Google says site owners shouldn’t expect search rankings to bounce back to previous levels after making a recovery from a manual penalty.
This topic was addressed during a Google Webmaster Central hangout held on September 8, 2020.
A concerned site owner submitted a question after months of losing search rankings.
They’re trying to figure out why they’re losing rankings, and assume it must be related to recently removing 200 backlinks.
The backlinks were removed in order to recover from a manual penalty received back in April.
With the links removed, the penalty has since been lifted. So why haven’t rankings returned?
Here’s what Mueller has to say in response.
Ranking After Removing Links
As it relates to the part about removing links, Mueller says it’s impossible to know what impact that’s had without knowing more about the site.
If the site only had 200 backlinks, and they were all removed, then that could have quite a strong impact on rankings.
However, if the site has millions of links, then the removal of 200 bad links would have minimal impact.
“… [it’s] impossible to say. It’s something where I can’t really say what the actual effect there would be.
Because if your website just has 200 links, and you remove all those links to your website, then obviously that will be something that is kind of more of a stronger effect.
On the other hand, if your website has millions of links, and is well embedded within the web, and these 200 backlinks are from a paid campaign that you did which ended up being not no-follow, then that’s probably a minimal change on your website.”
Ranking After Manual Action Recovery
Mueller then goes on to address the difference between search rankings prior to a manual penalty, and search rankings after recovery.
If a website receives a manual penalty from Google, it means the site was once ranking artificially.
When a site recovers from a penalty it’s now being ranked in a completely different situation.
Depending on how artificially inflated the rankings once were, the change could be quite severe.
It’s unrealistic to expect rankings to immediately return when previous rankings were achieved due to an unfair advantage.
That doesn’t mean rankings won’t ever return to past levels, it means more work is required than simply recovering from the penalty.
Here’s how Mueller puts it:
“The other thing to keep in mind with manual actions in general is that, if you clean up a manual action, that essentially means in the past your website was ranking in an artificial situation.
The manual action kind of took care of that. And if you clean it up so that the manual action is no longer necessary, then your website is ranking in a different situation.
It can happen that it’s very similar to before, but it can also happen that your previous positions in search were artificially, strongly, inflated due to the things that the manual action was looking at.
So that’s something where you might see a stronger effect from manual actions and cleaning that up over time.”
Hear the full question and answer in the video below, starting at the 13-minute mark: