Most website or blog owners know of the many changes that Google has made to its search algorithms over the last few years. Many felt the penalties imposed by these changes – a sudden fall in page rank and a massive drop in traffic early in 2011, and/or a further one in the first quarter of 2012, and subsequent to each of these major declines, many fluctuations in their web traffic. This post is about how to find the specific causes of these drops in traffic and how to go about recovering from Google penalties.
A Google penalty is the negative impact on a website’s search rankings based on updates to Google’s search algorithms and/or manual review. Typically, the penalties are for what Google considers to be black-hat SEO techniques or poor quality content. A couple of the Google algorithm changes were particularly devastating to website owners – in spite of the cute names of those changes – Panda and Penguin.
Launched in February 2011, and constantly updated since then, Panda looks for poor quality content. Thus, amongst other things, it looks for content that has been copied, or automatically generated using a spin tool, or over-optimized (too many occurrences of keywords).
Launched in April 2012, Penguin looks for for unnatural links – such as paid backlinks, blog network links, or comment spam links. There have been several Penguin updates since its launch.
But there have been other updates besides Panda and Penguin – all with the intention of improving the quality of search results for the user.
How do you know what Google is penalizing you for?
The first step in recovering from Google penalties is to identify the types of penalty that have been imposed. Essentially, you need to analyze your traffic over the last few years and look for the fluctuations that correspond to Google algorithm changes. Then, by knowing what that particular algorithm change was looking for, you can identify the problem that Google had with your website. There is a neat tool that helps you do this – Fruition’s Google Penalty Checker. I use it for my websites.
The free version of this tool allows you to check two websites. It provides you with a graph showing the impact of each Google update.
It also provides you with a detailed analysis in list-format, showing the overall traffic change for each update. Further details of each update can be obtained by clicking the “Details” link in the “Description” column.
Recovering from Google penalties
The way to avoid being penalized by Panda is to keep your content original and write it in a natural way for your audience. In order to recover from a Panda penalty you need to identify the offending pages and rewrite or remove them.
As regards bad backlinks, the Penguin update is entirely automated, which means that you can remove the link or use the Google Disavow tool to remove the impact of each bad link.
If your penalty was automatically imposed as a result of a Panda or Penguin algorithm change and you subsequently remedy the problem, then the next time that Google crawls your site, the penalty imposed should be lifted.
The Google team does also issue manual penalties to sites it deems to be violating the Google webmaster guidelines. When this happens, they post a message to Webmaster Tools – located at Search Traffic>Manual Actions for the site concerned. In order for such penalties to be lifted, it is best to modify your site so as to comply with the guidelines, and then submit a reconsideration request.
Some interesting recipients of penalties
If you suffered a major drop in PageRank as a result of Panda or Penguin, you are not alone. Here are a few of the notable sites that were penalized.
BeatThatQuote.com – On March 7, 2011, Google purchased BeatThatQuote.com for £37.7 million and, within the same date, penalized BeatThatQuote.com.
BMW – On February 6, 2006, Google penalized BMW.de for using doorway pages and dropped the site’s PageRank to 0.
Google Chrome – In January 2012, Google’s Webspam team penalized the Chrome Browser’s homepage for manipulating PageRank with purchased blog posts. The penalty dropped Chrome’s homepage’s PageRank from 9 to 7 and knocked Chrome off of the first page for important keywords such as “browser.”