Manual actions, the useful tools in Google Search Console

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Let’s go back to focusing on manual actions and the risks of penalization that a site violating Google rules can face: the theme is very delicate and we saw just a few days ago how much attention the US company devotes to the fight against spam to clean up its search result pages and offer users positive experiences.

A focus on manual actions against the site

To guide us in this lesson is the new appointment with the Google Search Console Training series, in which Daniel Waisberg sheds light on a tool contained in the Google Search Console: today we discover something more about the manual actions report, to know what to do if our site is affected by a problem of manual actions that could affect its performance or even its presence in SERP.

Google’s effort against spam and manipulations

“Google is constantly working to improve Search”, says Waisberg at the start of the video, which is why changes to the search engine algorithms are subject to a detailed qualitative assessment prior to the official release. The algorithms are excellent in identifying spam and, in most cases, intervene automatically to delete it from the results pages.

To further improve the quality of search results, Google scans specific sites that do not comply with the policies and guidelines (the quality standards for webmasters): in these cases, a human being can analyze the site and eventually decree a manual action. When this happens, a part or the entire site will lose positions in the rankings or even be excluded and not shown in Google search results.

Guida di Google sulle azioni manuali

Types of manual action

The list of possible problems that generates a manual action includes several prohibited or incorrect interventions and techniques, such as:

  1. Spam generated by users.
  2. Free host containing spam.
  3. Problem with structured data.
  4. Unnatural links leading to the site.
  5. Unnatural links from the site.
  6. Thin contents with little or no added value.
  7. Cloaking and/or redirection commands not allowed.
  8. Pure spam.
  9. Compromised images.
  10. Hidden text and/or use of excess keywords.
  11. Discrepancies in the contents of AMP pages.
  12. Redirection commands not allowed on mobile devices.

In the video, the Googler focuses on some of the main and most common problems, explaining what they are and how to fix them in order to clean up the site and try to recover lost visibility.

Pure spam

It all starts with pure spam, “what many webmasters call black hat SEO“, which includes complex techniques such as the automatic generation of meaningless content, cloaking, scraping (illegal use of contents from other sites) other shady practices.

Thin contents

Google defines as “thin” the low-quality contents that offers information with little or no added value for users. This becomes a problem when a site has a significant amount of low-quality or superficial pages, which do not offer users substantially unique or useful contents and constitute a breach of policies.

Issues with structured data

Manual actions for issues related to structured data are imposed if Google finds that some of the markups of the pages have techniques not allowed, such as content markups not visible to users, markups of irrelevant or misleading contents or other manipulation behaviours.

How to use the Manual Actions Report in GSC

The Google Search Console allows us to find out if manual actions have been issued against the site and view their history, with the chance to read all the details about it.

This way we have a clear context on the problems of the site and its history, also useful in cases of recent acquisition of the domain or a new consultation.

Above all, the Manual Actions report allows us to intervene to correct the issues reported and then try to recover the positions and traffic lost on Google.

How to fix the manual actions

Clicking on one of the entries in the report opens a summary screen that describes the problem, provides the patterns of the pages concerned and indicates a method of resolution.

It is good to understand that we must clean up all the pages affected by the problem and not intervene in a partial way, because otherwise the process of reconsideration will not be successful.

When we have completed the review of all pages that have problems reported by Google, we can click on the “Request review” button in the report to initiate a request for reconsideration.

Submitting a review request to Google

A request shall describe the corrections made and in particular meet three criteria, in order for it to be effective:

  • Precisely explains the quality problem of the site.
  • Describes the procedure used to solve the problem.
  • It shall document the result of the countermeasures taken.

After sending a request, we will receive a notification that Google has taken charge of the examination; at the end of the review, another message will inform us of the outcome of the process, or whether the reconsideration has been accepted or rejected.

Acquisitions of old reported domains, the procedure to follow

Waisberg also offers advice to those who have recently acquired a domain affected by manual actions: in addition to performing all the necessary and due cleaning operations, the new owner can report its situation in the request and ensure that from that moment the site will follow the guidelines of Google. You not only need to delete all the old and problematic content, but also add new good contents before you make the request.

The differences between Manual action reports and  Security issues

In conclusion, the Googler also pauses to explain the differences between the Manual Actions reports and Security Issues of the Google Search Console that have some concepts in common.

The problems listed in the Manual Actions report are detected manually on a page or site and relate mainly to attempts to manipulate the Google search index, but such actions are not necessarily dangerous for users.

From the point of view of the effects, in the majority of the cases the reported problems determine a worsening of the ranking of the pages or the entire site in the search results or the total omission from the search results, without any visual indication for the user.

On the contrary, the indications in the Security Issues report inform that the site has been compromised or follows a behavior that could harm visitors or their devices, for example by phishing attacks or by installing malwares or unwanted softwares on the users’ computers.

These pages may be displayed with a warning label in search results or a browser may display an interstitial alert page when a user tries to visit them.

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