You’ve been looking at your web stats and are impressed with how much web traffic and conversions you’ve been getting.
But all of a sudden… your website visits have nosedived. What’s happened?
If you’re not getting the levels of traffic you used to, it may be that Google has slapped you with a penalty. The red card of the SEO world, a penalty means you’ve done something that goes against Google’s quality guidelines.
If you need to know how to recover from a Google penalty, we’ve put this guide together to help.
What is a Google penalty?
A Google penalty happens when a website puts content out or builds backlinks that go against Google’s quality guidelines.
If this happens, Google will take action. It will reduce your page (or website’s) search engine ranking or, in the most extreme situation, block it from appearing in the search engine results.
It’s important to note that your website will still be up and running, and it might even still appear in other search engines like Bing and Yahoo. It will just have a reduced presence in the Google search engine results.
There are two different types of Google penalties: manual and algorithmic. A manual penalty happens when Google manually checks your website and sees that you’re doing something dodgy.
An algorithmic penalty, historically called a ‘panda penalty’ or a ‘penguin penalty’ in honour of the relevant Google updates. This is when the Google algorithm changes, and your website gets in trouble as a result.
So, what can cause a Google penalty? How long have you got?
Here are some of the site issues that can cause the dreaded Google penalty.
- Keyword stuffing. While using the right keywords is essential when it comes to SEO, cramming your pages full of keywords can be a red flag
- Hidden text. Using invisible text to fool the search engines was a hot trend in the early 2000s. While you don’t see it as much these days, Google still hates it
- Redirects. While redirecting users from one page on your site to another is absolutely fine, taking them to a completely different website than the one that was advertised/ linked is a big no-no
- ‘Thin content.’ Short or duplicated content that doesn’t add value doesn’t just wind up your web users, but it winds up Google too
- Toxic backlinks. Relevant backlinks from high-quality websites are great for your search engine presence, but backlinks from low-quality sites, including adult and gambling sites, won’t make Google happy (unless those are the types of sites you own). And don’t even get started on buying PBNs.
- Hacked websites. If your website is hacked or is experiencing a security issue, Google may give you a “penalty” so users can’t access it.
You may hear the word ‘black hat SEO’ often used when it comes to Google penalties. Unfortunately, many black hat SEO techniques eventually result in a penalty. So if you hear a digital marketing agency talking about using black hat techniques to get you to the number one spot, run for the hills!
Let’s look at how to instigate a Google penalty removal and how to recover from a Google penalty.
Google penalty check: how to see if you’ve got a penalty
The easiest way to tell if you’ve got a Google penalty is to log into Google Search Console.
Google Search Console is a free service you can use to see how your website is doing in the Google Search results. If you haven’t set it up yet, we definitely recommend doing it!
When you’re logged into Google Search Console, go to the menu at the left-hand side of the page and choose Manual actions. If you have a penalty, you will see the information there.
If you’re caught up in an algorithmic penalty, you will not get a notification in Google Search Console. If you’re not getting an error but still think something is up, the best thing to do is to go into Google Analytics and check your web traffic. If you see a massive drop and can’t explain why, a penalty might be the issue.
Google penalty recovery: how to get the traffic back to your site
So you’ve worked out that you’ve got a Google penalty. The next step? Understanding how to recover from a Google penalty.
Step 1: Understand what you did wrong
The first step is finding out why you got the penalty in the first place. If you know you’ve been doing something you shouldn’t have, slapped wrists for you. If you’re not sure, it’s time to do a little investigation.
Google Search Console will tell you if you got a manual penalty and the pages it affects.
Step 2: Put things right
The next step is to remove the issue that has caused the penalty. The difficulty and amount of time this will take varies depending on what Google gave the penalty for.
For example, if you know you got the penalty for thin content or keyword stuffing, you can go to the offending pages and revise the information. If your structured data is incorrect, take it down or recreate it.
Some issues are a little trickier, for example, dodgy unnatural backlinks.
If this is the issue, you need to identify the bad backlinks (you can do this through Google Search Console). It’s then a case of getting in touch with the relevant site and asking them (nicely!) to delete the links.
This may or may not work. If you don’t have any joy, you can ‘disavow’ the links, which means you’re asking Google’s crawlers to ignore them. This is done by uploading a spreadsheet of the offending links.
This can take between two to four weeks to process, so patience is required.
Step 3: Request a review
You’ve identified the issues and taken steps to change things to how they were. Now it’s time to beg Google for forgiveness.
If you go back to the Manual actions section on Google Search Console you can request a review. Google will re-review your site, and if it’s satisfied that you’ve removed the issue, it will lift the penalty.
If you don’t have Google Search Console or didn’t get a manual penalty, all you can do is wait and see if Google starts reindexing your pages.
Don’t panic if Google rejects your request the first time around. In our experience, it can take two or three goes before your site is approved.
Step 4: Make sure it doesn’t happen again
It’s best when we learn from our mistakes, right?
If you experience a Google penalty, it’s good to put measurements in place to ensure you don’t get in trouble again.
For example, let’s say thin content is an issue. You could implement additional measures to review content before it goes online, or carry out an audit to identify any pages that don’t add value to your site.
Also, be sure to keep up to date with the latest news around Google algorithm changes. That way you can review your content ahead of time and make sure you won’t be affected by upcoming changes to the algorithm.
Need to recover from a Google penalty? We’re here to support you
Knowing you’ve got a Google penalty can be scary. You might not know what you need to do, and you may be worried that you’re losing lots of valuable web traffic.
The good news is that you can recover from a Google penalty as long as you show that you’ve put things right.
Mozilla, Interflora, the BBC, and even WordPress, have experienced Google penalties and have lived to tell the tale. In fact, according to Google, over 400,000 manual penalties are given out every month.
We hope this article has helped you understand how to recover from a Google penalty.
If you need a little extra assistance with your Google penalty recovery efforts, we can help. Our SEO specialists will be on the case, putting everything right and getting you back in Google’s good books.
Get in touch today to receive a free marketing plan!