Over the past 12 years consulting on web marketing  I have answered countless questions but one question I receive often stands out from all; how to remove a Google penalty. The following is an example of a question I received in the past from a person named Patrick:

PLEASE HELP! For the last 8 years we were #1 for a ton of search terms but then my site got penalized by Google because we had overused some keywords. We fixed the issue months ago but my top rankings are all still over the place. Sometimes we get back into the top 10 and we all breathe a sigh of relief, then just a few hours later we are on page 5. What is going on and how can I correct this? We are beyond frustrated!

First, Some Research

In order to answer Patrick’s question I needed to find out a couple of things about his website to make my answer more accurate:

  • His site has excellent content right now and when I looked at past versions of the site I see the content was still great but definitely had keyword stuffing problems.Key finding: his site is really well done so I can see why it had top rankings before.
  • I took a look at competitors found in the top 10 under several keyword searches that were obviously main targets for his website. After reviewing the backlinks (definition) for each competitor’s sites I could see they were all very well entrenched but their content was not up to par with Patrick’s site. I reviewed Patrick’s backlinks and was surprised to find that he had very few.  Key finding:his competitors have a lot of backlinks than Patrick’s site does.An SEO Tool Note:I use Yahoo Site Explorer for cursory examination of backlinks for my clients and their competitors. For more in-depth research I use OptiLink by Winrose Software (that is an affiliate link) which provides excellent statistics that are very useful for analyzing the quality of backlinks among other things. Here are more recommended web marketing tools.
  • I checked the server headers for their home page and other key pages to make sure nothing was outwardly wrong with their server configuration; everything was fine.
  • I took some time to surf through Patrick’s website and discovered that not all of the keyword stuffing had been removed.Key Finding: Google may still feel his site deserves a penalty because it is not 100% clean.

My Answer to Patrick

First I will layout why it seems your site did so well to begin with. Your website has very few backlinks in comparison to your competitors who have significantly more. So, as near as I can tell your top rankings were so high because you had built an awesome reputation with Google by providing unparalleled content; I can’t find a single competitor that can match the quality of your content. For a long time you managed to stay at the top of your marketplace by continuing to provide great content. Unfortunately, you were over-optimizing the content by adding too many incidences of the same keywords (keyword stuffing) and Google took a disliking to it.

So why is it so hard to regain your ranking stability? Your site lost the glue that kept it competitive when Google penalized it. The glue, in this case, was your site’s reputation that was created based on your content which lost its stickiness due to Google’s penalty for the keyword stuffing. Without your content advantage your competitors have leaped ahead of you because they have far more links than you have and no ranking penalties (that we know of). Without links and with the Google penalty applied to your site your content hasn’t the power it had before so your rankings will fluctuate for an indeterminate amount of time; there is no sure time limit on a Google penalty.

My Recommendation for Removing the Google Penalty

  1. Remove all of the keyword stuffing on your website. I know it is a large site and this is no small feat but it needs to be done. With your site cleaned and nothing remaining but quality content there will at least be an end in sight to the Google penalty and your site will also benefit from being more readable and usable to a visitor.
  2. Begin an ongoing link building campaign now – there is no time to delay. Links are another path to building credibility for your website which it sorely needs right now. There is also a good chance that high quality incoming links will act as additional entry points to your website for Google to index your newly revised site and reconsider the penalty.
  3. Review Google Webmaster Tools and attend to any errors/alerts/warnings that Google has provided. Also make sure to submit a fresh sitemap once the site is cleaned so that Google takes notice of any content that may have gone unnoticed and/or new content.
  4. Freshen content on key parts of your website with rewrites or additional articles. This will provide positive activity that Google will cannot deny adds value to its index.
  5. Bolster your Pay Per Click campaigns so they can bear some of the burden during this dry spell of low organic rankings.
  6. Be patient. If you do everything I have noted above you are in a great position to succeed and your site will be stronger than ever before.

By applying these recommendations you will very likely discover that the Google Penalty was more a blessing than a curse because your site will come out stronger than ever before.