If your site has been hit with a Google penalty, the loss in traffic and revenue can be absolutely devastating. Some marketers might well choose to scrap their site and start all over again (which isn’t a bad idea if your site isn’t a monster), but for others who have a good flow of traffic and great amount of reputation and subscribers, restarting isn’t an option.

So, what do you do if you’re hit with a Google penalty?

Act Quickly

The first thing you need to understand here is that time is of the essence. The longer you wait to start recovering your rankings in the SERPs and traffic, the more money you are going to lose (or not make, same thing). Further, your reputation is going to take a hit, meaning even your most loyal clients might start wandering over to the other side of the fence to see where the grass is greener.

Your first order of action should be to audit your entire website. Determine whether you have an algorithmic or manual penalty and then pinpoint the cause. That’s the first area you should focus on. Typical Google penalties include black hat SEO practices, buying links, low-quality or duplicate content, high-bounce rates, on-page strategies deemed manipulative, spamming and low-quality backlinks, so be prepared to tackle those issues.

Depending on which update from Google caused the penalty (e.g. Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, etc.), your course of action will be dictated by the latest fixes. Take a deep look into your messages on your Webmaster Tools account and look for communications from Google that might have warned you (such as the Web Spam Team).

Take This Time to Fix Everything

Of course, you can just fix the problem as stated by Google and move on, but it’s much wiser to use this as an opportunity to clean up your entire site. Take a long, hard look at your practices – was this penalty an anomaly or have you been toeing the line in terms of white hat SEO practices? Run an analysis on your site with Hubspot or Nibbler and fix up any code errors, warnings or other problem areas that are holding your site down.

Any backlinks (aka inbound links) that are coming into your site that are low-quality or “bad” should be removed immediately. This can be an arduous process if you have a lot of links, but using tools such as Moz’s Open Site Explorer, you can expedite the process. Using these tools, check out all the websites that are linking to your site and really evaluate which are “good” sites that are beneficial to your ranking and/or business. Get rid of any sites that might be bringing you down (especially if those sites are the penalty trigger). Don’t only remove these links, but construct a list of them and request Google disavow them from your attributable backlinks.

Submission to Google

Once your site is completely fixed up, if your penalty was manual, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google. If your penalty was algorithmic, you have to wait until the next time Google updates its algorithms (this can happen a few times a day or once a week – Google doesn’t release this information unless it’s a large update like Hummingbird or Panda). Either way your site’s recovery is completely in the hands of Google’s team. But by keeping a detailed record of all the changes you made to come into compliance, you show that you are eager to play by their rules. Going above and beyond what you were penalized will look good in the eyes of Google’s team and you will likely be reinstated to your former glory much faster than not.