So, you’re in trouble with Google. Having your site penalized by Google not only feels terrible, it can have a catastrophic impact on your bottom line. Particularly when your website is the bread and butter of your business, your immediate urge may be to shut down your penalized domain and start fresh; after all, no one wants to continue to invest time and money into a site that may never fully recover.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that while Google is tough on sites that attempt to game the system, they’re not out to get you. Google has become more transparent in recent years about letting webmasters know why they’ve been penalized, and the process of having the penalty removed is often fairly straightforward (though tedious and time-consuming). For this reason, ditching your penalized domain may be overkill — and definitely isn’t always the best answer.
If you’ve tried everything, including hiring professional help, and still can’t get the penalty removed, ditching your domain and getting a new one should be reserved as a last resort. In this article, I’ll cover some of the important factors you need to consider before ditching your penalized site in favor of a new domain.
Two Things to Consider Before You Ditch Your Domain
While switching to a new domain is sometimes the best option, it’s important that you understand the ramifications of starting over. Before you decide to completely ditch your site in favor of getting a new domain, make sure you understand how to do it properly, and what you could potentially be losing.
Consideration #1: The penalty may follow you, even if you don’t redirect the old domain to the new one.
According to Google’s John Mueller, it’s entirely possible for a penalty to follow you to a new domain, even without redirects. That’s right: If you move all of your content over to a completely new domain, Google may detect that this was simply a site move, and the penalty will be transferred to the new domain. It’s easy for Google to spot content that it has previously indexed; so if you don’t want the penalty to follow you, you’ll have to ditch more than just your domain — you’ll have to ditch all your content, too.
Even if Google misses the fact that you’ve simply moved your penalized site to another domain, the new site is likely to earn a new penalty unless you’ve fixed the underlying issues that caused the penalty in the first place.
This means if you want to start fresh, it’s critically important that you don’t simply migrate your penalized site over to a new domain. You’ll need to ensure you’ve fixed any content-related issues that could have contributed to the penalty, and make sure you’re carefully staying within the bounds of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as you build your new site.
Consideration #2: You risk losing your pre-penalty rankings (if your site was at one point in time ranking authentically).
If your site was built on high-quality content and authoritative inbound links, but then was penalized due to black-hat SEO practices, it may be worthwhile to keep the domain and do whatever you can to remove the penalty. If you can pinpoint one or two strategies or tactics that resulted in the penalty, it’s likely easier and more beneficial to simply fix the underlying issue and try to get the penalty removed.
In these cases, you stand to retain the rankings, link equity, brand equity, and other trust indicators associated with your domain prior to the penalty. Once you’ve fixed the underlying issues, your site’s rankings will likely improve; keep in mind, however, that any inflated rankings your site had due to bad links or other overly-aggressive SEO strategies won’t come back after the penalty is lifted.
Benefits of Getting a New Domain
I do believe there are situations in which getting a new domain is the answer; not the ‘easy’ route as some may believe, but a less risky alternative than trying to fix a site with significant, long-standing issues.
You don’t have to “dig yourself out of a hole.”
In a Google Webmaster video, Matt Cutts answers the question, “Can I buy a domain that used to have spam on it and still rank?” His answer: Better to start fresh. He discusses it in terms of digging out of a hole someone else has dug…why spend all your time trying to just back to ground level, when you could be starting new? Keep in mind that this was answered in the context of buying a new domain with spam issues; however, the principle can be argued with your own penalized domain as well.
Getting a new domain may be best for sites with many long-standing issues.
For sites with a serious, long-standing history of breaking Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, starting a new site from scratch (not just migrating or redirecting it) may be the best solution to recovering from a penalty.
In a Google+ post, John Mueller wrote, “It’s never a decision to make lightly, but there can be situations where a website has built up so many problems, that it may appear easier or faster to start over with a fresh & new website, rather than to try to fix all of those problems individually. This isn’t an easy way to get past problems that have been built up over the years, it’s a lot of work to create a new website, even if you already know the business area.”
Generally speaking, I recommend taking every reasonable step to have your penalty removed before giving up on your site. If you’ve invested time and money into creating high-quality content and earning inbound links from authoritative sites, moving to a new domain can negate all these gains.
Recovery will necessitate identifying the issues that caused the penalty, and taking the necessary steps to fix the problem; steps like disavowing harmful links for link-related penalties, or making significant edits or rewrites for content-related penalties. If you’re unfamiliar with the process of disavowing links, see my post Google’s Disavow Tool: What You Need to Know, and 4 Common Myths.
Once you’ve done your best to fix the underlying issue, you need to submit a reconsideration request to Google via Google Webmaster Tools.
If, despite all your best efforts, the penalty isn’t removed or your rankings don’t recover, it may be time to consider getting a new domain. Just remember: Your site was penalized for a reason. Do your best to ensure you aren’t just transferring these issues to your new domain.
Are you facing the decision of whether or not to get a new domain? Leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions.