A Google’s penalty is one of the worst case scenarios that could happen to your website. In this article, I will teach you how to identify the problem and what you can do to recover your rankings. It’s a time consuming process, but with patience and ambition, you can recover all the lost traffic.
How do I know if my website was penalized?
If your rankings and traffic from Google dropped out of a sudden, then it’s very likely that your website was penalized. There are two scenarios we need to check in order to put a correct diagnosis. Verify if the traffic dropped because of a Google manual penalty, or an algorithm update.
1. Checking for a manual penalty
Login to your account on Google Webmaster Tools, and check if you have received any manual actions against your website. Click on “Search Traffic” and “Manual Actions”.
If your website has been manually reviewed and penalized by Google, you will receive a message similar to the one below.
Most of the time, websites are penalized because their backlink’s profile don’t look natural. I will provide specific examples later on this article.
2. Checking for an algorithm update penalty
It’s often the case that you have no warnings messages in your Google Webmaster Tools, but still your rankings and traffic dropped. The first thing to do is to check if any important algorithm updates took place. You can use Mozcast or Algoroo for this.
These are the two major updates Google has done in the last years:
1. Panda – Targeting sites with low quality and duplicate content
2. Penguin – Targeting websites with over optimized anchor texts
How to recover from a Google Panda penalty
With the Panda algorithm update, Google has targeted low quality sites with very little content and important on-page problems.
The first step is to check if your website has duplicate or low quality pages. Even if this update is already a few years old, this does not mean you should ignore it.
Login to your Google Webmaster Tools account and click on “Search appearance”, then “HTML improvements”. Here you can determine if you have any duplicate titles or pages.
If you find such pages, make sure, you either delete them, or make them nofollow.
The second thing to check is the number of indexed pages in Google. Verify if Google has indexed more pages than you wanted. Go to “Google Index” and click on “Index Status”.
You can also find the number of indexed pages by doing a search on Google like this: site:yoursite.com
The last thing, but the most important one is the quality and length of your articles or pages. Always provide useful and great resources for your readers instead of pointless articles covering the same subject. There’s no limit for your content length, but try to write at least 500 words for each post. Long articles that provide great resources will always rank higher than short and useless posts. If you have many pages with little content, it’s very likely that your website will be penalized.
This is what Google Panda is about, quality content, duplicate pages and on-page problems. Fix all these problems and your rankings will rise again.
An example of a website that has been penalized by Panda is the content farm website, EzineArticles. This website accepts articles from people with very little experience about the topic they write about, and most of the time the articles don’t provide any value to their readers.
How to recover from a Google Penguin Update
The Penguin algorithm change is all about backlinks. With this update, Google has penalized websites with low quality backlinks and unnatural anchor text distribution.
Before this update, many SEO’s where creating hundreds of backlinks using the same anchor text all over again. For example, those that wanted to rank for “payday loans”, were building hundreds of backlinks with that specific anchor text. This was like shouting out loud to Google that you are building unnatural backlinks to your website.
To recover from a Google Penguin update, you will first have to check your backlinks anchor text distribution. Login to your Monitor Backlinks account and click on “Anchor Text” from the left menu.
When you build backlinks to your website, always try to create a diverse anchor text distribution. Try to get less than 50% commercial keywords in your anchor text. If possible, go for lower.
Here’s an example of a website that has over-optimized the keyword “dog breeds”.
The most common anchor text was used more than 60% of the times. This is a clear sign that the backlinks are not natural.
To recover from a Penguin update, you will have to identify all the backlinks that hurt your rankings and try to remove as many as possible. Check our guide on how to remove backlinks.
Create a list with the backlinks you can’t remove and submit it to Google, with the Disavow tool.
Another very important thing, that very few SEO’s have talked about, is over optimization for your homepage or other pages. A website that has backlinks only to their homepage doesn’t look natural at all, and it’s very likely that Google will penalize it. Concentrate your efforts on building links to all the pages of your website, instead of just one.
Glen, from ViperChill, has written a great article explaining more about Penguin 2.1 here.
Conclusion and how to prevent being penalized by algorithm updates
If your rankings and traffic have fallen, check your Google Webmaster Tools for any warnings. If no message is shown, it means the loss of traffic is because of an algorithm update from Google. Look for any latest updates, and also check if your website can be penalized because of previous updates.
Always write long and useful content.
Verify for duplicate content and error on your website.
Mix your anchor texts and use many generic keywords.
Don’t build too many links only to your homepage.