What is

Penalty Recovery?

First, let’s talk about a Google Penalty. It’s a sudden and drastic drop in your organic search rankings in Google, resulting from an update to the Google algorithms and/or a manual action by a Google employee.

Don’t feel too bad if you receive a Google Penalty. Some of the biggest websites on the Internet have been hit by them. Examples:/p>

The BBC was penalized for “unnatural links”

Mozilla, makers of the Firefox web browser, was penalized by a Google employee for user-generated content

JC Penney was penalized for buying links

The Washington Post was penalized for selling links

BMW and Ricoh had their entire websites delisted temporarily

  • In any case, if you get a Google penalty, it’s one of the following …

, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
Two Types of Google Penalties
A manual action comes from Google’s spam team. To see if you were given a manual penalty, go to the Google Webmaster Tools for your site and check for notifications about “unnatural links” or a similar message.

An algorithmic action is harder to determine because it’s an automated penalty. And you must match the day when you lost traffic with the day an update happened in Google’s algorithm change history. This requires a lot of sleuthing and analysis, that is better done by a team that knows what to look for.

According to Matt Cutts, former head of the web spam team at Google, more than 400,000 manual actions are taken by Google every month. And that’s not counting the thousands and thousands of websites penalized by algorithmic actions, based on updates like Penguin and Panda.

Interesting fact: We’ve seen research that shows only about 20,000 webmasters a month contact Google to submit a reconsideration request. If you do the math, only about 5% of penalized websites are actively trying to recover their search rankings. Which is a pity! Because you can recover from a Google penalty. Here are …
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13 Reasons Why You Might Get A Google Penalty:

  • 1. Too many reciprocal links.

    Swapping links with other websites used to be a great marketing tactic … until website owners started abusing it. Now Google may see too many links as manipulation, especially if websites not related to your industry are linking to you.

  • 2. Duplicate content.

    This should be obvious, but any content on your website that copy/pastes content from another will certainly be frowned upon by Google. And it could get you penalized. The Golden Rule in SEO is this: Publish only content that is unique and useful.

  • 3. Bad sitemap data.

    Google uses the XML sitemap on your website to understand its architecture. You must be sure that your sitemap is updated and accessible by Google. Or it can hurt you.

  • 4. Too many keywords.

    There are lots of theories for keyword density on web pages, but none of them has been proven. One fact is clear, though: an unnaturally high density of keywords is a red flag to Google.

  • 5. Hidden links.

    All links on your site should be useful and visible to users. Any hidden links are seen by Google as suspicious. Never create a link the same color as the background of a web page, for example, even if your intentions are good.

  • 6. Broken external links.

    If the links on your website are not up-to-date, Google will assume you don’t care about the user experience. Always check your links regularly and remove or repair the broken ones.

  • 7. Slow site speed.

    If your website is slow to load for users, they will get frustrated. And Google will know, because this is a metric they measure. There are numerous factors that can slow down your website, so it can be a complex problem to repair by yourself.

  • 8. Robots.txt errors.

    The robots.txt file is used to tell search engines which parts of your website you don’t want to be indexed. While you may have good reasons to exclude web pages from Google and other search engines, do so carefully. Excessive blocking may lead to a penalty.

  • 9. 301 Redirects.

    If you’ve been hit with a penalty on your website, using a 301 redirect to re-route the traffic can simply transfer the penalty to a new location. And that penalty may stick around, long after you remove the redirect.

  • 10. Error codes.

    Google wants to deliver an outstanding experience to people who search. But a 404 error on your website will NOT make searchers happy when they find there is a missing page. Scan your website regularly to find and fix any error codes.

  • 11. Overdoing SEO.

    Google likes natural content. And they can tell if you’re trying too hard to “out SEO” other websites. It may seem counter-intuitive, but unless you’re an SEO pro who stays current on Google rules every day, you should focus on publishing natural content.

  • 12. Malevolent backlinks.

    Unfortunately, nothing can stop a scumbag or ruthless competitor from setting up malicious backlinks that get you penalized. Vigilance is the best defense. Regularly monitor backlinks to your site using Google Webmaster Tools.

  • 13. Targeted keywords.

    Google monitors the keywords found on low-quality, spam sites. “Viagra” and “payday loans” are examples of keywords that may get you penalized if they appear to frequently on your website. If you operate in an industry that’s filled with spam, you should be extra careful.

How can

You recover from Google penalty?

The good news is a penalty doesn’t have to be a death sentence. In most cases, you can get your site to rank higher again in search and regain your lost traffic.

In our experience, whether you’ve been penalized with a manual or algorithmic action, more than 95% of penalties are caused by bad backlinks to your site.


That means you should analyze your backlinks to find which ones may have caused the problem. But the whole thing is more involved than that.


It’s actually a 3-step process: identify bad links, try to remove them, and disavow the remaining links. It takes time. And persistent effort. But you really have no choice, if you want to regain your organic search rankings.


Now, here’s exactly how to recover your rankings …

, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
Step 1: Identify bad links
Go to Google Webmaster Tools and download all of the backlinks to your website. Google will export them in a CSV format.
When identifying bad backlinks, you usually have to check them one at a time. But there are ways to sort them by “value” and save time. Here are signs of low-value, bad backlinks:
  • Websites not in the Google index. This usually means they were penalized and banned from the search results

  • Websites with a Domain Authority below 10 or 20 (Webmaster Tools can show you this)

  • Other signs of bad backlinks: gambling or pornography websites; blogs with auto-approved comments or spammy articles; websites with too many external links (aka link farms).

  • Next, after identifying all the bad backlinks to your website, you must …

Step 2: Try to remove bad links
Find contact details for each website with a bad backlink to you. It can be as simple as looking for the “About us” or “Contact” web page. If those pages are missing, try searching for the domain at www.Whois.com to find their Administrative Contact Email.

Then, send each website a friendly email request to remove their links to you. You can expect any of the following results: your link is removed (Yay!); your email is ignored or the webmaster asks for money to remove the link (Boo! See Step 3 below).
, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
Step 3: Disavow bad links
For any remaining backlinks that you can’t get removed, you can disavow them. When you do this, it’s like telling Google that you don’t want these links to be taken in account when analyzing your site for rankings.

In Google Webmaster Tools, that option looks like this:
    Once you’ve taken your recovery actions, file a reconsideration request with Google. It often happens that requests are rejected several times before being accepted, especially if you’re new to the process. You either have to be patient or work with a pro to expedite the process.

The Bad News AboutPenalty Recovery

While it can be a simple matter to regain your website’s search rankings, it is not easy. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, the process can drag on for many months.


One reason? There may be more than one penalty that hit your website. Identifying and removing those penalties can be onerous, because there’s no phone number or tech support at Google for this – they will never tell you what went wrong. That means fixing your website is NOT an overnight process.


But help is here. Our Penalty Recovery service is designed to find out what went wrong, then fix it. So you get your website traffic – and your business – back to where it was before being hit, or even better.

, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO
Our 3-Step Process To Penalty Recovery
We’ve helped thousands of clients over the years. We have formed invincible alliances, turned our partners into monsters in their niche, moved mountains and shaped brands from the ground up. And the results were clear: those who listened to us never left. We maintain the highest retention rate of any SEO service or digital marketing agency we know of in the world. As a result, and after many years in the SEO & online marketing world, we felt it was time to close our doors to anyone who isn’t a perfect match for us.
  • Step 1: Diagnose. First, we figure out what went wrong. Was the cause external, like too many “spammy” backlinks to your site? Was it internal, like duplicate content? Or both?

  • Step 2: Create a Recovery Plan. Once we know why your website was hit with a penalty, we create a Recovery Plan to fix it. There’s no guesswork – the plan is thorough and complete, thanks to our proprietary software.

  • Step 3: Execute the Plan. We then go to work removing your Google penalty.

None of this is automated – that’s what can get you in trouble in the first place.

Instead, our technicians manually delete or disavow “unnatural” links to your web site. Or we take care of content removal and repair. Every plan is different and requires close partnership with you over several months.

But the effort is worth it when you get your traffic back!


In the end, whether it’s due to bad backlinks to your website or a malicious third party has used negative SEO against you, you can recover from a Google penalty. Websites like yours have recovered before and are recovering now. We know, because we do it all the time …


Now take the next step. Request your Free SEO Diagnostic Review to discover exactly what went wrong with your website and what to do next.

, Penalty recovery, Over The Top SEO

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