A good search result placement in Google is important to most websites. As the search engine behemoth rolls out new algorithms, or updated algorithms, a website can suddenly plummet in search rankings, due to falling foul of a new weighting or metric. A frequent question we hear from people is “how can I recover from a Google penalty?” In most cases, people are just preparing. But sometimes, people really do get penalized by Google and it can be devastating to their businesses.
Then there’s manual checks to worry about. Google employees perform over 400,000 manual website checks per month. If a website is found to be violating a Google search policy, it will receive a manual action. A drop in search rank as the result of an algorithm or manual check is referred to as a Google Penalty.
How a website can recover from a Google penalty
The first step is to define the type of Google Penalty and then to establish if the penalty is a result of a manual action or from an algorithmic indexing. It’s quick and easy to check if a manual action is to blame, so this should be the first check.
1. Manual Action
When a website receives penalization from a manual action a notification will be placed in the Google Webmaster Tools account. To check whether a manual action is the reason for a fall in search ranking:
- On the Webmaster Tools Dashboard, click Search Traffic.
- Click Manual Actions.
- Review any manual actions that are listed.
- Once any of the listed problems have been corrected, there is the option to “Request a review”.
It may take months, or even years, for a website to be manually checked. The issue that triggered a manual action may be historical but has only just been discovered. Don’t be surprised if a manual action is due old content or links.
2. Algorithmic penalty
If there are no manual actions, the reason for a fall in search placement is likely due to an algorithmic penalty. Google deploys many algorithms in its search indexing, but the two algorithms likely to affect search placement are called Panda and Penguin. The Panda algorithm checks content quality and the Penguin algorithm looks at backlinks and anchor text distribution.
Both Panda and Penguin have updates rolled out at varying times of the year. An update may include a change in weightings or metrics which negatively affects a website’s search rank.
Verifying an algorithmic penalty
A general idea of why an algorithm may have negatively affected a website’s search rankings can be established by cross-referencing the time a significant drop occurred against any new or updated Google algorithm. A good place to for information on Google’s algorithm schedules is the Google Algorithm Change History page on Moz.com.
A penalty due to the Panda algorithm will affect an entire website, while a penalty as a result of the Penguin algorithm will only affect one or a few pages.
Recovering from a site-wide Panda penalty
Google calls the Panda the “Quality Algorithm” and states, “If the algorithm determines that your website is providing low quality content, then Google will assign your entire website a lower quality score”. The key phrase is “low quality content”. This could indicate duplicate content, content not relevant to the rest of the website content, content over-populated with keywords or content that is generally flimsy and offers little value to a visitor.
Recovery is simple: Ensure new content is topically relevant and unique, has value to visitors, does not abuse keyword optimization, and never use a “spinner” to regurgitate content. If content is outsourced, then use a reputable source and if content is created in-house, then create it for readers and not search engines.
Recovering from a page-specific Penguin penalty
A Penguin penalty will be the result of poor backlinks and/or the anchor text used in backlinks. While backlinks are a crucial aspect of good SEO, any link strategy needs to appear natural and relevant. Recovering from a Penguin penalty will require checking a website’s backlinks (Google-indexed backlinks can be located and downloaded via Google Webmaster Tools).
- Check the source of backlinks: Any links coming from contextually irrelevant or disreputable sources, i.e. link farms, auto-submitted blog comments, will need to be deleted. This task will require contacting the source website’s owner and asking him or her to please remove the link. The same applies to links coming from generically submitted auto-comments on blogs or forums where the comment content bears no relevance to the anchor text keyword.
- Check anchor text keyword diversity: If all backlinks use the same keyword or phrase for the actual link, then change some to other relevant keywords and try to have backlinks point to different pages of a website, not just one page.
- Check link content: Content surrounding a link needs to be relevant to the keyword used for the link and contextually relevant to the source.
Recovering from a de-indexed website
A website being totally removed from Google search results is not very common. To check if a website, or pages from a website, have been de-indexed, simply do a Google search for “www.yoursitename.com” and see if it appears in the search results. To check specific pages, perform the same query, but concatenate the page URL onto the site URL.
De-indexing indicates a severe problem with a website. The first step would be to contact Google and ask why the website has been removed. Once the reason has been established then appropriate steps can be taken to remedy the matter. Depending on the reason for de-indexing, solutions may include removing content, improving content, improving backlink structure and making a request to Google to re-evaluate the website, once changes have been made.
Keeping one step ahead of Google
It’s entirely possible to pre-empt an algorithmic penalty by keeping abreast of the lasts Google news. Google will normally hint at any upcoming algorithm modifications and sites such as Moz.com and Search Engine Land often have advice on all things Google. As far as keeping a website safe from a manual action, the best strategy is to regularly quality check the website’s backlinks, on-site keyword optimization, and content relevance and quality.
Google does warn that, “Recoveries can happen as quickly as 72 hours while other penalties can take months to resolve”, so don’t expect an overnight turnaround in search result placement but, in time, it’s possible to resolve almost any Google penalty.