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Recovering from a Manual Action: The Rebirth of Good Old-Fashioned Marketing


SEO is constantly changing; strategies that worked yesterday may not work today.

In fact, they may even be against Google's quality guidelines. After the first Penguin and Panda updates, many webmasters found that Google had slapped their sites with manual actions. So all the webmasters scrambled and began hacking away at low quality content and paid links. What many webmasters found was that even after putting their blood, sweat, and tears into removing these links and other violations from their site—and even after Google had lifted the manual action—their sites still were not ranking.

In September 2013, Search Engine Roundtable founder Barry Schwartz took a poll and asked webmasters "Does a Manual Action Removal Impact Google Rankings?" The results were surprising.

  • 53% said their site's rankings never improved after a manual action was removed
  • 35% said their site's rankings improved within a month to a year after removal
  • 12% said their site's rankings improved within a few days after removal

The key takeaway here is that more than half of webmasters polled said that their site's rankings never improved after Google removed the manual action.

What went wrong?

The defeat many webmasters experienced was not about what they did, but what they failed to do. Schwartz suggested that removing what's harming your site is not enough. If you want to improve your site's rankings, you need to focus on adding value. That's easy enough to say, but how can this be accomplished?

Good Old-Fashioned Marketing

When marketing your client online, the focus should be on users rather than search engines. Your SEO strategy, according to Google, should be to produce a website that is unique, valuable, and engaging. There are no shortcuts for this—it takes work. Matt Cutts, the head of Google's webspam team, referred to this as the rebirth of good old-fashioned marketing. "A lot of SEO is now circling back around to good old-fashioned marketing," said Cutts. "If you think like a good marketer and think about what will appeal to people, you will find your job as an SEO and getting links or trying to build your links will be easier."

Rather than thinking about how to get links, think about writing compelling content that people will want to link to. The most compelling content is content that:

  • Is original--not copied or rewritten from another source
  • Accurately reflects the brand and/or the client's unique voice
  • Is relevant to the target audience
  • Contains your unique perspective on an issue

When working on a website, ask yourself "Would I do this if there was no such thing as a search engine?" If the answer is no, you shouldn't do it. In Google's own words, don't be evil. There are no quick tricks for recovering from a penalty. If you want your site to succeed, it's going to take good old-fashioned marketing.