Here at Studio Ten, we test constantly, particularly against spam and fighting bad links. As we're in one of the most competitive industries online - and our clients are in the pharmaceutical industry, smartphone, business loans and many more high value financial industries - we know that competitors can be unscrupulous. That means blasting millions of bad links towards unsuspecting websites causing a Google penalty, and the scary Google Webmaster Tools message.
It's a sad fact but we have to try and kill websites to understand what triggers Google to give a penalty. As they say, they use around 200 website signals to decipher where to place a site within its search engine and what causes it to rank higher. The same goes for those websites that are out of the top 1,000. Why are they there? And even more pertinent, why are they there if they previously were doing well in Google?
Let's start from the beginning: every new site starts out in the Google Sandbox (penalty box). This is a proven fact. Unless you buy a domain that has previous history (even then, there are a myriad of things you should look for), then you are starting from scratch with a penalty, and it's up to you (or your SEO agency) to tickle Google's 200 (or more...never believe exactly what they say) signals.
Although there are many, we can trim down the points that you need to optimise your website to get a good start:
Anyway, back to bad link removal. We were previously spammed and hacked when our site was on WordPress. Just your typical hack that came in through a plugin most likely. We changed things, moved to different plugins and tried to remove the bad links. Nothing happened. We wrote to Google, made no difference. We upgraded our website to a bespoke CMS. Removed more backlinks, removed some pages and changed a few things. Google removed the penalty within 6 days.
OK, we're not saying you have to buy our bespoke CMS to get rid of that manual spam action from Google. We would have kept our WordPress site as, even though it wasn't as pretty as this one, we kinda liked it. However, we have since helped 132 (as of today) websites remove their penalties. That's a lot of websites that have been caught doing blackhat SEO or buying links or having bad guest posts, buying likes and +1s from those tools - all of these things cause manual spam actions. If we can see what isn't natural, then you can bet your life that Google can.
So, we got rid of the manual spam action but what did we decide to do? We tried to get another Google penalty, and did! We spammed our own website. Madness? Maybe. Insightful, definitely! We have done it on numerous websites in our database (all our owned websites on various hosting accounts, not just our own) and have gained so much knowledge from it that we know how to fix a Google penalty on nearly any website.
We have yet to find a manual penalty that we couldn't fix. Pretty cool, eh?