Are your page one rankings slipping to page two and three? Or has your entire website been removed from Google’s index? If so, you may have been penalized by Google. But why were you penalized and how can you resolve it?
Google is on a mission to serve up the best, most accurate, and most unique content on the web. Over the years, it has continually tweaked and improved its search engine algorithms to ensure the best websites get the exposure they deserve. If Google takes issue with your site, however, you may be hit with a penalty.
Understanding Google Penalties
Because Google only wants to show searchers the best-of-the-best, they’ve devised a system to weed out low-quality websites and those who engage in practices that are against their webmaster guidelines. Penalties can be issued automatically by Google’s artificial intelligence, by a manual review of a Google search quality rater, or a combination of the two. In a best case scenario, a penalty will negatively impact your website’s search rankings, and in the worst case, it will completely remove your site from the search results.
Most commonly, a penalty is an intentional penalization for some “black hat” SEO techniques intended to manipulate the search results. However, penalties can also be the unfortunate by-product of a Google algorithm update. For example, when Google rolled out their Penguin update in 2012, it had an adverse impact on more than 1 in 10 search results overnight. Marketers awoke to find their websites pushed to pages two and three or removed from the search engine entirely. This new algorithm forced marketers to carefully rethink their content strategies in fear of “The Big G’s” next update.
Recognizing a Google Penalty
As I mentioned above, a penalty can be issued automatically or manually by a human search quality rater. If it’s a manual penalty, you’ll typically receive a notification in Google Webmaster tools, but you may not know you’ve received an algorithmic penalty until it’s too late. Algorithmic penalties often take even the most experienced SEO and marketing professionals by surprise. But if you’re the type of webmaster who monitors your website’s rankings regularly, it’s unlikely you’ll have a penalty for too long without realizing it.
The major signs of a Google penalty are:
- Pages that previously ranked on page one are now on pages two or three
- Your entire website has been removed from the search results (try running a site search by typing site: yourdomain.com in Google)
- Your website no longer shows up for your brand name
- You experienced a sudden, noticeable drop in website traffic
Why Did Google Penalize My Site?
Google may penalize your site for a number of reasons. In fact, last time I counted there were over 50 reasons, both automated and manual, that Google might punish you for. That list continues to grow with each and every Google algorithm update. Here are the five most common reasons for getting a Google penalty:
You participated in a link scheme
An unnatural link penalty may be issued if you participate in link exchanges, buy links, or sell them to manipulate others’ ranks. In some cases, automatically generated links, spammy forum content links, irrelevant links, or links from low-quality websites may trigger this penalty.
You’ve been hacked
Even if you’ve followed Google’s webmaster guidelines to the letter, your website could still end up with a penalty if it gets hacked. Hacked sites pose a security threat to both you and your users, so Google will penalize your site until it’s been cleaned up, and you’ve submitted a reconsideration request through Google search console.
Your site has thin content
Remember when we mentioned that Google only wants to show the best websites to users? If your site has low-quality content, a.k.a. “Thin Content” in Google-speak, you could be penalized. Thin content includes duplicate content from other websites, content loaded with affiliate links that doesn’t provide a lot of value for users, and automatically generated content.
Your site isn’t mobile-friendly
In 2015, Google rolled out its new mobile-friendly algorithm, which the Internet marketing community quickly dubbed “Mobilegeddon”. This new algorithm gives an additional ranking boost to mobile-friendly websites in mobile search results. While this isn’t exactly a penalty, the effects are pretty much the same. Especially when all of your competitors’ mobile-friendly websites have pushed your website to page two or three. Furthermore, this is even more important now that Google has released their mobile-first index algorithm.
SEO can do wonders in the right hands, but you could get penalized if you’ve “over-optimized” or “overly SEO’d” your site. This type of penalty was first introduced in 2012 with the Google Penguin update and it has been keeping Internet marketers on their toes ever since. Common reasons for an over-optimization penalty include keyword stuffing, too many keyword-rich anchor texts for internal links and overusing H1 tags.
Recovering from a Google Penalty
If you think your website has been penalized, don’t panic. Google isn’t trying to be sneaky. They actually want to give webmasters the chance to fix their site and restore their ranking whenever possible. In fact, some of the biggest sites on the Internet have suffered penalties and recovered (even Google itself!).
Next, login Google search console (or sign up and add your website if you haven’t already), and check your notifications. More often than not, you’ll find a notification letting you know why your site was penalized and what you can do to recover. Finally, if you’re still not sure what to do, contact an SEO company like Post Launch to help you get it sorted.