How to Recover From Google Panda / Penguin Updates using 301 Permanent Redirects Case Study

Hello Fellow Webmasters!

Getting attacked by a Panda bear is no laughing manner, or worse, death by a cute cuddly Penguin. Is there really a way around this penalty, or a way to recover in the Google Search Engine Rankings.

Yes!

Many will say to keep building quality links and push through, but the sad reality is once a website is penalized and on the radar of the Gods, there is usually no coming back (this is why we suggest you vary anchor text and do things right the first time). But hindsight is 20/20 and let’s see a real live case study that is better than we could have ever imagined.


The Test Subject:
MMOhut.com

The number 1 review site of free to play MMO / MMORPG video games (I use to play these types of games endlessly – UO, EQ, World of Warcraft, etc). They have over 170,000 Youtube subscribers, pagerank 6, and have the best written content, images and videos on the subject. They were getting an amazing amount of search engine traffic until the Panda struck.

Click to Enlarge Image to See the Panda bear devouring MMOhut organic hopes

Notice the Panda update around April 2011 left MMOhut completely crippled. They have the best content on the subject, thorough reviews, one of the most popular Youtube channels for video games, yet here they are, cast aside as another “successful” detection of the Google Panda algorithm.

The Solution:
MMOhuts.com

Yes, you read that correctly. They registered mmohut and added an “s” to the domain. Is this really going to work?

Click to Enlarge Image to see the Panda and Penguin unable to find their prey

Notice the “new” domain, mmohuts.com is getting over 250k search engine traffic a month now. For those of us that love organic seo, we know this is a huge number and it represents thousands and thousands of dollars. It could very well be the difference between $0, $50k a month, or more.

How did they do it?
They realized their main page, MMOhut.com should not be redirected but all the thousands of inner pages that existed such as:
http://mmohut.com/games/scifi?o=6 will be redirected to the new, non penalized domain.

Why does this work?
Google isn’t dumb. If a penalized domain would transfer the penalty via a redirect, Negative SEO would reach new heights. Webmasters would simply spam a website, and redirect it to a competitors. Because of this, there are loopholes like this that exist.

Is this blackhat?
I don’t know, but was it ethical to ban a website that was providing such high quality content?

Take aways / Actions

If you have a domain that has been penalized, register a new one with an “s” added, or it can be completely unique. Redirect your webpages to your new domain. You might lose $12 on a GoDaddy domain, but the upside of 250,000 search traffic (okay maybe you aren’t getting that), far outweighs the negatives. Best of all, you are already penalized, so why not take the plunge. Only upside at that point.

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Dan and Matt Anton

Dan and Matt Anton are the creators of BacklinksVault, a community for online marketers to blog, learn, contribute and use the best tools and services available.

53 thoughts on “How to Recover From Google Panda / Penguin Updates using 301 Permanent Redirects Case Study”

    1. hi Ryan,

      Not my domain 🙂 but yes, it looks like mmohut.com is redirecting ALL of their inner pages to the new cloned version of mmohuts.com (which is not penalized).

      If you do site:mmohut.com in google you’ll see the penalized domain still has a ton of webpages indexed but they all go to the new cloned version. Maybe the planets aligned on this one for them.

      1. I guess Ryan wanted to know whether the redirect all go to the start page of the new or to the respective copy of the inner page.
        It will go to the inner page. This can be solved elegantly in .htaccess or the apache conf with redirectMatch:
        RedirectMatch /(.*) http://newdomain/$1

        Mike

    1. Yes, going from a penalized domain back to 250k organics a month is not impressive…. 🙂

      Any penalty by Google typically requires a manual reconsideration request to be filed, which means it’s not up to you anymore.

      This was a method I saw that worked because I happened to be a fan of mmohut and saw that one day their inner page had an “s” on it and did some investigating. To the average user they don’t know what’s going on, but we do…just look at the semrush images above.

  1. Interesting .. Thank you!
    But what should be on the new page to which I redirect the old page? Should I copy the same content from the original page?

    1. hi Ron,

      Thank you for commenting. Yes, I believe the content is never penalized, just the domain so there is no reason why it shouldn’t the exact same. In this instance for mmohut -> mmohuts.com it’s working perfectly.

    1. hi DORI,

      Excellent question, and yes of course. They make new youtube videos each day so they do promote mmohuts.com as if it were a new domain, but the fact that it has so much search engine traffic in such a short amount of time shows the old domain, which was penalized has given it a significant boost to 234,000 organic search traffic only a few months after inception.

    1. hi Ivan,

      Yes, I wasn’t experienced with this personally so didn’t know if it was important NOT to redirect homepage. Great to hear you had success with it because that means “small” sites or properties with less than 500 indexed pages can still transfer the good juice once penalized.

  2. Can we use the same content from our old domain in our newly registered domain or do we have to create fresh content for the new one?

    1. hi Ranjan,

      You can use the same content as long as you 301 the page, which tells Google this should no longer exist and should now be redirected to your new page. This is EXACTLY what mmohut did -> mmohuts.com which shows the content is the same, but the new, non penalized domain helps.

    1. hi Matthew,

      Not my domain/website 🙂 . I’m thinking they didn’t redirect the homepage because it’s their brand name, but more importantly it might have caused any negatives associated with redirecting a penalized domain to be mitigated.

  3. Hi! Thanks for the interesting case study! I noticed that you mentioned this – “They realized their main page, MMOhut.com should not be redirected but all the thousands of inner pages that existed such as…”

    Wondering why they decided not to redirect the home page?

    Also, this website had thousands of pages that collectively got a huge traffic, so I’m thinking if the same will work for websites with just a handful of pages, say 5-10..

    Thanks,

    Anton

    1. hi Anton,

      Great name 🙂 . I’m not sure, but sounds like most wholesale redirects, i.e. including homepage end up triggering something in the Google algorithm alerting them to possible fraud, but by leaving the homepage and do every single inner page they might have received all the good, but non of the bad with redirecting a penalized domain.

      Then again, if you do have a smaller website, it’s not worth doing unless you redirect everything, so in that case a root domain homepage 301 redirect makes sense to try.

  4. So there was no recovery and the title is 100% misleading. As recovery means to recover i.e the old domain. What you have done is just changed domain and got the content reindexed on it, which allowed it to rank due to its fantastic content. If they had done no redirecting I suspect the same effect would of been achieved by placing the content on a completely unrelated domian. This article and video are just more misdirection, sales baloney and fluff from the internet marketers.

    1. In your definition of “recovery” yes, it could be misleading, but getting traffic BACK is the definition for most of us when you need to feed the family. 😉

  5. Are all the old internal pages are redirected to the home page (MMOhuts.com) or to that every page is redirected to the same internal page on the new site?

    1. hi Ron,

      You can test the link from the post I added. It’s specifically redirected to it’s new clone inner page only with s added (the new domain). This is important, rather than redirecting every single page to one page.

  6. Thanks for the article. How do you setup a 301 on every page except your homepage? Would you have to do it at the page level and create a separate 301 for each page?

    1. hi Jeff,

      I’m not really sure but plan on investigating further. They most likely made a clone of the site and used some form of automation to ensure the 301 goes to the correct page otherwise doing it for 240,000 pages manually is just not possible.

    1. hi James,

      Thank you for that insight. I do not own mmohut or mmohuts. Not sure what I would be promoting in this post as I don’t own stock in 301 redirects. Nice try troll

  7. Hi,
    I bought a WSO last month outlining this procedure except that it suggested rewriting the content and improving the on page SEO, then building good diverse backlinks to the new domain over the course of a few weeks AND THEN 301 redirecting each page to it’s new equivalent.
    I haven’t tried this yet as I’ve been making other sites so I don’t know how effective it is, but surely it would make more sense than simply creating an identical site then immediately redirecting to it.
    Although in your example it doesn’t seem to be the case, however…no time scale of the recovery shown above is shown (or did I miss it?)
    Anyway…good post mate!
    cheers
    Dan

    1. hi Daniel,

      If you look at both images you see the Panda hit them hard April 2011. In one month’s time (May 2011) in the recovery image you see they have gained back a significant amount of their search traffic.

      The content is not what gets penalized on a website. It’s a domain level penalty and that’s why this redirect of inner pages to exact copies works. Because it’s a 301 it’s saying to ignore the fact that they are copies so it works very well, at least in this example.

      1. Hi Anton,
        My sites weren’t specifically hit bad by Panda although they did see a drop in visitors. However, they were absolutely hammered by penguin! What are your feelings on this method of “recovery” for penguin hit sites rather than panda hit sites?

        1. The same principle should hold true for sites hit by any domain level penalty. Once a site is penalized it’s very hard to come back from, whether Panda or Penguin. You need to do all the right things and then hope. If that doesn’t work you have to file a re-inclusion request.

          This is most likely a path best taken if it’s your personal website, or client that doesn’t mind. I would be transparent about it to avoid confusion or miscommunication.

  8. Mixed Opinion..

    – Seems Lifesaver for domains with huge traffic.

    – For client websites Convincing part involved is going to be a tough ask. One might end up being labeled inefficient to bring back the existing website while others in the industry commit 100% recovery -:)

    – Moreover there will be domains that can’t compromise on the brand names either.

    1. Yes, but the reality is you are not going to bring that domain back from a penalty 99.99% of the time. This is why you have to do things correct the first time, or at least willing to risk the domain.

      Not many brands are larger than mmohut. They have 171,000 Youtube subscribers and get millions of unique viewers each month visiting their site. This redirect of inner pages looks like a way to preserve your brand while still reaping the benefits of organic search engine traffic.

  9. Wish I read about this before I deep sixed my PR 5 website a few years back after receiving the dreaded “unnatural link building message” in google webmaster tools. Awesome analysis guys!

    1. hi Kip,

      Thank you. Yes, we also have given up on websites in the past after a lot of quality link building failed to pull it from the depths of search engine hell.

  10. Hey ,

    I got hit by the penguin update on April 24th. I had 9 keywords in page 1 for my website and after penguin hit me, they were all gone from the top 10 pages.

    So I just redirected all my pages to another domain. It’s been only 1 day so far so the SERP’s haven’t made me page 1 again yet. But once they do get back to page 1, should I do my seo on my old domain name or on my new domain name? e.g. when I write articles/press releases , should the links point to http://www.olddomainname.com or http://www.newdomainname.com?

    Thanks

  11. hi Brian,

    What I noticed mmohut do was they primarily link back to their inner pages (mmohuts.com or new domain) but also link back to their penalized one. I recommend linking back to your new domain inner pages when possible unless you have a brand image and need to put that domain name as the primary focus in a press release.

    Also, if you have a large site be sure to redirect the inner pages but not homepage as that strategy looks to be working very well for them. If you have a smaller website, the whole website redirected might work but we aren’t sure at this point.

    1. Hey it’s me again,

      About 8 days ago I purchased a new domain which is similar to my penalized one, I simply added an “s” to the end of the domain name.

      I then redirected all my pages except my home. However, it’s been 8 days and Google still hasn’t gotten around to indexing all my pages of the new domain yet, it only indexed about half of them so far. But I know it will get around to indexing them all eventually.

      So at the moment, my ranks for my keywords are still not in the top 10 pages of google.
      Will I only see my ranking go back to normal after all the pages of my new site have been re-indexed? Or should I be seeing my rankings go back to normal even before all the pages of my new domain get indexed?

      Thanks,
      Brian

      1. hi Brian,

        Great to see you took action on this. Yes, indexing will take time. Just keep fleshing out your new website / content and do your link building or outsource it.

        Yes, I believe everything needs to be indexed, and your new site should start receiving more traffic than the old penalized one. Be sure to backlink your new homepage as well, since mmohut has started doing that to mmohuts.com .

  12. Hi,

    Great post! I noticed something else about the new domain that may or may not have made a difference. If someone reading this knows, I would love further explanation.

    The mmohut.com is registered to Game Empire Enterprises, LLC and uses ns1.wiredtree.com as their name server. The new domain mmohuts.com, is registered as private (Domains By Proxy, LLC) and uses NS1.SOFTLAYER.COM.

    I wonder if he is hosting on a new server and IP address and if that has helped him get out of the penalty. Also, does using a different registrant when registering the new domain stops the penalty from being transferred?

    1. Brilliant analysis Chris!

      This probably does help greatly. I’m surprised both aren’t private registered, and we didn’t check on the hosting aspect of avoiding the penalty. I think this is an excellent point and shouldn’t be overlooked. Thank you

      When in doubt, keep everything as separate and unrelated when attempting to pull this off; makes a great deal of sense.

  13. IMO this is only a temporary fix. How long until the same links that got the first domain penalized and are now pointing at the new domain cause the site to get penalized again?

    1. hi Jason,

      Please take a look at the Recovery MMOHut Panda image. It’s been over a year and they are still receiving 250,000 organic traffic a month. Maybe the redirect is causing the algorithm that would normally penalize a site (Panda / Penguin) to not work as effectively.

      I see your point, but in this case the site went from being dead, to basically a top dog again.

  14. I am attempting this now and I have a website with over 40,000 pages…

    Let’s see what happens. I don’t have a different server (so NO new IP, but I am using different registrars)…

    I will report back with my findings.

    1. hi Daniel,

      Awesome, we wish you the best of luck with this. Please let us know how it goes since it has proven so effective for mmohut’s recovery

  15. I just made another small discovery as I examine the site mmohut.com (the original penalized site).

    They do have pages indexed that are not redirected. So far these seem to be search query based result pages (which link to the content on the new site):
    http://mmohut.com/?s=play+as+a+cat&task=search&option=com_search
    http://mmohut.com/?s=4story&task=search&option=com_search
    http://mmohut.com/?s=play+as+a+cat&task=search&option=com_search
    http://mmohut.com/?s=strategy+games&task=search&option=com_search

    They are definitely SEO optimized query result pages…that come from the original penalized site and point to the posts on the new site.

    So I am wondering a couple of things about these search pages:
    1) Why are these not 301 redirected?
    2) How do they link to these search result pages?
    3) Just how many are there?
    4) Is this vital for recovery?

    … thoughts?

    1. Good find Daniel, but don’t think this is vital to their recovery. As you can see many of those queries are not indexed, even on the new site. If you search for “Eden eternal” in top right corner you get this url:

      http://mmohuts.com/?s=eden+eternal&task=search&option=com_search

      You can see it’s not indexed in Google.

      They are not redirected because they were most likely randomly indexed and found by Google. They could be from users unknowingly linking to the search results versus the actual content, which would explain how the search engines would find them.

      To redirect them MMOhut would have to find all of them and then 301 them to new search results, but since the search pages have very little content on them, and are unlimited (any search word or phrase is a new url), they probably decided not to bother with it.

      1) Page never really existed in first place, but those that did they didn’t feel necessary to redirect
      2) Probably random users linking to results from forums
      3) Most likely thousands of searches were performed internally on the site, but doesn’t mean they are all indexed
      4) I don’t believe so based on the above

  16. This is really good case study to recover from panda and i am actually looking for domain who penalized in google and now shown up by google search engine. I am looking for more domain names who penalized by google search engine. If you have it please mail me on my email id winfredable@yahoo.com

    1. Thanks Winfred. Lots of sites got hit so you can probably just do a bunch of searches in random niches and then input into semrush or another traffic / keyword checker to verify they once were getting traffic and now aren’t (aka most likely penalized)

  17. This is a great case study… Yes I realize you made this quite some time ago but I just came upon it today while trying to find some new ideas on getting out of a penalty. All I can say is that is the best forwarding idea I have ever seen being used.

    I must add this post to my favorite articles this month!

    Thanks
    Dwight

  18. I had same problem, i was penalized , i was thinking the same solution for that, now i am sure and going to try this solution.

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