The last time I receive a manual penalty from Google was about 3 years ago. I was penalized for unnatural outbound links, and I got it revoked. It was pretty easy and straightforward. I knew I what my sin was and all I had to do was to right my wrong, get on my knees and ask Google for forgiveness.
I’ve been hit with several algorithmic penalties too. From Panda to Penguin, even Hummingbird. Somehow, someway, it seems I always get into trouble with these guys and I recently had to upload a huge disavow file to clean up my backlinks profile. That’s what happens when you fail to play by the rules.
Thin content with little or no added value
The most recent penalty I received was a manual webspam action that took me off SERP completely.
I was penalized for thin content with little or no added value. Google gave examples of what I was being penalized for:
- Affiliate pages: I had those.
- Cookie-clutter pages: Perhaps. I later found a malware.
- Doorway pages: Couldn’t be too sure either.
- Automatically generate content: Nope.
- Copied content: Yes, most likely store product descriptions.
Unfortunately, this was a very broad one, and it was difficult trying to know exactly what the problem was. I knew it wasn’t the main blog posts. I assumed a malware had probably added doorway pages to the site, I did a site search on Google using this query without the quotes: “site:www.doncaprio.com“
I was shocked with what I saw. Loads of pages with little or no content littered the results. I recently performed an experiment with WP Multisite that resetted my Yoast SEO settings, exposing pages and archives that shouldn’t be on Google. I also recently changed the site’s theme, removing some conditional robots meta tags that only appeared on certain pages.
- Tag archives: Might have caused internal duplicate contents.
- Category archives: Might also have caused internal duplicate contents.
- BuddyPress profile pages: Little information with Google ads makes this look page
- Author archives: Again, internal duplicate contents.
- Old articles: Blog posts date back to 2009 and some of these articles are really “thin”.
I deleted about 200 old blog posts with thin content using Sortable Word Count plugin to identify them. I temporarily disabled tag, date and category archives using a PHP code in the functions.php file. I also disabled BuddyPress since profiles of hundreds of members were appearing in search.
Lastly I used Google Search Console URL removal tool to remove all these pages from search. With that done, I sent a reconsideration request on the 14th:
We have identified the cause of the issue. We have also deleted hundreds of old, thin articles with little content. There are also so many members profile pages appearing in search that offer no valuable content and we have updated our robots.txt file to block these. The same applies to tag pages, category archives and others. With most of the pages not supposed to be in search results deleted, some blocked with an updated robots.txt file and even de-indexed, we hope the penalty will be lifted. Thanks in anticipation.
5 days later, Google rejected the appeal:
Google has reviewed your site in response to your reconsideration request. Based on this review, Google believes that your site still violates Google Webmaster Guidelines. To resolve all manual actions, review your site again, correct the necessary items, and file another reconsideration request.
I knew I was in for it and needed to do more.
The aggressive approach
Trying to fish out the problem, I did a random check on my theme files and found a code I knew I didn’t add. I did a complete cleanup and checked every other theme files. Other sites on my VPS too were infected. I wasn’t sure this was the cause of my problem though. I also found some strange files in my /wp-includes/ folder and deleted them. I then re-installed WordPress, overwriting possibly infected core files.
Next, I deleted the site’s store section completely. I used product descriptions directly from the manufacturer’s website. I had the intention of changing these when I was done designing the store but I never did. This might have led to a “copied content” penalty.
There was a gadgets specifications section on the site too and I axed it. Each gadget only has specifications (that could be seen everywhere online) with affiliate links pointing to ecommerce websites. This was mentioned in the orginal penalty message.
There was a forum too with user-generated content. Though I’m not completely sure this posed any problem, the aggressive approach led me to delete the whole forum. I thought some pages on the forum were too shallow and I didn’t want to appeal a third time.
Some of these decisions were tough to make, but I had to do it anyway. I was losing traffic and money. I then sent a detailed, well-composed reconsideration request on the 19th of January.
We have been able to identify the root cause of the issue. We seem to have more than one problem on the website which have all been fixed now.
- Our template was infected with some malicious codes which we have cleaned up. We’ve done a re-install of the whole site too, overwriting possibly infected core files.
- We have a forum with thin, user-generated contents and we have deleted the whole forum permanently.
- The gadgets specifications section of the website too has thin content with affiliate links pointing to shopping sites. We have deleted the gadgets specifications pages permanently.
- We have a store too with all product descriptions taken directly from the manufacturer’s website, leading to duplicate content. We’ve removed the store until we are able to write our own products descriptions.
- Tags, author archives and date archives often duplicate site content internally and we have disabled these. They now return 404.
- Member profile pages offer no significant content and we have disabled these as well.
- We have reviewed our old contents dating back to 2009. We’ve been able to determine those that might be considered ‘thin’ and duly removed them.
With all these steps taken to ensure compliance with Google’s Webmaster guidelines, we do hope that our site is reconsidered. Thanks.
I kept my fingers crossed and 6 days after I sent the request, the penalty was lifted and got this message:
The penalty was eventually removed. Although the site’s ranking isn’t fully back, it’s normal as it may take up to a week before everything goes back to how it was.
From my two experiences with manual webspam penalties, Google really wants to know what you have done to rectify the problem. Google wants to see that you know exactly what you did to deserve the hammer.