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GWMT New Manual Spam View – What Does It Mean?

09, Aug, 2013 - Written by in Penalties

Google has released a new feature in Webmaster Tools that enables website owners to determine whether or not they have a manual action (penalty) on their site without having to guess. The tool can be found by clicking on the “Search Traffic” tab and then clicking on “Manual Actions”.

From a link profile standpoint, there are two main types of penalties that you can find here:

Site-Wide Matches: The more severe of the two types. “If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site” and it indicates that “Google has applied a manual spam action to your site.”

Learn more about Site-Wide Matches here

Partial Matches: Indicates that targeted actions have been taken on links pointing to your site. This does not affect your site as a whole. Google has instead “applied a targeted action to the unnatural links pointing to your site.”

Learn more about Partial Matches here

GWMT-Manual Action Tool

My Concerns:

While this new feature is very helpful in determining without doubt whether or not there is manual action against a site, there does not seem to be anything new from the manual action standpoint. Last July Google sent out a round of Webmaster Tool Warnings which caused wide spread panic, and Google’s Matt Cutts tried to assure Webmasters by saying “If you received a message yesterday about unnatural links to your site, don’t panic. In the past, these messages were sent when we took action on a site as a whole. Yesterday, we took another step towards more transparency and began sending messages when we distrust some individual links to a site.”

damn you google

While I think it is great that Google has released this feature to help determine whether or not your site is penalized, they have further complicated things by giving mixed messaging to webmasters. If you read their explanation of the “Unnatural links to your site-impacts links”, they say specifically “If you don’t control the links pointing to your site, no action is required on your part. From Google’s perspective, the links already won’t count in ranking.”, yet if you watch the video from Matt Cutts on the same page at roughly 3:15 in the video Matt says “So that might be an instance when we might not take action on the entire site, so the site itself still might rank normally but we might take action on some of those anchors. So you might not be able to rank for the phrases that you expected to be able to rank for.”

This directly contradicts the messaging on the same page as this video where it clearly says if you don’t control the links pointing to your site, NO ACTION IS REQUIRED ON YOUR PART.

This is further complicated by Google saying that while no action is required on your part, you still may want to submit a reconsideration request, and if they determine the links to your site are no longer in violation of their Guidelines, they will revoke the manual action.

If the links have already been discounted by Google, then what benefit to Google or to the site in question would removing those links make. UNLESS, Google has also taken an action on the anchor text that was targeted by those links, but this would be contradicted by Google telling you that no action is required on your part.

Algorithmic or Manual Penalty:

Also, keep in mind just because you have a manual penalty doesn’t mean you don’t also have an algorithmic penalty as well. Many times a manual action can be removed but you won’t see a gain in rankings or traffic because your site is still under an algorithmic penalty.

Where I would like to see Google be more transparent is letting us know if the anchor text penalty is occurring manually or algorithmically. I have seen cases where a website has received this “impact links” message, yet I did not see any sign of an anchor text penalty on the specific example links that Google provided which would lead one to believe that the links are only being discounted and anchor text is not affected. In other instances, I have seen websites with the same warning but with a clear anchor text penalty, which would lead to one believe that the links are discounted and the anchor text is penalized (unless there was an algorithmic penalty as well).

With the message of “If you don’t control the links pointing to your site, no action is required on your part.” it is almost impossible to determine if you need to do anything. Without a clear indication of what to do, I’m afraid you will have inexperienced webmasters start disavowing tons of links from their backlink profile and negatively impacting their rankings when they possibly should have not done anything at all.

How To Decide:

We thought it would best if we tried to visualize the decision making process if you received one of these warnings:

Unnatural Link Warning - Decision Tree

Click For Full Size

Thanks Google For …..

All in all, I really applaud Google for taking a step towards more clarity, however, it always seems like we take one step forward and two steps back with Google being more transparent. The best course of action still remains uncertain, and Google has not provided webmasters with enough transparency to help them determine what the best course of action is when they receive one of these messages.

Lets us know your thoughts in the comments section below!


####Update 8/9/2013 @ 1:00pm PST####

You can no longer get to this tool at the moment. Google may be fixing some bugs, but I am uncertain as to why exactly it has disappeared. We will keep our eyes out and update as soon as the tool comes back.


####Update 8/9/2013 @ 1:15 PST####

Looks like Google has provided an update on this at the bottom of their blog post that announced this feature. Here is the quote from that page to save you time.

“Update (12:50pm PT, August 9th): Unfortunately we’ve hit a snag during our feature deployment, so it will be another couple days before the feature is available to everyone. We will post another update once the feature is fully rolled out.”

####Update 8/12/2013####

Looks like the tool is now back online.

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About Dan Summers

Dan Summers is the SEO Director at Elevated Search, an elite team of SEO professionals based in San Diego. Dan has worked in the industry for over 7 years and has gained a deep understanding of search engine algorithms and the proper techniques required to position websites for significant organic growth.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Andy Holt

    This is a great article having spent a long time looking for answers the Google Manual Action question. I have a couple of thousand links to my site so how do I find out which ones Google think are spammy??

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