Taking On An SEO Client With A Penalty

In the wake of the Panda and Penguin updates — and subsequent refreshes — I’ve been getting a lot more leads from website owners and marketers that are suffering from a search engine penalty and need help digging themselves out from underneath it. Some of them freely admit to employing a black-hat firm in the past, or doing it themselves, and they realize it finally caught up with them. Still other site owners feel like they were blindsided and are struggling to understand what they did wrong and how they can recover. I don’t have much sympathy for the site owners that knew they were “playing the game,” but my heart does go out to those site owners who maybe were taken advantage of or were trying to manage their own SEO and knew just enough to be dangerous.

As a white-hat SEO provider I am very hesitant to take on an SEO client that is dealing with a search engine penalty. Not because I don’t want to help them, but because working with a penalized website can be an entirely different ball game. I know that some SEO providers specialize in working with penalized sites, but if you are more like me and are finding a lot of decent leads are coming from penalized sites then here are a few things to consider before taking these sites on as a client:

1. Do they understand what they did wrong?

I’ve talked with some owners that truly feel like Google is out to get them. It’s important to make sure any site owner you’re working with to resolve a penalty understands that Google isn’t out to “get them,” nor does Google owe it to them to help their website succeed. Google is a business, just like any other, only their products and services center on search. In order to make their product better they have to provide the best possible search results. I’m sure some sites got flagged by Panda and Penguin that should have been left alone, but odds are if their site got penalized it’s because they deserved it. Complaining about how unfair it is won’t fix anything. You — either on purpose or by accident — ran afoul of the guidelines and now you are dealing with the consequences.

2. Can they hold on for the long haul?

Recovering from a penalty is usually no quick and easy task. Even if you do everything right within days of being penalized — assuming you hone in on exactly the right problem and fix it exactly the right way — if a site is suffering from an algorithmic penalty you have to wait until the next refresh for those changes to really have any effect. This might take six weeks, it might take six months — we don’t know. Before you agree to work with a penalized site it’s worth finding out of they can keep themselves afloat for a while without much help from the search engines. Do they have other ways of promoting their site and driving traffic? Can they keep their doors open long enough even with the penalty? Some site owners enter panic mode when their site is penalized and might only be able to survive for a short while if the penalty isn’t lifted. It’s important to know how desperate the situation is before working with a penalized website.

3. Are they prepared to do what’s necessary?

Depending on how severe the penalty is, your potential SEO client might be facing a very big — and possibly very expensive — uphill battle. Do they have the time, the budget and the drive to do what’s necessary to help their site recover? One mistake didn’t get them into this mess and one flip of the switch isn’t going to undo the damage. You want to make sure the site owner knows what they are in store for when it comes to recovering from a penalty so they aren’t expecting a magic trick from you to fix it overnight.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you as the SEO provider to decide if working with a penalized website is a challenge you are ready to take on. Entering a website that is in panic mode is very different from working on any other site, so it’s important that both you and your client know what you’re getting in to.

About the Author

Nick Stamoulis is president and founder of Boston-based SEO and social media marketing firm Brick Marketing. With over 12 years of industry experience, Stamoulis shares his knowledge by posting daily SEO articles to his blog the Search Engine Optimization Journal and publishes the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, which is read by over 150,000 subscribers. Read Nick Stamoulis’ full PubCon speaker biography here.

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