Getting a Google Penalty: Constructing a Reconsideration Request

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Last updated: May 2020
Welcome to the fourth post in our series on Google penalties. In our last post, we talked about the process of documenting bad links and contacting webmasters to request they are removed. I now want to talk about the structure of the reconsideration request itself. Remember, reconsideration requests are not required if your site has been hit by an algorithmic penalty, as these will only be lifted after Googlebot has re-crawled your site and found it to be in better shape, or when the algorithm itself has been updated as in the recent Penguin iteration. In general, you should only consider using a reconsideration request after receiving a manual action notification. We’ll talk more on algorithmic penalties in a future post but for now, here are five essential areas your reconsideration request must address before you send it to Google.

1. Acknowledge

The first part of any reconsideration request should be to acknowledge that you recognise your site was in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you feel the need to eat a bit of humble pie and apologise then that is fine, but it’s far more important to show whoever on Google’s Webspam Team is reading your reconsideration request, that you understand why you’ve been penalised.

It’s extremely important not to try and apportion blame elsewhere, however tempting this might be. If you paid an SEO company to create some high quality articles for your site and ended up with a load of bad links as a result, then the buck still stops with you.

You should be honest about any bought links, content placement services or blog networks or you have used in the past and assure Google that you have now done away with such practices. Pretending that you haven’t engaged with these kinds of techniques is just not worth it. Google is omnipresent and not naive. You’ve been caught, so you need to own up to everything, even if the offending action was taken years in the past and before your time. The key is to convince your juror that you have identified the cause of the penalty, realised the error of your ways and turned over a new leaf.

Needless to say there are instances where a manual action can be applied in response to activities that were outside of your control, such as following a website hack or something similar. In these situations humble pie need not be on the menu, however it is still important to highlight your understanding of the issue and why this caused your site to be in breach of the guidelines. There is no point in getting angry and demanding Google’s sympathy. Although this can be a trying time you need to remain calm and objective. Follow the processes below and show Google what measures you have put in place to mitigate the risk of such an attack in the future.

2. Explain

This bit can be tricky as you need to explain exactly how you went about identifying the extent of the issue. If you conducted a link audit which involved gathering information on unnatural links independently of Google’s Webmaster Tools’ link report (for example using tools like Moz’s Open Site Exploreer or Majestic’s Site Explorer), then you need to outline this process and document your findings. You will also need to explain your follow up action, what you did once you’d identified these negative links and how you went about taking them down. Google does not expect you to use their webspam team as a clean up crew, you need to make efforts to rectify the situation yourself before asking for their forgiveness.

In many ways this explanation serves as a lead into the actual documentation that goes along with your reconsideration request. I’d advise that you attach a link to a Google Doc or Sheet, but a CSV file, Word doc or any other suitable format should also be acceptable.

As part of your explanation briefly summarise the data in this document, how you got it and how it’s presented.

3. Documentation

The key to your salvation lies in your ability to demonstrate how you have addressed the problem. In the case of a reconsideration request related to unnatural links this must include comprehensive documentation of how you contacted webmasters requesting that they take the links down and what responses you received.

As well as logging the method and date of each request you should make sure to include website information and the link in question. For more details on documenting this process take a look at the previous post in this series.

4. Summarise

Be sure to summarise the outcome of your labour by telling Google in no uncertain terms how many links you were able to take down through direct communication with the webmaster and how many you failed to get taken down. Go on to point out how you have now added those links to your disavow file and that this file has been sent to Google via their Disavow Tool (more on this in the next post of this series).

5. The Future

Possibly the second most important part of your reconsideration request after the documentation itself, is the final section where you need to state what changes you have made to ensure that your site won’t be breaching Google’s Guidelines again.

Try listing the steps you have taken to improve your practices, what have you done to educate your staff and ensure any future internal and external content is produced to the highest standards. If you can give examples of how you have already implemented changes since getting the manual penalty, then this will really help your cause.

A Short Note on Negative SEO

You may have concluded that you’ve been the victim of a negative SEO campaign, perhaps conducted by a competitor. This is a difficult thing to prove and without solid proof it would be more prudent to focus on how you are actually dealing with the bad links, rather than making wild accusations that cannot be verified.

If you’ve never engaged in any black hat SEO practices or link buying schemes then do say so, but I’d advise extreme caution about adopting an ‘it wasn’t me’ approach. Though malicious hacks of sites are on the rise, Google is still very cynical about the number of negative SEO attacks that actually take place and so I’d advise caution before pointing fingers.

There’s a great article by Bonnie Stefanik on Search Engine Watch that’s well worth reading if you do suspect you’re the victim of negative SEO.

And now, the Waiting Game…

Once you’re sure you’ve provided as much information as possible and explained as fully as you can how you have turned over a new leaf and provided working examples of this, then it’s time to hit send and begin playing the waiting game.

Be patient and whatever you do don’t submit multiple requests. It can take anything up to a month for Google’s Webspam team to get back to you though often they react far quicker than this. It’s going to be a tense wait I’m afraid.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, or would like to discuss a specific issue with your site, please get in touch using the form below.

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Magnus Linklater SEO Consultant

Author: Magnus Linklater

Magnus is an SEO specialist and online marketing professional with over 20 years of digital and traditional marketing experience.

As the founder of Bespoke Digital, Magnus has worked on technical site audits and content marketing campaigns for hundreds of clients and regularly writes about SEO strategy, tips & tricks.

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