Recover from a Google penalty with my roadmap

A Google penalty does not happen very often. In my time as an SEO specialist (about 10+ years), I have only experienced this a handful of times (fortunately never with clients). You have to be really bad, or unlucky, to get a manual penalty. In this article you will find my roadmap to recover from a penalty from Google.

What is a Google penalty?

A Google penalty is a penalty imposed by Google when your website does not meet their guidelines. This can range from small drops in rankings to disappearing from search results entirely. It’s every SEO’s nightmare, but fortunately there are ways to fix it.

Impact of a Google penalty on your website

The impact of a Google penalty can be devastating. You may experience a significant drop in organic traffic, which directly affects your conversions and revenue. It can also damage your brand reputation and undermine your customers’ trust. In short, it is something to be taken seriously.

Be careful, in some cases it may be better to switch domain names and IP addresses than to continue with the same domain. There are SEO specialists who firmly believe that after a manual action by Google, a website will never rank as well as it did before.

Fixing a Google penalty in a nutshell

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Identifying the problem

Before you can begin to solve the problem, you must first understand what the problem is. This is the first step in the recovery process.

Types of Google penalties

There are basically two types of Google penalties: algorithmic and manual. Algorithmic penalties are automatic and are usually caused by updates in Google’s algorithm. Manual penalties are imposed by a human reviewer at Google and are often more severe.

In this article, I continue to discuss manual actions rather than algorithmic penalties. These algorithmic penalties happen when there is an update at from Google, where you do not (no longer) meet certain requirements that have been tightened in this case. For algorithmic penalties, see my overview of Google’s updates.

Tools to detect a Google penalty

There are several tools that can help you identify a Google penalty. Google Search Console is your best friend here. You can view manual actions in this overview of the GSC (do log into your own account). Other tools such as SEMrush and Ahrefs can also be useful for in-depth analysis.

First steps after receiving a penalty

So, you’ve received a Google penalty. Don’t panic, we are going to solve this together. The first thing to do is act quickly to limit the damage.

Communicating with your team

Inform your team of the situation immediately. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. Make sure everyone, from content creators to developers, is informed and ready to take action. With regard to the project SEO is the highest priority.

Temporary measures

While you work on a long-term solution, there are temporary measures you can take. For example, consider setting up PPC campaigns to make up for the loss of organic traffic. This is also the time to check that your website still meets the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Analysis and diagnosis

Now that your team is on notice and you’ve taken temporary measures, it’s time to dig deeper and figure out the cause of the penalty. Do you get a manual penalty? Then it almost always says what causes it. In this case, skip this stage and move on to action. Discussed below is the “usual suspects” when it comes to a Google penalty.

Technical SEO audit

Start with a thorough technical SEO audit. Check for problems such as duplicate content, poor URL structures or slow load times. Tools such as Screaming Frog or Sitebulb can help tremendously with this.

Backlink profile analysis

A poor backlink profile is one of the most common reasons for a Google penalty. Use tools such as Ahrefs to analyze your backlinks. Look for unnatural, spammy or low-quality links to remove or disavow.

Content audit

Last but not least, conduct a content audit. Make sure your content is unique, relevant and valuable. Remove or rewrite anything thin, duplicated or of low quality. See Google’s guidelines regarding content here.

Action Plan

You’ve identified the cause of the Google penalty and your team is on notice. Now is the time to create an action plan and get to the root of the problem.

Solving technical problems

If you discovered technical problems during your SEO audit, now is the time to address them. Whether it’s speeding up your website, fixing duplicate content or improving your URL structure, every detail counts.

Removing or disavowing harmful backlinks

Have you found harmful backlinks? Contact the website owners and ask for the links to be removed. If that fails, use Google’s Disavow Tool to let Google know to ignore these links when reviewing your site.

Even if the problem lies with another cause, I would recommend disavowing some of the links. That way, you can be sure that you will continue with a clean slate.

Customizing content and meta-data

If your content is the cause of the penalty, it’s time for a thorough overhaul. Rewrite thin or duplicated content and make sure your meta-data such as titles and descriptions are also optimized. In particular, make sure all content meets Google’s guidelines.

Communication with Google

You did your homework and made the necessary changes. Now is the time to communicate with Google and get your website re-rated.

Filing a reconsideration request

Through Google Search Console, you can submit a “Reconsideration Request. This is your chance to let Google know what actions you have taken to fix the problems and why you think the penalty should be lifted. This can be done in the same environment where you received the manual action (via the Google Search Console – see this link).

What to expect after submitting

After submitting your request, it may take several weeks to receive a response. In the meantime, continue to monitor your website and be prepared for any additional questions or actions on Google’s part.

Monitoring and adjustment

You have submitted your Reconsideration Request and now you are waiting for a response from Google. But that doesn’t mean you can sit back. Monitoring and adjustment are crucial at this stage.

Tools for monitoring

Google Search Console remains your go-to tool for tracking your website’s performance. Other tools such as SEMrush, Ahrefs and Google Analytics can also give you valuable insights. For cases like this, I always recommend sticking mainly to the Google Search Console, the data coming from it is the most accurate.

KPIs to keep an eye on

Keep a close eye on your key performance indicators (KPIs). This includes organic traffic, conversion rate of organic traffic and keyword rankings. Any sudden changes may be an indication that you need to take action.

Preventive measures

You worked hard to get out of this situation, so let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Best practices to avoid future penalties

Follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines closely and stay on top of algorithm updates. Ensure quality backlinks and avoid black-hat SEO techniques.

Maintenance plan

Set up a regular maintenance plan to monitor your website. This should include both technical audits and content audits. Schedule this at least once a quarter.

Conclusion

Summary of the recovery process

We have come a long way, from identifying the Google penalty to submitting a reconsideration request and monitoring our efforts. Getting your website back on track is an intensive but necessary process.

Next steps and recommendations

Now that you have gone through this process, it is important to look ahead. Keep monitoring your website and KPIs and adjust your strategy as needed. There you have it, from beginning to end. I hope this guide has helped you establish a clear path to remedy the Google penalty.

Senior SEO-specialist

Ralf van Veen

Senior SEO-specialist
Five stars
My clients give me a 5.0 on Google out of 75 reviews

I have been working for 10 years as an independent SEO specialist for companies (in the Netherlands and abroad) that want to rank higher in Google in a sustainable manner. During this period I have consulted A-brands, set up large-scale international SEO campaigns and coached global development teams in the field of search engine optimization.

With this broad experience within SEO, I have developed the SEO course and helped hundreds of companies with improved findability in Google in a sustainable and transparent way. For this you can consult my portfolio, references and collaborations.

This article was originally published on 22 March 2024. The last update of this article was on 22 March 2024. The content of this page was written and approved by Ralf van Veen. Learn more about the creation of my articles in my editorial guidelines.