Nowhere to Run: Google Penalties Can Follow You Across Domains

running from google

This week, Google added a new section to its anti-spam policies where it stated that it can take “appropriate action” against websites that engage in activities that intend to bypass or circumvent restrictions levied by the search engine in the past.

While Google did not explicitly mention activities that it views as attempts to bypass or circumvent restrictions, it did offer just enough information on what this might mean in this portion of its spam policy document:

“If you engage in actions intended to bypass our spam or content policies for Google Search, undermine restrictions placed on content, a site, or an account, or otherwise continue to distribute content that has been removed or made ineligible from surfacing, we may take appropriate action which could include restricting or removing eligibility for some of our search features (for example, Top Stories, Discover). Circumvention includes but is not limited to creating or using multiple sites or other methods intended to distribute content or engage in a behavior that was previously prohibited.“

Based on the verbiage, it seems like this policy warns against trying to propagate content on Google’s search results that it previously deemed unfit for inclusion or unworthy of ranking high. In simple terms, a penalized website will invoke more of Google’s ire if it tries to pursue loopholes to get out of the search giant’s proverbial doghouse.

Penalties That Follow Wherever You Go

In the past, there have been plenty of anecdotes in SEO forums and blogs about penalties that “follow” websites even after they’ve migrated to other domains. During the heyday of algorithmic sanctions such as Panda and Penguin, it could take months or years for a website to get its penalty lifted even after corrective action against content and backlink spam has been applied by webmasters. In some cases, websites never seem to fully recover and their owners are left with no alternative but to start again from scratch.

Unfortunately for some, the penalty seems to follow them to their new websites. Needless to say, this is a death sentence to any business unless it can find a viable alternative to Google’s organic traffic.

The latest addition to Google’s anti-spam policy documentation shouldn’t catch any seasoned SEO practitioner by surprise. The statement merely formalizes what many industry veterans already knew to be the case.

What To Do If You’re in This Predicament

If you think that Google has levied restrictions on your website, it’s not necessarily the end of the world. Most situations involving penalties are fixable if you know what you’re doing. The first step towards recovery is understanding what your site has been hit by. This video can help you with that:

When you know what you’re dealing with, you can start applying corrective action. If low-quality and spammy content is the problem, revamp your editorial practices and start replacing the content with unique and useful information. If a spammy link profile is the root of your problems, you can start disavowing toxic links. This guide can help out with that:

In extreme cases where the penalty doesn’t seem to go away regardless of corrective actions, you may have to start fresh in another website. If you’re planning to go down that road, you’ll likely do well if you take the following precautions:

  • Rebrand the business. A surefire way to let Google know that you simply moved a penalized website to another domain is by sticking with the same branding. Google’s Knowledge Graph keeps tabs on nearly all online entities, and if it sees that you just set up shop across the street, it will be a simple matter for Google to apply the same restrictions as before on your new website.
  • No Redirects. Since you’re trying to disassociate your new website from the old penalized one, you obviously don’t want to apply redirects from your old website to the new one.
  • No Canonical Links. Following the same logic as the previous bullet on redirects, you don’t want to give Google any hints that your new website is associated with the old one. Canonical link elements tell search engines that a webpage is deferring to another one as the “true” version of itself. Hence, this is something you want to avoid.
  • Revamp Your Content. If your old website was penalized for thin, spammy, misleading or deceitful content, it stands to reason that you shouldn’t carry any of that over to the new website. Focus on creating a library of content written by experts on the themes and topics that your website covers. The basic question to ask when assessing your content is “is this a webpage that Google can proudly recommend to its users?” if the answer is yes, go ahead and publish it.
  • Revamp Your Site Structure. A dead giveaway of a simple migration is building your new website on a new domain following the old site architecture. You’ll want to change things up significantly so you can establish reasonable doubt that the old site and the new one are actually emanating from the same business entity.
  • Use New GA and GSC Accounts. You’ll likely still use Google Analytics and Search Console to observe website traffic and receive diagnostic reports, respectively. When you create new accounts for your new website, use a different Gmail account than the one associated with the penalized site to avoid suspicion.
  • Rethink Your Link Building Strategy. If you suspect – or know – that your website got in trouble with spammy or unnatural link acquisition practices, you’ll certainly want to stay away from similar tactics moving forward. Find people who can build links the right way with a proper balance of volume and quality.
  • Revamp Your Content. If your content is in violation of Google’s guidelines, it’s imperative that you overhaul your content strategy by investing in resources that will help generate unique and useful content that your target audience will love. There’s no substitute for well-researched content written by trained human authors who have a high degree of knowledge in your field. This type of output is what users consistently seek and it’s only natural that Google would want to feature this type of work.

Regardless what changes Google makes to its policies, one thing will stand the test of time: high-quality content delivered in websites that promote great user experiences. If your SEO campaign is built around these principles, you’ll never have  to worry about penalties and restrictions from the Big G.

Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal
Glen Dimaandal is the founder and CEO of SearchWorks.Ph. He has been doing SEO since 2008 and is consistently featured in mainstream media and industry conferences. His core skills include SEO, SEM, data analytics and business development.