Don’t 301 Redirect a Link Penalty to Your Healthy Site – It’s the Law

Published: January 26, 2015  by 

Recently we’ve been having challenging conversations with one of our clients.

They’ve seen significant drops in search engine rank and traffic. Their exposure to search traffic graph on SEMRush looks like this:



Find Law – not a good SEO service

We’ve been bailing water on their website since day one. We won the business away from Find Law, a lawyer specific website and SEO service/link scheme.  Find Law sent them thousands of links from websites within the Find Law network, and their website was required to link back to these properties in return.

There were about half a dozen lawyer websites in Oklahoma City being serviced by Find Law at the time. Over the last two years we’ve seen them sputter and tank in the rankings.

Luckily for Laird Hammons Laird our link building has always been a step-and-a-half ahead of algorithm updates.

A Google Webmaster Central manual action

So we were a surprised to see this “manual action” message show up in the client’s Google Webmaster Central.


There are worse warnings to get – this one (unnatural links to your site – impacts links) suggests that Google has decided to ignore some of your inbound links because they look spammy. Basically you’re not going to be getting authority for those links, but nor are you likely to be getting penalized for having them.

I conducted a link audit anyway by downloading their backlink profile from Webmaster Central and visiting every link in their history.

Investigating spammy backlinks

There were a whole load of new spammy back links that I’d never seen before. Links like this


Weirdly the hypertext on the link to their site isn’t their URL, or any company name I had ever heard associated with them. I checked and 301 redirects to the client’s website.

Well there were hundreds of other spammy links just like this in the client’s backlink profile.

So I asked the client about it and it turns out that a few months ago they did bring a new lawyer in and he 301 redirected his website to their website. There was nothing malicious in it, but he had paid someone to do SEO for him in the past. 301 redirecting those bad links on to our client’s site seems to have thrown up a red-flag for Google and could be the cause of their recent rankings issues.

I think this is some fairly strong evidence 301 redirecting a bad link profile to a healthy website will be seen as bad links pointing to that domain, and is therefore dangerous.

If you are trying to get out from under a link penalty and  moving to a new site to do it, make sure you don’t redirect your old site on, or your skeletons will follow you.

Hedge your bets

Of course with link penalties you never can tell. Maybe it was just Google tightening up their expectations and the Find Law history was finally catching up to them?  You just can’t know. And that uncertainty never makes for comfortable conversations with a client.

In my experience you should steer well clear of any questionable link building practices or companies, no matter how good the short term results are.

And as an agency, you should try to avoid working with websites with bad link building in their pasts – eventually it always seems to complicate things.

What was the solution?

Simple. We removed the 301 redirect.

It’s going to take some time, but as Google re-indexes those pages and sees that the links no longer point to the client’s website their backlink profile will clear up and hopefully they will regain their rankings.

We’ve also taken the time to disavow some of the more troubling remnants of their Find Law past.

In the long term however the best solution might be a new website that does it right from the get-go.