“Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?”
A few months ago, I went through my first penalty removal experience for a client. They had a manual action notification in their Google Webmaster Tools account for having unnatural links pointing at their site, due to poor quality work from their previous SEO agency.
Before delving into filing a reconsideration request, we removed as many links as we could and disavowed the rest using Google’s shiny disavow tool. During the process, I researched reconsideration request best practice and discovered that it can be very hard to succeed on your first try – sometimes it takes multiple attempts. Even so, I wanted to follow the rules properly to maximise our chances of early success.
It took us 4 attempts in the end until we were successful and the manual action was subsequently lifted. With each attempt, given Google’s pettiness (as I will go on to explain), it was difficult not to just have a massive grump at them. In fact, it reminded me of certain scenes from a certain film…
Disclaimer: If you haven’t seen The Shawshank Redemption, then be warned that there’s gonna be spoilers…
Reconsideration request #1 = Red’s 20-year parole hearing
When drafting my reconsideration request, I followed Marie Haynes’ excellent guide, which also includes an example draft. I followed the example pretty closely (unfortunately I didn’t save any examples, so I can’t share them in this post), which – as you can see if you click the link – is pretty courteous and friendly but also quite apologetic. It accept responsibility. It asks for forgiveness. It tells Google that we’re rehabilited.
Our “We have worked hard to resolve the quality issues on our site and are completely committed to following the Quality Guidelines from this point on” is Red’s “I can honestly say that I’m a changed man.”
I felt a bit like this:
It wasn’t good enough. Why? We’d missed a few links. We had removed dozens of links, disavowed hundreds, but missed a few, with them pointing out 2 or 3. I’d heard previously that Google is pretty forgiving so long as you present a “show of good faith,” but this was harsh…
…It was as if they were saying: “you missed a spot.”
Reconsideration request #2 & #3 = Red’s 30-year parole hearing
With the next attempt, I followed Marie’s example draft again, this time also stating that we’d cleaned up the links that they’d “spotted” that we’d missed. I even re-ran backlink tools to download fresh reports – to see if they’d found any new links in the meantime – and cleaned them up, too. I had the same response: we missed a few links.
Rinse, repeat. I tried a third time. Same response. Even more links that we’d missed.
This time, I felt like this:
…But this happened (twice more):
Reconsideration request #4 = Red’s (infamous) 40-year parole hearing
At this point, I want to stress that as I was acting on my client’s behalf, my response and its attitude were still all above board. But the temptation to be a little bit moody in my response was definitely there…
I think I did make the point that we were really, really trying our best to appease them; that some of the links that were cropping up that we’d “missed” weren’t new, but that they were only just being picked up and noticed by Google; that it was a small business who made the mistake of hiring the wrong SEO agency; that it was affecting their business because of it…
I felt a little Red, 1967 style.
1967 Parole Hearings Man: Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?
Red: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.
1967 Parole Hearings Man: Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…
Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me, it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?
1967 Parole Hearings Man: Well, are you?
Red: There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullsh*t word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a sh*t.
(Ok, so I didn’t go as far as to say that “I don’t give a sh*t” – that might’ve been a tad too much…!)
There have been discussions over whether or not you get the same person looking at your requests each time, or whether your request is approved or rejected simply because it’s been seen by a strict Google engineer having a bad day or the complete opposite. But I do wonder if the difference in the final request made the… well… difference!
Here’s a video of all three parole hearings by the way:
[Image credits - property of Castle Rock Entertainment (obviously not Creative Commons this time, so if anyone from the company wants me to remove the pics, let me know)! Kudos also to big Shawshank fan @Andrew_Isidoro for proofreading this before it went live!]