by Lisa Williams

We have a client who came to us in March to help procure a Reconsideration Request from Google. De-indexing and reconsideration at Google is not a simple feat. Google reconsideration and religion have a lot in common. Many faiths (as with many search engines) have the same premise, be good and you will be rewarded.

It’s not always clear what the rules are or where you stand. Just as in religion there is no real criteria to assess (in real time and with a tracking system) if you’re on the right track. “I’ve been a good person, but I kicked a dog once, lied to my mom and told the neighbor girl I liked her new haircut when I didn’t. Am I still going to Heaven?” “I’ve cleaned up my irrelevant links, removed the offending page and created some great content. Am I going to get back into Google?” It’s hard to know sometimes when good is good enough, in religion and in Google’s index.

So here you are, abiding fairly closely to what you know the Google rules to be then one day BAM, you wake up to find that your site can’t be found on Google…anywhere, not even for your own business name. What have you done to fall from grace?

In my clients’ case they had an SEO (whom they thought to be legitimate) do some linking that turned out to be enormously questionable. The links were no or low PageRank links from irrelevant sites and useless directories unrelated to their industry. In addition, they had a links page where people could submit reciprocal links for consideration. While our client denied all unrelated or spammy links, the people requesting the links often put up a low quality link in advance of the request. This resulted in more low quality links pointing at their site. The links page was removed as soon as the client understood the problem.

So what do they do? They haven’t been de-indexed, they can still be found for their name, but they’ve been at the very least sandboxed. They have been practically invisible on Google for three years despite good rankings in all other search engines. We understand they’re in trouble with Google, we’ve completed a Reconsideration Request following Google Guidelines months ago and nothing has happened. They’re in purgatory, but for how long?

So as a test of the Google Reconsideration Request process (and as a test of faith) here is our Twelve Step Plan That Should Help You Get a Reconsideration (or Out of the Sandbox) from Google.

1) Admit you have a problem: During our initial site review and assessment we knew what the problem was, they have a lot of irrelevant links (initially over 1000 and we now have it down to 644).

I love Rand Fishkin’s link popularity platform question, “If this link didn’t help you gain search ranking would you still pursue it?” That’s a great question to ask yourself. Don’t pursue links that don’t make sense. Know that Google likes for you to have links which are relevant to your business and industry and that add value for your customers. If a link doesn’t fall into this category, don’t pursue it. We needed to admit to Google that, yes, they had pursued hundreds of links that weren’t relevant. Be honest, tell Google what you did. My clients’ intention wasn’t to be fraudulent, it was to grow his business. He was led down the wrong path by a questionable vendor. Maybe he should have known better (if it’s too good to be true it probably is) but he went down this path and now he’s asking to be led down the path of righteousness with only good, relevant, authority links.

2) Get educated: Read reputable online magazines, blogs, forums and guides. Attend search marketing conferences such as SMX, SES and our local SearchFest or SEMPDX Events.

3) Change what you can: We asked for removal of about 1/3 of the links, we removed the offending link page, and stepped up our efforts to obtain relevant links.

4) Create more content: We added a blog, requested customer product reviews and posted relevant and very helpful how to guides.

5) Change your domain: We’re not pursuing this path as the client has a prospering business on the other engines and doesn’t want to lose all search placement. But this has been cited as a viable option.

6) Review metrics: Do what you can to be a good site that people want to visit and transact. Google doesn’t really include this element in their guidelines, but it can’t hurt. This client has a better than average bounce rate, good converting landing pages, a 2% conversion rate, a high approval rating from their customers and repeat visits. Though this may not gain them reconsideration, they can sleep well knowing they are being good and fair business owners.

7) Pursue high authority links: Remember that all links are not created equal. Pursue a link like you’d pursue a friendship or a life partner. I’m going to be stuck with this link, am I sure I want to be associated with this link, everyone will know I’m associated with this link. You’re known for the company you keep, in life and in linking.

8) Learn from your mistakes: As we right our wrongs, recognize why what you did was wrong. Don’t make the same mistake again as you will be less likely to be forgiven.

9) Get recommendations from industry leaders: Search Marketing is still in the process of having real standardization. It’s still refining itself as a discipline and it’s important to reach out to industry leaders for advice. Attend conferences and get advice from the best and the brightest. Hire a reputable firm or at least pay for some consulting time with a reputable firm (don’t just ask your cousin Harry’s best friend Tim who works with a girl who does some SEO on the side). Don’t leave something as precious as your online reputation in the hands of someone who hasn’t proven themselves in the discipline.

10) Be patient: This can be the hardest part. My client has been “in the sandbox” for three years. He has created a viable business, but doesn’t have access to over 60% of the market. (We started work on best practice SEO for blue ox tow bars to monitor placement once site was reconsidered with the hope that Google would see us following guidelines for a new product.) My client has chosen to be patient as he waits for word (which may or may not come as Google does not tell you whether or not you are sand-boxed, or communicate the status of your reconsideration request).

11. Accept the things you cannot change: Pursue as much search traffic as you can on other engines and be in acceptance that all you can do is try to be good enough and be patient. To Google’s benefit, one of the reasons they provide such exceptional results and have such market share is that they don’t tolerate spamming or paid linking just for inclusion. Accept that you’ve done all you can and hope that they’ll eventually respond positively and you’ll get back in their good graces.

12. Don’t give up–Persistence pays: Google isn’t interested in your quick fix. When they return a search result to their visitors they are saying that they trust the site and it is worthy enough to share with their customers. Respect that they are just doing their job and don’t give up. Just as in religion, if you’re a good person and there isn’t a heaven (or removal from the sandbox) you won’t be sorry for the efforts you’ve made to be a good person or good website owner. The payback either way is too big, don’t give up. We’re not sure when good is good enough, but we’ll share our results with you.

Thank you to Rand Fishkin and members of the SEMPDX board for their help and contribution towards our efforts.

11 thoughts on “Twelve Step Plan That Should Help You Get a Reconsideration (or Out of the Sandbox) From Google

  1. I think it is very difficult to get out of Sandbox’s effect. I have read in the article to leave the domain and having a new one. Perhaps all your tips can do the magic without leaving a domain though.

  2. To what extent could this be used to harm a competitor then? I note that Google say that inbound links cant hurt you only that they dont pass any link juice etc.

    I’m wondering if there is some truth to the google bowling scenario?

  3. This article could not have come at a better time! I have a new client whose six page website is not indexed anywhere in Google but is listed in the other search engines.

    I followed the Google Guidelines and the only thing I could see wrong is that it had one duplicate page. I’ve removed the offending page and asked Google for the site to be reconsidered…but who knows?

    Thank you for sharing this info Lisa! I sent a link to this article to my client so he could understand the difficulty of the situation as well!

    Colleen Wright
    Search Engine Academy of Oregon

  4. I just checked the Webmaster Tools account today for my client with the 6 page website and the site is now indexed! That was super fast! I just started working on this two weeks ago.

    The steps I took include removing the duplicate content, adding an XML sitemap and getting the xml sitemap set up in the webmaster tools for the account, placing links at the bottom of every page to all six pages of the site (he has javascript navigation) and asking for reinclusion.

    I don’t know for sure if he was actually in the sandbox, but I do know he had absolutely no pages indexed in Google, but was indexed in the other search engines.

    We also just started a PPC campaign in Google…hmmm…do you think that helped?

    I’m not sure…

  5. Nice topic Lisa! Very informative.. but I have a question…

    Is it possible to be penalized for the word “the”? My site ranks # 1 on google for “save a date magnets” AND “save this date magnets” but it ranks #247 for “save THE date magnets” which are the keywords I want. I certainly don’t expect to be #1… but #247????

    Should I put in a reconsideration request?

    Any ideas?

  6. @Save The Date – If I had to guess, it sounds like you may have purchased site-wide text links in the past with that phrase as the anchor text?

    Considering you have an exact match domain name and rank so poorly for the phrase, it does sound like you’ve been slapped down, and they’re trying to prove a point to you.

    I’ve seen penalties levied like this for the exact phrase purchased, but leaving ranking alone for other phrases.

    If you have something to confess, (and it’s been fixed), then yes, I’d come clean through Google’s proper channels, and explain why and where you bought the links, and promise never to do it again. That might get you right back to ranking for that phrase, assuming you really are clean now.

  7. Thanks Scott.

    I wish I knew. I have never paid for a link to my site. I have definitely “exchanged” links but I really try to avoid sites that have nothing to do with weddings (which is our business).

    I guess I will put in a reconsideration request but I really don’t know what guilty thing I have done to be penalized so much.

    If you see anything, please let me know. My other site, ranks #2 on google for the phrase, “save the date cards” which is wonderful!

  8. If you’ve got nothing to confess, then I’d definitely recommend not putting in a request, since it will only bring unwanted attention to your site.

    Besides, I don’t think you have a problem… I just did a search, and found you at #10, while not signed in to personal search – See?

    Thisshows you pretty solidly entrenched for that phrase on page one at all the data centers

  9. Thanks Scott. You made my weekend. I could not find myself at all for the last 2 weeks and my Google webmaster panel said I was #247… so my ranking must have literally changed over night!

    I guess this blog is my new lucky charm. Thanks again for checking. I appreciate it!

  10. Hi Lisa; Some good advice in there. Just a few problems as I see them. In #2 you say to go to the conferences, etc. Why? Don’t they teach blackhat at those? Yep. I don’t believe a site owner who doesn’t really know about SEO should be attending those at all. It’s the same type stuff the client listened to in the first place.

    #10 Get advice from leaders? How does an owner know who the leaders are and what makes these leaders anyway? I’ve read lots of bad advice from leaders out there, or who some might call them that. My suggestion would be to listen to MANY different opinions and then research what they hear. The very best advice are from the people in the industry you rarely hear about. They don’t need to attend conferences and they don’t need to boast about themselves either, to please other industry people. In fact; the very best ones are not liked by the people who you think are leaders.

    My two cents. 🙂

  11. I’m the client that Lisa refers to in the article. I’m happy to say that it appears that Google has finished their reconsideration process. See WE’RE BACK!!!!

    Aside from the 12 steps that Lisa mentioned above, I can tell you with confidence that without #9 (seek advice from a professional) this would not have happened. Lisa (Media Forte Marketing), Rand Fishkin (SEOMOZ), and the rest of the SEOPDX board have been simply amazing! They are the most selfless, professional, and creative people I’ve worked with in a long time. They have a strong, clear vision of what SEO should be and are working hard to turn it into reality. If they’re successful and Google takes note, we’ll all be better off because of it.

    What did I learn out of the process? Before you go with pure do-it-yourself SEO, do yourself a favor and consult with someone like Lisa first! Even if you want to save some money, having an SEO put together a detailed strategy for you is money well spent. It is far cheaper than hiring them to clean up your mess… And finally, “learn from your mistakes”… I guarantee that this won’t happen to us again.

    Thanks again to all the people who helped out with this.

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