Avoid a google penalty if you can but these eight steps will help you recover your search traffic if it happens
Google’s business is ranking websites on its search to help answer questions. The hope is that by doing this better than anyone, lots of people will use Google on which they can then sell advertisements.
This leads to an uneasy partnership between Google and everyone that produces content they want to rank on Google search. Google needs you to keep answering questions with your content. You want to take that coveted #1 rank on Google.
If you get on the first page of search on the merit of your content, that’s fine. If you do something that might jeopardize the $26 billion the company makes every three months by manipulating its search rankings…your site might be next to suffer a Google penalty.
Google penalties are common in the blogging world, even large and legitimate blogs get hit every once in a while. Whether the penalty is warranted or not, knowing how to recover from one will mean the future of your blog.
What is a Google Penalty?
Google uses on-site and off-site factors to rank pages. It’s got mountains of data and is getting ‘smarter’ about when something doesn’t quite look right. For Google, that means when someone is trying to artificially boost a piece of content in search.
If Google suspects you are trying to do something to manipulate its search platform, it will punish your page or even the entire blog by devaluing your rankings. It may even take your blog out of search results entirely.
This is done most often automatically with one of two algorithms, named Penguin and Panda. These two programs scan the web, analyzing on-site and off-site factors. They’re like Google’s police force.
Google changes what it perceives as manipulation. A strategy that works one day may be viewed as iffy the next and unacceptable within a few years. When Penguin was released in 2012, it hit more than one-in-10 search results and wiped out a few websites entirely.
Different Types of Google Penalties that Could Hurt Your Blog
If your site receives a Google penalty, it will either be automatic or manual. Manual actions will be announced on your Google Search Console. Automatic penalties will happen when one of Google’s algorithms detects suspicious activity on or directed to your site.
Penalties from Google Panda relate to usability and quality of your site. Google has been gradually shifting its preference to mobile over the last few years and is ‘persuading’ web owners to do the same. If your blog doesn’t show well on mobile or you have a pop-up that blocks the screen upon entry, Panda will find you…and it will hurt your search rankings.
Penalties from Google Penguin relate to off-site factors like the links coming in to your blog and ways you use on-page optimization. These are some of the most common penalties I see, especially around bought and spammy links.
How to Know if You Got Hit by a Google Penalty
Manual penalties are easy to see. You’ll get a message in Search Console and can request the penalty to be lifted after you’ve made changes.
It’s the automatic penalties you have to worry about. Get hit by one of these and there’s no one to call, nobody that will tell you why you got hit or if you’ve even been hit at all.
Automatic penalties through one of Google’s algorithms will just show up as a huge decrease in search traffic, maybe even to no traffic at all.
While Google won’t tell you about an automatic penalty, there are some clues:
- If your website isn’t ranking for its name, especially a unique domain name, then you’ve probably been hit.
- Top ranked keywords that previously held a #1-#5 position fall to page two or three within a month.
- Searching Google for site:[yourdomain.com] finds no search results
- You see a drop of more than half in your search traffic in the course of a month
I also see a lot of bloggers misinterpret a drop in search traffic for a Google penalty. A penalty isn’t just a drop in traffic, it’s a major cliff. Watching your search traffic drop 20% to 30% over a few months is painful but it probably isn’t a penalty. More often than not, it’s just you haven’t been doing as much to maintain your search rankings as competitors.
How to Recover Traffic After a Google Penalty
Recovering from a Google penalty first means understanding how you pissed off the search Gods. Just like the Greek Gods of mythology, there are innumerable slights that could get your blog penalized but a few stand out as the most common.
- Paying someone to put a link to your blog on their site.
- Getting a lot of links from one site and giving that same site a lot of links in a short period of time.
- Lots of your pages redirect to a 404 page.
- You have or get a lot of inbound links from low-quality, spammy sites including directories, porn, gambling, link farms and sites in other languages.
- You are hiding content or links on your website, i.e. displaying in a color that matches the background so readers don’t see it.
- There are a lot of broken links pointing to 404 pages on your site.
- You duplicate content from other sites to post on your own without linking to the original.
- You over-use anchor text when pointing links to your site.
- You have affiliate links all over your site that are dofollow.
- You are linking to suspicious or low-quality sites
Checking for these factors and fixing common blogger mistakes can take upwards of a month but can help you claw back some of your search rankings.
- Check your inbound links to see who is pointing to your site. Did you pick up a lot all at once? Were they from low-quality sites with a domain authority under 15 or from sites in another language?
- Create a disavow file and upload to Google Search Console. New updates to Penguin ‘supposedly’ help it see that spammy inbound links might not be your fault but the algorithm isn’t perfect. You’ve got nothing to lose by telling Google which links shouldn’t be counted against you.
- If there are any links from obviously bad sources, i.e. porn, gambling or link farms then you can reach out through email to request the link be removed.
- Run a content audit of your site. This will show you the status of your pages and any broken pages. You’ll also be able to see which pages are ranking, inbound links and how to improve posts to rank higher.
- Review and revise problem content. Through your audit, you’ll find pages with terrible user experience data like high bounce rates and low time on page. They might not be the cause of a penalty, unless your entire site is very thin content, but you’ll be doing yourself a favor by improving them or just deleting them altogether.
- Check the percentage of anchor text on inbound links. It’s not natural to have more than 10% of your inbound links with the exact same anchor text except when it’s your domain name.
- Check broken links on your site with the broken link checker plugin.
- Make sure you nofollow all affiliate links, amazon links and links to unrelated websites that don’t add information to your post.
Recovering from a Google penalty isn’t always a sure thing even after you’ve taken the time to fix bad practices on your site. I’ve heard of people recovering their previous search traffic within a month and have heard others that still hadn’t recovered after more than a year. The best you can do is keep to quality content marketing and SEO tactics and avoid a penalty in the first place.