It takes considerable time, effort and resources to set up and run a website. Therefore, it comes as a devastating blow to learn that Google has penalized your site. You lose your rankings that you achieved through careful, long and hard optimization. You lose your traffic that you acquired through cumbersome efforts done over several months. Above all, you lose Google’s trust which is extremely difficult to win back.
Following is a beginner’s guide to Google penalties; what they are, what causes them and most importantly, how to check if your website is penalized?
What are Google penalties?
Google is the most popular and widely used search engine and is used by 77% of the world’s online population. It continually enhances its algorithms to provide its users with the best search results for their queries.
Every year, Google makes hundreds of, mostly minor, changes to its algorithms, along with an occasional major algorithm update such as Google Panda and Google Penguin.
Every time Google rolls out a new update, the SERPs witness an upheaval; some websites scale the rankings while others drop from their coveted spots.
Some sites are removed, partially or entirely, from the Google index automatically by the Google’s Webspam filtering algorithm or manually by the Webspam team. This leads to a significant drop in rankings as well as the user traffic.
How can you check if Google has penalized your website?
Following is a list of ways to help you determine and identify Google penalties:
Use your Google Webmaster Tools account
Google uses these accounts to communicate with webmasters and notify them about any problems with their site.
To determine the presence of penalties, login to your GWT account, click on the “Search Traffic” tab followed by the “Manual Actions” button [under the tab]. Google will display all types of penalties (site-wide, those that affect the entire website, or those that affect only specific web pages) along with instructions on how to correct the issue.
This method is only suitable for manual penalties, imposed by the webspam team. Once you have implemented the necessary changes to rectify the problems, you can submit a reconsideration request to remove the penalty.
Review your Google traffic
To check if your website was penalized automatically, because of the continuous changes in Google algorithms, log into analytics to evaluate organic traffic.
Determine the exact date when there was a significant drop in organic traffic. If Google released an algorithm update around the same time, then it surely affected your website.
Evaluate your domain name
You can also determine a penalty by typing the query of your domain on Google and checking if it is indexed as one of the top results. If not, then this can indicate a possible penalty.
Use your domain name along with the main keyword
This method is most suitable to determine partial penalties. If some pages of your website do not show up even after you have searched for your domain name with specific keywords, your site might be partially penalized.
Search your title tag
If your website does not appear in search rankings even after you have entered the title tag text in the query box, this also indicates a penalty.
What can cause the penalty?
Google can punish your website for a number of reasons. Some of the most popular and relevant ones are;
- Unnatural links to your website: Buying paid links or engaging in manipulative link schemes such as submitting your website to numerous spammy directories is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
You can recover from this penalty by conducting a link audit and asking other webmasters to remove the links pointing to your website from their sites.
- Unnatural links from your website: Your site may host excessive links, which you have sold, exchanged for a reward or are unrelated to your niche. Remove such links and submit a reconsideration request to Google.
- Duplicate content: Google favors unique content in its SERPs. Hence, if your website has copied content then rewrite it to add a different perspective or “No index” the duplicate pages.
- Thin content: Pages with useless or, little to no content are a liability to your website. Therefore, either add value-additive content on all pages or add a “noindex” tag to low-quality pages.
- Hacked site: If your vulnerable site is hacked, Google immediately penalizes it to stop the users from interacting with a compromised website. To determine what contents or files of your site were hacked, login to your Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) account. Then, go to “Messages” and navigate to “Security Issues”. The tab will display all the affected areas, along with the issues such as “Malware” or “Hacked”.
- Spam: It is one of the most popular reason for penalties. Conduct a regular and complete content review of your website to ensure that it doesn’t use excessive, scraped, copied or low-quality content. Moreover, make sure that every page of your website serves a relevant purpose related to your site.
- Black-Hat techniques: Cloaking or redirecting refers to the practice of showing completely different content or URLs to the users and search engines. It is a violation of the Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. You can use tools in GWT to compare the pages as seen by you and as viewed by Google to rectify any mistakes. Also, evaluate the URLs on your site to ensure that they are not inadvertently redirecting the users.
- Speed-load time: Websites with slow loading speeds also drop from search rankings and attract penalties. You can audit your website to determine and eliminate this issue along with other elements of a comprehensive website audit checklist.
How can you avoid getting a penalty?
The best course of action for webmasters is to avoid the penalties at all costs because recovering from it can be a long and time-consuming process:
- Follow Google’s guidelines religiously
- Refrain from taking shortcuts to scale the search listing such as unnatural, aggressive link building
- Always publish the highest quality content
- Evaluate your website’s content and links (both incoming and outgoing) regularly
- Choose the most secure domain and hosting provider
- Follow Google updates that affect SEO
- Promote your site through a proper channel such as social media and choose credible advertisement platforms and affiliated links
You can also consider acquiring Google certification for authenticity for your website. Finally, it is important to remember that you can achieve the highest search engine rankings only through white-hat practices conducted consistently over months.
Author’s Bio: Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness and lifestyle. She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing. You can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia.