It has been long suspected that once the site has been penalized, even if it has been cleaned up, that it still somewhat has a negative stigma attached to the site, at least in the eyes of Google’s search algorithm. However, others swear that the instant penalty is lifted that the site can rank just as well, if not better, from where it was originally.
However Google’s John Mueller has made some comments, first noted on Webmasterworld, that seems to confirm that when a site has had manual action taken against it, particularly for ongoing spam issues, once it has been resolved, then that website must work to regain the lost trust when it comes to being indexed and ranked Google once again.
John Mueller, Google Trends Analyst in Europe, was responding to a post made on the Google help forums who was filing for reconsideration request after disavowing links. While a lot of the discussion from other users revolved around the nuances of continuing to disavow links while filing for reconsideration requests, John Mueller mentioned :
Finally, looking at your site’s history, it looks like you’ve done quite a bit for quite some time, and it looks like our algorithms have picked up on that too. So while resolving the manual action is a good way to start, you need to keep in mind that it can possibly take quite some time for our algorithms to regain trust in your site even after that.
This seems to confirm that there really is a “Google Manual Penalty Sandbox”, where websites that have had manual action taken against them – such as the unnatural link warning and penalty – and especially those websites that are repeat offenders, will indeed have a greater struggle having their sites rank well again, as they work to regain that trust again. So any illusions you have that a website will rank amazingly well after filing a successful reconsideration request are just illusions.
In the forum discussion of WebmasterWorld, a lot of users are definitely reporting a sandbox effect for many sites that have had manual action taken against it, where they just aren’t ranking despite having no penalty. So it seems that is not enough just to clean up the mess, and hope for the best, webmasters need to actively build that trust again.
This Manual Penalty Sandbox is meant to give an extra penalty to spammers, so that blackhat sites might not rank well immediately after a penalty is lifted, but it also means that sites impacted by negative SEO or by hiring a bad SEO company will also find themselves in an uphill battle to rank well once again as they try and regain that trust.
We could see an upswing in negative SEO once again with people trying to knock their competitors out of Google by buying masses of links and pointing them to their competitor’s website, since now people will know that even though a website can disavow those paid links, there is now the added “bonus” (from a competitor’s perspective at least) that those sites won’t rank well immediately after the unnatural backlink penalty is lifted.
What does this mean if you have been penalized and filed a successful reconsideration request? Well, your work isn’t nearly done. Those webmasters are going to have to step up their social media game in order to show that people are linking and engaging with the content, write or rewrite their content to ensure that their content is super high quality and updated regularly, as well as looking at the Google Webmaster Guidelines as if it was a “good website” checklist and make sure they follow those guidelines to a T, and until they are in Googlebot’s good graces again.
While webmasters should always strive to increase Google’s trust in their websites, it will be even more crucial as an SEO cleanup strategy for those who have been penalized by Google.