5 Not-So-Common Reconsideration Request Errors

I’ve been struggling with a particularly difficult link cleanup project lately. On the occasion of my 100th reconsideration request (4th for this particular client), I thought it might be helpful to share five not-so-common problems that you might run into during your own link cleanup project.

[Editor's note: Since this post was originally published, it's received praise from two Googlers: webmaster trends analyst John Mueller and webspam head Matt Cutts! Which just goes to show how important it is that you continue reading!]

1. Don’t Block Your Pages With Robots.txt

One good solution to get rid of some links that you don’t want any more is to take the offending page away completely. This obviously only works if the links point to an interior page, because of course you can’t 404 your home page. But let’s say all your links point to a page like /spampage.html. You can take spampage.html down completely, but don’t block it with robots.txt!

The search engines have to be able to index spampage.html to be able to see that it’s not there anymore, and if you block it in robots.txt or with a “noindex” command on the page itself, the search engines won’t be able to see that it is now a 404. For more on why this is the case, see this article on how search engines work.

2. Be Careful Of Redirects

Similar to the tip above, if your page goes through a redirect before it goes to a 404, it will take longer for Google to “see” the 404. If the redirect is a 301, Google will add it to their queue of links to crawl at some future date. They may not crawl this right away. If the redirect is any other form (302, 307, 304), Google will not add it to their queue of pages to crawl. Therefore, they may never see that your destination page is a 404.

It’s common to have a 301 redirect set in  your .htaccess file to redirect site.com to www.site.com or vice versa. If you want Google to see your 404 quickly and discount the links that point to it, you’ll need to turn this off and make sure that any request to the page goes directly to 404.

3. Sync Your Disavow File

If you’ve been through a reconsideration request process, you know that you rarely get accepted on your first try. You will probably need to do multiple rounds of reconsideration. This means you’ll probably need to update your disavow file a few times. Make sure that each time you update it, you do two critical things:

  1. Include all of the domains you’ve previously disavowed! Remember, these domains you already disavowed are probably not going to show up in Google Webmaster Tools this time around. So don’t forget about them, or you’ll be locked in a continuous round-robin of disavowing links that you already disavowed and then forgot to add. The disavow file is processed anew each time it’s accessed by the search engine.
  2. De-duplicate the list! While the disavow file is processed by a machine and not a person, the manual reviewer usually does take a look at it. So make sure it’s clean; otherwise, it will look like you didn’t care enough to make sure your list was valid. And since a key element of getting your reconsideration request accepted is intent (Google’s got to believe that you care, that you put forth significant effort, and that you’re not going to break their rules again), anything you can do to show how seriously you take your files is a good thing.

Side Note: Make sure your disavow file is read with no errors. When you upload it to Google, if it has errors, they’ll let you know. Fix them and resubmit until it goes through with no errors!

4. Share Your Google Spreadsheet

You already know that you must show your work! Keep a spreadsheet that shows all the domains you’re aware of. Categorize them into logical categories (keep, not found, nofollow, contacted, removed, disavow, etc.) The specific categories you use are up to you, as long as the manual reviewer can tell what you did.

But, here’s the pearl of information: when you upload the spreadsheet to Google Drive, there are two key things that could go terribly wrong:

  1. You might not get all the data into the spreadsheet. Google Drive is picky. It only allows you to copy and paste a certain amount of data at a time. If you go too fast, you may not realize that some of your data has not been pasted in. You may have to add rows to the bottom of the spreadsheet. Check, double check, and triple check to make sure all your data is in that spreadsheet before you submit it in your reconsideration request.
  2. Share it the right way! There are only two ways to share a Google drive spreadsheet so that the manual reviewers can see it. The first is to make it public, which I don’t recommend. What you really need to do is set it so that “anyone with the link can view it.” Follow these instructions exactly:

With your spreadsheet open in Google Drive, select the “Share” button at the top right:

Share button in Google Drive

Under sharing settings, you’ll see “Who has access.” This is normally defaulted to “Private.” You need to select “Change” and adjust the setting to “Anyone with the link.”

Sharing files in Google Drive

Copy and paste the link into your reconsideration request. If you don’t use this link and put the settings this way, the manual reviewer will not be able to access your spreadsheet.

5. Know What To Expect After Your Reconsideration Request

Within a few minutes to a few hours after you submit your reconsideration request, you’ll get an automatic email from Google Webmaster Tools that says your request was received, like the one below.

Reconsideration request auto response

If you do not get this auto-email, your request was not received and you should resubmit. This happens more often than you’d expect, so watch for that confirmation email to make sure that you’re not waiting for no reason. In my experience, you’ll get one of the following responses between 2 and 6 weeks:

Your request was accepted, and the manual action was revoked. This obviously is what you want to see, since it means you’ve succeeded! It’s really rare to see them on the first try, though.

Reconsideration request accepted, action revoked

Your request was not accepted; you have more work to do. This response is the most common one you’ll receive. It may or may not have some example URLs that you should look at. There’s a lot of insight you can take from your examples if you get them, but that is a whole different post.

Reconsideration request denied

There’s one final type of response that I’ve seen personally (all of the above are my own screenshots from live accounts), and that’s what I call the “non-answer”:

Reconsideration request non-answer

This one is particularly frustrating because there’s just no information here. In my experience so far, this response generally indicates that there was a problem somewhere: a spreadsheet the manual reviewer couldn’t access, an incomplete or error-filled disavow file, or something else that went wrong.

According to Top Contributors (as recognized by Google) on the webmaster tools forum, you should not resubmit. They say this response means your request is in queue. So, my advice is to check everything to make sure it’s right, but don’t resubmit. Presumably, you’ll get a response later. In the recent case that I had, the manual penalty was removed (a couple days ago), but we haven’t received another communication from Google.

There’s one last type of response that you may get, but I haven’t seen it personally. The response says something like, “We won’t review another request for a few weeks.” I think that means that Google basically thinks you’ve been spamming them — either that you’ve done too many requests in too short a time period, or that the effort you’ve put forth is not what Google wants to see. You might get a response like this, for example, if the day after you get a manual action notice, you submit a disavow file of all your links. In other words, you haven’t made any effort to remove links or make contacts. As mentioned above, Google wants you to make measurable effort.

Hopefully this list of five not-so-common errors with reconsideration requests will be helpful to you. If you’ve been hit with a manual Google penalty, don’t go it alone. Hire someone with experience to help you. It’s hard to come up with budget in such dire circumstances, but it’s well worth it to work with someone who’s seen these results and knows what’s needed for success.

Have you seen other response types not represented here? Let us know in the comments!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Advanced | All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Google: Penguin Update | Google: SEO | Google: Webmaster Central | How To: Links | How To: SEO | Link Building: General

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About The Author: is the President of an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She's been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition. She occasionally offers her personal insights on her blog, JLH Marketing.

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  • thussain

    Currently Google has been sending out notification on failed recon request to wait for few weeks and then file a recon request. Is there a filter at Google that recognizes failed recon? Already, nowadays recon request are taking more than 4 to 6 weeks at-least to get it processed.

    I have also read tweets from few members that they are filing recon request straight, even after getting such notifications? Is it ok to file a recon request straight or is it better to wait few weeks and then file it

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Good question. I’ve been getting requests processed in 2-3 weeks at most, and I’ve never gotten one of those “wait and resubmit” notices. I strongly believe (and this is opinion) that those “wait” notices indicate Google doesn’t think you are doing enough work in between each request. If it’s taking you that long to get requests processed, they probably think you’re spamming them… whether you are or not, it’s Google’s perception that matters here.

    You should only file a recon request after you’ve done everything possible to eliminate all sources of spam and bad links. Otherwise, when you check that box that says “My site does not violate Google’s guidelines”, you’re being disingenuous.

  • dianekulseth

    I somehow got the lucky end of this. I did a first time reconsideration request for a website and got the non-answer which was very frustrating, and was preparing to submit a new reconsideration today, after a few weeks. I went to the Manual Actions menu and discovered that the manual action on the site was removed! I wish that we would’ve received an update, but I’m pleased to see that the request was granted.

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Whoo! I share in your happiness. Seeing that your manual action was removed is one of the best things ever. :)

  • http://www.koozai.com/author/emma-north/ Emma North

    One other reconsideration request tip from me would be to make sure you talk about specific activity in your reconsideration request and detail the action you’ve taken to resolve any example links Google gave you in the manual spam message.

    For example, if Google gives you three example links, list each one as an example in your reconsideration request message and provide details of what you were able to do, whether disavow, remove, nofollow, etc.

    I find this really helps once I’ve been given example links in the manual spam message.

  • http://docsheldon.com/ Doc Sheldon

    Good points, Jenny. I’ve never seen the no-answer response. A person would think that whoever drafts those prefabricated responses would realize that it’s a total waste.

    I think the single most important point is, as you said, that they expect to see an honest effort at removal. In every instance that I’ve heard of where the sender short-circuited the removal request process or tried to deny any wrongdoing, it has resulted in rejection of the recon request. Taking the time to go through link removals is imperative. Then, recognizing that you understand what the problem was and that you will ensure it isn’t repeated is an essential part of the process.

    Taking an extra week or two to do the job right before submitting has kept me from having any recon requests rejected for my last several clean-up projects. That’s given my clients a chance to start their recoveries months earlier than a rejection would have allowed.

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Emma and Doc – great points and thanks for the comments!

  • http://www.lisa-sprachreisen.de/ Elke Greim

    Dear Jenny, thanks for your kind Email. Shall I write the Reconsideation request in english or in the language of the domain country code? For expample I am from Germany. Should I write it in english or german?

  • http://www.hiswebmarketing.com/ Marie Haynes

    Hi Jenny…this is a great article. You raise some really good points! I have been a victim of the Google Docs copy and paste bugginess before. I had one disavow file that had only 200 domains instead of 2000! That was embarrassing.

    There were a few things in your article that I’d like to comment about:

    “While the disavow file is processed by a machine and not a person, the manual reviewer usually does take a look at it.” – According to John Mueller in this video at 19:36 he says that the webspam team doesn’t actually see the disavow file and that it is processed completely automatically. The webspam team obviously has a way to see if domains that should be disavowed are in your file, but I don’t think that they read the file to do that. He also says elsewhere that there is no harm in having duplicates in the file, but that for your own sake it’s best to make it as readable as possible. Still…there’s no harm in having a neat disavow file. :)

    Edit: Here is the video – Start at 19:36 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ydj10_u9wVs&feature=youtu.be

    “Within a few minutes to a few hours after you submit your reconsideration request, you’ll get an automatic email from Google Webmaster Tools that says your request was received” – I have filed hundreds of reconsideration requests and have never received an email after filing. I don’t know why some people do and some don’t, but it isn’t automatic. Perhaps it is because I am not the verified owner of the site? But I don’t recall a site owner telling me they received an email like this. I do have a message in WMT though within seconds to minutes of filing.

    Regarding the “we’ve processed your request” notices, I agree that they are frustrating. Prior to the manual actions tool coming out I had no idea what this message meant. I had some sites though that got this message and then still saw an increase in rankings so it did appear as if a penalty had been lifted. When the manual actions tool came out I have noticed that each time I have received this message the site has been downgraded from a sitewide penalty to a partial match. My gut instinct is that this is what this message means, but I could be wrong.

    “The response says something like, “We won’t review another request for a few weeks.” I think that means that Google basically thinks you’ve been spamming them” – I’m going to disagree here. I think that this is the new standard wording for reconsideration requests now. I have had reconsideration requests where a site owner last filed several months ago and then my team did the work and filed again and we were told to wait 2 weeks before filing again. We definitely weren’t spamming and we definitely put in a huge effort but just didn’t get all the links on our first try. I think that what Google is trying to say here is that it is important to keep looking for more bad links rather than just addressing the 2-3 example links they gave you. They probably had a lot of people just removing or disavowing those 2-3 links and immediately applying again.

    Thanks again for a great article. Hope it was ok to give my opinion on the points above.

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Hi Marie! Thanks so much for taking the time to write your own experiences. I tried to specify where I was stating opinion and where it was fact, but looking back a couple of things were unclear:

    Regarding the person looking at the disavow file – we have seen responses from actual google reviewers in private emails to the domain owner. Sometimes they make reference to a question about the disavow file. So while it is definitely processed automatically, we’ve also seen plenty of times where a Googler has looked at it.

    Regarding the email from GWT, I definitely should have specified that the automatic response is posted in webmaster tools and emailed to the WMT owner(s). If you are just an allowed user with Full or Restricted permissions but not an owner, you won’t get the email. Good point. But we have ALWAYS gotten the autoresponse if the request was received.

    Regarding the “non-answer” answer, the most recent time we saw this was on a partial match to begin with. We never received another response (despite what the Top Contributors on the Webmaster Forum said), but the manual action was removed.

    And regarding the “wait 2 weeks” email, I can confirm that this is definitely not the new standard response. We’ve received responses without this in it as recently as a few days ago. However from what I understand, manual reviewers have a finite number of responses they can use, and presumably this is one of them. Since it’s a person on the other end, there’s probably no definite way to tell what they were thinking when they chose that response.

    Thanks again for your great response!

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Hi Elke, I actually have no idea what the right answer to that is! My instinct would be that English would always be fine, but that if you are writing regarding a country specific domain, it would also be ok to write in that language. For example, I had one client with a .fr domain that wrote his first request in French, and received a response in French. Then when he engaged us, I wrote his next request in English (because I don’t speak French fluently) and the response was received in English. I think that if you were working on a .br (Brazil) domain and wrote the request in Russian, you might have a bit of a delay in response, but ultimately I think the team at Google will find someone who speaks Russian to reply to you. All my opinion, but a good question!

  • http://www.hiswebmarketing.com/ Marie Haynes

    Great points Jenny. I’m stumped about the “non-answer” ones now. I wish Google could just tell us what on earth they are talking about!

    It’s nice to see someone else who is as obsessed about penalty work as I am. I’ve just followed you on Twitter. :)

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Thanks, followed you back. Always nice to meet someone else I can talk shop with. :)

  • Jeff

    Wouldn’t a 410 status code be a little bit better to use than a 404? I’ve read that a 410 is a more permanent version of a page being taken down. A 404 can communicate that a page is not found but could come back, while a 410 is a more firm statement that a page is gone.

    Source: JohnMu here https://productforums.google.com/forum/?hl=en#!category-topic/webmasters/crawling-indexing–ranking/i70G2ZAhLmQ

    Of course you can’t 410/404 homepages or any other really important pages, but it’s great for interior/leaf pages that are causing concern. It would be better to 410 to flag to let Google know the page is no longer part of the domain, and if it had content that you wanted to showcase, push a new page that’s been cleaned up with relevant content.

  • http://www.jlh-marketing.com/ Jenny Halasz

    You are correct, 410 is more purposeful, since it can’t really happen by accident the way 404 can. :) But either will work as long as it’s consistent.

  • Matt Haran

    Good post! However, for all failed reconsideration requests since Mid December 2013, Google has been saying to wait a few weeks before submitting a new reconsideration. This is due to the large volume of requests they have been receiving. Your Screen-Shots of failed response message is out-dated. They have since updated their language on their failed reconsideration responses.

 

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