A Google Manual Action We Should Worry About & Learn From

Mar 26, 2014 • 8:31 am | comments (28) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

google penaltyThere is this big discussion going on at Inbound.org on a penalty Doc Sheldon, a respected SEO in our community, complained about.

In short, he received a manual action on his site for outbound links that sell PageRank or participate in link schemes. Here is the notification and note, it impacted the rankings of his whole site:

click for full size

Google's Matt Cutts actually responded to the complaint on Twitter saying the manual action "was point on" because of the off topic guest post he accepted that passed PageRank. Here is Matt's tweet:

Now, Doc responds that (1) his blog is about SEO and social and the blog post is on topic and (2) even if it wasn't, if it is one post, why does it impact the whole site?

If you read the guest post, here is a link to it on web archive, because I assume he will remove it soon, you will notice that it isn't the best quality post.

Doc himself admits to that saying:

To also be fair, you're right. I probably shouldn't have accepted it. It wasn't totally without value, but it didn't bring much to the table.

However, it wasn't subjected to a Panda penalty. ;)

Well, that wasn't a Panda penalty, it was a manual action but yea, I am glad you said you should not have accepted it.

It makes you think, you must must be careful about the quality of the guest posts you allow on your site. I rarely ever allow anyone but myself to post here anymore. That doesn't mean you can't allow contributors, the biggest publishers do, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Search Engine Land and so on. But the amount of editing, screening and reviews that are put into those "guest posts" are high. It seems like Doc let one slip through and it ended up hurting him.

That being said, Google probably was too harsh on this one but we should all learn from this. Yes, you should be worried, you should go back on all your guest contributions and make sure they won't end up hurting you. Worry and learn from other's mistakes, even if they didn't think it would be a mistake because Google has gone crazy over links and their war on links.

Forum discussion at Inbound.org & Twitter.

Previous story: Google's Matt Cutts: Don't Delete Old Disavow Files Before Uploading New Ones


Josh Zehtabchi

03/26/2014 12:44 pm

This should be basic SEO. If you're linking out to a site, you're putting your trust into that site. I don't see the reason for exception. Granted, one outbound link is a bit harsh, but point remains.

Ashutosh R

03/26/2014 01:15 pm

Indeed it is pretty harsh.

Marie Haynes

03/26/2014 02:13 pm

I have to say that this is the first case that I have seen where I think Google may have wrongly penalized a site. Sure there are a few guest posts, but not many. I'm not sure why this warranted a sitewide penalty. In pretty much every other case that I have seen this week, sites that were penalized because of a connection with MBG really did have an extensive abuse of using guest posting for links. Unless I am missing something, I think they've made a mistake with Doc's site.


03/26/2014 02:29 pm

I am still pulling my hair out trying to figure out what penalty I have - it is not manual so it is algorithmic bit for the life of me cannot figure this one out. I write bespoke content (for last 3 years), no guest blogs, and used to rank well for all. Now not even a blog post will rank? celebritiesinmarbella.com

Doc Sheldon

03/26/2014 02:49 pm

Hello, Barry- An update: last night, I received notification that the penalty had been revoked, which was only 4-1/2 days after submitting the reconsideration request. So that was pretty much in line with what we've been seeing on other recon. requests. It's certainly true that the guest post in question wasn't high quality - lesson learned there, for all of us. I still maintain, however, that for my site, a post on social activity is also "on point." And even if it hadn't been, that wouldn't have involved a penalty for selling outbound links... if anything, I'd expect that to involve a Panda hit

Durant Imboden

03/26/2014 02:57 pm

I don't think they made a mistake, They just wanted to send a message, preferably to someone whose penalty (however temporary) would get a lot of attention.

Marie Haynes

03/26/2014 03:34 pm

It does seem that in this case it was part of a PR game rather than a legitimate penalty.

Nick Ker

03/26/2014 05:06 pm

Same here - and you and I typically have the same reaction when someone cries foul: check the real story and find out how spammy they really are. I haven't dug into this one, but am familiar with Doc's site. If it really is a sitewide penalty based on that one questionable article on an otherwise reputable site, this is overkill. Like you said, there was a lot of guest post abuse going on with MBG, but I don't know if it is appropriate to treat MBG's users as if it was BuildMyRank or something like that where everyone involved probably deserved a penalty for a few things.

Marie Haynes

03/26/2014 05:21 pm

A lot of people are thinking that any site that was remotely connected with MBG was penalized, but I have a couple of sites that were verified with MBG and used the service (but on a very small scale) and they haven't been penalized. I don't think Google did a widescale penalizing of everyone who used MBG but I'm wondering if perhaps the manual reviews they did were rushed. I mean, it appears that thousands and thousands of sites were penalized judging by the amount of emails I am getting and chatter in the forums. How could they manually review each of those sites? The thing that baffles me is Matt's response. It sounds to me like he is trying to scare off anyone who is even remotely thinking of publishing a guest post.

Jeff Ostroff

03/26/2014 06:13 pm

Oh-oh Barry, Watch out, I think Google is about to give you a site wide penalty here because your gif image above of the referee has a yellow and red blinking flag. Google has only approved white flags for use on referee images. Didn't you read the Webmaster Guidelines? LOL!

Jeff Ostroff

03/26/2014 06:16 pm

Josh, Would it be OK if Doc had just simply No-followed the link?

Josh Zehtabchi

03/26/2014 06:18 pm

Based on Google's outline of a no-follow and when to use one, yes, I would have (personally).

Jitendra Vaswani

03/27/2014 05:44 am

Marie I have seen many good bloggers sites had been penalized due to MBG platform. I am not blaming MBG anyway. It is a awesome platform. But few site owners rankings and page rank has been dropped to 0. I am very sad to see this.


03/27/2014 08:49 am

What I find funny here is that Matt has been called out as a liar by Doc and even though Matt has been proved to be a liar, time and time again everyone sides with Matt (even Doc) ...oh the irony of it all :)

Patti Paz

03/27/2014 11:39 am

Please note that getting the manual penalty revoked is not a guarantee of getting your SERPs back to where they were. In fact, we are still out of the game despite all our thousands of dollars spent trying to comply 100% with Google guidelines.

Doc Sheldon

03/27/2014 02:33 pm

I don't know where you get this "Matt has been called out as a liar by Doc" idea from, but it's simply not true. I called out Google for its vague messages and sloppy penalization process, as well as a callous "acceptable damages" policy when that process sweeps up sites that aren't really guilty of the targeted practices.

Doc Sheldon

03/27/2014 02:35 pm

Very true, Patti. Getting the penalty lifted may be easy, but "recovery" can be a long, slow process for some sites.


03/27/2014 03:54 pm

There is a fine line between Whitehat and Blackhat, "SEO" does not exist as an acceptable entity in Google's eyes, mainly the LinkBuilding part. Whether this is going to be for the of online search is debatable, but what is evident is that Google's approach is very destructive. You're now either Blackhat, or you're not, there is no "Whitehat" as such. Expect more of this. I won't drop my name, but i've been personally researched and attacked my Google, following my directly to my personal life and sites which only had a reference of my name on. You can't trust Google with your sites, which actually forces people back into blackhat tactics.

Nick Ker

03/27/2014 05:24 pm

"SEO does not exist as an acceptable entity in Google's eyes…" Oh really… Then what is this? http://static.googleusercontent.com/media/www.google.com/en/us/webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf Yeah, Google is out to get you personally. Want to buy an Anti-Google Harassment helmet made from 100% synthetic Idiotium (patent pending)? It also protects against unauthorized brain crawling. It is like a robots.txt file for your subconscious mind.

Doug Wilson

03/27/2014 05:29 pm

Generally speaking, anytime someone who can (SEs, Govs, Corps...) seek to define a persons intentions as unnaceptable and punish them for it, I'm against it... I've always posted what I wanted on my site... I've sufferered in search for this and rightly so... Search is best when its about words... crawl for words, index words, return words to searchers looking for these words... In my opinion this would be "Best Practices For Search Engines"... anything else and I'd have to wonder what the true intentions of the entity might be...

John E Lincoln

03/27/2014 07:04 pm

Google is nuts! What a joke... Let us link however we want.

Doc Sheldon

03/28/2014 01:51 am

Hindsight being what it is, Doc would have, too. ;-)

Josh Zehtabchi

03/28/2014 02:33 pm

Live and learn, brother.

Josh Zehtabchi

03/28/2014 02:35 pm

As I am happy for you in your revocation; I find it hypocritical of Google to pick and choose who get's expedited responses based on HR and social spread. But glad to hear that, Doc - Glad you made enough noise to get their attention.

Josh Zehtabchi

03/28/2014 02:36 pm

Doc, the 'recovery' would be simply replacing links that held you up previously. It's as if those links were never credited for your previous ranking and as such, are now voided. Thus, a new plan must be rendered to build back the trust, authority and then of course, exceed. Good luck. Wishing you the best.

Josh Zehtabchi

03/28/2014 02:37 pm


Andy Lighter

03/30/2014 05:52 pm

Doesn't get more arbitrary than that. What happened to you Google? Did you let the suits take over?

Gracious Store

03/31/2014 03:22 am

I think Google is bent on abolishing guest blogging at all cost that ia why it is picking on guest blogging sites in the recent days

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