What a Partial Manual Action Penalty Looks Like

Written by Nick Stamoulis

A few months ago one of our newer clients called us in a panic. Their website’s homepage had vanished from the SERPs for their branded keywords; you could only find the page if you actually searched for “companyname.com.” While no site likes to take a hit organically for any keyword, missing out on your branded traffic is a huge problem! We did a little digging and quickly learned that Google had levied a partial manual action penalty against the client’s site, specifically the homepage, because of the link building their previous SEO firm had done.

This is what the impressions data in their Webmaster Tools account looked like once the partial manual action went into effect:

What a Partial Manual Action Penalty Looks Like

As you can see, impressions data went way, way down, mostly because their own website wasn’t showing up for branded keywords. If searcher can’t find your website when they are actively looking for you that’s a serious SEO and business problem! We quickly jumped into recovery mode and downloaded their entire link profile from Webmaster Tools as well as Moz data to uncover exactly what kind of links their past SEO firm had built and spent the next two months actively working on getting those links removed (or at least have a nofollow tag added to them) and using only branded keywords as anchor text. I think one of the biggest issues was that 75+% of the links to their homepage had used only one non-branded keyword, which is why the homepage in particular was flagged by the partial manual action penalty.

After two months and two reconsiderations requests (both of which were denied), you can see that the impressions data took a sharp upwards turn. The homepage was back in the SERPs! However, the partial manual action penalty was still showing up in their Webmaster Tools account. This leads me to believe that the partial manual action penalty had been levied against our client long before they ever started working with us, but the effect was minimal enough that no one at the company noticed. They were probably relying on their previous SEO firm to let them know if anything was amiss and I can bet that he didn’t want to make the phone call saying his actions had penalized their website.

Since their homepage is back in the SERPs where it should be but the penalty is still there I assume that some of the partial manual action penalty was lifted thanks to our link cleanup efforts and reconsideration requests, but we haven’t done enough to remove the entire penalty. I can’t say for sure if this is the case but it’s my educated guess.

This particular client received a partial manual action penalty for unnatural links, but you can also be penalized for user-generated spam (so keep an eye on comments!), thin content, hidden text/keyword stuffing, and more. It’s possible to actually be dealing with more than one partial manual action penalty at once so make sure you know exactly what you are working against!

Recovering from a partial manual action penalty can be a long and tedious process so please don’t give up hope. I’ve heard that some sites go back and forth with Google as much as 7 times before the penalty is lifted.  And even after the penalty is lifted it’s possible that your site won’t bounce back up to where it had been, especially if your rank in the SERPs was somehow inflated because of web spam tactics. Just keep plugging away at rectifying you mistakes and stick to the straight and narrow going forward!

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