Google: A Manual Penalty Might Not Result In Major Ranking Decline

Sep 28, 2012 • 8:53 am | comments (52) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google PenaltyTypically, if you get a penalty and your rankings drop, you assume when the penalty is lifted your rankings return.

Often that is not the case, especially when it comes to link penalties.

A Google Webmaster Help thread has two statements from John Mueller from Google which explains why that may be the case.

First let me quote his post:

The primary manual action that is affecting your site is that these unnatural links are being ignored. This is more or less in line with the spreadsheet that you have submitted, and would generally not be affecting the other links to your site. That said, while these things may have been counting for your site in the past, they no longer are -- so it's possible that you'd see some effect in your site's crawling, indexing, and ranking. Past that, keep in mind that the manual action here might not be the strongest element affecting your site's performance, we use over 200 factors in our crawling, indexing, and ranking, and regularly announce updates. My recommendation would be to not focus so much on this specific manual action, but instead to work to make sure that your site (and how it interacts with users and the rest of the web) is the best it can possibly be.

Now let's pull out two clauses:

(1) The primary manual action that is affecting your site is that these unnatural links are being ignored. Yes, when links that were once counted in your ranking are no longer counted and never will be counted in the future, that will have an impact on your rankings for a long time.

(2) Keep in mind that the manual action here might not be the strongest element affecting your site's performance, we use over 200 factors... Now this statement is more interesting. John is saying that a manual action might not be the reason his rankings are not doing well in Google.

John is saying that even if he didn't have a manual action his rankings still probably wouldn't be all that great.

I love the transparency in this post.

Forum discussion at Google Webmaster Help.

Previous story: Google Trends & Insights Now The Same


Chris Clayton

09/28/2012 01:11 pm

Hi Barry, It was great to receive a response like this from John, I didn't think the manual penalty was my main issue, I believed it was related to Penguin as Organic Rankings plummeted on the day Penguin rolled out. Since then, I have spent the last 5 months trying to resolve both Penguin and the manual penalty. I believe that through solving the manual penalty this should in turn fix the issues I had with Penguin but we will see. We are a small business and know of other small businesses who have been seriously impacted by the Penguin Update and while I have no complaint with the reasons and results of the update, what I do have an issue with is it being over 4 months since the minor refresh in May, that is not helpful to small business owners who are trying hard to improve things and are left waiting. Chris


09/28/2012 01:12 pm

Barry I know it was the Chaggim and all but so much chatter about Google making algo updates and you never made a peep this week. Whats Cooking ? :) Tired of update changes I am sure ? just like all us Webmasters after serious a month\year of Yo-Yo. Seems to be a lot happening out there but I guess people are just getting used to it and take it as par for the course with what some called it the Google ever-flux. Stability is a is no where in site...

Peter Watson

09/28/2012 01:14 pm

If they are being ignored, then why are sites being penalized? If John is correct and links are simply being devalued, then this should not result in a manual penalty. Also, why did Google send out emails to the offending webmasters telling them they had been penalized? Where is the tansparency in this post? Can you be more specific?

John Britsios

09/28/2012 01:14 pm

Barry, where do you see the transparency in this post? Am I probably confused?

Barry Schwartz

09/28/2012 01:21 pm

I see chatter but the chatter doesn't imply an update to me. It implies a bit more than normal fluctuations.

John Britsios

09/28/2012 01:21 pm

From what I understand here, looks like Google triggered manual penalties, and reversed them the day the Penguin algorithm was launched, and no one from Google shared that info with the public. That is why I also believe why webmasters do not get replies to their re-consideration requests. In other words, I would assume that Google's reply to those re-con requests will be algorithmic, and to be specific on the next Penguin update. But again I am wondering, where is the transparency of the post of JohnMu?

Barry Schwartz

09/28/2012 01:23 pm

Forget the example or the site in question. He gave us two points. (1) Unnatural links that are now ignored is not a penalty, but they aren't counted anymore. (2) Manual penalties might not be a reason for a ranking decline.

Chris Clayton

09/28/2012 01:27 pm

This makes sense to me. Just not sure why based on Johns response, they didn't say the manual penalty has been removed as they know I am still penalised by the algorithm penalty applied since by penguin. I assume that would be more transparent.

Nick Stamoulis

09/28/2012 01:36 pm

"when links that were once counted in your ranking are no longer counted...that will have an impact on your rankings for a long time." I've had to explain that to several clients. If your link portfolio's value was suddenly halved, then it's reasonable to expect some kind of shakeup. When something that was working in your favor is taken away it makes sense to see a drop in rankings.

John Britsios

09/28/2012 01:44 pm

If unnatural links that are now ignored is not a penalty, why doesn't Google reply to the re-consideration requests of the people who have been notified that they were penalized because of unnatural links? Do we call that transparency now? And I do agree that manual penalties are not necessarily a reason for a ranking decline. In this case, I would expect it to be algorithmic filtering. But again, why don't they reply to the re-con requests, telling that they are not affected by a manual penalty, like they usually do. Here is what they answer: Dear site owner or webmaster of, We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google's Webmaster Guidelines. We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site's ranking in Google. There's no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team. Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site's ranking. Google's computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users. If you've experienced a change in ranking which you suspect may be more than a simple algorithm change, there are other things you may want to investigate as possible causes, such as a major change to your site's content, content management system, or server architecture. For example, a site may not rank well if your server stops serving pages to Googlebot, or if you've changed the URLs for a large portion of your site's pages. This article has a list of other potential reasons your site may not be doing well in search. If you're still unable to resolve your issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support. Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team


09/28/2012 02:14 pm

Sorry but more than normal fluctuations implies an update to me is happening at some level and people are not happy at all with the type and amount of traffic the birthday boys and girls are surfing them up:) Its been in the 70's on Mozcast and I just saw now reached 80 degrees. All I know is that it must be a measurement in Celsius not Fahrenheit coz the heat is slowly but surely killing us..... I think perhaps the Googlers are just hungover from the weeks party they had and have nod been writing very good code this week.

Barry Schwartz

09/28/2012 02:15 pm

It is in my punch list to review on Sunday.


09/28/2012 02:27 pm

Chag Sameyach


09/28/2012 02:30 pm

Barry, are you saying that people no longer need to submit a reconsideration request if they received the unnatural link e-mail due to your take that it is not a penalty? Why do google suggest that people do submit a reconsideration request if it is not a penalty? No wonder people are confused!

Anthony Shapley

09/28/2012 02:32 pm

Hi John, I think you might be onto something with this. I've often wondered if this is what actually happened myself. We will probably never know. By not revealing anything, they aren't educating us on how they're now treating certain types of links. Which is presumably the goal, as they want a world with only editorial produced links are being placed. That said, you would think the largest group of Graduates in the world would be able to write an algorithm to distinguish these from other links, without penalising everyone for having other links. Ant


09/28/2012 02:44 pm

yup, I kinda think you might be onto this John. No transparency from the other Google John!


09/28/2012 03:21 pm

I think he's drawing a distinction between a "manual penalty" and a "manual action." A manual penalty is where Google says "I don't care what the algo says, don't let these guys show up before page 20." The manual action he's describing is where Google says "I know the algo wants to value these links, but upon human review, we have determined they should not be valued, so we will nullify them."

John Britsios

09/28/2012 03:31 pm

It seems to me like an algorithm update test, and hopefully for the suffering webmasters a final QA test for the coming Penguin update


09/28/2012 03:35 pm

Google Adsense and Google Search are suppose to be two separate entities, right? If this is true, then why are people getting notifications on their Adsense account in regards to Google Search penalties? Wouldn't this data be collected and mined by GSearch? If this is what is happening and if they are indeed two separate entities, then it appears that there is crossover interaction going on and that is a big red flag. OR - are they not separate? Then we have the rep thing coming into play for those sites making x-$'s per week. While the reps could be benefical to Adsense related issues, I don't see how they could assist with search issues. That is, based on AS and GS being separate entities. As to the Panda penalty, is it really in place to root out spam? Or to kill links related to direct advertising? If it were about spam, they have the ability to ignore the links.

josh bachynski

09/28/2012 03:41 pm

Hi Peter, I understand your frustration. It's Google's nomenclature that is to blame here. When they say "manual penalty" they only mean an action taken on a site that the manual web spam team handles (as opposed to the coder's who code penguin and panda, etc.), not that it is applied manually (it's likely not, it's algorithmic). But it does have to be removed manually. The algorithmic ignoring of links is a mostly automatic action the manual team oversees. The transparency Barry is referring to, I believe, is how the ignoring of links (the big bad "manual penalty") may not be the greatest deranking factor, and sounds like quality (or panda) has algorithmically determined the site is not worth ranking. I.e., the low quality de-ranks it more than the loss in some links ignored when compared to some other good links the site still has. If you would like more info on manual penalties and how to remove them it is easy to do and I would be happy to help.

Robert Meinke

09/28/2012 03:43 pm

There are two kind of unnatural link messages Google sends now. One says they're giving you a penalty, and the other just lets you know they found some spammy links they're ignoring.

John Britsios

09/28/2012 04:26 pm

Antony, Google in their webmaster guidelines were explaining all this link building stuff for years. Even if Google was promoting those guidelines, they were physically unable to enforce them, so SEOs, site owners, etc were taking advantage of Google's weakness. And as we know, Google is still pretty weak in this matter. Some examples: "Negative SEO" and "Paid Links". Obviously people have the right to blame Google, if their update had some failures which harmed sites who did not try to game their system. IMO, when Penguin was launched, it was not even at a level to be called Beta version. But I hope with their next update that they will quality to call it Beta. Oh, and just to clarify: I am not a Google advocate, fan or so ever. I just enjoy the challenge opportunity, to deal with their algorithms and their failures.

John Britsios

09/28/2012 04:28 pm

I think this post of Barry, proves (at least partially) that there is no transparency: What do you think?

John Britsios

09/28/2012 04:31 pm

If they found spammy links and they ignore them, why should those links be a problem? That said, they do not really ignore them. Or isn't that common sense?


09/28/2012 04:56 pm

yes most definitely no transparency from Google. There was an interesting article (NOT) from Google’s Chief Technology Advocate Michael Jones who gave some of our friends over at smartCompany yesterday, giving them a quick 10-step guide on how to make your business Google-friendly. Fluff...

Alamin Chowdhury

09/28/2012 05:19 pm

Alright. That's pretty transparent though.But I would like to get these two issues more cleared up to understand it well. Coming back to john's first point - If some of my sites links were from some other sites not related to my site niche (maybe I had built those way back in the old days), which were being counted so far as backlinks and did help my site to rank for sometime....but now as those would look completely unnatural to google, so what's john is assuring here is, those links are not or never gonna be counted as backlinks anymore and thus can drop my site's ranking? Is is that Barry? On to the second concept - John again says that its not only for reason 1 that my site's ranking could drop, there maybe other factors acting behind it. Am I right Barry? Please confirm me. Well even if I don't remove those unnatural links and see drop in my rank, it can't be just for that I didn't erase those unnatural links, but due to the other factors that google takes into count. Am I understood @rustybrick:disqus Please clear me up this two stuffs for better understanding.


09/28/2012 05:53 pm

I'm Glad John finally said this! When I wrote a post in May saying that cleaning up links won't restore rankings everybody told me I was crazy.


09/28/2012 05:55 pm

Josh, I have seen your hangouts and they are pretty impressive. Why do you believe it is easy to recover from Penguin, Panda and the unnatural links issues when there has been a lack of positive recovery stories thus far (especially with Penguin due to there only being one refresh)? Surely starting over is the simplest and most effective way as it is seemingly obvious that Google is moving away from the importance of links (unless natural) and the majority of websites which are over 12 months old are at risk due to previous link building practices - removing links will surely not be worthwhile in the long run - not for the amount of time and effort it takes.

Ralph Slate

09/28/2012 07:47 pm

You seem to be theorizing that there is no actual penalty associated with Penguin, and that a perceived penalty is really due to the reduction in "link juice" from Penguin which then exposes Panda weaknesses. I could possibly buy into that theory, except that Mueller told me that my site had no issues with links - so if there were no problems, then my decline in traffic on Penguin day doesn't fit the theory because my "link juice" shouldn't have been dramatically affected. I have always theorized that when Mueller talks about whether a site has a link problem, he only talks about manual penalties, and that their algorithm is too complex for him to analyze "algorithmically-assessed link-based penalties". When I read Mueller's comments from that angle, I see no contradictions. He says that the manual action may not be the biggest reason affecting ranking. He mentions the 200 elements. One of those 200 elements may be a "Penguin algorithm score", which might be the predominate reason for performance hits.


09/28/2012 07:54 pm

I have a few thoughts here. First of all it only makes sense that those links that were deemed unnatural would no longer carry link equity once a manual warning was applied. But I think it's important to note that this is just John's response to *one* webmaster. I don't think we can apply this to every instance of an unnatural links warning. If it were true that there was no penalty but simply the link equity was devalued then why would Google tell sites to file a reconsideration request?

Barry Schwartz

09/28/2012 07:55 pm

Sorry for not replying to these comments, I am just swamped today. Hopefully will have time later...

Ryan @ Linkbuildr

09/28/2012 07:56 pm

I don't understand how people didn't get it...your post was spot on Ryan. Loss of links that made you rank clearly means you're not going to stay in the same spot.


09/28/2012 08:01 pm

It's a combination of both. Lots of links ARE being ignored, but not all of them. In cases of link schemes and networks, paid links, and other very spammy stuff Google is sending out a penalty in addition to ignoring what they algorithmicly found - perhaps with the hopes it will help change behaviors.


09/28/2012 08:02 pm

Also, the aglorithm to "not count" stuff is constantly learning and evolving. In some cases, certain spam techniques still work (trust me, I know a few) When google sees though, it's easier to manually penalized while an algorithmic solution is found. Pay attention to the sites getting manual penalties and what they're doing - as I'm sure an algorithmic devaluation of those things is in the works and likely to launch soon.

Kevin Gerding

09/28/2012 08:45 pm

Does this mean that the excessive automated link removal spam emails I am getting will finally stop? Seriously, between competitors trying to remove valid links and spam removal requests to remove links that are not even on a site have gotten rather lame if you ask me.

Alamin Chowdhury

09/28/2012 09:07 pm

@RyanMJones:disqus @google-b386eddbc2e6e30ea295acaaeb1675ac:disqus @twitter-205532901:disqus @linkbuildr:disqus @HISWebMarketing:disqus - guys have you read my comment? Barry seems to be out for today and not sure when he would reply. So can you guys please answer my queries in my comment?

09/28/2012 09:46 pm

I am tired of explaining ths to my clients!

josh bachynski (SEO)

09/28/2012 11:27 pm

depends on the site - penguin can be fixed as soon as the bad backlinks are fixed and respidered if, and only if, that was the biggest issue. Or rather, I have personally helped sites recover by deleting bad backlinks with my advanced backlink report - now whether we were fixing penguin, or other issues with google automatically devaluing various backlinks, or improving site quality as well, is an issue John Mueller (Google employee) has mentioned before. Either way it works! contact me and I can explain better ;p

John Britsios

09/29/2012 12:08 am

This is the most amateurish comment I read for a while. But anyway, are you charging for your support money? If yes, I probably can introduce you to someone who needs help very bad!

Peter Watson

09/29/2012 12:27 am

Why then did Google email me personally and tell me that until I removed a substancial amount of the inorganic links pointing to my site my manual penalty would not be removed? They even gave me 6 example urls.

Richard Hearne

09/29/2012 04:54 am

That's not correct Josh. As I told you a few days ago JohnMu has already confirmed that the Penguin marker on a site cannot be removed without a refresh of that algo. What you might be seeing is an improvement, but it is certainly not a Penguin reversal.

SEO New York

09/29/2012 07:31 am

Its always easy to rank new website instead of old penalized one. I have personally experienced it after penguin update.


09/29/2012 09:51 am

It is not that the links for the site can be made in one day, it takes year and years to create links for a site and it will be an up hill task to remove those links at one go. Google should ignore those old links and should consider only those links which we were create post Penguin


09/29/2012 03:37 pm

Manual penalty will be lifted when you remove them, but your rankings may not return to where they were after the penalty is removed - since those URLs were more than likely helping you rank before. That's what I'm saying.


09/29/2012 04:05 pm

I agree with you I can't see where transparency is Jhon Mueller always comes with conflictual advices


09/29/2012 05:17 pm

I guess they have been penalized because google assumes these "bad links" have intentionally been built by person running the site, so besides stripping the value from the backlink they penalize the domain for trying to game the algo.


09/30/2012 12:23 am

John is a nice guy but lets face it he is almost a one man show, so he must be over stretched and I think this is just him having yet another mind fart. It is not the first time he has put out contradictory information and I doubt it will be the last. I suspect Barry thinks the same but knows any titbit of info that comes from Google all Barry's readers will analyse and then analyse and then analyse until the cows come home, which keeps the impressions up. Google likes to starve us of information and like any starving person dry salt biscuit will look like 8 course meal. So this information means nothing and the speculation that is being caused by this is pointless as even if this info was true probably next week it could be that Google changes its position. Ok let me give all you SEO's a guarantee to position 1 (ADWORDS, of course if you got the money that is) Any so called other information that you may think you are learning here on Barry's site is pure speculation and really has nothing to do with the real world that is Google!


09/30/2012 07:15 pm

sory im a newbe on this ,, i always doing with manual , can u tell me what will happen to my site next ??

Christopher Lapham

10/01/2012 03:39 pm

Chris, I've had success getting some of my clients sites ranked back up after unnatural link notices and penguin. For unatural link notices just ignore them and continue building high quality backlinks, but for penguin you must rework your keyword structure. Previously most sites just had 1 to 3 main keywords they targeted so your anchor text would be built mainly with those top keywords. now penguin looks for a more natural anchor text structure that relies more on generic type keywords and using your url as the link. Go back and start diluting your anchor text and see what happens

Chris Angus

10/01/2012 07:40 pm

John Meuller sometimes makes stuff up. I remember when he spoke about Panda recoveries in April 2011 and how people were talking about them on the forums. Just because John says its true doesn't mean it is.

SEO Consultant

11/16/2012 06:56 pm

What i feel is that the problem is with the links. So if you can control you link structure then you can recover. Penguin refresh doesn't mean that your site will be recovered. So there is no need to wait for such recovery. The best thing I would suggest is that try to cut off the bad links and place quality links instead. Now Google has long back said which i remember quality is better than quantity. So I feel that needs to be applied here. Try to get some PR3 links or much better. Then try to create new pages to your website and don't interlink them with your home page or inner page. Try to submit to those new pages to those PR3 or quality sites which does give you traffic and have good content. FB, Twitter, Forums are the bridges so use them properly to get users to your website. So on one hand you have few quality links pointing to your new pages and on the other hand you are driving visitors to you new pages via social. This can be helpful to recover might be partial or fully.


09/12/2013 06:40 pm

Chris- Our site needs serious help as we are trying to recover from a manual penalty. Can you help?

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