Google penalty notices – what to do

Can you recover from a ranking penalty?

We are currently helping several dentists with website recovery after their sites were hit by Google penalties, “awarded” for over-zealous SEO undertaken by their former dental marketing partners.

In all cases, the clients had previously held prominent positions on the coveted page one of Google and profited handsomely from this. However, Google changed it’s quality criteria significantly and hit lots of websites, including those of dentists, very hard indeed. One of the new clients we are helping reports that over 60% of his business has gone since the demotion and that he is now struggling. This is unsurprising given that the web is a primary source of new patient enquiries.

Why do websites lose ranking overnight?

If your ranking positions have fallen back dramatically and with them your website enquiries, chances are that you have been hit by one of the two main Google penalties, Panda or Penguin. We wrote about this in an earlier article so won’t go into the fine detail again now.

Panda penalties (typically on-site quality issues) are quite straightforward to rectify but Penguin penalties are much harder; indeed they can be nearly impossible to remove. Penguin penalties are handed out where a site has been promoted artificially by building lots of low quality “unnatural” links, typically from low quality directories, social bookmarking sites, blog commenting etc. These activities were typically outsourced to very cheap overseas agencies who built thousands of poor links every month, usually without any traceable record – and here’s where the problem lies.

Why are Penguin penalties very difficult to remove?

Unlike Panda penalties which can usually be addressed by reconfiguring the website and content, i.e. within your control, a Penguin penalty is much harder to address. This is because the only way to do it is to remove the bad links which point at your website – until these have gone, asking Google to remove the penalty via their “re-inclusion request” mechanism will be denied. Unless you know where the bad links are, you have no chance of getting them removed – a big problem.

Identifying bad links and the Google disavow process

If you know where the bad links are, you can submit something called a disavow file to Google which essentially asks them to ignore the links. This is not instantaneous and also not guaranteed – if you have a bad track record, Google will make you jump through hoops to clear up.

There are three of four tools available which will help to locate the links pointing back at your site – but here’s the big problem; even in combination they may only find 60% of them. Disavowing 60% of your bad links is not going to get a penalty lifted – you need to be up near the 90% removal level. This is why so many dentists who have been hit with Google penalties really struggle to recover.

Making the decision to start again

Some penalty situations are unrecoverable or to do so would take huge effort, time and expense. Such situations might be:

  • a long track record of bad link building, including link buying
  • a clear Google penalty notice (or multiple notices) in Google Webmaster Tools
  • thousands of poor links in your back-link profile
  • no link records, i.e. you have no record of where links were placed and you are solely reliant on link-discovery tools – remember that they won’t find them all
  • clear, wide-spread relegation in search results for all your major search terms

If this describes your situation, you have two choices a) try for a few months to remove as many links as you can and re-submit re-inclusion requests to Google; however chances are you will fail b) build a new website on a fresh domain.

The “start again” option is a big step to take and can affect branding etc across the whole practice. However, having a website which languishes under a Google penalty is worse; so it may be the only practical solution.

Where can I get assistance?

Recovering from ranking penalties needs experienced help and even then it’s not easy. If you feel your website has been compromised and you need help to evaluate recovery versus a clean start, please call the Dental Media SEO team on 01332 672548.