In order to continually provide users with the best possible results for their search queries, Google updates its search engine algorithms around 500 to 600 times a year. The majority of these updates serve minor functions and won’t affect your website whatsoever. Occasionally, though, Google will release a major algorithmic update, such as Google Panda and Google Penguin. These updates have the potential to disrupt the traffic and rankings of certain websites and pages, and may even get a site hit with a Google Penalty de-indexed. Not good.
If your website’s suffered a sudden drop in traffic and rankings (and frankly, you’re stumped as to why), you’ll probably want to see if the drop correlates with a Google algorithm update. Fact is, your site’s sharp downfall may be due to what’s known as a Google Penalty.
Overview of a Google Penalty
Back in the black hat SEO days, if you wanted a search engine to find your page for the term ‘antique chairs’, for instance, you could get away with writing the term ‘antique chairs’ across your entire website. Today, you won’t easily find many keyword-stuffed pages.
You see, Google’s aim is to provide users with high-quality websites, so it penalises sites for this. Other reasons a site might be penalised? Unnatural links from unrelated domains, over-optimised anchor text profiles, spam and user-generated spam, excessive website downtime, content farming and duplicate content.
Based on these elements, Google can penalise your website or webpage in two different ways:
- Manual Action — If Google suspects violations of its Webmaster rules, it may manually penalise your website. You can lift the penalties by repairing the website and submitting your website for Google review.
- Algorithmic Action — Major algorithmic changes, such as Penguin or Panda, can negatively affect the search rankings of a website, even to the point of de-indexing the site. Generally, these changes are Google’s way of filtering out non-optimal results for search queries.
Fortunately, you can confront both types of penalties and make the appropriate changes to your site, and it all starts with identifying the Google Penalty either manually, or by using a Google Penalty Checker.
Identifying a Manual Action Penalty
Not all reductions in traffic or rankings are due to Google’s algorithmic updates. In fact, Google can manually penalise your website for spam-like behaviour. You can find more information about Google’s spam fighting operations on its Google Inside Search guide. Below is a chart regarding how often Google takes manual action and why:
When Google takes manual action on a website, it will notify the site’s owner through the Google Webmaster Tools. If you don’t already use Google Webmaster Tools, you can easily implement it through Google Analytics. Simply sign into your account and add your website to Google Webmaster Tools. You’ll be asked to verify site ownership through your Google Analytics code.
After entering your Google Webmaster Tools Account, go to the Search Results > Manual Actions section. If Google has imposed a manual penalty, you should see an alert indicating a manual action penalty. In most cases, you’ll find a brief note explaining the nature of the penalty, as well as the affected web page.
NOT ALL manual actions will negatively affect your site’s organic search traffic and rankings. Some actions may affect the entire site, and others may affect pages that you no longer care about, or are no longer generating revenue. For the latter, it may be best to rectify the penalty by simply deleting the affected web page.
To determine if a Google manual action is hurting your website, use the plethora of tools available through Google Analytics. Here’s how:
- Check the date of the manual action and compare your organic search traffic before and after the action.
- Also consider using the compare to feature to analyse data over a longer period of time. This feature is located in the upper right hand corner (click on the date range) of the Audience Overview page, the Acquisition Overview page, or any other data set you wish to compare.
- Look for sudden drops in search engine rankings, conversions, organic traffic, etc.
Manual action penalties are regarded as the most difficult to fix, but they’re refreshingly simple to identify. To fully repair these issues and avoid further penalties, for now and in the future, it can be helpful to contact a Google penalties expert.
Identifying a Google Algorithm Penalty
Today, Google will most likely update its algorithm at least once. As we mentioned earlier, Google makes updates about 500 to 600 times a year, and most of these updates are quite small and shouldn’t drastically affect your website. Bigger updates that could affect your website, however, are often publicised. Why? To give website owners the chance to avoid potential forthcoming penalties.
The most common penalty comes from the Panda Algorithm Updates, which focus on quality content on your site or individual pages. If the algorithm detects low-quality content, Google will assign a lower quality score to your website.
The second most common type comes from the Penguin Algorithm Updates, which mostly affects website owners engaged in aggressive link building campaigns. If the algorithm determines that you’re trying to manipulate search rankings through unnatural link building, Google will penalise the site for the keyword or group of keywords that you’re targeting.
Algorithmic penalties do not show up under manual actions in your Webmaster Tools. As such, identifying these penalties can be a little more complex.
Similar to identifying manual actions, you can find the release date for these larger algorithmic updates and compare data in Google Analytics before and after the release. If you can’t correlate a Penguin or Panda update with a data drop, there are a few ways to pinpoint the problem.
Fruition Google Penalty Checker Tool
If you have Google Analytics, one of the most well-known Google Penalty Checker tools is the Fruition tool. Although this is a paid tool, you can still use it for one or two properties in your Google Analytics account. In short, the Fruition tool will analyse the website’s data over time with known Google updates.
The cross-checks are then organised into a colourful graph full of green, orange, yellow, and red circles. Additionally, you’ll have a list of updates by date and the impact that the update may have caused on your website.
For instance, by looking at the data you notice that, on November 13, there was an unconfirmed algorithm update that had a 95 per cent negative impact on your site. You should always take these notes with a grain of salt, but it is a good indicator of where to look next.
If you don’t have access to Google Analytics, the FEInternational Website Penalty Indicator is a great source for identifying possible penalties.
Once you’ve identified the algorithmic update and the potential impact, one of the next steps is to determine the essence of the update. For instance, for a Penguin update, you may want to check the anchor text of your site for unnatural links, over-optimisation, and so on. Majestic SEO’s Site Explorer is one of the most convenient tools for getting info on your website, including anchor text. By using this tool, if you see that distribution for your site’s anchor text heavily focuses on a single keyword, you may have an over-optimised anchor text profile that has been hit by the Google Penguin update.
Fixing Google Penalties
Identifying the penalty, whether manual or algorithmic based, is the most difficult part of the process. Nonetheless, by analysing and identifying the issues through your Webmaster Tools or a Google Penalty Checker, you can better isolate the cause of the issue and start thinking about how to solve it.
It’s important to note that most professional website owners, marketers, SEO experts, and content producers have confronted Google penalties before. If you need further information on fixing most types of penalties, check out NikSto.com’s post – 74 SEO Experts Share Their Best Method Of Removing Penguin Penalties.
As we mentioned earlier, some penalties may require a quick fix (i.e. deleting a page that’s no longer serving your business, and removing links for every instance of your brand or service). Other penalties, especially unnatural link penalties, for example, require a finesse to quickly and efficiently remove the penalty and improve your ranking.
One last thing to remember – it’s so important to not be reactive to Google. If you depend on Google for a portion of your website traffic, you can take control of your site by having an audit, and turn to the experts to avoid penalties and to increase your presence in search results.
Here at Bubbl, we offer a full Google Penalty Analysis and Correction service. This involves identifying the specific penalties that have occurred and establishing the corrective measures. We’ll also conduct a full website audit to help prevent penalties, whether they’re from smaller algorithmic changes or Google’s latest Penguin update. Interested in sorting out penalties and improving your ranking? Get in touch with us today.