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Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included

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Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/14/13 9:56 AM

Hi everyone

I’m having issues with my website’s ranking and would like some feedback from a Googler please. I have checked the FAQs, Help Centre and searched the forums and haven’t found help yet. Sorry for the long post but just wanted to give as much information as possible! I’ve included a bullet-pointed “too long;didn’t read” version at the end for anyone pressed for time!

My website is www.moneyinadvance.co.uk, it’s a fairly new website in the sector of short-term lending.  When deciding how to best market our brand and website it was apparent that what our competitors were doing wasn’t an option and as such as we decided to come up with unique, valuable and engaging content.

To build upon our textual content and guides we wanted to create a really great, fun, tongue-in-cheek resource similar to the interactive themed logos Google does. Being a company of self-confessed geeks we decided on the idea of an Intergalactic Exchange Bureau (a.k.a. Sci-fi Currency Converter). This would create a currency converter between real world currencies and fantasy currencies from popular franchises. After three weeks of research and a further four more weeks of development we launched the Sci-fi Currency Converter late June (http://www.moneyinadvance.co.uk/sci-fi-currency-converter/)

Much to our delight, our brand started getting lots of natural mentions including a great tweet from the editor of Shortlist Magazine on the day of the launch! (https://twitter.com/benfraserlee/status/350270700155699201). What followed was an influx of natural coverage online which included links, facebook likes, tweets and pins!

We saw traffic to the website sky rocket with more and more people visiting the piece.

On 22nd July we received an email from Google Webmaster Tools saying that Google had detected unnatural links pointing to our site and had therefore applied a manual spam action to the site.

This was very concerning to me so I followed the recommendation of looking at the Links to Your Site section of WMT to identify unnatural links. I spoke with our affiliates to ensure they were nofollowing links to our site, created a disavow file and submitted a reconsideration the same day due to the fact we hadn’t participated in any link schemes or paid for any links.

Here are some examples of the links I disavowed (I disavowed domains instead of individual links):

On the 26th of July I received a reply saying the site still violates Google’s guidelines. What was interesting was the fact this message didn’t mention anything about links and focused on content. “We've reviewed your site and we believe that some or all of your pages still violate our quality guidelines.” … “If you wish to be reconsidered again, please correct or remove all pages that are outside our quality guidelines.”

I spent a few hours every day for the next week reviewing our content (which hadn’t really been updated anytime near the penalty) and couldn’t see any violations of the guidelines. Wanting to see if the Sci-fi Currency Converter had caused the penalty I blocked it in robots.txt based on this help article (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356) which says you can prevent PageRank passing by “Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file”.

On 5th August I submitted a second reconsideration request and received a reply on the 10th of August saying the same as the first reconsideration reply, that it was on-page content that is causing the issue.

I’m not sure how to proceed and would love to hear feedback and suggestions.

TL;DR

·         The website www.moneyinadvance.co.uk is fairly new and in the short-term lending sector.

·         To support our on-page content we wanted to create a fun resource to increase our brand awareness, similar to the interactive Google logos.

·         As a company of geeks we came up with the idea of a Sci-fi currency converter which launched on 27th June (http://www.moneyinadvance.co.uk/sci-fi-currency-converter/)

·         This gained some fantastic natural pickup:

o   https://twitter.com/benfraserlee/status/350270700155699201

o   http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57591534-1/intergalactic-exchange-bureau-converts-sci-fi-currency/

o   http://io9.com/turn-into-galactic-credits-with-the-amazing-scifi-cur-598054228

o   http://www.neatorama.com/2013/07/01/The-Scifi-and-Fantasy-Currency-Converter/

·         We received an Unnatural Links message in WMT on 22nd July.

·         We cleaned up affiliate links and disavowed suspect links and submitted the request on 22nd July.

·         We received a reply on 26th July mentioning nothing about links and instead mentioning that “We've reviewed your site and we believe that some or all of your pages still violate our quality guidelines.” … “If you wish to be reconsidered again, please correct or remove all pages that are outside our quality guidelines.”

·         We spent time going through all our pre-Sci Fi Currency Converter content and couldn’t find any issues with it.

·         To see if the Sci-fi piece was the issue we stopped pagerank flowing by disallowing the Sci-fi currency converter in robots.txt based on this article (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356)

·         We submitted our second reconsideration request on the 5th of August.

·         We received the same reply to as our first reconsideration, that on-page content was the issue.

·         My colleagues and I are struggling to isolate the piece of content that is the issue and are reluctant to remove the Sci-fi Currency Converter as this was a big project for us and it was a marketing success in terms of increasing brand awareness on social media.


Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Ryan Clark 8/14/13 10:18 AM
Nofollow your link from your currency converter. 
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Suzanneh 8/14/13 10:28 AM
Do you only want to hear from Googlers or are you willing to listen to what others have to say?  If you really only want to hear from Googlers, let us know so that volunteers don't waste their time.

Go to Search Traffic --> Manual Actions in Webmaster Tools.  What does it say there?

>>·         To see if the Sci-fi piece was the issue we stopped pagerank flowing by disallowing the Sci-fi currency converter in robots.txt based on this article (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356)
This doesn't make any sense...Maybe I'm missing someting.  All that will do is prevent bots from crawling the page.  It's still indexed.

Suzanne


Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Suzanneh 8/14/13 10:31 AM
Oh, just realized this is a payday loans site.  There have been many penalized payday loans sites around here.  Do a search of the forum to see what you're up against.

Suzanne
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Ashley 8/14/13 12:50 PM
Do you only want to hear from Googlers or are you willing to listen to what others have to say?  If you really only want to hear from Googlers, let us know so that volunteers don't waste their time.
Seconded. 
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Ben Griffiths 8/14/13 1:06 PM
A glance at the SERPs reveals that you rank for your favourite terms 1 of 2 ways -

1) Be the BBC, Wikipedia, MSE, etc
2) Well, we all know this one, don't we? Bitcoins required, right? Nudge nudge..

So trying to help would be a waste of time in any event. For my 2c.

Oh. 5c.

Umm... 10c.

$3.

$9

etc
(unknown) 8/15/13 1:32 AM <This message has been deleted.>
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/15/13 1:34 AM
Hi Suzanneh

I would definitely like a Googler's help but any help from the forum is appreciated, so thank you for taking the time to reply.

The manual action section shows:

Unnatural links to your site

Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

This is the same as the first message we received but different from the 2 reconsideration replies thereafter.

The odd thing is, the only 'new' links we have received in the past 6-8 weeks were earned through the Sci-Fi Currency Converter and although some domains spun some content for their own benefit, we didn't participate in any link schemes or pay for links!

As for the robots.txt edit, Google say in that article that you can stop the flow of PageRank by disallowing a page in robots.txt. I did this before the second reconsideration request to see Google had an issue with the Sci-fi currency converter in particular as other areas of the site haven't changed dramatically in the past couple of months.

Any thoughts?
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/15/13 1:46 AM
Hi Ben

It's for that reason in particular we focussed on creating engaging, unique content that will benefit users and be shared naturally and from what I can see, this may be the cause of the penalty which is baffling to me. Just want to make sure I've not overlooked anything.
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/15/13 8:38 AM
On Wednesday, August 14, 2013 6:31:02 PM UTC+1, Suzanneh wrote:
Oh, just realized this is a payday loans site.  There have been many penalized payday loans sites around here.  Do a search of the forum to see what you're up against.

Suzanne

Hi Suzanne, thanks for the tip, I had a look but none of them seem to be similar to our scenario. We seem to have been punished for creating unique, engaging content. I'm trying to understand what exactly I need to change to make the piece/site in-line with Google's guidelines. 
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Ben Griffiths 8/15/13 8:52 AM
Logically, if the Sci-Fi converter shouldn't cause any issues then it isn't. Unless it's a widget people can put on their own site which includes a link back to you, as per recent Google changes to this page:


As such, the problem is probably elswhere.

Are there other sites forwarded to yours? 

Unless you have a bunch of link spam which is being clever and excluding the usual backlink explorer bots (I'm not ruling anything out in your area of operation) then your backlinks look fine after a quick check.

Can you paste in your WMT penalty notice please? Search Traffic > Manual Actions

Is it "pure spam"?

Also, We cleaned up affiliate links means what exactly?
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/16/13 1:16 AM
Hi Ben

Again, in my eyes, the Sci-fi converter was above board but it was the only 'new' thing on our site in terms of content and the only coverage we recently received were through that. Hence why I would like a Googler to a shed a little more light on the situation. Especially since we've received conflicting replies, saying it's about links initially then saying it's about onsite content in the reconsideration request replies.

For affiliates, we just checked to make sure they were nofollowing direct links to our site and added them to the disavow file as an extra precaution. We've been working with affiliates for a while so not sure why it would only just flag for 'manual action'. Really confused!
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/16/13 1:59 AM
Hi Ben

I mentioned this earlier in the post but it's easy to miss! The manual action section in WMT says the following:

Unnatural links to your site

Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. These may be the result of buying links that pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

Let me know if you have any more thoughts, thanks!
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/16/13 8:14 AM
I also looked at the links pointing to the .com version of our domain and noticed some 'not so nice' ones. I have disavowed these but again, none of these 'links' are new and have apparently been live since late 2012.

Can a Googler or forum member weigh in please?
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Ashley 8/16/13 8:37 AM
Zoe - we're all forum members. I thought maybe you noticed before that trying to cherry pick responses/exclude volunteers isn't really the best way to go about getting free help... 
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Suzanneh 8/16/13 8:39 AM
When you have a manual penalty, you can't just use the disavow tool.  Google needs to see a good faith effort at removing the links (or getting them tagged with nofollow).  You need to document all efforts that you've taken.  You need to stop building back links.  The disavow tool is only for the very stubborn links.  When all that is done, then you can ask for a review/reconsideration.


Suzanne

Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/16/13 8:43 AM
Hi Ashley

Sorry if it came across like that! While I am grateful for everyone's help :)

On Friday, August 16, 2013 4:37:46 PM UTC+1, Ashley wrote:
Zoe - we're all forum members. I thought maybe you noticed before that trying to cherry pick responses/exclude volunteers isn't really the best way to go about getting free help... 
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/16/13 8:49 AM
Hi Suzanne

That's the odd thing, the 'legacy links' weren't an issue previously and they weren't particularly spammy and the links from the Sci Fi currency converter (SFCC) were very natural, we did not participate in any link schemes or buy any links especially because of the sector we're in.

The differing replies we've received from Google (links related then content related) is what has me confused.

We did gain a lot of coverage in a short amount of time because of the SFCC but it was very natural coverage and that's when we received the unnatural links warning.
Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Suzanneh 8/16/13 9:15 AM
Did you have a previous site that had a penalty which you're now redirecting to this site?  Is this your only and first site?

Suzanne


Re: Received a manual penalty, confusing messages, Googler help appreciated! Full story included Zoe Slater 8/19/13 1:12 AM
No, there aren't any previously penalised domains redirected into this one.

Regarding Google recommendations on preventing pagerank flow, they are a little ambiguous. Do you think redirecting the links to a brand new page which is noindex/nofollow will help prevent pagerank flow?

Based on Google recommendations (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/66356):

You can prevent PageRank from passing in several ways, such as:
  • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

On Friday, August 16, 2013 5:15:50 PM UTC+1, Suzanneh wrote:
Did you have a previous site that had a penalty which you're now redirecting to this site?  Is this your only and first site?

Suzanne