Reconsideration Requests: The True Turtle Dove

December 9, 2011
By Rhea Drysdale in SEO

It’s the second day of SEO, which means it’s time to talk about turtle doves. Not the bird, the symbol! Turtle doves represent sacrifice and mourning, something we see a lot of in the SEO industry (or we’re just really vocal complainers). And, in the world of the SEO, we know no greater sacrifice than the reconsideration request.

It’s the request we make to the Google gods for forgiveness when we, someone on our behalf or a more nefarious third-party has broken one of the Google commandments Webmaster guidelines and got caught. You know you got caught because you’re probably seeing disastrous rankings, plummeting conversions, angry executives and sometimes brutal media coverage.

You need to understand how to use the reconsideration request if you’re going to successfully file one. Only submit a reconsideration request to Google’s Web Spam team when you recognize that they have MANUALLY (not algorithmically) penalized or banned your site in the search results. Filing the form means that you have located the problem, done everything possible to fix it and promise not to do the same in the future. You should not file a reconsideration request if your site drops in the rankings due to an algorithmic update (for example maybe your site was pandalized) or perhaps something technical went wrong with the site.

Not sure whether you have a technical problem, an algorithmic update or a manual edit? Here are tips to help you diagnose whether or not you should file a reconsideration request.

It’s probably a technical glitch or algorithmic problem if you recently:

  • Changed the server architecture of your site.
  • Moved to a new CMS or maybe your CMS released an update.
  • Changed web hosts.
  • Had a server time out.
  • Launched a redesign.
  • Edited your robots.txt file. Tip – use “Fetch as Googlebot” in Webmaster Tools to make sure Google can crawl all of your content. Also, do a site: search on Google to make sure Google has fully indexed your content.
  • Rewrote your URLs.
  • Released a LOT of new content or products on the site. Tip – I call this the seesaw effect, when you overload a site with poorly linked and potentially off-topic content and it tips the authority of your domain until you build up deep links and relevance. Consider releasing this content more slowly and building internal and external links to it as you go.
  • Added a lot of poorly written or duplicate content to the site.
  • Added a canonical tag(s) and possibly did so incorrectly.

It’s probably a manual penalty or ban on the site if you have the following:

  • A malware warning appearing in the Google search results next to your listing.
  • An alert from Google in your Webmaster Tools account (specifically for suspicious activity or malware).
  • Unusual or shady backlinks appearing in your link portfolio. Tip – use a tool like Open Site Explorer or Majestic SEO to see a report of your domain’s backlinks and identify areas for concern.
  • Incorrectly setup redirects (which could look like cloaking).
  • One or many thin site(s) that appear to be doorway pages.
  • Hidden content. Tip – not sure? Watch this:

If you’re still not sure, read more about how to diagnose a rankings drop by visiting Google’s resource on what to do when “site not doing well in search.” And, over a year ago Dr. Pete gave us some tips on how to conduct a 10-Minute Missing Page Audit. To help diagnose problem areas and whether you should file a reconsideration request, those steps are worth following.

Now that you know more about why your site’s rankings have dropped, let’s get back to our turtle dove – the reconsideration request.

Since a reconsideration request is the ultimate sacrificial act, it’s important that you understand you can’t just confess your sins and be wiped clean so you can go back to doing whatever landed you in hot water to begin with. The point of the reconsideration request is to admit that you did wrong, pay penance for those sins (by correcting the problem) and stress how you have learned from the experience and promise to never, ever (no really) never do it again.

Can you do that?

Ok, great, let’s make amends. Walk through the following reconsideration/reinclusion process (tips compiled from personal experience, as well as, these folks: Matt Cutts, tuntdubl, Eric Enge and Search Engine Roundtable):

  • Admit what went wrong.
  • Explain how the problem was fixed and provide a timeline of events.
  • If you can’t clean up everything, explain that you did everything possible to try to fix the problem.
  • Really show them that you mean it and will never do it again.
  • Be detailed, but concise (remember these are real people reading your request).
  • Don’t overload them with multiple requests for the same domain.
  • Rather than filing one request for multiple domains, just file one request per domain (Pierre Far has openly stated they ignore multiple requests for the same domain).
  • Don’t threaten or demand results just because you have an ad budget.
  • Follow-up if you have new information and haven’t heard back, yet.

The biggest concern with a reconsideration request is how long it takes to see results. The truth is the system was horrible for years and is just getting better in 2011 with a new messaging system the seeks to be way more transparent.

At the 2011 SMX East search conference, Tiffany Oberoi from Google stated that the Web Spam team will now provide responses to reconsideration requests that address the state of your submission. Google should notify you of the following:

  1. If manual action was revoked.
  2. If you are still violating guidelines (and the penalty was not revoked).
  3. If you are not actually affected by a spam action at all (in which case they can’t help).

More detailed information here:

By now you should know what went wrong, have fixed the problem (to the best of your ability) and determined whether or not the reconsideration request is the best act to reclaiming your rankings.

Hopefully, your holiday season isn’t consumed by a reconsideration request, but if it is, make your apology, set the record straight by starting here, and remember to heed the warning of widgetbait gone wrong.

[This post is part of our 12 Days of SEO series where we’ll be publishing a different nugget of knowledge related to the sounds of the season. We’ll be updating the 12 Days of SEO page as new posts are published.]

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