One thing that many webmasters wonder about is the effect of redirecting users from one domain to another, especially if the original domain has been hit by a Google algorithm change. A lot of people were hit by ranking penalties in the wake of Google Penguin, and it can be tempting to simply start over instead of trying to recover from such a slip in rankings.
It is important to note that an algorithmic penalty is not a death sentence for a website, so starting fresh is not strictly necessary. In fact, if a website can clean up the algorithmic signals that cause them to be demoted then they should see their rankings improve quite quickly. Cleaning up after the Penguin update is usually a case of disavowing unnatural links and cleaning up some on-site signals.
However, not all websites recover quickly even after doing this. If you are stuck in a position where your site is being penalised and you simply can’t figure out why, then the best thing to do may indeed be to go for a fresh start. However if you do this you should resist the urge to simply clone your old website because this would be counter-productive.
Why Start Fresh?
It is important that you start fresh because if you copy your old website over to the new website, and use canonical links to tell Google that your new site is the “correct” site, then Google’s algorithms may decide that everything about the old site applies to the new one – including the un-natural links that got you penalised in the first place.
If you don’t use the canonical tags, then Google may decide that the content you copied over is duplicate content and you will essentially be replacing one penalty with another. By the same token, if you take the old site down to avoid a duplicate content penalty you run the risk of losing a lot of visitors.
Many webmaster are exploring the avenue of performing a 301 redirect through a page that is blocked to Google by the Robots.txt. This technique allows you to redirect users from your legacy website to the new website, but as Google’s bots are not allowed to crawl the page that redirects it should not be able to associate the redirect from the legacy domain to the new domain. This solution should in theory not forward on the bad signals that resulted in a site initially falling foul of the Penguin. In theory implementing this solution should result in the PageRank and unnatural or manipulative back-links being trapped in the intermediate page.
Perhaps the safest option when launching a website is to create a static notification for human visitors at the top of the page informing them that this domain is inactive and asking them to manually click on a no-follow link to the new website.