Recovering from an Algorithmic Penalty Using 301 Redirects: A Personal Experience

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We know it. Some of us may have seen it. The dreaded Google Unnatural Link Warning.

unnatural links

Either as an SEO, a business, or perhaps just a personal blogger, you may fall to your knees and cry when you receive this warning but never fear! There are strategies and processes you can take to remove this and get back on Google’s happy side. Before we begin, it’s extremely important that we understand the difference between an “algorithmic” or “filtered” and a manual penalty. This identification is the first step in moving forward with a recovery plan.

Before we dive into the differences between manual and algorithmic penalties, I think this summation from Rhea Drysdale is telling:

daniel sullivan

Manual Penalty

Algorithmic penalties and manual penalties are two extremely different things. The definition of a manual penalty is fairly straight-forward: A manual penalty is an action by Google’s web spam team that penalizes websites for participating in practices that are against any of Google’s webmaster guidelines. Penalties can be given out for any of the following practices:

Over optimizing any site can be considered keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is often referred to a singular phrase that is used over-excessively on a single web page. Google’s algorithms have gotten good at catching keyword stuffing. The best rule of thumb to follow is 1 keyword for each 100 words, and to use a diversity of terms, rather than repeating the same phrase verbatim.

All websites on the internet are vulnerable to different types of viruses and spyware. If you recently acquired any viruses or spyware, any search engine will automatically kick you off their SERPS and indexes. It can often take months to recover (if ever) so make sure you have the proper security and check frequently to see if your site has been a victim of hacking.

  • Duplicate content.

To better the web, your site should always provide real value. Poor quality or even worse, duplicate content will never benefit you. Google is extremely firm and straight forward with this issue and will make sure they evaluate the quality of your site if you are earning any sort of profit through affiliates and different ad sense sites.

Cloaking is the process of presenting different content or URLs to users and search engines. Cloaking is a direct violation of Google’s guidelines and should never be exercised.

How easy would it be to simply set your text color as #FFFFFF and call it good? Too easy. And also counted as keyword stuffing.

  • Un-natural links.

Google is able to detect unnatural links by identifying suspicious patterns, including many links coming from the same IP address, and over optimized anchor text (Penguin’s primary target). You should try at all costs to have these unnatural sites removed. One way to accomplish this is by simply contacting the webmaster or SEO of the site. The easiest way of knowing whether you have been affected by a manual penalty or an algorithmic penalty is whether you received an unnatural link warning via Google Webmaster Tools. If you are affected by an algorithmic penalty, Matt Cutts recently confirmed that you will NOT receive any sort of notification.

Algorithmic Penalties

An algorithmic penalty is a negative result of changes to Google’s algorithm. There are several different updates that each has a different responsibility. For many search engine’s, the line between optimization and deception is incredibly thin. Some “strategies” that have been made subject to penalty by algorithmic updates include but not limited to:

  • Over-optimization.
  • Duplicate content.
  • Manipulative linking.

Again, you will NOT receive notice if you have been affected by an algorithmic penalty.


*PLEASE NOTE*: I know that there will be discrepancy and this may be a heated subject, but please remember that this is our own personal experience which worked for us on multiple occasions and could perhaps work for you.

Whether you have been affected by an algorithmic or manual penalty, the process of recovery is rarely a simple or happy one. At the moment, the most common way to recover from a manual penalty factor is by submitting a reconsideration request to Google. Submitting a reconsideration isn’t an option when the penalty is an algorithmic one (well, it’s an option, but won’t accomplish anything). The only thing you can do is try to clean up and wait for the next update to take effect.

The uncertainty that an algorithmic penalty presents for business owners is a big time problem. For a couple of small business owners who came to us after their sites had suffered manual penalties, and months had passed with them trying to remove bad links and clean up perceived on-site issues, we wanted to take action that would help move them forward, in one direction (recovery) or another (start over). That is when we took into consideration site-wide 301 redirects to a new domain (GASP!).

Example 1: McCormick & Murphy, P.C.

McCormick & Murphy, P.C. is a personal injury lawyer based in the Denver metro area. When we first met with Jay and Kirk, the owners, they mccormickhad been hit by some nasty malware and therefore were penalized. Nothing we were doing helped (re-writing content, moving hosting, etc.). They had completely just dropped off the face of the earth and we couldn’t resolve the malware. After months of treading water, we decided to take action in the form of a side-wide 301 redirect to a new domain. The client purchased a new domain and set-up a new hosting account. We then 301 redirected their old site to the new one. And to the surprise of most, within a couple of days the site had recovered completely in the SERPs. The malware penalty did not transfer over and they were performing better than ever. It has been well over a year and we have only continued to improve:

organic search traffic 1


organic search traffic 2

Example 2: Crack Eraser Pro

When we signed with Crack Eraser Pro, we had no idea the project we had jumped into. When I initially had a peek into their link profile, I crack eraser prowanted to cry. Crack Eraser Pro (formerly, was hit, and hit HARD. After many failed attempts of trying to recover by removing bad links and building ones that were with Google’s quality guidelines, we decided to try a redirect solution again. And once more, the penalty was transferred over and suddenly Crack Eraser Pro was performing again. Based on our experiences, we found that traditional penalty recovery was ineffective for an algorithmic penalty. But when we started new and fresh, suddenly everything was different. It’s been awhile since we moved Crack Eraser Pro over and they have done nothing but improve.

Proper Redirecting

A complete site wide redirect should be performed with diligence. A 301 redirect will tell your web browser and any search engines that Page A is now permanently Page B. Once it’s in place, any user that has previously bookmarked or saved your site will be automatically transferred to the new site. From a SEO perspective using a 301 redirect, allows you to preserve any previously accumulated PageRank.

To create a 301 redirect, one must:

a) Set up URLs.

Ensure that your new URLs are correctly configured and live before you start the redirection process.

b) Create redirects.

If you are doing a global redirect, you can usually redirect your entire website at once. If you are doing individuals, there are some redirecting tools you can use to alleviate the process. We like to use the “Simple 301 Redirects” tool in WordPress.

c) Test.

Probably one of the most overlooked steps is to test your redirects. Make sure all of them transferred over correctly and you are not redirected to a 404 page.

d) Sitemap.

Ensure when you create a new URL, you create a new XML Sitemap.

Popular belief is that 301 redirects should pass about 90% of the previous site’s authority.

You may of course experience a dip in traffic or rankings in the period following the redirects (dancing) simply because it may take some time for the changes to make their way to Google’s index.


Time and time again with these penalty recovery stories, we hear of some methods being effective in some cases while those same methods fail completely in others. Algorithmic penalties can cripple SMB’s because the recovery process is highly ambiguous, and there is little predictability regarding the results. By obtaining new domains and 301 redirecting the penalized domain to them, we have been able to recover algorithmically penalized sites. And at the very least, we knew we would be moving forward, rather than continuing to tread water and spend money on activities that may never result in a recovery.

Shannon Travis
Shannon Travis is a mother, wife, and a marketing coordinator at Ethical SEO Consulting, a local SEO based in the Denver metro area. Shannon loves... Read Full Bio
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  • Mike Grant

    I believe this is moot after Penguin 2.0. Across many sites we’ve seen and evaluated, the upstream link value has been seriously devalued. Devalued to the point where the 301’d page/site is actually outranking (yep, still in index) the new page. This is for old redirects, as well. We’re also seeing penalties being passed with the 301s, which was always the norm, but now they’re still being passed after a 301 redirect has been removed. Is anyone else seeing anything comparable to what I’m seeing as being pretty prevalent?

    • Sahil

      If a page’s backlink profile has lot of or almost all links from spammy domains those pages cannot be 301’d to the page on a new domain, its better to 404 that page or manually try to remove those links by contacting the webmaster or else trying disavow links tool to recover might work to some extent before thinking of a reconsideration request. 301s work great to avoid duplication, pages with thin or no content, to say a page has been permanently moved etc.

  • Greg

    Hey Shannon – Thanks for the great info on this. I have a couple of questions about the redirect “tests” you performed with success.

    1 – What where the main factors that attributed to the success of performing 301-redirects to get out of penalty? (i.e. new domain, new hosting acct, etc…)

    2 – Did you ever test this solution on the same domain but 301-redirecting the site to a sub-domain on the same domain/hosting, and if so, did that have any positive results?

    Thanks again

  • Chris Healey

    It’s very interesting how the company’s brand is more “liquid” these days because of the looming threat of a Google penalty. If hit, one simply “pours” the brand into another container. Also, it seems like a good strategy to have several sites representing the distinct services / products of your brands in order to minimize damage.

  • Jan-Willem Bobbink

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! One little comment, Matt Cutts shared that 301 pass all their value:

  • bhupendera

    if my site penalized by unnatural linking and now i am using 301 redirect to new page then what will be result ..??? need your advice

  • keyword removed

    Area Penguin highly affect have been discussed here nicely. We were thinking that keyword stuffing means to have more # of keyword used on page, but it’s exactly about over optimization of the same keyword not on the site but on the inbound links also. We have also noticed that the a page from our client site which was redirected before few months Google roll over a Penguin 2 was not being affected as compare to some other pages.

  • ahsan

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • Emory Rowland

    Thank you for sharing this, Shannon. Although why this works doesn’t make sense, I’m down to doing this as the last option on an algo-penalized site. I just don’t want to get rid of the domain name containing the unique brand name.

    • Trev

      I have one of these too!

      Our brand is our domain name, we were ripped off by an ‘under delivering’ SEO company and haven’t ranked (full stop) on Google for anything near our preferred target keywords.

      Now what do we do?

    • Steve Morris

      From experience you may just have to bite the bullet. I understand you may have a liking for the name but sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture if a domain is tainted there may be nothing you can do. Your website is your revenue generation tool and if your not able to rank than you can not generate revenue. You can spend a huge amount of time trying to clean your link profile and creating new engaging content but its not going to change the fact that your site is dead in the water and you need to move on.

  • Rich

    I am about to follow some of your advice. I have a lot of spammy bad links to my site and have already purchased a new domain (one that i used to actually own before i let it expire). The site with spammy links is really not performing as well as it should be and dropped down to page 2-6 for most Keywords (used to be in top5 for some). I am thinking if i should bother with a 301 from a penalized site to a new one. Want i just get a penalty again? Should I not sure the links disavow tool first and than do a 301?

  • Hedge

    I am looking at a 301 redirect to a new domain in order to recover from a penalty after multiple link cleanups, disavow submissions and reinclusion requests.

    I just wanted to check. Is it sufficient to 301 redirect the domain but maintain the old hosting? Or is it suggested that a completely new hosting account be set up with a new provider?

    Many thanks.

  • Jacob Langvad Nilsson

    Hi Shannon – thanks for this article. I’m in the same situation of algorithmic penalty. I’ve completed the domain change this week and set up 301s on a page by page basis. My question to you is following: In your case studies, you are not using the Change of Address tool in Webmaster Tools. Why not? I am trying to figure out if using this tool will transfer bad things, too? Should I use it? Thanks / JLN

  • Paddy

    Nice article, thanks,

    With regards to keyword stuffing (or avoiding it), surely the best rule of thumb is to write compelling content for the user, as opposed to relying on keyword density?

    I’m not so naiive to think that content doesn’t need to be optimised for certain keywords, but I’ve not heard of an SEO using k/w density for some years now.

  • Michail Dimitriou

    If your site penalized because bad links, and you will redirect to new domain then new domain will have the same bad links, or not? So will the new domain also penalized?

    • PONeill

      HI Michail,

      Yes the theory is that a permanent (301) can pass on a penalty / algorythmic filtering, as the links are essentially pointing to the new domain after the redirect.

      Although I’ve not seen any strong evidence, as of yet.

      Hope that helps!

      • Michail Dimitriou

        Hi Patrick,

        I read case studies that support both theories about this.
        Maybe the google randomly choose the websites that passes the penalty,