Google can penalise your website – usually for two reasons: you either provide low quality content or you’ve used manipulative methods in an effort to boost your rankings. So, can you recover?

What is a Google Penalty?

Search engine giant Google consistently takes steps to prevent websites from artificially promoting themselves in search result rankings.  It issues penalties for those who try to abusive the system, or sideline SEO guidelines.  These “penalties” come in several guises and are enforced as a result of a manual review or algorithm updates undertaken by Google themselves.  If a website uses manipulative methods to increase its’ own position, or offers a poor visitor experience, Google will actively drop the search position, or in some cases remove it completely.  A Google penalty has a temporary, but negative impact on a website’s search rankings.  These penalties are usually doled out as the result of an algorithm update or as an intentional penalty for underhand black-hat SEO techniques.

If you’ve used manipulative methods in an effort to boost your website’s rankings, it could either all as on-site, or off-site methods. On-site methods refer to tactics used on your website, within its content or structure. Off-site methods refer to tactics like backlink building. This is one of the main factors Google uses to rank your website among your competitors.

Sometimes you are simply penalised because you’ve over-optimised certain anchor link text. If Google suspects that too many links with the same anchor text is pointing to your site, they may see this as bad practice and penalise your website. The exact number of links remain a mystery but it may vary from one industry to the next. As a general rule of thumb, try to keep the amount of backlinks that are anchor text optimised to less than 20 percent.

Furthermore, penalties can either be given manually or via an algorithm. When this is done manually, it’s usually as a result of someone within Google picking up that your website is breaching one or more of their guidelines. When it’s done via an algorithm, something has tipped off Google’s automated systems to penalise your site – usually due to one of the factors above.

Matt Cutts says that more than 40,000 manual penalties are given every month.

Your whole site can be penalised, or only some of your web pages. If too many of your web pages are penalised, it may result in your website being penalised as a whole. In severe cases, your website may even be removed from Google altogether and this can be very bad for business.

A Drop in Rankings

The more common result is that websites that have been penalised will see a significant drop in rankings –  often more than 100 places at a time. If your website has dropped only a few spots, it’s unlikely that you’ve been penalised in any way. In these cases, some of your competitors have likely improved their ranking and optimisation efforts, or some of your previous backlinks have dropped in value.

Google may have also updated their algorithm and this can cause a slight change in your rankings. This often happens when they roll out a new algorithm change, with thousands of websites being affected.

To recap, here are a few possible reasons why your website can be penalised:

  • Too many low quality backlinks
  • Over-optimised anchor text links
  • Too many links from unrelated sources
  • Paid backlinks
  • Manipulative on-page or off-page tactics
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Low value content
  • Too many ads on a web page
  • A high bounce rate
  • Spam or malware

Fixing a Google Penalty

Now that you understand the different penalties, you should know which penalty you’ve been given, and why. Only then will you be able to fix it. Some fixed may be easy, while other may be more challenging.

If you’ve been penalised due to too many unnatural links pointing outward, you can simply reduce the number of links and make sure they are not going to low quality sources. For this you’ll need a list of all your backlinks, to determine their quality and relevance.

If you’ve been penalised for poor quality content, you need to remove them and add valuable content to your website. You can either rewrite them completely, or delete them and add new pages.

Remember – if you fix an algorithmic penalty, you’ll have to wait for the algorithm to run again to see if it has been fixed.

If you want to fix a Panda penalty, you can do this by following some of the below:

  • Remove any duplicate or low value content
  • Create unique titles and descriptions for each page
  • Make sure that your keywords appear naturally and not stuffed inside content
  • Eliminate link cloaking completely

For manual penalties, you can always do your part and then as for a reconsideration. You can do this by going to the Google Search Console and navigating to ‘Search Traffic’, and then to ‘Manual Actions’. You can then request a review of your website and hopefully your penalty will be removed.

Matt Cutts from Google Webmasters speaks on how to get Google penalties lifted

If you want to keep our content fresh and relevant, speak to The Content Works. We’ll help you to craft quality, relevant content that will help you rank well, and provide value for your readers.

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