Having built your online business from scratch it’s often hard to gulp the fact that your website has received a penalty. More often than not, it might not have been caused with your involvement either. You may have entrusted some well-known SEO company to handle the SEO part. Initially, things might have looked golden. But suddenly one day you find that the phones aren’t ringing with the frequency they used to, until one day they stop ringing completely.

In this post I am going to cover three different, but related things.

  1. Different Google penalties
  2. What causes these Google penalties?
  3. How most of these sites recovered from penalties?

To understand the different Google penalty case studies as discussed in this post, it’s first necessary for me to introduce what the different penalties are?

What are the different Google penalties?

  1. Google Panda penalty

Google Panda penalizes sites which have thin content, have keyword stuffed articles and similar on-site content issues. You are experiencing a Panda penalty if your traffic drops and then stabilizes again as you add more blogposts. But you see an overall reduction in traffic.

Or, you experience difficulty ranking and traffic is not as usual. Building backlinks doesn’t help your cause with Panda.

Panda is always site-wide in that it affects the entire site. As of now there are only algorithmic refreshes to Panda and new versions like Panda 2.0 or Panda 3.0 aren’t being rolled out.

  1. Google Penguin penalty

Google Penguin penalizes sites that engage in buying links, link exchanges and otherwise manipulative link building practices including but not limited to building automated links via softwares like GSA search engine ranker, SENuke X and others.

You are experiencing Google penguin if you witness a sharp drop in rankings for certain keywords. You may also get an Unnatural links warning in your Webmaster tools but that’s not the norm.

  1. Manual Penalties

Manual penalties occur when an employee from Google reviews your site and finds it to be violating Google’s quality guidelines. Manual penalties can be given for a number of reasons like buying or selling links, cloaking links, excessive redirects, plagiarized content, thin content and using doorway pages to name a few.

The manual penalties can be site-wide and affect the entire site. It can also be partial and just affect a couple of pages or posts.

You can also face complete de-indexation of your site. It will not appear in Search engine results if you type in the site.

Now, that I have given a close-up shot of different Google penalties let’s go to the examples.

1.UK PHA penalty Recovery

The Google penalty that was dished out resulted in a 90% overall loss in traffic. This penalty was caused due to spammy profile and comment links built over a period of 3 years.


Things came to a point that they weren’t even ranking for their own company let alone other relevant keywords.

After further investigation on their end, they identified two causative factors to be the prime reason behind the penalty and drop in rankings.

  1. Low quality links
  2. Unnaturally concentrated anchor link profile.

They started removing bad backlinks and adding high quality links. 4 months later they took the backlink profile of the site yet again which showed that a large quantity of bad backlinks had been removed.

Once they submitted the disavow request, they received a message saying that the manual penalty was now revoked and within a few days the rankings were back to normal.

In most cases when the bad backlinks are removed and penalty revoked, rankings seldom go back to what they previously were. This is due to a lack of good links. It’s suggested that if you opportunities for good link acquisitions then don’t ignore those.


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You can see the sharp increase in rankings.

2.Portent SEO penalty

Though in most cases of manual penalty, you stand to get a notification via webmaster tools in Portent’s case this was far from true. Portent is an SEO firm established in 1996. They were faced with a penalty but it was quite unclear as to what caused it.(Portent.com: Under manual penalty)

Portent’s owner, Ian Lurie assumed the reasons to be:

a.) Keyword rich anchor texts in guest post— Older guest posts had keyword rich anchor texts in them. Google sees all links and as such a bad link be it old or new does have an impact on rankings.

b.)Site-wide links— One of their client sites was hacked resulting in thousands of site-wide inbound links to their domain.

They disavowed over 1200 domains and proceeded with the reconsideration request.

3.Agile Media’s penalty case study

Agile Media writes about a penalty recovery case study that took 6 months to complete. The affected site seems to be an eCommerce site.

They made a list of their backlinks and analyzed them manually to find the spammy links.

Once the list of spammy links had been built they got hold of the website owners’ email addresses, facebook and twitter ids and started contacting them.


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The penalty was removed within seven days after filing the reconsideration request.

4.Kissmetrics Google penalty

Kissmetrics penalty resulted in overall loss of 225,418 visitors a month. A 29% drop in traffic. The primary reasons behind Google sending this penalty was a lot of duplicate content.

Kissmetrics allowed its posts to be republished by every major publication like Business Insider, Entrepreneur and so on. While republishing in and itself isn’t a bad thing, the format in which the posts were republished wasn’t ideal.


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These sites copy pasted the articles word to word and then linked back to Kissmetrics calling it the original source. The correct way to link back is by placing rel=canonical tag to show Google that the original post is elsewhere.

Moreover, there were tons of scraper sites posting every article to their own blogs as soon as a post went live on Kissmetrics.

When the IPs of these scraper bots were blocked that too stopped and Kissmetrics was able to regain its traffic.

5.Anonymous eCommerce client’s Google penalty

The site in question is an eCommerce client of Koozai and the url wasn’t revealed.

It took them 10 months and 10 reconsideration requests to finally get the manual penalty lifted.

In the beginning of 2013, they received a webmaster tools notification of unnatural links to the site.

So, they used different backlink checking and analysis tools like LinkDetox and also the Bing and Google webmaster tools to get a big and complete list of backlinks.

Then began a manual analysis of all the links to determine which ones were toxic or posed a problem to the site.


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In this case the main culprit was a set of sites with blogroll links. As soon as these sites added new posts or pages, thousands of new links were being created to the eCommerce site. This constant influx of new links to the tune of 1000 to 2000/day rendered all the reconsideration requests futile.

After persistent multiple emails, these site owners finally relented to get rid of the sitewide links. And finally, after all the hard work, after 10 long months, the penalty got lifted.

6.Another eCommerce site penalty

The reasons behind the penalty for this eCommerce site were manifold— Duplicate content, over optimization of keywords and hundreds of on-site errors.

Duplicate Content

Most eCommerce stores show no creativity when it comes to product descriptions. Either these are copied from the dropshipping site’s descriptions or from other sites and rarely edited.

In this case the duplicate content was due to the eCommerce platform employed. Magento eCommerce platform when not set up correctly, creates multiples of duplicate content  like category pages, paginated pages and others. They had over 8000 pages indexed in google, from only around 700 live pages on the site. A robots.txt file was set-up to ignore the duplicate pages and minimize content duplicity.

Internal Over-Optimization of Keywords

Most webmasters assume that internal over-optimization is justifiable. However, Google takes into account both on-page and off-page factors for ranking/penalizing a site.

Each product had the brand name in the title and description. They next proceeded to remove the brand names for the products and category pages.  The same thing was done for descriptions.

Removing errors

If you are not smart about maintaining your website, lots of errors can creep in. Google webmaster tools showed hundreds of errors from 404 pages and dead links. All these links were removed or redirected to minimize the errors.

Toxic anchor text ratio

Considering the off-page issues, over 50 to 60% of the anchor texts were over optimized.  They removed a lot of these links to finally get rid of the penalty. Here’s the link to the full case study.

7.eCommerce site penalty lifted in 3 weeks

This is another anonymous case study of an eCommerce site. For penalty removal, they tried to spot all the bad backlinks to the site.

All the links that were identified from multiple sources were grouped as under.

  1. Widget Links
  2. Low quality directories
  3. Sidewide links
  4. Hidden Text Links
  5. Footer links
  6. Advertisment link without nofollow attribution
  7. Widget Links
  8. Duplicate content URLs
  9. Low Domain authority websites
  10. Paid links
  11. Redirect URLs
  12. 403, 404, 522, 524, Account suspended, the domain name expired, fatal error, server error, server down, serve issue etc.

All these links were then manually scrutinized to see which ones were really bad and needed removing or disavowal.  Here’s the full case study.

8.Client site gets penalized

One of the sites Jay Stockwell of AssociatePrograms worked with was penalized. To see what caused the penalty they went to their Webmaster tools and downloaded the links.


They found that lots of links were coming to the site in question from. There’s no other way to remove these links other than manually entering the login details and deleting the links.

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But article directories were only part of the problem. They had more than 20000 inbound links and sorting them was becoming a major problem. They used a service called LinkDelete that not only analyzed the backlinks but helped remove them.

LinkDelete uses a 25 point checklist to determine if a link is bad or not and not just a few metrics here and there.


They received the above list of links and then Jay deleted a couple of links he didn’t want removed and submitted the rest for removal.


About 4 weeks later they had the penalty lifted.

9.Weddingdress.com penalty

In this post CognitiveSEO details how WeddingDress and few others lost their rankings when Penguin 3.0 came around.

Wedding Dress Trend is a site about discounted wedding dresses and wedding accessories from China. More than two thirds of the links built to the site are spammy.

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This site was established in October 2013 and by November 2013 had an extremely disproportionate relation between the number of links and the number of referring domains. This suggests that mass and automated link building tools were employed to get it going.

No surprise that it got penalized.

10.Freedom800.com receives a dual penalty

US Telecoms website Freedom800.com received a dual penalty in the form of manual action some of which were sitewide and some partial.

The site started building links 2-3 years back. Primarily two different forms of link building were done— one social bookmarking through a monthly paid service and press release distribution.

Different domains were bought all of which have links pointing to the main site.

Blog comment and profile links were built by contractors hired through oDesk.


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There were also links from web 2.0 blogs and forum profile links in abundance. The first task was to take stock of the bad links and contact these sites for link removal.

After proceeding in this manner and sending the first reconsideration request the site-wide penalty was revoked followed by complete lift of the different penalties with subsequent requests.

11.RapGenius’s receives penalty for blatant violation

RapGenius sent out many emails asking bloggers to link back from their site to RapGenius.

In receiving links from sites and posts which weren’t related to the content on RapGenius, they were openly violating Google’s guidelines.

Here’s an example of the emails that were generally sent to webmasters.


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12. The spam site that I set up

Back in 2013, I set up a site in the health niche, focused on an Amazon affiliate product called adjustable dumbbells. I built lot of links to the site with a tool known as the GSA search engine ranker and it started ranking within 11 days. Very soon the site was on the first page for terms like best adjustable dumbbells and other buyer keywords.


But it took only two months for Google to send the site a manual penalty for unnatural links. Suffice to say spam gets caught hard and fast.


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Again later in 2014 I set up another site powerpopulus.com, targeting the same niche. This time too I built a lot of spam links to the site via GSA search engine ranker. But unlike the last time, Google didn’t even bother ranking the website for any keyword that I targeted. It’s been sitting without any movement for the past 3 to 4 months.

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From my own case studies I have come to the conclusion that spam links as of now are totally useless for ranking websites. They don’t help a site rank.

But spam links are pretty useful when it comes to destroying a site’s position in Google. This case study on TrafficPlanet is about a site which got penalized and lost all its rankings because someone decided to nuke the site with bad backlinks.

Next, we will move on to see how we can get rid of a penalty

How to approach a penalized site and get rid of the penalty?

With all the examples I discussed above, it might already be clear for you.

The first step is to make a list of all the bad backlinks to the site. It can be easily done with Ahrefs as you can arrange the sites from low domain authority to high domain authority.

Generally all the low domain authority sites are spammy in nature. However, a manual review of the links is suggested. You can get the most exhaustive list of backlinks to your site with Ahrefs and get started with penalty removal.