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It's never a decision to make lightly, but there can be situations where a website has built up so many problems, that it may appear easier or faster to start over with a fresh & new website, rather than to try to fix all of those problems individually. This isn't an easy way to get past problems that have been built up over the years, it's a lot of work to create a new website, even if you already know the business area. 

If you feel you're in this situation, make sure to get advice from friends & other people that you trust (including webmaster communities where you trust their opinions) before doing anything drastic!
The contents of the following column are based on real circumstances. Certain elements have been changed to respect the privacy of each site. Imagine there are two websites. Here are their basic profiles: Site One is an e-commerce company and website launched in 2013 that sells nutritional supplements, based in Atlanta, Georgia. They sell to […]
Michael Lerner's profile photoCarlos Velez's profile photoRandy Milanovic's profile photoJon Wade's profile photo
"I’ve looked at a backlink profile and advised that killing a site was the best move".

I don't understand this. I thought the idea of the disavow tool was to allow website owners a way to remove the types of links that can harm a site. Why don't these two sites, one which is 12 years old, just disavow the bad links and keep the good? Surely that would be better than starting again.

The only thing a webmaster cannot control is the links pointing to the site. I thought disavow was supposed to be a solution for this, to ensure people did not throw away 12 years of mostly good work.

Or is it that disavow does not really help at all?
I don't get the idea of leaving the 10 year old domain which was penalized by Google Algoritm because of links. Why don't you guys make the algo better and better to understand the link intensions? ;)

In Poland we often recommend to leave the old domain and start with new one if you have problems. Now John you proved that it is better to buy 10 domains and black hat them rather than build good SEO.

Thank you.
It's not an easy decision to make, especially considering the amount of work some would have to put in to move to another website...
Adam - I'm talking about situation when you are doing SEO for lead generation for example. ;) From my point ov view it does not matter what is the domain name. Nobody cares about that.

Google needs to renember about that - or soon they will have to freeze all SERPs. ;)
Will it protect me from penalizing my site?
Just to be clear - I am not using link-spam in order to rank my clients. ;)
I just have some case studies about being good to Google and got penalized too.

Last year we've been penalized for user made links.(a big online store with brand clothes) on their blogs. Clear, brand links.

I've made another site and ranked it for top brand keywords in a month. It still works.

It is all about the risk - you can pay less and get the same what others do while doing good SEO. :) More and more clients ask why should I make good SEO if I can be penalized anyway?
In my experience (and I've looked at thousands of sites from the forums and other escalations), if you have a great website and you don't do anything sneaky for SEO, you have a very high chance of having a strong & long-term visibility in search engines. There's never a guarantee, the web is constantly changing, and search engine algorithms evolve, of course, but there's no penalty for having a consitantly good website.

If you're out doing borderline things, or even breaking the guidelines from time to time, you're not optimizing things for search engines, you're misleading them - and maybe they'll notice and react to that at some point. 
+John Mueller I disagree with your statement that if you don't do anything sneaky you should have good long term visibility on the engines. I never did anything sneaky for +Apparel Search but I am almost to the point of shutting it down. I work on this site seven days a week for over ten years. You can't even find my site by typing "apparel industry" as a search term. My entire site is a guide for the apparel industry. Google shows sites that are not even close to as comprehensive as mine. Please let me know if my site is punished by my actual pages, or are you punishing me for issues not even on my site? If I can't figure out the problem I may have to close down in a few months.
Michael that backlinks drop tho, get some nice links, it will work fine to you. Unless Google will decide you do everything wrong.

Or buy AdWords.
+Michael Lander I've checked the SEO visibility of your site - better start new one, srsly. It will be better and cheaper than dealing with that one.
"and you don't do anything sneaky for SEO, you have a very high chance"

I largely agree, but the bolded parts are where the worry is for a lot of site owners.

ANYTHING at all sneaky.... ever.  The definition of sneaky has changed over the years and it would seem that being over-zealous close to the line in the past can be costly today.   More to the point that line was so badly policed for years that many very upstanding site owners saw no other option than to sail close to it.  Before the crackdowns of the last couple of years webmaster forums were full of the frustrated cries of webmasters asking "why will Google only rank the spammers??".    

I know people who made the choice to cross that lines after holding out for years.  They didn't do so because they wanted an easy way, they did so to stop their businesses closing because the spammers were winning.  Old sites that were spam free for years feeling forced into it, which is sad.  It is even sadder if as +Jon Wade is asking there is 'no path to forgiveness'

The "very high" is the other problem... particularly combined with the confusion that continues around what is and isn't sneaky (thankfully that line is getting clearer all of the time).  
Lukasz - not sure what you mean by back link drop. Are you saying you see in a report that less sites link to me now? If my links are lower it may be because Google scared everyone about directories (which was really unfair).

I am definitely NOT starting a new site. If I close there is no way that I am ever building a new site. This one took me a decade of hard work. I would not have time or desire in this lifetime to start over.
+Michael Lander trust me. You have knowledge, content. Just grab a new domain, install Wordpress, and start with this right now.

+Mat Bennett true. But every link you make is spam tbh. :)
As i wrote before - I got penalized for site wide blogspot links from bloggers who loved my cheap products. Why I know that? Because in the example links they send me those ones. ;D

Google you need to hire a blackhat to make the algo better. ;)
+Michael Lander I've had clients with sites just like yours Michael, and they have all been in the same boat as you. At one point, a directory of topically related sites were useful, because Google may have not been up to snuff with their results. 10 years ago. 5 years ago. Now? Definitely not. Sites like yours compete directly with Google, and in their eyes, it's a bad user experience when a user has to search in Google, and then search again in another site that Google served up. 

Google wants their results to match the intent of the user's search. Type in words, click on the site that matches their intent, and the day is done. 

If the user searches for "fashion jobs" or "clothing stores", Google wants to serve results that ARE fashion jobs, or ARE clothing stores. They do not want the user to land on another search engine or directory where they must continue their search to find what they are looking for. Most users will click "back" immediately upon discovering a result like that. I would. If I land on a directory or another search engine, I head straight back to Google and reform my query to actually find what I wanted to find. If I searched "apparel directory", I'd be happy to find your site. But people rarely search like that anymore. People have changed, and therefore Google has changed as well. 

Sorry to be blunt, but this is Google's perspective here. If you want to rank well in their search engine, you have to respect their perspective and understand their motives. 

The most prominent value in a site like yours is to give visibility to unique and possibly high quality sites which do not currently rank well in Google. But you aren't going to be successful running the directory game. It's time for a paradigm shift to match how people and Google have changed. 

Perhaps you could reform your apparel site into more of review based site, where relevant businesses can be showcased with interesting content that a user might benefit from reading. Without something new and unique, you're fighting a losing battle against the world's largest search engine. 
Lukasz - I can't stomach starting over. Can't image that Google is that heartless that starting over would be my best solution. 
Well John, I would be so glad if you were right! We have a website with unique content, unique images, unique design, regular updates (daily), html5, fast access, never did any sneaky SEO (no cloaking, no artificial link building, etc) and still we have no visibility. (it is
+Nicholas Chimonas Well, I must say that was very well explained.  Unfortunately for me, you are probably correct.  A few saving graces.  Google does not currently maintain ownership of data to answer all of our questions on a single platform.  If they did, they would not link off their site at all.   Fortunately, they are forced to link off, and will continue to link off for many years to come. 

I understand that running a search for “clothing stores” should show actual stores first (before my directory of stores).  However, if they want to give a user a good experience, my list of stores may actually be better (not saying it is, but potentially could be).  For example, we can find stores alphabetically not based on “big” companies that may buy more advertising, social media signals, etc.  It is actually yet another example of Google, assisting larger companies and harming the little guys.  I bet if you run some sort of retail query, you will find a well-known (money backed) retailer and not the trendy mom & pop specialty store.  Is that really a fair search?

Other searches do not have a specific destination that Google should list.  For example, stores.  Fine, they can link to actual stores.  I understand them not linking to my directory on the first page.  But what about something that is not that cut & dry.  For example, I have a section for fashion relevant terminology.  My section would be a very appropriate match.  However, I just looked and cannot find on Google search for “Fashion Terms”.   Yet, they will show info about peoples legal terms and conditions from tiny fashion sites.

In my opinion, Google’s results have gone significantly downhill the past two years.  It is not that I fear Google not linking to anyone, I am concerned that they are not currently linking to the best results.  No matter how we cut it, if someone types “apparel industry” in Google’s search and they cannot find Apparel Search it is a poor user experience.  I am not saying that because it is my site, I am saying it because I know the apparel industry and I can see what other sites are coming up for that search term.  Please understand that I am not talking about not showing up on the first page of results.  I can look at many result pages and still Apparel Search is not to be found when searching for Apparel Industry or anything else similar.  Basically, to find my site in search I literally have to type “apparel search” as part of the search query.  Even then it is difficult to find my site.

The reality is that I know the difference between combed cotton, carded cotton, ringspun fabric, open end fabric, but Google engineers do not.  Sure they are dissecting books, and will own all data, but they still cannot have computers create the best ways to display the data better then millions of unique “humans” can do it.  Humans create directories and guides to industries.  It is wrong for Google not to appreciate the efforts of the directories.

It is a hard pill to swallow to come to the thought that I do not have a fighting chance because Google wants to put small companies and directories out of business.  Oh well, guess that is just the way of the world.  
As long as the links are ranking factor - without them (even those sneaky) you can get nothing from organic search. It is not about the content. What will give you great and unique content if nobody reads it? ;)
For some keywords which give money you need to play more agressive. ;)
In the first example, a whole well established brand is destroyed because of lousy links. Can Google not think of a better solution than forcing a site to shut down? Maybe a "link shut down" button on WMT? This too would be useful for people buying old domains that have been abused.
So I have a question for you John.

When Penguin was first released I remember asking you if you thought there would cases where it would be better to just start a new site. Your answer then was along the lines of it being possible, but you expected these to be very much an edge cases.

Do you think your answer would be different if you knew then what you know today?
+Richard Hearne I still stand by that response - the  percentage of sites that fall into that edge-case is probably (it's not really measurable) extremely low. However, if you work with a lot of sites, or with sites where the owner had previously hired shadey SEOs, then it's quite possible that it'll appear to be higher. I don't feel that these edge-cases have grown, but I do find myself looking for them in a different way, and feel that we could have done a better job at making it clear what all will be involved so that a site-owner can make a more informed decision on their own. 

It's easy when a website was cheaply-made ("Frontpage is on my computer, I'll make the company homepage"), promoted in a bad way, and when you want to create a better website anyway: the additional effort of moving to a new domain with the new website is minimal, and users will pick up on that anyway. It's much harder in pretty much all other cases.

Also, sometimes the web & what users want evolve (and this is also true completely outside of Google and its algorithms), and what might have made good sense some time ago, might not make sense anymore. That's not a webspam or a technical problem, and it's worth keeping an eye on things to make sure that your site can keep up with what users expect to find on the web. The web evolves quickly, what was a good business model 5 or 10 years ago may not be a good model for next year. That's good for many small & nimble businesses, and keeps things exciting for everyone, but also means that depending on what your website does, you may need to stay on your toes too. 
+John Mueller  If a site's main issue was limited to some spammy links and was able to remove most of the ones created (articles, soc links, forum sigs) remove or disavow the rest of the directory entries & blog comments as well as the hundreds of domains that unsolicitedly scraped or placed links - we would abandon about 9 months of work cleaning up backend while also improving site greatly?  Or is starting over for sites that were involved in heavy duty seo firm schemes.  As for our site, we were forced to add links to sites that top 5 serps sites were doing 7-8 years ago or we would never have made it this far.  That is one thing Google forgets - if you did not do what the leaders were doing then - you would never see any traffic.
Starting over will never stop the scrapers and those deliberately creating bad links to bring you down. Maybe the solution is to discount all links over a year old so only sites that are still picking up good links rank well? But that will probably play into the hands of the spammers again.
I'm in the same situation as +Michael Lander We've done nothing wrong as far as we know. In fact, we've disavowed hundreds upon hundreds of links. All our product descriptions (of which there are hundreds) are original. Yet, we get penalized because some spammer decides to point a link to us...a link we never asked for and disavowed? 

I just can't read or listen to this nonsense coming from Google anymore. Nobody sitting there at Google has ever created a real business that generates income and creates jobs. It's too easy for them to change their algo and to say "don't spam." 

Yet the algo is taking out legitimate businesses like +Michael Lander . 

Oh, please, Google. Enough already. 
Agreed, there can certainly be a time to push the reset button.

As frustrating as it might be to rebuild your web presence, think about how awful you'd feel if you had to start it all over again next year.

The point is to think about how hiring bargain-basement SEO consultants, or looking for quick fixes to your online marketing problems, led you to a place where you are willing to burn down your website and start over again. 

It isn’t easy to decide to throw out what you've done the past and begin anew with a brand-new website and domain name. But, contrary to conventional wisdom, that can sometimes be your most cost-effective option, and ironically enough, can be the quickest way back to a positive online presence that generates new leads for your business.

Just be sure that you put a priority on getting there the right way, or you might be facing the same dilemma all over again next year.
But that still does not answer the question - why doesn't disavow provide a solution to killing the website? And what if the shady practices were little more than doing what everybody else was doing, and doing it because Google said that nobody building links to your site can actually harm it?
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