Recovering website rankings after a Google penalty

What to do if your dental website is relegated by Google

In early 2012, Google really started to get tough with websites that were “over optimised” – this typically happened where thousands of low quality links had been built by SEO companies in an attempt to drive the website higher in the search ranking. This huge change by Google, affectionately called the “Penguin” update, followed close on the heels of the earlier “Panda” updates which penalised low-quality websites, for example those with “thin” or duplicated content.

Google followed up the initial Penguin update with further penalties which resulted in many, formerly prominent dental websites, falling off the search radar together with a dramatic fall in new patient enquiries.

How do you recover from such a penalty?

At Dental Media, none of our SEO clients have been penalised because we only use ethical and careful optimisation techniques. However, we have been advising several dentists whose websites have been severely affected and been successful in helping them to recover.

The first thing to note is that the recovery process is not fast – often several months of cleaning up poor quality links, re-working page content and seeking new, valid links to compensate for what has gone before. Fundamentally, Google has punished your website and wants you to demonstrate that you’ve jumped through hoops to clean up. Equally importantly, they want you to demonstrate that you are following all of their guidelines and fully complying with ethical web publishing. So be prepared for a frustrating and prolonged recovery process, albeit one that is achievable if you put the work in.

The steps to recovery

  1. Identify the issue – the clear indicator is where your site slips way back in the Web Master Tools, helping dentists to identify ranking penaltiesrankings. Drops off a couple of pages right through to twenty pages or more are typical. The next thing to do is to look in Google Webmaster Tools – here you will find a warning from Google if they have issued your site with a manual penalty. This will also indicate why you have been penalised.
    (note: you can also fall back in the rankings without receiving a manual penalty. This is caused by changes in Google’s search algorithm that effectively “devalue” some of the links that previously helped your ranking. In this case, although you haven’t been formerly penalised, it still makes sense to remove these links, particularly as they may be penalised in future Google updates)
  2. Clean up the bad links – assuming that the penalty is associated with bad links (most we have been asked to help with are) then you need to start the link clean-up process. If you employed an SEO company to build the links, then they should assist you in getting rid of them. However, we have heard of companies charging for this so be prepared. The clean-up will involve many hours of work writing to the sites who placed your link and asking them to remove accordingly. Google expects you to do this – almost as penance for your over-optimisation sins; so don’t think that you can avoid it.
  3. Employ the link “disavow tool” – when you have tried several rounds of link removal requests and you can’t make any further progress, resort to the Google link “disavow” tool. This tool was made available by Google to assist with the last phases of the link clean-up i.e. for those links that you just can’t get removed manually.
  4. The re-inclusion request – once you’ve submitted your link disavow file to Google, you can complete something called a re-inclusion request. This is a comprehensive set of documents which you send to Google detailing your link removal efforts – it is not trivial and will be scrutinised very carefully. You need to apologise (yes!) for what you did, indicate clearly that you will not do it again and provide full details of the process you carried out. Provide clear supporting evidence e.g. spreadsheets showing the link removal progression, what you managed to do manually and what you had to submit as part of the disavow file.
  5. Wait for Google’s response – typically this will be within a week to ten days. Oh and keep your fingers crossed.

What happens if the penalty is not lifted?

Google often rejects the first re-inclusion request and sometimes the second. Remember that they are insisting that you try very hard to clean up every last link that you or you SEO company created. Three and four re-inclusion requests are not unknown, even where you think you did a good job with the first one – so be patient, thorough and determined.

How do I find the links that I need to remove?

This is where you may need some expert SEO assistance.

There are a number of tools which can be used to help with this but they are not all free. Google Webmaster Tools will help but this does not show all of the links that point to a website.

What else can be done to assist the recovery process?

In addition to cleaning up the historical problems, you also need to demonstrate to Google that you are back on the right track. This means creating useful content, engagement via social media and attracting (not falsely building!) good quality links to your website. Consider it as trying to tip the balance back in your favour.


Over the last 18 months, many dental website have been penalised by changes in Google’s ranking system, often with dire business consequences for the owner. Recovery is possible but it takes a number of months of hard work to achieve.

If you think your website has been penalised and you would like assistance with diagnosing the issue and recovery, please call the SEO team at Dental Media on 01332 672548.