What does capital punishment and Google’s search algorithm have in common? They both have horrid penalties that you should avoid at all costs. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of dealing with a Google penalty, look on the bright side: with a little luck and the right steps, both you and your website will make it out alive.
Zero in on the Penalty
There are two kinds of Google penalties: manual action and an algorithmic penalty.
A manual action penalty takes place when a staff member of Google identifies a web page as spam, and punishes webmasters by hurting it’s rank or removing it from search engine results.
An algorithmic penalty occurs when Google updates their algorithm, and certain websites are more inline with Google’s idea of what makes a website trustworthy and useful to searchers. The remaining websites are in turn, outranked.
Manual Action Penalty
If you’ve been hit by this penalty, we have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that there’s not much guessing involved. Google will actually send you a message in Google Webmaster Tools (a must-have if you own a website) to notify you of the manual action.
The bad news is that this is a difficult one to overcome. If they’ve given your website this penalty, it means they’ve detected you’ve been participating in banned practices outlined in their Webmaster Guidelines.
An algorithmic penalty isn’t technically a penalty at all. As Google continues to make changes to promote quality in search results, web pages that don’t follow along with their vision of quality will be negatively affected.
Since none of us can read Google’s mind, unfortunately their changes sometimes leave innocent businesses scrambling.
What to Do If You’ve Been Penalized
The If you fall into the more common (and preferable) situation and suffer from an algorithmic penalty, start by checking Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History.
STEP 1: Open up Google Analytics and compare your traffic drop to Moz’s change history. Keep in mind that effects are not always instant, so your website could be experiencing symptoms from an earlier change.
STEP 2: Once you think you have an idea of which change is the culprit, do some research. What have others speculated is the cause? Has Google given any insight?
STEP 3: If you’ve worked with an SEO firm in the past, it’s time to call them up. It’s possible they were using sketchy tactics that are now affecting all of their clients, or they can at least give you some advice.
STEP 4: How picky have you been when linking to external websites? Do you know who’s been linking to you? Spammy websites could be linking to yours without your knowledge. Check your backlinks with Moz’s Open Site Explorer and disavow any spammy ones.
STEP 5: If you’ve looked at your backlinks and you’re free from spam, you have an internal problem. You could be guilty of a long-time bad practice like keyword stuffing or duplicate content. It’s not uncommon for website owners to try saving on time by copying content from one of their existing websites to a new one.
STEP 6: How is your website structured? Google has been placing an increasing emphasis on user-experience, in particular mobile-friendliness. If your web design isn’t responsive on all devices it’s time to get to it!
Stay Updated on Algorithm Changes
Since much of Google’s algorithm activity is cloaked in secrecy, no source exists with the ability to broadcast every single change. Luckily, you can usually detect big changes from all the website chatter that ensues.
- MozCast: A fun tool by Moz that reports on any Google Algorithm turbulence.
- The Webmaster: Have someone else monitor changes so you don’t have to. The Webmaster aggregates news on Google’s algorithms and penalties from
- Google Webmaster Blog: If you want to hear it right from the horse’s mouth, follow the official Google Webmaster Central Blog.
How’s it looking for the future of your website? Are you willing to put in the work to get ranking again, or are you going to abandon your domain and make a last meal request?