Escaping Google’s Manual Penalty Sandbox


Just a couple of weeks ago, Google’s very own Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller dropped a bomb while replying to a Google forums post concerning a site that had been penalized. He revealed that removing a manual penalty isn’t the end all, be all when it comes to restoring your site to its former glory, saying that “while resolving the manual action [penalty] is a good way to start, you need to keep in mind that it can possibly take quite some time for our algorithms to regain trust in your site even after that.”

This confirmed what many SEOs have suspected for quite some time now; if your site has been manually penalized, even when you’ve cleaned everything up and gotten that penalty lifted, your site will still have a negative stigma attached to itTweet: Even when you’ve cleaned everything up & gotten that penalty lifted, your site will still have a negative stigma... Sadly, this can make it very nearly impossible to rank.

Though this isn’t a complete surprise to many in the SEO industry, it does throw a new wrinkle into SEO practices as a whole. Now, not only do we have to worry about ranking a site without looking unnatural, we also have to worry about what we can do to remove a site from this manual penalty sandbox if we are unsuccessful in that first endeavor. Fortunately, this isn’t impossible; it’s just really, really time-consuming.

How to get out of the Sandbox

When you discover that you are in the Google Sandbox, the first thing that you’ll invariably think is “how do I get out, fast?” Well, we have some good news and some bad news on that front. The good news is that you can get out; the bad news? You aren’t getting out quickly. The average website oftentimes gets stuck in the sandbox for upwards of 4 to 8 months, and that’s if you take a proactive approach, follow all the rules, and ensure you do nothing to incur the wrath of Google once more. With that in mind, it’s time to get started.

Remove the Google Penalty

Before you do anything else, the first step you must undertake is getting rid of that nasty manual penalty. That means you need to remove all low quality links (using the Google disavow tool and average, every day link remediation), rewrite content on your site so it’s not spammy, and make sure that your site is squeaky clean from Google’s point of view. Once that’s done, submit your site for review with a reconsideration request.

Hopefully, Google will take pity on you and remove the penalty; if they don’t, continue cleaning up your site and resubmitting your request until they do. If they do, good for you! But, your journey isn’t over yet.

Improve your Credibility

Now that your site is nice and clean, it’s time to dig your way out of the sandbox that your site most likely is in. The best way to do that is improving your credibility, and you do this via the whitest hat SEO that you can possibly do. Make sure to improve all content on your site so that it’s not only “un-spammy” but also useful, credible, and extremely well-written. This will make your site more relevant in the search engines, while signaling to Google that you are attempting to move beyond your previous transgressions.

Other things you can do include attracting some high quality links—no more link farms for you!—improving the structure of your site, and makings sure that your site no longer resembles the bad neighborhood site it once was. All of this will improve your chances of getting out of the sandbox, in addition to improving your prospects of high ranking once you’re out.

Improve your Social & Content Marketing Game

Perhaps the hardest aspect of working your way out of the sandbox is truly improving your site’s social media interaction and content strategy. In many cases, this means carrying out fully planned social media and content marketing campaigns to promote your site and the unique, linkworthy content that it contains (see: earn natural backlinks).

Attract as many Google+1’s, Likes, and shares as you possibly can to show Google that your site isn’t being geared towards the bots they employ; instead focus your site on the consumers you’re targeting. If you do this right, you will find your site out of Google’s Manual Penalty Sandbox before you know it.

Update, update, and update some more

Other than that, your best bet is to continually update the site content, blog, and products on your site to show that it is indeed an active one. Google likes actively updated sites, and the algorithm reflects that; hopefully, once you follow through with all this, you will be back on your feet and ready to go!

Remember; Google’s Manual Penalty Sandbox is difficult to get out of once you have been banished to it. And, although the steps to get out seem similar to normal SEO, the effects will be much more gradual, and you may find yourself feeling trapped for all eternity. However, if you follow the tips we’ve outlined here, we can assure you that—regardless of how hopeless it seems—your site will eventually find its way out of the “eternal” banishment it is currently suffering.


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