Search engine optimisation is an absolute beast and I have a love/hate relationship with Google. The love comes from their progressive commitment to keeping the Internet on a level playing field. The hate: from the constant and unspoken changes that can pull the carpet out from you. Literally. Overnight. I had this happen via a manual penalty a few years back now, and had to kick straight into SEO-recovery mode.

A Manual Penalty 3 Weeks Into My New Role

One of the toughest projects I have ever worked on was recovering a website from a manual Google penalty. Sheds.com.au is the national website for Wide Span Sheds (one of the brands I managed at the time). The manual penalty was enforced by Google three weeks after I started in the brand management role.

At the time the business was working with an ‘expert’ SEO agency who made numerous recommendations and implemented a variety of strategies to drive the recovery. We worked for over a year in an attempt to have the penalty lifted. Everything we/they tried (meta changes, content tweaks and URL structure updates) didn’t really seem to do much at all.

When did the SEO Recovery Process Begin?

What ultimately saw the penalty lifted was a complete redesign of the website.

When I started briefing the redesign project I followed my gut instincts. Against the advice of my SEO agency, I completely changed the content architecture and hierarchy of how information was accessed.

Now this isn’t a strategy everyone should kick straight into gear with. But in this case, the old website was very clunky, had no user experience considerations and was quite simply confusing.

I was told numerous times that adding 301 redirects to the entire site would cause a drop in rankings. Really? A drop in rankings wasn’t even an issue when we had gone from ranking 1st for many generic keywords, to not even featuring on the first ten search engine result pages.

I worked closely with an experienced Gold Coast website design agency to transition the website to the SilverStripe content management system (CMS). SilverStripe is an open-source white hat CMS platform. And definitely one of the better platforms I have used.

The new website had new user-friendly URLs (you could make sense of what the page was just by looking at it), fresh content, consolidated information pages, removed the ‘fluff’ that previously existed and featured optimised meta data. The project took months, but really was worth the countless hours of content and CMS editing.

The Result?

We experienced a minor decline in traffic for about two months. As I mentioned above this wasn’t really too much of an issue because we had already lost about 30% of our traffic overnight, back when the penalty was applied.

About two months after the launch date I felt it was time to request penalty reconsideration. So—with trepidation—I clicked the big red button in Search Console.

Within days of the reconsideration request, someone at Google had again reviewed the site. And finally, the penalty lifted (HOORAY!).

Almost instantly the site started to grow in visitation and organic traffic. Our level of enquiry also reported this same positive growth.

It was amazing to watch the website grow and continue to report positive visitation and enquiry levels month on month.

With the new website launched, the brand had a really relevant and educational content strategy in place. Previously, content was posted for the sake of posting content. The new site saw regular and fresh content posted that aligned tightly with our social strategy.

Lastly, I am not saying the answer to every manual penalty from Google is redesigning the website in question. In this particular case there were lots of other poor contributors that definitely called for this course of action.

The moral of every SEO story is simple. Just follow white hat techniques, always. Never try to cheat Google. Ever.