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How to Detect a Google Penalty
You’ve made a bunch of new and exciting changes to your website and then all of a sudden, the phone stops ringing and the leads stop piling in. There could be a number of issues creating this chaos, but there is one in particular that you may have incidentally created and are not identifying: a Google penalty.
Luckily, Blue Corona is here to provide you with some information on how you can not only properly identify a Google penalty, but fix it moving forward.
What Is a Google Penalty?
In short, a Google penalty is a negative impact on your website’s search engine rankings based on updates to Google’s search algorithm or manual review of your website. Google takes a lot of pride in their algorithm and doesn’t just hand out first page listings because you mentioned the word “air conditioner” on your HVAC website 200,000 times. They reward companies for following the rules and tweaking their website along with penalizing the ones who try to cheat the system. Also, websites that provide a more superior user-friendly experience (page speed, device functionality, etc.) along with relevant and valuable content are more favored with Google search engine results.
In order for Google to keep their algorithm relevant and provide companies an equal chance, they will make constant updates. In fact, there are over 400,000 manual penalties that are applied every month, according to Matt Cutts, former head of the spam team at Google.
Now I know what you are thinking, “How am I supposed to keep up with 400,000 monthly updates?!” The fact is, you don’t have to keep track of every SINGLE one, but it is important to be aware of the major ones Google releases and how they can possibly negatively affect your website.
Recent Google Updates
Over the years, Google has been trying to enhance their search engine and make sure that the websites being shown are ones that provide a quality user experience. With technology, devices, consumer experiences, and platforms constantly changing, it is important that Google keeps up with those changes and adjusts accordingly.
Over the past three years, there have been some major Google updates. Some of them are unconfirmed by Google because they are very secretive about their algorithm and rightfully so. But that doesn’t stop the SEO community from noticing ticks and spikes at certain times. There have been many Google updates over the years, and some of the most recent, important ones include:
Pirate 2.0 – October 21, 2014
This was an important Google update that was a built on the first Pirate update. This roll-out was to crack down even harder against online piracy, the illegal copying of licensed and copyrighted materials from the internet. The update would affect any website that violated Google’s DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and would receive a major drop in rankings or would sometimes be completely removed from search engine result pages.
This update was so instrumental and effective that some websites lost SEO visibility of 98%. This update is important to note because as we are progressing in an “instantly share” online community, you must be wary of what you are sharing and if you are authorized to do so.
“Mobilegeddon” – April 22, 2015
Google made the official announcement that they would be expanding their use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This update would affect all mobile searches in all languages worldwide as well as have a major impact on their search results. This update was to ensure that all users find it simpler to get relevant, high quality search results and that it was optimized for their device.
Along with this update, Google announced that they will consider indexed apps as a ranking factor for users that are signed-in and already have the app installed. An indexed app is a feature that allows users to go directly into the app from the search results.
Mobile-friendly 2 – May 12, 2016
As mobile devices and laptops became a more popular means of browsing/searching the internet as opposed to desktop or laptop searching, Google made an update in Q2 of 2016 that would reflect that. Elaborating on “Mobilegeddon,” The Mobile-friendly 2 update was an official announcement made by Google stating that they were going to roll out an update to mobile search results. It would increase the effect of the ranking signal in order to help users find not only more relevant pages but ones that are mobile-friendly as well.
Although this was an enhancement on the previous mobile-friendly update, it is important to stress how mobile-friendliness is a significant ranking factor. Don’t know if your webpages are mobile friendly? Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to find out!
“Possum” – September 1, 2016
When it comes to search engine rankings and reaching a targeted audience, it is important to enhance your Local SEO efforts. Meaning, if you’re looking for a toilet repair plumber in Baltimore, MD, you best have web pages that indicate that.
Although this was another unconfirmed update, all evidence seemed to point towards this update impacting the ranking in the “3-pack” or “local pack” in Google search results. The 3 pack is the top three companies that show up in your Google search results in your geographical area. In order for business owners to have their chance at this, Google launched Possum. The main driver behind this update was to diversify the local results along with prohibiting spam from ranking. Some of these changes included:
- Businesses with multiple listings for same address are being filtered down to a single listing.
- Businesses with two different names, address, and phone number were being filtered down to a single listing when they appear to be in the same industry and owned the same person.
- Searcher location was weighted even higher than it previously was.
“Fred” (Unconfirmed) – March 8, 2017
Many believe that this update was centered on “black hat” SEO practices and a spam algorithm update was implemented involving backlinks on non-expert industry websites. Many of the websites negatively affected seem to carry a common theme: very low-value content with affiliate links spread throughout. These websites were posting pages on a wide variety of topics plus including backlinks but not adding value to what has already been written by other sites in the industry. (For example: A roofing company posting an array of roofing pages that would include some like “Why Roofs are Beneficial” or “Hole in the Roof, Should I get it Repaired?” but littering it with links.
Some other notable updates that took place over the years and are continually being updated are Panda and Penguin. With so many updates that have taken place, how are you to be sure you’ve been hit by one?
Fill out Blue Corona’s SEO Analysis Form and find out!
Identifying a Google Penalty
When you are penalized by Google, it is not something that should be taken lightly. Whether you were hit by a manual penalty or an algorithmic one, here are a few different ways you can identify if you have been impacted:
- GWT (Google Webmaster Tools) – This is probably the simplest way to identify a manual Google penalty. All you need to do is login to your GWT account and click on ‘Search Traffic’ then ‘Manual Actions.’ From there a window will display stating if you have committed a Google penalty or not.
- Google Analytics – Upon review of your website’s organic traffic chart, it should be pretty easy to notice a major dip (not gradual) in your website’s traffic. By properly identifying the date on which this took place, you can look on industry leading, SEO websites to see if anything was rolled out on that day.
- Moz Algorithm Update – Moz provides an updated list of official and unofficial updates to Google’s algorithm. It’s a very resourceful tool to use if you don’t have GWT or Google Analytics implemented with your website. This list dates all the way back to 2000 and should provide you a good starting point on what happened during the time of your “impact”.
Whether you meant to do it or not, it should be identified and handled properly moving forward in order to prevent negative impacts such as loss in rankings, reduction in leads, or even a loss in sales!
Recovering from a Google Penalty
Getting hit with a Google penalty or being affected due to the latest update is nothing anyone wants to endure, however there are proper steps you can take in order get out of it. One of the first things you should do is identifying what type of penalty you have been handed, manual or algorithmic. You can also take the proper steps towards recovery with Blue Corona’s recovery services!
Secondly, remove any spammy or unnatural links to your website. These are links from websites that are associating their negative image with yours. Bad backlinks can hurt your website fast as they build up. Some tools to identify backlinks would include:
- GWT – Under ‘Search Traffic’ there is an option that says ‘Links to Your Site.’ Use this to remove bad links to your site or disavow
- Monitor Backlinks – This is a simple and easy tool to use to in order to identify and remove bad backlinks to your website. Monitoring website backlinks is also a service that is provided with Blue Corona! I would also add a line about how we can do this for you.
Another tactic you can try is to simply enhance and tweak your website. These can include the following (but not limited to):
- Mobile Friendliness – Use previously mentioned tool to continually tweak and enhance your website’s performance.
- Fix Content – If your website is loaded with 300-500 word pages filled with content that is not relevant or worthy, you should either fix it or delete it entirely.
Your website is a core piece to your business. If it has been hit with a penalty, you are losing customers by the minute. It is important to follow and answer these three steps:
- Was I affected by a Google penalty and is it negatively affecting my website?
- What type of penalty/update was it?
- How do I fix it?
If you are still not sure what to do or just simply overwhelmed by everything, fill out our SEO analysis form and get started with Blue Corona today! Our team of SEO experts will not only be able to identify your problem but fix it for you moving forward. Ensuring that you will never run into a problem like this again.
About The Author: Kyle works in Blue Corona’s small business division, Rank First Local. Beyond digital marketing practices, he has interests in anything involving sports, food, music, and hanging out with his corgis Otis & Oliver.
View more blogs by Kyle Shane