SEO – Ask an SMXpert: Tips for dealing with (and avoiding) Google penalties

SEO - Ask an SMXpert: Tips for dealing with (and avoiding) Google penalties

SEO Expert at SearchBrothers and former senior Google Search Quality team member, Fili Wiese, hosted a presentation at SMX East about the Google Search Console and penalties. He didn’t have time to answer every question from attendees at the event so he took the time to follow up with us. Here are five questions submitted during the session about Google penalties and Fili’s responses.

1. What factors should be taken into consideration before deciding whether or not to disavow a link? There are times when a site has a high domain authority but looks spammy. How do you decide to disavow or not?

Wiese: Backlinks need to be seen in the larger context of a sites backlink profile. For example, an individual PageRank passing link bearing a very commercial anchor including “buy” or “deals” can be inconsequential. The same type of link as part of a large volume of similar links is clearly toxic. Context is key but not the only factor to consider. The quality and quantity of content on the sites pointing links to one’s website are relevant. Receiving links from low-quality sites or sites that are known link sellers is a bad signal for Google too. This is why all of these factors need to be considered and evaluated on as a large backlink sample of possible. Only then, while conducting an in-depth backlink audit is it possible to identify link risks with any degree of accuracy.

Domain authority, or what is commonly perceived as such is however irrelevant. Countless known brands sites of presumed domain authority, sell PageRank passing links. A fact not unnoticed by Google. One should never be fooled to think in terms of domain authority when disavowing links.

2. Can having two sites attached to the same GSC account create a cross-over effect if one of the two sites has had a penalty?

Wiese: No, Google does not apply collective punishment across an account just because one site was found in violation.

3. Does Google use past penalties as a parameter in their current algorithm?

Wiese: No, to the best of my knowledge Google does not apply penalties for any sort of algorithm development. Manual penalties are a stop-gap measure, to be used when algorithms fail to prevent spam from polluting Google Search Results. Algorithms – new as well as refinements to existing algorithms – are developed and tested independently.

4. Is it better to start afresh with a new domain for a website that is manually penalized? Especially if it’s a small business website with not a lot of traffic?

Wiese: Of course not, that would mean giving up on brand and domain for no reason. Every penalty can be lifted. Google goes to great lengths to indicate to the site owner what the problems are. Fellow former Googler Kaspar Szymanski has published an extensive guide on that topic.

The current volume of traffic a website enjoys – whether under penalty or not- says little about the traffic it can generate once it has been optimized. The sky is the limit here.

5. If you feature a list on your site and persons who make the list have the option to pay to beef up their profile (which may include a link to their site), will Google consider that a link scheme?

Wiese: Yes, they may see it in that light. Ultimately it depends whether the links pass PageRank, what anchor texts are being used and a number of other factors. If you are unsure, I recommend you have a third party do a backlink risk analysis of your backlink profile.


Search Engine Land’s SMX West, the go-to event for search marketers, returns to San Jose Jan. 30-31. The agenda, packing more than 50 world-class speakers, teaches you actionable search marketing tactics you can implement immediately to drive more awareness, traffic and conversions.

About The Author

Wendy Almeida is Third Door Media’s Community Editor, working with contributors for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today.

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