Dec 12, 2013
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I have a client who was told by their previous SEO firm that they had spammy links, and had a penalty (or maybe they just said, "at risk" for a penalty).

The client then built a brand new site, at a new url, and kept the old site up, but, did not redirect it.

As far as evidence that there was a penalty, there is nothing in Webmaster tools, and I can't find anything conclusive in their organic traffic history. Moz's open site explorer finds some bad links in there, but, not really that many.

Its now 18 months later, and I'm working on their SEO, and I kind of would like to redirect that old site. The risk is, that if I do this, and there is a penalty, I will penalize the new site.

My thinking is: If I redirect the old site, and get a penalty, can I just turn off the redirect?

Marie Haynes

LocalU Faculty
Aug 7, 2012
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I think that the main issue here is in the word "penalty". There are two types of penalties that could be in play here. One is a manual action for unnatural links. The second is not technically called a penalty, but sure acts like one and that would be if the site were affected negatively by Google's Penguin algorithm.

So let's say the site had a manual action. If the penalty is still active, you will see it when you go to Google Search Console - Search Traffic - Manual Actions. If you see "no manual webspam actions" there then there is no manual penalty. Now, it's possible that there *was* a penalty in the past and it has expired. But, if there is nothing showing in the manual actions viewer then there is no manual penalty currently on the site.

But, if it was Penguin, then this is tougher to diagnose. Google does not send out messages in GSC for Penguin hits. It happens algorithmically and you will see no messages or notifications. In most cases we can see a drop in organic traffic that coincides with a known or suspected Penguin rerun. But, sometimes this is hard especially if a site was not ranking really well to start with. (In other words, if Penguin caused a drop from #4 to #14 for a keyword you may not see much in analytics because you likely weren't getting a lot of clicks at position #4.)

If the site has spammy backlinks and you redirect it to the new site (whether you use a 301, 302 or other redirect), then all of those bad link signals will be redirected to the new site. So, if Penguin is considering the old site as untrustworthy in regards to its backlink profile, then redirecting it will likely cause the new site to drop in rankings. It could happen immediately or it could happen the next time Penguin updates. You will *not* get a message in Google Search Console to tell you that this has happened.

You do not want to risk redirecting a Penguin hit site to a good site.

You have a few options:

1) Do a thorough link audit and disavow. File the disavow for both sites. This may be good insurance against a hit. But, if the site has had a LOT of spam it's possible you may not be able to find all of the bad links to disavow them.

2) Do a redirect that doesn't pass pagerank..but that's tricky. I wrote an article about possible solutions here. The redirect that goes through an intermediary page blocked by robots.txt is the best solution, but it's tricky:


Hope that helps. It's a complicated situation for sure.

Linda Buquet

Local Search Expert
Jun 28, 2012
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Thanks so much for weighing in Marie! We always appreciate your insights!
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