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sometimes you need to push back against penalties

     
4:11 pm on Aug 27, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Some time ago, one of our sites got hit with an unnatural links (outbound) penalty. We made sure all the advertising was nofollowed and updated the CMS to nofollow any links in UCG.

Filed a re-inclusion request and after a few days got a response that there were still unnatural links. Filed another re-inclusion request and asked for some specific examples. Received an answer back. One on the updated CMS files had not been uploaded into Production. Fixed that and rechecked all the other files.

Filed a re-inclusion request and after a few days got a response that there were still unnatural links. Filed another re-inclusion request and asked for some specific examples. Several days later, received a message that there are still unnatural links (no examples).

Filed another re-inclusion request and again asked for some specific examples. Several days later, received a message that there are still unnatural links (still no examples).

Filed another re-inclusion request and again asked for some specific examples as well as pointed out that we've gone over the site many times and could not find any remaining examples and unless they give us an example of the violations they're seeing, we can't fix anything, so they can either tell us what we need to fix or we can continue to go back and forth forever not making any progress.

Several days later, received a message that no more unnatural links were found and the penalty was removed.

Note- we had made no changes other than fixing the example they sent several re-inclusion requests previously.
7:30 pm on Aug 27, 2015 (gmt 0)

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LifeinAsia -- You've shown that being persistent in pushing back can pay off. I'm happy for your success.

But this example illustrates one of the major flaws in Google's system of handling penalties, because you had a way to push back, which you only have on a manual penalty. If your site had received an algorithmic penalty, any re-inclusion requests you submitted would have been ignored, and you wouldn't have even gotten any replies.

So with a manual penalty, you get a notification and information about what caused the penalty. You also get a chance to submit re-inclusion reqwuests and have a possible dialog.

But with an algorithmic penalty, there isn't any notification and you often have to guess at the cause. Re-inclusion requests are ignored, and even if you fix the problem, you'll probably have to wait for some particular part of the algorithm to be re-run to see any results.

Oftentimes the offense that leads to a manual penalty, such as selling links, is far worse than an accidental unknowing violation that causes an algorithmic penalty. Yet Google's system of handling penalties is far more lenient in the case of manual penalties. This is just another example of Google's unfair policies.
10:59 pm on Aug 27, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@aristotle - how would you seek to address this unfairness in a scalable fashion?
11:29 pm on Aug 27, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If there is a penalty imposed whether algorithmic or Manual there should be some form of notification in WMT at least giving a clue as to why the site is not ranking correctly. They could easily have a list of codes. Just a general direction would be great. Right now you can spend weeks working on links and it could be a speed issue, a server issue, Mobile issue, duplicate content, SSL on and on. They have the ability to make the sites better. If they find an issue they feel you should be penalized for then it should be noted. I personally know we cut our Adwords a lot because the drop cost us so much traffic, the sales are just way off.
11:48 pm on Aug 27, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@Awarn - I think saying anything is easily done at Google is incorrect. There would be a lot of competing interests in showing/not showing this information and legal considerations usually win.
1:34 am on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Your probably correct Dipper. I imagine it would cause a lot of lawsuits if the situation was like the OP. We probably don't want to have Google be accountable for their actions. Besides Google already is so cooperative, who could think they could do any better job.
2:48 am on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@Awarn - I'm not sure a lawsuit has ever convinced anyone to do a better job, especially the lawyers.
3:03 am on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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There would be a lot of competing interests in showing/not showing this information and legal considerations usually win.
If anything, this is a strong argument for more transparency on Google's part. Otherwise, it opens them up to lawsuits because they are, in essence, refusing to do business with a person (by issuing a penalty) and refusing to disclose why they are refusing to do business with that person.

It is in Google's best interests for them to be more transparent about why a site has a penalty. Assuming the site is of decent quality, if they help the owner fix the issue, it can be added back to the SERPs and give Google's users a better quality experience.
3:13 am on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@LifeinAsia - This comment makes it sound like you know Google's business better than they do. If it were in the best interests of Google to open up and be more transparent then they would have done so already. At this point in time, clearly the ramifications of opening up far outweigh the perceived benefits for a few spammers.
6:08 am on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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For the most part, in a one horse town, the fellow who owns the horse sets the rules. OP's satisfactory result with G penalties is, sadly, the exception, not the rule.
1:11 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Dipper your assuming only spammers are being hit. Your totally wrong. In our niche the 2 sites that rose because of the changes use bogus links from Russia and other foreign countries. I know for a fact we have never sold to the Ukraine or Russia in over 20 years. Tell me they found some untapped customers in Russia all the sudden. Tell me how their non mobile friendly sites are what people want.

This mindset that only spammers are being hit is exactly why there is a need for accountability. We have an egotistical company thinking they know all and do no wrong. This is another case of new software coming into production that wasn't properly tested because the production team was more concerned with getting it live than getting it right.

If what they did was so great why wasn't Matt Cutts promoted? Looks more like they decided he needed to take one for the team.
1:17 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@LifeinAsia, I'm curious, once google said the penalty was removed did you notice anything positive in your rankings? I ask because we have had penalties "removed" after conversations much like yours with google only to see no actual recovery. This led me to believe that after x number of messages google says the penalty is removed just to end communications.
2:43 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Re "manual penalties" vs "algorithmic penalties":

- Manual penalties are for specific violations. They can be lifted easily (if Google chooses to do so) once the violations are removed.

- Algorithmic "penalties" (more accurately, algorithmic ranking adjustments) aren't so simple. They involve any number of factors or signals. A Google employee can't simply look at your site and say "OK, you aren't doing that sneaky thing that you were doing last month, so we'll let you out of jail."

Yes, it's unfair that people who violate Google's guidelines are treated better than those who find themselves on the short end of the algorithmic stick. Maybe the best solution would be for Google to stop notifying violators of manual penalties and to eliminate reinclusion requests.That would level the playing field, and it would make it harder for violators of Google's guidelines to know which tricks were working and which ones weren't.
3:35 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Maybe the best solution would be for Google to stop notifying violators of manual penalties and to eliminate reinclusion requests.

Or maybe just be more transparent and let site owners know what the issue is so they can fix it.

Imagine driving down the road and a cop pulls you over. He gives you a fix-it ticket with a $100 fine, but you can avoid the fine by fixing the issue. However, there is no indication anywhere of what the issue is, nor with the cop tell you. So you have no idea what needs to be fixed. Or if the local police force is corrupt and just gives out bogus tickets as a revenue source.

Assuming the non-corrupt police force scenario, it is in the cop's best interest (in the sense of overall protection of society) if he tells you specifically what needs to be fixed. Then you can fix it and be less of a danger to yourself and/or other drivers.

Google wants you to play by their rules. OK, I can deal with that. Just like in life, there are laws to follow. But not all laws are black and white, just as not all of Google's rules are black and white. While ignorance of the law is no excuse in real life or Google life, knowing exactly what the infraction is can prevent future infractions. And if Google wants us to play by their rules, doesn't it make sense for them to tell us so we make sure we don't break them in the future?
4:10 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Or maybe just be more transparent and let site owners know what the issue is so they can fix it.


But in the case of "algorithmic penalties," it isn't a specific "issue," it's a combination of weighting factors. If fairness is the concern (see Aristotle's earlier post), then the only realstic option solution would be for Google to say "You do your job, and we'll do ours" and leave it at that.
7:09 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Another solution would be to improve the ranking algorithm to the point that it can reliably detect the types of violations, such as link buying and link selling, that currently require manual detection.

In other words, if the algorithm could do the full job, then manual interventions wouldn't be needed, and the manual spam team could be disbanded. The fact that a manual spam team is still needed is an admission that the algorithm still has a lot of room for improvement.
7:44 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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LifeinAsia -- You've shown that being persistent in pushing back can pay off. I'm happy for your success.

What he's also shown is that Google's manual penalties are applied either inconsistently or by people that don't know what they're doing. I believe it's the second. People are making these decisions about your website with no recourse by us and no recourse or feedback. If you don't like what they've done, how can you complain about their specific actions? Individuals working this job at Google do so with impunity and no feedback.

I received a manual penalty from Google years ago and had a similiar experience. I asked why (there was no reason that I could fathom) and they gave me a litany of vague answers, followed by accusations that were false.

Like the OP, I didn't fix what they were complaining about. In fact, I had two sites (both penalized) that ranked in the #1 and #2 spots. One site was for consumers, the other for people in the industry. The solution that finally made Google happy? I redirected site #2 to site #1. That got the penalty lifted.

The top 2 sites owned by one entity, both penalized and the solution was to merge in to one site - draw whatever conclusions you want. I have.
7:53 pm on Aug 28, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In other words, if the algorithm could do the full job, then manual interventions wouldn't be needed, and the manual spam team could be disbanded. The fact that a manual spam team is still needed is an admission that the algorithm still has a lot of room for improvement.

Not necessarily. Certain types of penalties may be targeted for specific times, to achieve specific goals (e.g., to send a warning to blog networks or discourage misuse of "guest posts" or whatever the anti-spam team is going after at the moment).

There's obviously room for improvement in any algorithm (which is why search engines' algorithms keep evolving), but that doesn't mean penalties are a sign of weakness. Sometimes you've got to slap people upside the head to get their attention.
12:43 pm on Aug 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@EG, I think your example is spot on as to how Google works. Like a parent that tells their child to go get dressed and the kid does. The kid comes out and the parent slaps him upside the head and says follow my rules and get dressed right. Kid goes back and looks in the mirror and makes a couple adjustments but doesn't see any big issues. He comes out and gets the same response. The child is upset. The parent is abusing their power. Finally the child after several attempts finds out his shoe is not tied.

The message sent by the parent was wrong and it shows the parent does not know how to communicate their message in an appropriate fashion so the goal desired was not being achieved. Google has a severe communication issue. You can say all you want "follow my rules". Sorry but Google's rules are not consistent and clear at all.
1:35 pm on Aug 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Sorry but Google's rules are not consistent and clear at all.


You're confusing "guidelines" (a.k.a. "principles") with "rules." The problem for many site owners and SEOs is that they think, "If something isn't expressly forbidden, it's okay."

If more people understood the concept of principles-based (as opposed to rules-based) regulation, there might be fewer penalties and fewer unhappy site owners and SEOs.
1:36 pm on Aug 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If G had intended to reveal all they use to rate/grade sites and activities, they would have a FAQ on that.

It is not in their BEST INTEREST to reveal how their downgrades/penalties work, because doing so would be a blueprint for the baddies out there.

Never expect a straight answer, but also never give up. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the most grease.

Just know G will never reveal all. They can't. That would be a chink in what little armor they have... and that is guarded zealously.
1:42 pm on Aug 29, 2015 (gmt 0)

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They'll also never get it 100% right, either. Never ever ever. They will always be playing catch up, which means they will always be behind. Goes with the territory.
 

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