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Earlier this semester, the Daily Texan and TSM digital team noticed something alarming while looking over within Google Webmaster Tools. Under the “Manual Actions” section, Google declared “this site may not perform well in Google results because it appears to be in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines”. If that wasn’t frightening enough, a bright yellow exclamation point next to the bolded words “Unnatural links from your site” went into further detail on how the Daily Texan was ill-behaved in Google’s eyes and as a result it was getting punished in the Search Engine Results.

The Daily Texan got every webmaster’s worst nightmare, a manual action penalty, courtesy of Google. In an effort to fight spam across the whole world wide web, Google has teams who manually review sites and slap digital penalties that hampers their ranking performance in Google’s search engine results on sites that they deem “spammy”. Below is an interesting chart they shows the types and quantity of manual actions that Google’s Web Spam teams implement in a month.

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Now what did the Daily Texan do to deserve this badge of search engine shame? Well according the WayBack Machine, since early as 2000 the Daily Texan had sold site-wide footer link advertisements that businesses could buy. Unbeknownst to the Daily Texan advertising sales team, those links were helping the businesses rank unnaturally higher in the search results. This practice is considered a link-scheme in Google’s Search Quality Guidelines and is frowned upon because site owners can manipulate their search engine ranking regardless the quality of their content or how relevant they are to people’s search queries. As a result Google punished the Daily Texan with a manual action penalty, and even though the paid site wide link offerings disappeared in 2012, the manual action still stayed.

Upon discovering the penalty, the TSM digital team quickly responded by using tools like Screaming Frog’s SEO Crawler to an extensive site-wide link audit to try to find and fix any other suspicious links that Google would not approve of. Once they were confident that was squeaky clean and contained zero spammy links, the TSM digital team filed a reconsideration request with Google in hopes that they would forgive the Daily Texan of their (unknowingly) spammy ways and lift the penalty. Last month all the hard work paid off, for Google sent the following message indicating that the penalty had been lifted!

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With the slate freshly wiped clean, for the first time in years, the Search Engine future looks bright for the Daily Texan.

Want to double check and make sure your site doesn’t have a manual penalty? Check out our step by step course of action on how to check for and get rid of an “Unnatural Links on Site” manual penalty.