Here at Search Scientist we have an excellent record at resolving penalties and have put together a step by step guide on how to identify a penalty and how to recover from it. If you have been affected by a penalty and would like some help with having it removed then please get in touch.
Have you received a Google Penalty?
- Has your website lost a high volume of traffic in a short period of time?
- Does your website no longer rank for keywords on Google that it ranked highly for previously?
If the answer is yes, then there is a very good chance that your website has received a Google Penalty.
What is a Google penalty?
A Google penalty is when Google no longer ranks a website for a specific keyword, key-phrase or even the domain itself in it’s search results. If your website’s rank has dropped significantly in a short period of time i.e. the top of page 1 to page 5 in the space of a day then this is more than likely due to a penalty.
Google has an ever growing list of SEO strategies that it does not approve of such as:
- duplicate content on multiple pages
- hidden links
- deceptive redirects (sending the user to another webpage without them clicking to do so)
- keyword stuffing
- link farming
- paid links
If you base your link building strategies on the tactics listed above then there is a very high likelihood that this will trigger a penalty from Google.
There are two types of penalties:
There is an easy way to identify if you have received a manual penalty or not because manual penalites are carried out by Google staff members and you will be notified via Google Webmaster Tools. If you suspect that you have received a penalty then the first thing that you should do is log into your Google Webmaster Tools account and check the ‘Site Messages’ section or go to ‘Search Traffic’ and then ‘Manual Actions’. Here, you will be notified if you have any manual web spam actions listed against the website.
Panda and Penguin Algorithms
If you do not receive a message from the Google Webspam team, yet your website has all of the hallmarks of a penalty then it is likely that you have triggered an algorithmic penalty rather than a manual one. Algorithmic penalties are based on Panda and Penguin, which are algorithms designed by Google to detect if a website is using unnatural SEO tactics. Panda updates are related to website content and usability and they are released on a month to month basis generally without any announcement. Penguin updates are less frequent and related to over optimisation. Generally there will be an announcement that it is on it’s way and also when the update is released.
If you get an algorithmic penalty you will not know until your website’s rank drops off and it is left to the website owner to investigate what type of penalty that they have received. This can be very stressful for website owners who were not aware that they were doing anything wrong or why Google has chosen to penalise their website.
Steps to Recovery
The most important thing that any website owner should do if hit by a penalty is to remain calm, identify the cause of the problem and take the appropriate actions to resolve the issue. Knee jerk reactions can be very destructive and can often be more damaging than the penalty itself. Knee jerk reactions like building a brand new website or changing your domain name without actually tackling the penalty head-on is strongly ill advised.
Check your Link Profile
I would recommend using an SEO tool to check for incoming links to your website. Keep an eye out for websites with large quantities of links to your website that make up the majority of your link profile and links that are coming from multiple countries, particularly websites with Russian .ru extensions as these are very commonly linked with spam in the UK and Ireland.
You should also be on the lookout for any large spikes in your backlink history. If there is a sudden surge of links that started pointing to your website, where previously there was not a lot of activity then these links should be viewed as very suspicious.
I would advise extreme caution before you remove any links pointing towards your website because you must be absolutely sure that they are the cause of the penalty otherwise you may be removing domain authority from your website, which will cause a further drop in rank.
However, if you are absolutely sure that you have identified the links that you feel are triggering the penalty then is several ways to go about removing these links. If you have an account with the website then it could be a simple case of logging in and removing the links in question. If you cannot log in then you should contact the website directly and ask for the links to be removed. If you do not get a reply or if the website refuses to do so then you can use the Disavow Tool.
Using the Disavow Tool
The Disavow Tool should be viewed as a final resort when you have exhausted all other methods of trying to have your links removed. It is a request to Google to ignore specific links that are pointing towards your website. Include all of the links that you would like to have removed on a spreadsheet.
Information on the Disavow Tool can be found at:
Submitting a Reconsideration Request
Once you feel that you have fixed all of the issues that caused your penalty you should submit a Reconsideration Request. Google will review your penalty and decide whether or not it should be lifted.
Earlier this year Google’s head of web spam Matt Cutts announced that they issue 400 000 web spam actions per month. Out of this 400 000 only 20 000 of those effected applied for a Reconsideration Request to have the penalty lifted meaning that 95 percent of websites issued with a penalty did not apply. This raises the obvious question of why a website owner would not engage with Google to have their penalty lifted. Could it be a simple case of not knowing what to do if penalised?
You should also provide evidence of how you contacted the websites in question to remove your links and provide screenshots of emails and any other correspondence.
Be sure to be completely transparent and honest.
If the penalty does not appear to be related to anything externally then the penalty could be related to some common on-site issues listed below:
- Overlapping content
- Too many advertisements
- Outbound links
- Spammy footer links
A lot of the above issues can be easily identified and fixed by your web designer. If there are multiple issues then I would advise fixing these one at a time as this will help you identify the issue. Also keep in mind any recent changes to the website as this would be a good place to start.
If in Doubt, Seek Help
We hope that the information in this article will benefit anyone who has been affected by a penalty. However, if you have received a penalty and are still unable to resolve it then please get in touch with Search Scientist and we will assist you with your penalty.