Google Penalty: A Luxury Hotel’s Recovery Story

We had a new hotel client come to us this past summer after receiving a manual notice about unnatural links. It wasn’t around the time of a Google Penguin update, although they certainly were cruising for a bruising.

We thought some of you in the same boat might want to hear about how we attained a successful reconsideration request and got things back on the right path.

google webmaster manual penalty unnatural links

I’m not sure what I fear more: Penguin or manual action, but in this hotel’s case the situation seemed quite redeemable since they haven’t been using automated tools. Now while I wasn’t allowed to reveal our client’s brand, they were fine with me discussing their case in particular because they didn’t want others to suffer the same fate… Even the competition.

paid hotel linksThe problem with them was with the “SEO” company they had used beforehand over the past five years. So many of these consultants say they offer “white hat” methods but that is far from the truth. I don’t know whether they truly believe that statement, or if they never thought what they were doing could be so damaging.

When you get a manual penalty, you will have to remove a very large majority of those links before you’ll be back in the clear. This can be a damn near impossible task if you or your marketing company used an automated tool to spread links all over the web. I understand that most marketing firms don’t have time to acquire links, but let this be a reminder to not walk down that dark path.

Links To Avoid

Google is very clear as to what types of links can get you in trouble, but putting your focus not on them is where the real good stuff can happen. Sadly, in our client’s case, all they got were links from article websites, weird directories, blog networks, link exchanges and spammy social profiles.

While I know a lot of luxury hotels out there have got the same junk over the years, it has only been recently coming back to bite people.


The Link Removal Process

There have been a lot of case studies done around the web that you can read for yourself, but in our minds we like to think you need to get rid of at least 80% of the offending links.

You will need to document everything with Google Drive and submit this along with your reconsideration request when you’re ready. The other downside is that it requires a lot of man hours so you will have those added costs in with your monthly marketing budget. Most people just outsource this work as it can be easily streamlined, which lets you focus on building clients through all other channels of marketing.

What about the disavow tool?

Most people run straight to the Google Disavow Tool and for the most part I’d say do not do this. Obviously this is my opinion and was during 2012 by Matt Cutts. He said during a Pubcon speech that it should be used as a last resort, although this video kind of strays away from that point. I’ll let you make up your minds, but I’d stay with trying to remove the links before you start using the disavow tool.


Getting rid of the links is the hard part, and remembering to document everything can really make you sit back and and rethink what you’re doing with your life. In our client’s case, since it wasn’t done by automated tools, we had a fighting chance to reduce the links over a couple of months.

Article sites, directories and blog networks have some sort of login so after fighting with their old SEO company to get the information, we could finally start. Time to break out either a nice cold beer, glass of wine or whisky depending on how many links you’re looking at.

We opted out of using a removal service and our team did the link audit by hand in order to ensure that all the offending links were removed. As you can see from our graph, the pages linking to our newly wounded client started to come down in drastic numbers, leaving them with a pretty bare looking link profile.

unnatural links penalty luxury hotel

We left all the usual links like their social media profiles, travel social giants like TripAdvisor, forums where people were talking about them, review sites and links from real bloggers. Basically, we kept any links which our client didn’t have someone create, and which came from a travel site, or somewhere that was going to send relevant traffic.

Don’t expect to rank where you did before the hit

Removing all those links will certainly help with removing a manual penalty, but any rankings you had before are also gone from existence. You will need to acquire great links to regain your previous rankings, which won’t be an easy task either.

While this post isn’t exactly about how to attract the right kinds of links for luxury hotels, we will talk about where to start looking. For us, and what we try to achieve with clients, can only be described as audience building, a process that is worthy of any top Google ranking.

Let’s take a fresh look at how you can earn natural links without doing anything shady or unscrupulous.

Don’t Be Scared Of Links

Remember how I just mentioned “audience building” only a few sentences back? This is where I’d like to put a focus on your social following and content marketing skills. Every single piece of content we created was highly targeted to be spread with the help of your audience. We’re going to put the customer first in our efforts to not only entertain, but have your brand hacked into their minds.

Links are without a doubt still a major influence in Google’s algorithm and both global and local apply when it comes to the hotel industry. Our plan of action over a twelve month period involves a multitude of marketing tactics that will earn links, gain social followers and drive sales. Below are some of the ideas our team pitched to our client that were given the go ahead and even got them excited to get back into marketing:

– an infographic targeting their city
– increase in video marketing showcasing
– hosting great events, conferences and creating bespoke experiences for PR
– showcasing guests’ social media-based content on the blog
– inviting social influencers out to events and to do reviews of the hotel
– social media based contests and sweepstakes
– outstanding bi-weekly content on the hotel’s blog
– hire photography and videography influencers in their city to create and share content
– local luxury themed magazine for mobile/tablet/web
– local SEO strategies

This will allow us to try out a lot of fun content marketing strategies and help their in house team get into the flow of where things need to be for them. Creating great content to share socially will go a long way, you just have to make sure it’s done right to achieve maximum potential.

Taking this kind of strategy to the table will require a lot more work, although it moves your brand into a position of brand trust with Google. You’re doing things that set yourself apart, providing industry leading content and getting on the radar of thousands upon thousands of travelers.

Those pesky natural links will come.

Don’t Be Scared Of Alternative Traffic Sources

Since the Google penalty hit, the hotel had to resort to upping their Adwords budget by quite a fair bit, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve even resorted to trying out LinkedIn’s ad platform to target executives and avid travelers worth a certain net worth.

It’s going to be a while to earn the types of links that will put them back near the top, but for now you have to look to other traffic sources that convert. There are truly dozens of alternatives to Google’s free traffic and it will cost you in the short run, but at least the results are instant.

I’d recommend thinking about;

– Trying sponsored Tweets through Twitter or get a celebrity to Tweet for you
– Buy ads on highly targeted forums based on luxury travel
– There is still a lot of cheap traffic to be bought up with Bing’s Ad platform
– Media buys on luxury travel blogs
– Look to buy ads in newsletters that are laser targeted to your audience
– Play around with Google’s Content Network ad targeting

The more you build up your newsletter and social follower base over the next year you’ll be that much better off than when you did with just Google traffic.

Google Penalty Help

If you have or may think you have got your brand’s website into trouble then don’t hesitate to contact me through our submission form. There is absolutely no charge to speak with me and dig into the problem a bit and find out what’s going on and what needs to be done.

As of recent it has come to light that sites who do recover from a manual penalty will need to earn Google’s trust again. Google engineer John Mueller has recently stated that;

“So while resolving the manual action is a good way to start, you need to keep in mind that it can possibly take quite some time for our algorithms to regain trust in your site even after that.”

You can read the entire thread right here.

Ryan Clark
[email protected]

Ryan Clark is celebrating 10 years consulting for luxury brands across the globe helping them reach UHNW individuals online and off. He specializes in luxury digital marketing, SEO, PR and luxury viral marketing. Connect with me to talk about your luxury marketing strategy and how our services can help you achieve more this year. I offer a luxury gaps audit to determine where you're falling flat and where I see you can improve in your marketing efforts.   To connect with him online you can follow on Twitter @LuxuryBranded, connect on LinkedIn Ryan R Clark and read his column on Luxe Getaways Magazine where he covers the world of luxury.

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