Natasa Djukanovic, CMO, Domain.me
You know how important SEO is for your business. You’ve spent hours figuring out the right combination of keywords, links and content to help your site rise in the search rankings.
But, what happens when you notice a sudden traffic drop? Chances are your website got penalized for some reason.
Back in 2014, former head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts reported there are over 400,000 penalties initiated by Google each month, but only around 5% of webmasters try to bounce back and retrieve their position in the SERP. Although handling penalties can be a true nightmare, there’s no reason to wave the white flag just yet. Recovering your website’s rankings takes time, but it is doable.
Is it a penalty or algorithm shift?
There are two factors that can cause your SEO to take a hit: an algorithm penalty or a manual penalty. Algorithm penalties are caused by Google’s updates to their search algorithm, which happens often. These updates affect how sites are prioritized or demoted within the search, most recently focusing on content quality, backlinks and anchor text distribution. Algorithm penalties are trickier to spot. You can catch them only by analyzing the stats in Google Analytics. To prevent this, keep track of Google Algorithm Updates and stay in the loop with the latest news from the industry.
Manual penalties aren’t related to algorithm updates, and are intentional demotions or removals of pages due to spammy SEO practices. Manual penalties can be detected within your Google Webmaster Tools account. The Google Search Quality Team notifies all webmasters if any type of direct violations of Google Webmaster Guidelines were made. You should regularly check for notifications within your account, even if you didn’t intentionally implement bad SEO practices. Sometimes, webmasters deliberately take shortcuts and use forbidden black hat SEO tricks (e.g. building link schemes, keyword stuffing, spammy behavior) for better rankings, but some violations are completely innocent and unintentional rule breaking. Whether it was intentional or not, you’ll need to address the violation in order to repair your SEO ranking.
Disavow bad backlinks
Backlinking is a tried and true method of boosting your SEO, but Google hates when you try to take advantage. Google considers the sites you associate with in cyberspace when it’s determining your ranking. Did you try to nab a high ranking from the start by getting backlinks from spammy sites? Google notices, and will promptly penalizing those who carry out this practice. Focus instead on getting reputable sources and trustworthy sites to link to your page based on its quality content.
If you were penalized due to bad backlinks, you’ll need to get rid of them. Run a regular checkup of the links pointing to your domain, using tools like Majestic SEO, Ahrefs and Monitor Backlinks to run a backlink analysis and check the quality of every link, as well as anchor text distribution. It’s common practice to send requests for link removals to webmasters. If they don’t respond, you’ll need to turn to Google’s disavow tool.
Tackle the technical errors
When the Google Panda update was released in 2011, many webmasters were shaken by this algorithmic change. It impacted low-quality sites that had unresolved on-page issues like duplicate content, poor navigation structure, slow page load speeds, error response codes, etc. These site errors can prevent search engine crawlers of doing their job properly, and Google doesn’t appreciate it. Screaming Frog is a great tool to check what’s going on with your website and address the problems accurately. To bounce back from this penalty, do a full site audit in order to discover anything that might have negatively affected your rankings, then promptly fix them. Also, make sure all the pages you want to be shown in the search results are marked to be indexed.
Send a reconsideration request
If you deliberately tried to manipulate the algorithm and received a manual penalty, it’s time for redemption. Whatever the issue may be, the Google team acts supportive and welcomes you to submit your site for reconsideration after you fix the issues that caused the violation in the first place. Follow the instructions to fix the violations carefully, right your wrongs, and then file a reconsideration request. Remember to be patient. It might take days or weeks and it’s not uncommon for a reconsideration case to get rejected several times before it’s granted. A well-written reconsideration request includes a demonstration that you’ve handled all of the issues in line with Google guidelines and provides appropriate proof (e.g. lists and screenshots). For example, you need to provide the support team with the list of all the unnatural links you’ve removed and convince them your site is built with users (not search engines) in mind.
The team behind the world’s most popular search engine is always thinking of new ways to improve user experience in order to make surfing the web as pleasant as possible. This is why you should always keep an eye on algorithm changes and follow SEO trends. In case you do get a penalty, don’t fall into despair. Focus on rebuilding trust with Google and strive towards making the Internet a better place.