Amid the many changes to the SEO landscape over the past months, we have had quite a bit to say about the various actions you can take in order to continue to rank well online, and avoid being penalised by Google. This includes providing great quality useful content on your site, and avoiding tactical errors such as keyword stuffing and link trading. But what happens if – despite all your efforts to do excellent work on your site – you find that you have been Google-slapped?
First of all it’s important to realise that a Google penalty can be like one of those silent-killer diseases – you might not even know you have one until you bother to check. This is especially the case if you receive an automatic penalty, which basically means you are not going to get an email from Google saying ‘we’ve penalised you’. It’s more likely that you will simply find that your site stops showing up where it used to in web search, or that your traffic suddenly slows.
What can you be penalised for?
Some of the main reasons for a penalty include:
- Keyword stuffing.
- Posting poor-quality or duplicate content.
- Buying or exchanging links.
- Linking to sites that have no relevance your business.
- Having broken links on your site.
- Overusing anchor text.
- Using guest blogging purely for SEO purposes (for example posting guest blogs that are keyword stuffed, and not relevant or useful to your audience).
There are also myriad other reasons you could get a penalty – some of which may not be your fault. For instance, your site may have been hacked, or have too many old backlinks. Or it may be that someone has plagiarised your content, or has a malicious linking campaign against your site.
How to find out if you have been penalised
It can be hard to find out if you have received a penalty. Tools such as Google Analytics will indicate how your site traffic is faring, with a sudden change indicating you might have been penalised. You can also log on to your Google Webmaster Tools account and check the message page to see if Google has notified you of a penalty.
What to do if you get a penalty
Firstly, don’t panic! It is not the end of the world, and with the right moves you should be able to recover from a Google penalty.
If you have a troublesome link problem, for example, you can work to resolve the resulting penalty by:
- Collecting backlink data.
- Tracking and documenting all the actions you’ve taken to remove bad links.
- Identifying low-quality links.
- Contacting webmasters to request removal of links.
- Using the Google Disavow tool if necessary.
- Submitting a request to Google for reconsideration.
- Waiting for a response.
- Taking steps to avoid it happening again.
You can use these same steps to deal with any other issues, such as keyword stuffing, which may have resulted in your site being penalised.
Where did I go wrong?
Just as a parent might do all the right things and still find their teenager running wild, you might feel a bit disconcerted if you believe you’ve followed the guidelines and your website is in trouble! At least this scenario is probably a little easier to manage than parenting, and these tips on prevention should help:
- Use canonical links if you post content that is very similar to existing content.
- If you outsource content, make sure to always use a professional and reputable provider. Avoid buying cheap content that may be spun or copied. If you suspect plagiarism, use a plagiarism checker to test it.
- Avoid being connected in any way with sites that could be considered suspicious.
- Be a little careful with guest blogging – see our guest blogging article for more information.
- Monitor the comments on your site and remove spammy-looking ones.
- Be careful that you do not have too many affiliate links in place.
Of course the above is on top of posting quality useful content, avoiding link schemes, and generally following Google’s guidelines.
In any case, it’s important not to take a penalty too personally! It could happen to the best of websites, and by investigating the cause, taking steps to fix the problem, and contacting Google for reconsideration, you should be able to get on top of the problem and recover your search engine standings.