So it’s likely that you are here because a few months back you received a message in your GWT stating the following…

[message type=”warning”]
Google Webmaster Tools notice of detected unnatural links to

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.


Google Search Quality Team

And possibly after investigating how others responded to this message, you decided the best route was to ignore it instead of potentially attracting some overzealous Google employee in to manually reviewing your site.

Now I realize that there are many out there that don’t believe manual reviews exist and that Google could never have the time or man-power to manually review web pages – but they’re are sadly mistaken.

The Google manual review process exists and let me tell you something…once they do start venturing down the rabbit hole…you’d better hope that over the past 5 years or so, you’ve not performed any “shady” linking practices. That’s right, Google will go back that far in to the history of your site and if they find anything they deem “inorganic”, you’re in trouble my friend.

For the record here: anything outside of what Google classifies as “natural” looking links is likely to be labelled “inorganic” which would include link schemes, links inside spun content, participating in private link networks like AMR, UAW etc. and having too many links with the same anchor text. These are all valid reasons to punish your site whether manually or algorithmically via updates like Penguin or Panda.

In my case however it was slightly different – ironically my site came under the microscope of Google over a very highly disputed reason…Negative SEO.

Yes I accept there are many of you that might laugh at the notion of some less than professional SEO having the ability to affect competitors by manipulating Google’s own algorithms and SPAM reporting tools. But it’s best you accept it now because it’s not only possible, it’s rampant post-Penguin 1.1.

So here’s how it went down…

I will be the first to put my hand up saying that I may have chose the wrong route in ignoring Google’s message to me in GWT about inorganic linking. But in my defense though, it was followed by another message only two days later as shown below…

[message type=”warning”] Big traffic change for top URL
March 23, 2012

Search results clicks for have increased significantly. Yay!

In fact, this message came exactly 2 DAYS after the message about unnatural linking. Now I don’t know about you but…whenever I’ve experienced articles going viral (like in this case) it is clearly going to be followed by a massive influx of inbound links.

The article attracting all the attention received over 80,000 unique visits in a 72-hour period and even prompted an emergency conference call with my hosting company.

The article was unique but not only that it was EXCLUSIVE on news that was already sweeping the globe and going viral on YouTube.

Naturally (no pun intended), this would create a massive stream of incoming links from sites likely to be considered “outside” the norm. Why? Well you see the site we’ve been discussing of mine is all about news in Costa Rica – and it just so happens that this strange phenomena I wrote about was something the world already had their eyes on. But when you think of it this way…what is to be considered “normal” for a news site that covers all topics no matter the subject so long as it’s newsworthy?

So that should have explained away the vast majority of the links Google were looking suspiciously at – but it didn’t.

Then there was the Negative SEO factor being played at the same time.

Amidst my conversations with Google on reconsidering my site, I received an email from a shady SEO who admitted to using Negative SEO on my site and that he will continue to do so because he knows that with Penguin 1.1 it made things a whole lot easier for him.

This cowardly SEO would even assume the name of a reputable and well-known Internet marketing genius named David Dangelo. Anyone recognizing this prominent figure would immediately notice the spelling of the name as being incorrect.

This half-wit basement SEO assumes the alias of a superstar then gets the name wrong. Like the real David DeAngelo has time to troll around sites looking for peeps to stalk and harass. None the less I’ve included the twit’s email should anyone decide they’d like to talk about Negative SEO with a snake oil salesman like Mr. Anon. David Dangelo <;>;

Enough of this guy – my point is however that Negative SEO is a very possible scenario these days and with Penguin 1.1 this has opened the door wide for less than ethical SEOs around the world to sabotage competitors.

Back to how I got Google to lift the manual review penalty…

I started a bit naive to be honest – I’d never experienced a Google penalty in my life so I jumped the gun and went on the defensive and responded with a WTF email to them via the site reconsideration method.

Ya…probably not the brightest approach.

The response was a quick try again you’ve still got the same issues that violates our guidelines.

Figures. Dumb me.

So I began to think this through. If I ever had a hope in Hell of recovering from this I’d better study up on how others have done it with success.

Ironically, the truth remains that GIYBF (Google Is Your Best Friend) therefore I hit the search. It was then that I came across this post on Search Engine Land by Barry Schwartz (First Report Of Google Penguin Recovery)

Google Penalty RecoveryAfter reading that piece for what seemed like an eternity, I began to think that this might be an impossible task. According to GWT I had over 100,000 incoming links to the site and as most of you know…Google is not too forthcoming on pointing out exactly which links are the problem.

So that night I cried myself to sleep.

During the following week I sent in another request for reconsideration which included pointing out the obvious – given they’d notified me of unnatural link patterns from suspect sites one day, then 2 days later congratulate me on massive traffic flow – would it be so hard to believe I’d be getting links from sites that might appear otherwise unnatural?

Actually many of them came from a hugely popular Russian forum that appears to talk about paranormal and strange effects around the world – so you can kind of see Google’s point. None the less a simple visit to the site would’ve shown them that they were in fact discussing the subject and naturally linking to my article.

I also included in my request for reconsideration, a copy of the email I received whereas the slimy SEO claimed responsibility for the Negative SEO and in fact that he would continue. (it may have helped that he was using a gmail account which could easily have been verified)

Additionally I included numerous copies of my email requests to have links removed that we unnatural…even to me. I have to say that, on this point I give Mr. Schwartz all the credit in the world because when you have thousands of links to consider…this can drive anyone batty.

A few days after the request was submitted they denied it once again by stating the same…

[message type=”warning”]
Reconsideration request for Site violates Google’s quality guidelines

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We’ve reviewed your site and we still see links to your site that violate our quality guidelines.

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

We encourage you to make changes to comply with our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

If you have additional questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.


Google Search Quality Team

This really took the air out of my sails and I began to think I’d never be able to recover against the Big G.

I began to stew on it…

After a few more weeks of watching my site disappear from the SERPs, I began to have more and more resentment towards Google.

Who were they to determine whether a company lives or dies on the Internet? Why, if they know which links are the problem, do they not disallow any effects from them or better yet, incorporate a manual disallow links feature in the backend of GWT so webmasters can do it themselves rather than running around trying to convince webmasters to remove links for them? I was beginning to get pissed!

Then I had a stroke of luck – one of my requests to remove links was responded to. And what a gift this one was considering it was responsible for firing over 77,000 links my way by putting me in his blogroll and subsequently transferring that link throughout his entire site. I was super excited. Surely Google would appreciate removing so many links in one shot.

Then I started to handpick a few of the other inorganic looking links and contacted webmasters from Costa Rica to Mongolia. As expected this wasn’t much of a success but at least I could document it and provide Google proof I’m showing a concerted effort.

All in all I succeeded in removing almost 80% of the 100k+ links appearing in GWT. What an accomplishment right?


After I packaged it all up with all the supporting evidence Google would need including emails to webmasters, responses and the email showing the threat of Negative SEO…Google would respond with…

[message type=”warning”]

Thank you for your request.

We have received your updates and completed our investigation into your site’s backlinks. At this time we are still seeing a significant number of inorganic links to this site and have taken action to prevent them from artificially inflating your site’s ranking. Please note that we try to be granular in our actions as we focus on the inorganic links to your site, preserving organic recommendations.

At this time, we have determined that no further actions are required on our end. We will need to see more progress on the removal of the inorganic links before any actions on those links are revoked.

In the meantime, we recommend that you continue to work on cleaning up the inorganic links to your site. As a reminder, if you’d like more specific advice for your site, consider posting in our Webmaster Help Forum, where a community of webmasters may be able to help you. You can post to the Forum by visiting the following link:!forum/webmasters.


The Google Search Quality Team

Needless to say, at this point I figured all hope was lost. I’d succeeded in diminishing my backlinks to the site by more than 80% and yet Google was still not satisfied.

I let it sit for awhile. But as I would perform monitoring on my client sites I was constantly reminded how Google was destroying my business as my site dove in to non-existence in the SERPs. It was painful to watch.

Then I said to myself that I’d had it!

I was going to write Google (using the reconsideration request) and tell them just how I feel about them wielding that kind of power to make or break a company. I laid it all on the line – so much so that one might think that Google might respond by wiping me off the map not just on the one site but all of them listed in GWT.

I wrote the “request” at about 3:30am just before calling it a night. I sent it and never expected a response outside of…”nope. you’re still in violation”.

Next few days went by and nothing so I began to research what I could do with this now defunked domain that was once a powerhouse in it’s niche. I determined it would be best to just start over with a fresh domain and 301 redirect the punished domain to try and salvage at least some of the juice that domain had that Google, over time, might passthrough.

I had no choice.

So yesterday I registered the new domain and began to get to work on rebuilding my business from scratch. To be honest though…the whole time I couldn’t help but to wonder how anyone could protect themselves from Negative SEO given what had just happened to me.

Then I heard a little voice in my head (ya…I get that a lot at 4am) telling me to check my GWT account for a response. In true bass-ackwards fashion, I registered the new domain THEN went to check GWT.

And would you believe it…

Google responded!

As I cringed in fear of the biggest backhand I’d ever seen in my life – this is what they wrote in response…

[message type=”warning”]
Reconsideration request for Manual spam action revoked

June 27, 2012

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Previously the webspam team had taken manual action on your site because we believed it violated ourquality guidelines. After reviewing your reconsideration request, we have revoked this manual action. It may take some time before our indexing and ranking systems are updated to reflect the new status of your site.

Of course, there may be other issues with your site that could affect its ranking without a manual action by the webspam team. 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 your site continues to have trouble in our search results, please see this article for help with diagnosing the issue.

Thank you for helping us to maintain the quality of our search results.


Google Search Quality Team

I couldn’t believe my eyes…was I reading this wrong?

How could it be that after I send a big F-You letter to Google, that they would lift my manual penalty?

It goes to show you that, depending on your luck with the manual reviewer on the other end at Google, you might just get through with one of them and have them sympathize with your situation.

Lessons learned in all of this are:

1. Negative SEO is real and easier than ever with Penguin 1.1 and it’s focus on unnatural and spammy links.

2. Although Google is primarily a bunch of number crunching computers, a manual review is possible.

3. Expressing how you REALLY FEEL to Google and showing your frustrations combined with performing a concerted effort to cooperate with them…goes a long way.

Now although the site is just now beginning to recover (10 point jump in the SERPs since last night), I’m confident it will return to it’s once rightful position. That is unless Google lied to me…then I’d have to climb the nearest clock tower and start going postal.


It has come to my attention that some people are finding a “loop hole” in getting out of a manual review punishment. The method is interesting and I personally do not see how this could fail…

1. Change the registry information on the affected URL or make it private.

2. Temporarily take down the existing site and replace it with new content, theme etc. to appear like its a new site.

3. Remove association with any previous GWT accounts (especially the one you got the notice sent to!!!)

4. Remove any Adwords or Analytics connection to the affected GWT account (Gmail)

5. Get another – new – Gmail account setup and then associate that account as the owner of the affected web site in GWT.

5. Finally you can then submit a reconsideration request telling Google that you’ve just recently bought this domain and only after buying it, the old owner told you that Google has manually punished it. So you also need to ask them for a reconsideration request based on the fact that you have just invested in this new URL and are trying to get started with your business and you really would appreciate it if they could lift the manual penalty.

Chances are they will. They “had” an issue with the previous owner but now that an unsuspecting new owner has the URL…they can’t exactly continue punishing the URL.

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