Google Reconsideration Requests: Are Manual Reviews Reviewed by Humans?

Google Reconsideration Requests

Google’s “manual review” process of websites who have been penalized for violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines is far from being a “manual” process. In fact, based on the response to a recent Reconsideration Request, I am now convinced that “manual reviews” are far from that: even the Manual Review process at Google has been algorithmized and automated. Google needs to immediately change the wording on what they call a Manual Review. Because it’s not manual: humans aren’t obviously not manually reviewing websites, and they do not personally review reconsideration requests. Calling the process a manual action or implying that they manually review websites is deceptive and dishonest if Google’s employees or subcontractors don’t manually review websites.

Google needs to immediately change the wording on what they call a Manual Review if they’re not reviewed by a human.

I’m going to go out on a limb here by saying that Google’s “manual reviews” of websites are not manually reviewed by Google employees, their subcontractors, their sub-subcontractors, or even humans. Based on the results of a recent “manual review” of a Reconsideration Request based on a site’s “manual” penalty for having inorganic, unnatural links pointing to their site, there is no possible way a human reviewed the request.

Google gets about 5,000 requests for reconsideration every week:

Let’s take a look at an example of a recent Reconsideration Request I was involved in. This particular website was given a manual penalty or technically a “manual action“, or “partial match”:

Unnatural links to your site—impacts links
Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to pages on this site. Some links may be outside of the webmaster’s control, so for this incident we are taking targeted action on the unnatural links instead of on the site’s ranking as a whole.

So, what does this really mean? The site has links that need to be removed because they violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. The site is “trying to rank” for certain phrases, so they got links placed in articles on blogs and were involved in some “guest post” type of activities. Google doesn’t like that, it violates their guidelines, so needs to be cleaned up.

Fine. I get that.

So, one of the things that we do here at Globe Runner is clean up these messes, and get manual link penalties removed or “revoked” as Google likes to call it. And we’re good at it. In fact, just yesterday, we got a positive response to a Reconsideration Request, where a manual action was revoked on a site that needed its links cleaned.

Here at Globe Runner, we have a very in-depth process of identifying and cleaning up a site’s links. In fact, some other SEO companies have called our process “overkill”. But that’s fine. We always go above and beyond what could be done to remove a manual penalty from Google.

So, why do I think that Google’s “manual reviews” are not done by humans? Let’s take look more at this particular site’s reconsideration request and the what we did for this website, and then you can decide. The following is from part of a lengthy letter we made available to Google via Google Docs. We used the Reconsideration Request form in Webmaster Tools to request a review:

Overall, after gathering all of the links to the site, we ended up with:
52,252 Total Links
217 referring root domains
693 Healthy Links
709 Inorganic Links
569 “live” inorganic links to get removed (including nofollow links)

What We Did to Clean Up the Links
We manually reviewed all of the 569 links that were still “live”, which included links with the “nofollow” attribute as well as links without the “nofollow” attribute in the link.

We looked up the site owners of all 569 links, using a combination of whois lookups as well as manually visiting the sites to find the site owners. We began contact website owners on February 5, 2014, and requested that the links be removed. Around February 8, 2014, we sent second requests for link removal after we hadn’t heard from site owners who didn’t remove the links. On February 17, 2014, we sent a third round of requests for link removal after we still had not heard from site owners who didn’t remove the links.

As of February 24, 2014, we have heard from 296 site owners. Of those site owners who responded:
– 12 sites refused to remove the links
– 257 links were successfully removed based on our email requests
– 27 links – site owners requested payment to remove the links
– 2 links – we were unable to contact site owners
– 274 links – site owners were completely unresponsive after 3 contacts
– 256 links were removed as a result of our link removal efforts

We prepared, and uploaded, a new disavow file that includes the links whose site owners were unresponsive, site owners we were unable to contact, and site owners who requested payment for removal.

So, after hearing from 296 site owners who responded to our numerous emails, we got 256 links removed. Keep in mind that is of the total 52,000 links we found: but in reality many were site-wide links and links that no longer existed, so there were actually only about 4000 links total. And we provided a spreadsheet of every single URL and included all of the email responses we received, close to 300 emails!

Google denied this reconsideration request. In fact, not only did they deny this reconsideration request, but they were “helpful” and included sample URLs that they had a problem with. They provided 3 sample URLs. Google does this to help point out the types of links that they have a problem with.

The 3 sample URLs provided were URLs included in our spreadsheet. Not only that, the sample URLs included domains where the site owner specifically told us that we must pay to get the link removed. Which is documented in the reconsideration request, along with copies of the emails we received. Not only that, all of the sample URLs given to us by Google in response to our reconsideration request were disavowed because we could not get the links removed (again, documented in the response).

After seeing the efforts that we went through to get hundreds of links removed, documented, and even included the actual emails, Google told us that URLs they had a problem with are ones that we couldn’t get removed.

I’m convinced that there Google’s so-called “manual reviews” of websites are not actually reviewed by Google employees. If that were the case, then would they have included sample URLs that we documented that we could not get removed because a site owner wants payment? I realize that Google gets over 5,000 reconsideration requests every week, and there are a lot of sites to deal with. So part of the Reconsideration Request process has to be automated. But to continue to deceive website owners into thinking that a human at Google is going to manually review their request is misleading.

As for this particular site, I believe this is an isolated incident, as we get plenty of positive responses to our reconsideration requests based on the work we do to clean up links. We’re working on finding more “bad links” and “inorganic links” to this site, and will continue to get more links removed. And at some point we will file another reconsideration request once we’re convinced we’ve gotten all the links removed or taken care of in some way (perhaps by disavowing them and documenting why they’re disavowed).

Whatever the case, Google claims that every reconsideration request is reviewed by a human. Here’s some further reading if you’d like to see what’s been addressed in the past:

Google Reconsideration Responses – SE Roundtable
Google: We Get 5,000 Reconsideration Requests Per Week – SE Roundtable

Bill Hartzer is Globe Runner’s Senior SEO Strategist. Connect with him on Google+ or on Twitter as Bhartzer.

Update: 5:16pm CST March 5, 2014
Google confirms that they do, in fact, manually review reconsideration requests. Here’s the tweet by Nathan Johns: