Google is going on a crusade against poorly designed websites lacking user experience and proper content marketing strategies. The algorithms Google has designed pertain to this goal. Everything Google does is to give the user experience (UX) a boost by proving access to unique and credible content, passionate writers, and businesses close to the user. So if you aren’t actively trying to placate the Google algorithms—even if you’re not at all concerned with being in the top SERPs—you should be making an effort not to be penalized.
What’s a Google Penalty?
Algorithms have been in play since the early 2000s. A lot has changed since then, and if you’ve been using the internet since this time, you will have indeed noticed those changes. When Google released the Penguin algorithm update for the first time, search rankings took a huge blow. Poor quality, keyword-bloated, and irrelevant content was crushed, sending those websites to the depths of the internet.
That’s what a penalty does—it strips you of your rank.
How to Tell if You’ve Been Penalized
Penalties can happen without you being told. Yep! You read right. Let me say it again – penalties can happen without you being told, especially if they are built into the algorithmic system. There are those known as “manual penalties,” however, where you are contacted. You probably aren’t as concerned about the manual penalties as you are the automatic ones, because at least when you’re told the issue, you can fix it.
If you suspect you have been automatically penalized, look for the following clues:
- Your brand name is no longer ranking higher in the SERPs. This is the biggest indicator, because your brand name is the ultimate keyword for your site.
- Your page position in the results has slipped backwards 2-3 pages.
- Your PageRank has decreased from 3 or 2 to 1 or, unfortunately, 0.
- Your entire website was removed from cached search results
- Your listing, when you do finally find it, is not for the homepage of your website but another piece of content.
One or more of these signs means you have been penalized.
Why Has Google Penalized Your Site?
You may not have done much wrong. Sometimes there’s algorithm updates that go slightly awry and affect websites prematurely, meaning your rank will return once the algorithm has been adjusted. That said, fixing things to return to your previous position will still be tough, especially if you are guilty for one of the reasons why penalties come swiftly and surely. Check out the contributing factors to penalties below:
- Buying links and link swapping. There is a lot of controversy with link building. Black hat techniques such as buying links, excessive use of reciprocal links, broken links, non-credible links and generally all things that mess with the link juice is potentially a reason for slapping your site with a penalty.
- Hidden links. For the same reason as above, you should never attempt to play with an algorithm by hiding links from users. It’s seen as suspicious, even when innocently done.
- Duplicate content. Anything that is duplicated on your website makes it less useful. Make sure your content is original (check everything with Copyscape or CopyGator), and use /noindex and /nofollow if you do have duplicated content that’s necessary.
- More than one H1 tag. There’s a reason you have various formatting tags like Title, Subtitle, Header 1, 2, 3, and more. H1 helps Google understand the content of the page, but you should only use it once per page. Otherwise, it will be considered keyword-pumping—and that’s a no-no.
- Anchor text overuse. Since the 2012 Penguin update, overusing anchor text or anchoring to senseless things is not taken lightly. Switch out forced keyword links and replace non-credible sources with authority ones.
- Keyword stuffed content. Throughout the years, keywords have changed how content appears on sites. At one time, keyword-packed content was okay; but now it detracts from the user experience and should be avoided.
- Overuse of affiliate links. Sure, you can add one or two affiliate links to a page. Just don’t flood the page with links, because the algorithm may see this as poor content.
- Slow website speed. Users don’t like waiting for a page to load. This may not be your fault though, so start using a caching plugin or CDN as soon as possible. Or move your server to a location that’s closer to you and your user base.
- Spun content. You may think that to have articles spun for your website is a good idea, but remember that spinning content is plagiarizing content. Never accept content that doesn’t pass a Copyscape test. In fact, aim for high quality and useful content your readers will interact with.
- Spam in the comment section. If your comment section is overwhelmed with spam, you could be penalized for poor or malicious content that isn’t even yours. Keep a careful eye on what’s being posted to these sections or disable comments entirely.
- Robot.txt issues. Never excessively block the crawlers from your site, as this can cause issues with caching, and thus with Google.
- Over-optimizing. Sometimes people get overzealous with SEO. Too many outbound links, too many targeted keywords, tags, and landing pages. Cool it. Focus on the quality of content, not quantity.
- Unresponsive mobile website. More people are accessing the internet through their phones than ever before. You need a mobile website that operates as expected. Otherwise, Google will penalize you for it.
- Bad domain rep. This is rarely anyone’s fault. Sometimes, you purchase a domain name that has been tarnished by someone else before. In that case, it’s best to start over with a fresh domain.
How to Overcome a Penalty
Here are some steps to follow to get your site’s rank back to normal:
- Stay calm. Penalties can happen to anyone, from BBC and Mozilla (yes, the developers of Firefox) to JcPenney.
- Disavow harmful links. Use the Google Search Console tool.
- Recheck your links. Yes, Google’s tools are helpful, but they’re not 100% accurate. You need to go through and make sure all links are credible, authoritative, and working properly.
- If the penalty was manually given, request reconsideration.
- Wait it out.
There may be some cases where you have to abandon ship and start over, especially in the case of a domain with bad history. However, most penalties can indeed be fixed with barely any effort. All you have to do is figure out where you went wrong, take an ethical, white hat approach, and rebuild the website.
Not sure if your site has been penalized?
Hire us for one hour ($50 CDN) to inspect your site for Algorithm or manual penalties