Google penalties are similar to a sports penalty. Essentially, they are designed to punish websites that do something wrong. Google believes that a website that tries to manipulate search results is harmful to their service. They want to provide the most relevant search results, without interference. Websites that attempt to exploit this will receive a penalty. Some of these are given manually and sometimes the people who built the website may have no idea what they did wrong.
What is a Google Penalty?
When you receive a Google penalty, it can mean one of two things. The first is that your ranking for the keywords you targeted has dropped significantly. The second is that your site is no longer listed on search results at all. At its most basic, it means that your target audience can no longer find you.
Google penalties can happen to anyone and any website. Sometimes they are simply the result of honest efforts to improve your SEO ranking. However, it is not always easy to get your good ranking back.
One sign you may have received a penalty is a significant decrease in traffic on individual pages. You may also notice these decreases in regard to certain keywords. Another sign could be that a substantial amount of the pages on your website get de-indexed. At the most extreme, your entire website may become de-indexed.
Types of Google Penalties
There are two different types of Google penalties: manual and algorithmic. Either type of penalty will be the result of an ever-changing algorithm that Google uses to crawl and inspect websites.
A manual penalty is one that is actually given by a Google employee. These most commonly come when your website is doing something that violates Google’s Terms of Service. Some examples of these violations are a virus infection, cloaking, redirects, or buying backlinks.
An algorithmic penalty happens without help from a Google employee. These tend to come because of a change to the algorithm that decides how to rank websites depending on relevance and quality of content. Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird are examples of algorithmic penalties. These may occur when websites have duplicated content, slow loading times, or keyword stuffed their text. These kinds of penalties will generally not take you out of rankings all together, but lower your ranking. This type of penalty can be much harder to detect than manual penalties. They generally require a bit of digging on your part.
The major difference between the types of penalties is how to deal with them. A manual penalty requires communication directly with Google to resolve it. You will have to explain where the problem came from and identify a resolution in what they call a “Reconsideration Request.”
What Triggers a Google Penalty?
Some of the most common triggers for a penalty are:
- If your website has spyware, adware, or other viruses
- Website has hidden text or links
- Cloaking – displaying a different version of the webpage to the search engine
- Deceptive redirects – when a visitor is automatically brought to another page even when they haven’t clicked anything
- Pages loaded with irrelevant keywords
- Keyword stuffing
- A significant amount of duplicate content
This is a short list of the possible triggers. Anything that a website does in an attempt to fool the search engine or take away from the user experience will be considered a penalty.
Negative SEO Attacks
Although not extremely common, every business should familiarize themselves with negative SEO attacks. Negative SEO is the practice of using unethical techniques to sabotage a competitor’s search engine rankings. These can take several different forms.
- Hacking your website
- Building spammy links to your website
- Copying your content and putting it all over the internet
- Creating fake social media profiles and harming your online reputation
- Removing quality backlinks to your site
Preventing negative SEO attacks is much easier than trying to fix them after they occur.
The most common negative SEO attacks take the form of harming your link profile. They usually do this by building spammy or low quality links to your site. There are numerous tools available to help you check on your backlink profile. Some of these services require you to manually check on your profile, while others will do it for you.
Secure Your Website
Improving the security of your website is one of the best things you can do not just to stop negative SEO attacks. If you use WordPress to power your website, there are countless plugins you can add to add security. You should also get into the practice of regularly creating backups of all of your files.
Google Webmaster Tools
If you haven’t already, you should connect your website to Google Webmaster Tools. From there, you can enable email notifications for all different types of issues. These notifications will alert you if your website is being attacked by malware, your pages are not indexed, your site has server connectivity problems, or you receive a manual penalty.
How to Remedy a Google Penalty
Google Disavow Tool
One of the ways to remedy a Google penalty involves using the Google Disavow Tool. This tool should be used to prevent a Google penalty coming as the result of improper links. If you are using a link building strategy as part of your overall SEO strategy, as part of your overall SEO strategy, you should make yourself familiar with the Google Disavow Tool. Always remember that disavowing a link should always be the last resort.
You have probably heard that any link leading back to your website is good, but this is not the case. Actually, spammy or low quality links can harm your site’s SEO. Some examples of bad backlinks include websites that are set up purely for links, obvious spam sites, and links in spam-like comments. Backlinks from websites that do not serve your target country can also be harmful. For example, if you serve the United States, a backlink from a French website will not be helpful. Similarly, backlinks from websites that are unrelated to the industry you are in can be harmful.
Before you use the Google Disavow Tool to disavow a link, try manually requesting the link be removed. This can be done by emailing the owner of the website. Almost every website should have some kind of contact information either at the very bottom of the site or on a contact page. You could also try reaching out via social media or commenting on one of their posts. If none of these strategies work, then you can disavow the link. A link audit will be essential if you have a lot of links coming to your site. This can be a pretty involved process, so consider hiring an SEO firm to assist you.
Manual Penalty Fixes
Fixing a manual penalty is much easier than an algorithmic penalty. Most of these can be fixed through some simple work of your own.
If you were penalized for having thin content, you will need to add more relevant content to your website. You should also attempt to improve the user experience on your website.
Cloaking, or sneaky redirects, may be something that you don’t intentionally do. Google Webmaster Tools can help you fix this. Use the “Fetch as Google” tool to show you what Google’s robots are seeing when they crawl your website. They should be seeing the same thing that regular users are.
Penalties for hidden text or keyword stuffing are somewhat common. To fix a hidden text penalty, you should check your page’s source code to make sure no keywords are hiding in there. If you have content on your site that utilizes keyword stuffing, simply tweak the content to take out some of those excessive keywords. Instead of writing with the intention of including keywords, write with the intention of informing your audience.
After you have remedied the issue that caused the manual penalty, you need to submit a reconsideration request. Submitting the request to Google’s web spam team lets them know that you have fixed the problem and believe the penalty should be lifted. There is no specific way you should write your reconsideration request, however there are some things to include to increase your chances of removing the penalty.
You should always be honest about what caused the penalty. If it was the result of mistakes you made in the past, own up to it. If the problems were caused by actions an old SEO company or employee made, let them know this too.
You should also document the work you did to fix the mistake. Be as meticulous as possible. Create a document that shows all of the individual steps you have taken and will continue to take to clean up your website.
Finally, you should also make sure to demonstrate your understanding of the problem. Let them know that you now understand what caused the problem. Reiterate that you will continue to work on being compliant with Google’s updates as they happen.
Keep in mind that it is pretty common for your first reconsideration request to be rejected. This occurs when you fail to show Google that you have done your best to fix the problem. That is why you should always take the ample amount of time to fix the problem before you submit the request.