As Google is trying to increase the quality of the results, it shows every day to its users, and as the number of websites on the internet is continuously increasing, competition on the SERP is getting more and more challenging. Due to this over-competition, who’s present on the internet is pushing its SEO to the limit.
The focus on website optimization through structured SEO strategies is important, but it is essential to keep Google Guidelines in mind. Otherwise, your business could face significant penalties, that will affect your search engine traffic and visibility.
Google penalties are not so unusual: Matt Cutts affirmed that “over 400,000 manual penalties are doled out every month”. When a website has run into a Google penalty, it could sound like a big problem to solve. But if that happens to you, do not give up. With the right adjustments and expedients, recover from this kind of penalty is doable.
Do not confuse algorithms effects with Google penalties!
Before discovering how to recover from Google penalties, it is necessary to clarify one important thing: Google penalties are different from algorithms’ effects. Thus they have to be treated differently.
Both algorithms and penalties can affect your ranking on the SERP. If you notice a traffic drop, these could be the causes:
- Google penalties: manual actions undertaken by Google’s spam team. As Marie Haynes stated, “A manual action can be given to a site when the site has been manually reviewed by a Google employee. If you have a manual action, you’ll be able to see it if you look in Google Search Console “..” – If you don’t have any message like that in the manual actions viewer, then you don’t have a manual penalty”;
- Algorithms updates from Google, like Panda or Penguin. These algorithms set rules that have to be followed and that, in case they are not followed or respected, can act as a filter on your site, holding it down and making it hard for you to rank well.
So, if you notice a significant traffic drop on your website, you should first search for its cause.
If it’s caused by a manual action from Google’s team, you can verify that by checking your Search Console. In this case, you will find a proper notification in the message section, warning you that Google Webmaster Tools noticed suspicious aspects on your website.
On the other hand, if you do not find any message like that on your Search Console, check when was the last launch of a new Google update and correlate that time to the period of your traffic drop. If the two factors coincide, you will probably have to check and adjust something on your website that is no more in line with Google guidelines.
In this case, a very useful sum up of all updates can be found on Moz.
“Over 400,000 manual penalties are doled out every month.”
So what can be penalized on your website?
In the case you received a clear notification on Search Console, thus you occur in a Google penalty, there could be many reasons for that, but over 95% of all penalties are related to the website’s backlinks profile.
These are some of the most common factors that could put you in trouble with Google team:
- Backlinks from already penalised websites;
- Backlinks from the website with duplicate content;
- Website unrelated to your field;
- Spammy comments and forum;
- Site-wide backlinks (which means from footers, sidebars or widgets);
- Advertorials or sponsored content that is passing PageRank;
- Hidden text from users using CSS;
- Links from adults or gambling websites.
Once you understand where the problem is coming from, it is time to make the right adjustments to your website and recover from the penalties.
How to recover from penalties?
Recovering from penalties like these could sound like a hard step to face. But actually, it is not as difficult as people usually think. Some issues are easier to fix than others, but none is impossible to fix.
The first thing to do is to download the list of your backlinks from Google Webmaster. Then upload the list on your favorite SEO tool to go deeper into your insights. Some examples could be Monitor Backlinks, Ahref, or Majestic.
Analyze your website’s backlinks and identify the ones that could cause a traffic drop.
Once you have all backlinks showed on your SEO tool, focus on the do-follow links, which are the ones that influence your website ranking in Google. Another valuable filter to identify the low-quality ones is to set your research on links that have over 100 external backlinks per page.
And now the most boring part starts.
It’s time to verify each of these backlinks manually. If you own a blog and you didn’t disallow comments on your articles, most of your bad links will probably come from there.
Another tip to identify wrong links is to filter by domain extension because if you have, for example a website written in Italian, why should a Russian website link to your page?
Remove or disallow bad links
Once all the links have been identified, start to disallow or remove all of them that are not related to your website and do not provide any value to your visitors.
If you have difficulties by removing or disabling these links, there is a very simple solution.
Try to contact the owner of the backlink to ask for help. You can send an email, kindly asking to remove the link. You do not need to be rude or silly: be precise about the link to remove and about the problem that occurred.
You should easily find the email address of a website owner in the footer or contact page. But if you have difficulties finding it, you can use tools like whois.com.
If you don’t receive any answer from emails you sent, you can proceed simply disavowing all the remaining domains. If the webmaster asks you money to remove the link, do not pay and just disavow the domain.
Once you disavow or delete all the damaging domains, it’s time to submit a disavow report on the dedicated Webmaster Tool Google Disavow.
After 2 or 4 weeks, you should start seeing a difference in your rankings. If your traffic does not show any increase, you should check if your website has been affected by a new algorithmic update, like Penguin or Panda. In this case, you will have to make concrete adjustments to your website content based on the latest Google guidelines… but that’s another story.
Always keep in mind that you can’t game Google. If you do not follow its rules and guidelines, expect a penalty.
But when and if that happens, do not panic. Recover from it is possible and easier than what you think: the main key is to understand your problems’ causes and act to solve them.
Once solved, do not make the same mistakes of the past.
Remember that “Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness” (E-A-T) is what defines the quality of a web page. And you have to do your best to reach the quality level Google requires from you.