The following is specifically written for business owners, marketing managers/directors, and others who engage with SEO in some form or another, but who don’t actually do the work themselves. It could be that you have an internal SEO team, and/or external suppliers such as SEO companies, or consultants.

Ignoring Google’s warnings could destroy your business’s online presence once and for all.

(No, I’m not exaggerating! How valuable is Google organic traffic to your business?)

Over the past few years there’s been thousands of articles, blogs, guides and more written about the subject of Google penalties. These have mainly been written from the view point of how to remove them, rather than from the business risk perspective.

This post isn’t about the technicalities of Google penalty removal. Instead, it aims to reiterate Google’s warnings on just how critical it is for business owners, and major stakeholders, to understand what is being done under the flag of SEO for their business.

Have you previously had a Google penalty (manual action) revoked?

If you, or someone else in your company, have been unfortunate enough to have employed SEO companies in the past whom carried out practices which broke the Google search quality guidelines, then you probably had a Google penalty.

In my experience – providing that the necessary work is done to rectify the problem – Google does grant second changes. Whether the site regains the full amount of organic search traffic is another matter; if it was built purely on sand, and you didn’t deserve to rank highly in the first place, then that’s highly doubtful in my opinion. Anyway, that’s a post for another day!

Have you gone back to black(hat SEO)?

So, you used to have a Google penalty, possibly for link spam. It’s been revoked, and although you haven’t forgotten about it, it’s certainly not at the forefront of your mind. Does that sound familiar?

I speak to a lot of people about SEO – it comes with the territory I guess you could say – but it’s amazing just how many people I speak to, who have had Google penalties revoked, and have then gone back to blackhat SEO without knowing it!

But how does this happen after already experiencing a Google penalty?

You would think that after going through the pain of a Google penalty – especially if you had a site-wide penalty which affected your brand name – then the last thing you would do is go back to using tactics which break the Google guidelines!

When running a business, your job is to run the business, and not the finer details of one single marketing channel: SEO. Therefore, as your business appearing in organic search results is still as valuable as ever, budgets are assigned, SEO suppliers are chosen (whether internal or external), and commercial targets are set.

Trusting an SEO supplier after a bad experience

It’s a little word, but it has big connotations. In the same way Google forgives a website (and the organisation as well) by revoking a Google penalty, indeed so have you by choosing to work with another SEO supplier after a ‘bad’ experience.

Is your business’s SEO whiter than white?

The issue comes in the form of misplaced trust, which is unfortunately very common in SEO.

I’ve sat and watched several speakers at SEO conferences, from various SEO companies who tout themselves (and their SEO agencies) as being whiter than white when it comes to SEO practices – especially when it comes to links – but later down the line I’ve have had calls from their clients asking for help to undo the blackhat ‘optimisation’ that has been done by these very people and agencies.

The sad truth about the SEO industry is that it is hard to know who to trust not to damage your business, and perhaps more importantly – who to not! After all, it’s hard to know what is being done in the name of SEO.


Unfortunately, from what I’ve witnessed, it’s not solely the fault of the SEO.

I can think of dozens of well-known UK brand names whom I’ve seen RFP (request for proposal) briefs which specifically request:

  • X number of links
  • with X arbitrary link metrics
  • And whom are willing to pay X for each link

What’s amazing is that most of them have had Google penalties revoked in the past, for exactly the same type of manipulative activity!

A little knowledge is dangerous in SEO

Unfortunately, a lack of education about the dangers of trying to manipulate search engines is just as prevalent in many marketing agencies and SEO consultants, believe it or not.

I’m worryingly seeing a growing trend of clients approaching me, whom again have had Google penalties (again mainly for link spam), who have placed trust in new agencies, under the assumption that they are carrying out white hat techniques.

Concerned that they are not seeing results, or are not sure what the agency are actually doing, they instruct us to carry out an SEO supplier campaign audit. Not in all cases, but in a good number of them, we’ve found that the SEO strategy wasn’t fixing the sites technically, nor was it working with the business to improve the quality of the content. Often the strategy wasn’t even to carry out marketing activity to generate naturally earned links.

In fact, because SEO isn’t the cheap and relatively scalable channel it once was, many people revert back to what they know best, and think will work: link spam.


This post could go on forever, but in the interest of summing it up I would say:

  • Ask for a clear, concise list from your SEO supplier as to what they are doing (especially if they are conducting any activity which results in links).
  • If you have had a Google penalty in the past, ensure that a third and independent party to the SEO supplier monitors/audits their work to ensure that it doesn’t break the Google guidelines.
  • Ensure that you have an email registered which can receive notifications from the Google search console.
  • Don’t be afraid to question people about that they’re doing on a regular basis. SEO sales people often tell you what you want to hear in order to win your business – this might not be the same as what the team who are running your account actually end up doing. It is your right to be informed of what work is being done on your behalf.
  • If you break the Google search quality guidelines for a second time, removing the penalty the second time is much harder – maybe impossible in some cases. Be very careful who you choose to work with!