In a Reddit AMA from August 2018, Google’s John Mueller was asked for advice on how to support the recovery of a site with a bad history:
“One of my clients got a domain which had a bad history, Many SEO experts claim that it’s an Algorithmic hit or the site was rated low in the Google Quality Rating. There’s nothing one can do other than improving the quality. Even if the content quality and all is improved, How does Google know that?
In our case, we’ve removed all the previous content, we’ve tested with new content which has been up to mark for 3 months now, but we believe that the website isn’t performing up to it’s fullest potential, even a new site outranks the 4 year old site.”
In response to this, John replied with the following advice:
There’s no “reset button” for a domain, we don’t even have that internally, so a manual review wouldn’t change anything there. If there’s a lot of bad history associated with that, you either have to live with it, clean it up as much as possible, or move to a different domain. I realize that can be a hassle, but it’s the same with any kind of business, cleaning up a bad name/reputation can be a lot of work, and it’s hard to say ahead of time if it’ll be worth it in the end.
John discussed that options include cleaning up the site, or moving to a new domain.
In another Reddit AMA from February 2019, Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that there isn’t a point where sites are not salvageable.
In response to this question that was put to him: “Can a domain be damaged in Google’s algorithm to the point that it’s not repairable? I don’t mean manual penalties, but for some reason the domain won’t be able to rank given its history of sketchy content / behavior?”
Gary replied with a candid answer:
This is the thoughts of two separate Googlers on potentially previously penalised domains.