Matt is an SEO specialist with years of experience. Matt lives for technical SEO audits, but also enjoys flipping houses and racing horses. Once he teaches his horse to swing a hammer, his life will be complete.

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Can a Google Penalty Follow You Forever?

Google-PoliceHave you been affected by a Google penalty?

We all know that Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm, but that doesn’t mean that they always get it right. Sometimes, these tweaks end up having a negative impact on legitimate sites. A perfect example in SEO is the tactic of link building. Once a common SEO tactic because it worked, now link building carries some risk to it as spammy links will now result in a penalty from Google.

So what happens if your site gets slapped with a Google penalty? Your search engine results page (SERP) ranking will plummet, which will inevitably (and drastically) reduce the effectiveness of your online presence. Recovery from the penalty is rarely easy and rather than spending copious amounts of time trying to revive your site, it may be better to pack your things and start fresh on a shiny new domain.

Is Skipping Town Enough?

If you’ve been keeping up to date on SEO trends over the last few years then you may be aware of Google’s crusade against web spam and link manipulation. Google doles out over 430,000 manual penalties each month while processing only 20,000 reconsideration requests. This means that mistakes do happen, as Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, explains in this video (skip to around the 7 minute mark if you just want to hear about manual penalties, though the entire video is well worth a watch).

While every case is unique, if you’ve been affected by a penalty (or believe that you’re at risk) and you’re thinking of moving to a new domain, it would be wise to consider the following:

Avoid the 301 Redirect

A 301 redirect is an obvious way of informing Google of your new address but it will result in the migration of negative link juice and penalties to your new domain. Do not do it! You might be hesitant to abandon your link profile, but it is often more time consuming to try and salvage it than it is to just start fresh. It is also very unlikely that you will regain your previous rankings otherwise.

Don’t Copy and Paste

After penalization, the ‘Google Police Department’ will have already indexed your site and it will use that index to identify duplicate content on the web (namely, your site’s content on a new domain). If you simply copy and paste content from your penalized site into a new domain, you may have left all those bad links behind, but according to John Mueller your site can still be penalized. Check out this thread on Google’s webmaster forum where Mueller suggests creating a brand new site rather than trying to salvage content from a penalized site.

Take Pre-emptive Measures

If your site has not yet been hit, but you are aware of some spammy links pointing to it, try to address this before Google finds out. If you only have a few bad links, then it is best to manually remove them or contact your webmaster (or the webmaster of a site that is linking to yours) to put a ‘nofollow‘ on them. As a last resort (if you can’t get a 3rd party link removed or ‘nofollowed’), you can use Google’s disavow tool. Be warned that, many webmasters speculate that this tool will simply inform Google that you are aware of black hat link building to your site which could result in a penalty that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. That said, Google never sleeps. They will eventually discover your bad links and penalize your site anyway. Therefore, best course of action if you can’t remove all instances of shady links is to seek atonement.


If you do receive a Google penalty (or know that it is coming) then you will have to use the disavow tool and then apply for a reconsideration request. This request informs Google’s webspam team that you have attempted to eliminate any spammy links to your site, but don’t pull the trigger on this before making an honest effort to actually fix your site. If you don’t, Google will simply tell you to put in said effort and will not respond to a second request for a couple of weeks. Depending on how bad your link portfolio is, you may or may not recover your rankings. In severe cases, Mueller stated on Google+ that is may be easier to simply start fresh.


‘nofollow’ Me Google!

In summary, a link profile filled with bad links will follow you until it is dealt with. The best course of action for a penalized site is to clean up the link profile, seek atonement with Google, and do things properly this time around. If the link profile is beyond repair,  sadly it’s time to kill the site and start fresh.

Are you worried about potential spammy or black hat links on your site? Get in touch, we’d love to help you make an informed decision on the proper course of action.