How to Recover from a Google Algorithm Penalty

How to Recover from a Google Algorithm Penalty


It’s September 2013 and business is booming. Your website ranks impressively well, in fact it outranks most of your industry’s biggest players. But, little do you know, things are about to change in a month’s time, for the worse I’m afraid. You wake up on October 4th and your once high traffic website resembles a ghost town.

What happened on that fateful day was no mistake, it didn’t involve sabotage or trickery; you were hit by a Google penalty, Penguin 2.1 to be precise.

What this means is that Google basically flagged you in one form or another as cheating, gaming the system, manipulating, exploiting or quite frankly making a fool of the dominant search engine. One thing Google does not take lightly to is being made a fool of.

Here’s how to recover (or do your best to recover) from a Google algorithm penalty:

Step 1 – Identification

The first thing you need to do is determine what kind of penalty you are dealing with. To do this you need to log into your Webmaster tools account and check if you have any messages from Google.

If you have a message from Google saying that they’ve identified unnatural links from your site and your site will no longer perform well in their search results, then this article isn’t for you. Sorry, but honestly you’re actually one of the lucky ones.

If there is no message in your Webmaster Tools account, just a massive drop in organic traffic, you’ve almost certainly been hit by an algorithm shift. I use the term ‘algorithm shift’ as this isn’t a penalty as such, but rather a change in Google’s algorithm that has dramatically reduced how much trust Google has in your website.

Step 2 – Weigh up your options

This step requires you to do some thinking and honest reflection.  Did you do some dodgy link building? Or did you hire an SEO firm or person that did a whole bunch of things that you didn’t understand but involved words like ‘link building’, ‘PR4 and up’, ‘blackhat’ and ‘bots’?

From here you need to weigh up your current investment in your website. How long has it been up, how much time and money have you spent on it and could you under go a rebrand or online overhaul?

If you’re one of the lucky few that haven’t spent much money on your site and could possibly scrap your current domain and start again, I would suggest considering this option.  As for the rest of you, you’re in for the long haul I’m afraid.

Step 3 – Toxic link identification

From here you need to analyse your website’s current link profile to identify the culprits. You’ll need a link analysis tool, a sneaky industry that has popped up since the first penguin update. I’d recommend Link Detox, but there are a bunch of them around.

This tool will help identify what links can stay and what links need to go, while saving you a lot of time in the process. Don’t skip this step in an effort to reduce costs; it will literally save you weeks of work. 

Step 4 – Toxic link removal

Once you’ve got your link report and you know what links caused Google’s Penguin to crash your party, you need to move onto the link removal and disavow stage. This is the part that sucks, a lot.

You need to remove all of these dodgy links. Just how do you do this? By manually contacting each website and asking them to remove the links. It is a time consuming and mind numbing process.

Thankfully, Google understands that this is just not possible as often there is no one monitoring these spammy sites. Thankfully Google introduced the disavow tool, which allows you to tell Google what links you want to be ignored. It’s important to submit your disavow file as soon as possible, as it can take up to 6 months for Google to re-crawl these spammy sites and process your disavow file.

Step 6 – Be patient.

Now you need to step back and wait for the next Penguin update or refresh. It’s a tough pill to swallow but that’s just how it works. You’ve been flagged by Google bot and you now need to wait for the new update for an opportunity to regain your reputation in the eyes of Google.

Step 7 – Invest in consolidated digital marketing

While you wait for the next Penguin update be proactive and start looking at a consolidated digital marketing approach.

Run a content marketing strategy, invest in Google adwords, work on your email database and start getting your head around social media.

By doing this you can take what could have been a game ending injury and turn it into a digital marketing lesson that leaves you better off in the end.

Mark Wright
Mark Wright Co-Founder at Cavalry Media - Comes from a Public Relations background, Mark is a devoted enthusiast of the internet. As a wordsmith, consultant and marketer, he aims to bring your ideas to life and attract the attention your organisation deserves.