. Don’t say “We will follow your guidelines from now on.” Instead describe the changes you have made. For example, tell Google if you have incorporated the spam guidelines into your employee training or if you have built automated detection systems to catch these issues during QA. Sadly, I need to say: make sure you have actually made these changes before describing them to Google in the reconsideration request.

To recap, your reconsideration request should:

  • Make it clear you understand why the manual action was received
  • Explain why it happened without making excuses
  • Explain what fixes you have made in sufficient detail
  • Explain what changes you have made to prevent the issues long term

After submitting, it can take several weeks to receive a reply. You can continue to make changes while waiting for the response. For example, this can be a good time to work on the other issues detected in Step 3a mentioned above that are not directly related to the manual action.

Do not send an additional reconsideration request until you receive a reply on your initial request. Sending multiple requests will not speed up the process. This is why I said manual actions require patience and persistence.

Even if you have been very thorough with your review and fixes, your reconsideration request may be denied. In that case, start back over with another review and another round of fixes. For larger websites, it can be difficult to detect every issue present on the website. As I mentioned before, this is where bringing in more SEO professionals to assist with the review can be beneficial.

Need Help Resolving a Manual Action?

If you have received a manual action and need help resolving it, please contact me or schedule a call with me to discuss your situation. I am also available to provide a second opinion during your review process.

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