What’s the first thing you do if your website gets a penalty from Google? If you’re thinking, “take action ASAP,” you’d be correct. While you can’t wave away the penalty with a magic wand, you can take steps to fortify your strategies and improve your content. You may also look into more effective approaches to marketing performance measurement for tracking changes before and after the penalty. But before getting overwhelmed, it’s important to take certain steps to remedy the issue and make improvements to avoid similar penalties in the future. Today, we’re covering all this and more, with topics like:
A Google penalty is a consequence that occurs as a result of bad content marketing tactics that don’t align with Google’s guidelines and best practices. Google triggers penalties in cases of algorithm changes or in situations of “black hat” SEO techniques. These are practices that attempt to cheat Google’s ranking system rather than follow the rules and provide quality content. Keyword stuffing, link buying, and doorway pages are several examples of these tactics.
That said, it’s important to note that a Google penalty is not the same as a Google algorithm update. An algorithm update is when Google changes how its ranking system works, resulting in a website’s ranking dropping, but it’s not because it has been penalized. There are two types of penalties: manual and algorithmic.
A manual penalty is when someone from Google’s spam team reviews your website and decides to penalize it. It happens because you’re breaking one of Google’s webmaster guidelines. An algorithmic penalty occurs when Google’s algorithm penalizes your website. It can happen for various reasons, the most prevalent of which is if your website is judged “low-quality” or “unnatural.”
The effects of a Google penalty can be devastating to your business. A Google penalty can influence your process for marketing performance measurement, especially if you’re running a digital campaign. One of the primary goals of content marketing performance is to increase organic traffic. A decline in organic traffic can result in a drop in lead conversion. As a result, your digital marketing ROI could take a hit. In other words, a Google penalty can directly impact your bottom line. So it’s critical to take action and continue measuring marketing performance.
Understanding the reasons behind any problem is critical in overcoming it, especially true when it comes to the penalty. Without understanding the root cause, you’ll only be able to treat the symptoms, not the problem itself. So, what triggers a Google penalty? These are some of the more common causes:
These guidelines help you optimize your site for Google’s search algorithms. If you’re not following them, your site will likely be penalized. Link building, content creation, and keyword planning are all essential parts of any SEO strategy. But if you’re not following Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, your site might get a penalty.
Poorly written, thin, or duplicated content can result in a penalty. Ensure your content is original and high-quality. Inadequate, thin, or duplicated content can all lead to a penalty. So make sure the content your creative teams produce is original and informative if you want to stay on Google’s good side.
Links from low-quality or spammy sites can hurt your ranking and lead to a penalty. If you use links, ensure they’re high quality, relevant, and come from reputable sites. Don’t link to unrelated sites and avoid too many links with anchor text that’s overly promotional. Semrush has much to say about creating successful linking strategies, and it also outlines what you should be doing to avoid penalties for bad linking:
Image via Semrush
According to the data from Semrush, 53% of cases of google penalization are due to sponsored or paid links. It suggests that if you’re paying for links, there’s a good chance you’ll get a penalty at some point. Guest posts and press releases are also common causes of penalties, accounting for 45% of cases. PBNs and link networks are less common, but they’re still a significant problem, responsible for 27% of penalties.
In the event you get hit with a penalty, don’t despair. There are ways to recover from it. We’ve put together this list of steps to take if you receive a penalty from Google:
The first step in recovery is to figure out what manual penalty you’re dealing with. The best way to find out is to use Google Search Console. If you see a sudden drop in your website’s ranking or traffic with no apparent explanation, then you probably have a penalty. Once in Google Search Console, click “Search Traffic” and “Manual Actions.” If you see any manual actions here, that’s the type of penalty you’re dealing with. You’ll receive charges with an algorithmic penalty if there are no manual actions on the list, such as in the image below:
Image via Ahrefs
You can further confirm this on Google’s webmaster blog to see if there are any recent algorithm updates. If there have been any updates around when you noticed the drop in ranking or traffic, then it’s likely the cause. If you’re still not sure, you can try to contact Google directly. Keep in mind, however, that they may not give you a straight answer. So, if you don’t get a response or the answer is vague, it’s likely an algorithmic penalty.
If you’re facing the process of recovering from a Google manual penalty, it can feel like the end of the world. But, thankfully, getting a manual penalty doesn’t mean complete disaster. Many webmasters submit a request for reconsideration, so it’s important to look into this step if you feel the penalty was in error. Head to Google Search Console and provide a detailed explanation of the changes you’ve made to your site to comply with Google’s guidelines. If Google approves, the penalty goes away.
If Google denies your request, you can still appeal the decision. In this case, you’ll need to fill out an online form with more information about why you believe the penalty is unjustified. Google then reviews the appeal and decides whether or not to overturn the decision.
If Google hit your website with a penalty under a Penguin update, your best bet is to prepare for the next Google update. Google updates Penguin periodically, and when it does, it may lift your website out of the penalty box automatically if you’ve made improvements through your marketing performance measurement. In the meantime, it’s important to continue improving your website. Ensure it complies with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and follows search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. In addition, be consistent and continue to measure your marketing performance metrics.
Read more: The History of Named Google Updates
The next step is to evaluate the impact of the penalty on your website’s traffic and rankings. We suggest doing this through Google Analytics (GA), where you’ll find the performance metrics to measure under the “Acquisition” section. From there, you can navigate to “All Traffic” and review the “Channels” to see traffic from organic search, direct traffic, and referral traffic. If you see a significant drop in any of these channels, that’s likely due to the penalty. Refer to the screenshot below for navigating these GA menus:
Image via Yoast
To get more detailed information on how the penalty has affected your website’s ranking, we recommend using a tool like SEMRush. This tracks your website’s rankings for target keywords and can give you a good idea of how the penalty affects your site.
Once you find out how the penalty impacts your website, take a closer look at your link profile. Your link profile lists all the links pointing to your website and includes both internal and external links. Moz notes that your website’s link profile can influence how search engines see your site. Evaluate your link profile and identify problematic links. Check to make sure low-authority domains or spam sites aren’t pointing back to your site.
If you notice domains unrelated to your niche are pointing back to your content, you can try contacting the website owners and asking them to remove the links. If you have a more significant number of low-quality backlinks or cannot get the links removed, you can always use Google’s disavow tool to tell Google which links you want to be disassociated with.
For everyone who relies on Google for traffic, a penalty can be a hard reality. Whether it’s a manual action or an algorithm change, it can affect your website’s traffic and conversions. So what should you measure to see the effectiveness of your recovery efforts? Here are the essential performance metrics to measure as you recover from a penalty:
By measuring these marketing metrics, you’ll be able to gauge the effectiveness of your recovery efforts and make necessary adjustments to your marketing performance measurement along the way.
As you dig to the root cause of the penalty and track your performance metrics, plan for improvements and changes to your content strategy. Adjusting your marketing tactics can ensure your website gets out of the penalty box and avoids similar issues in the future. Here are several tips that can help with this:
Having a Google penalty is no easy task, but taking the necessary steps to ensure your website’s future success is crucial. By transforming your marketing strategy and paying attention to your marketing metrics you can start remedying the issue.
No business likes to experience a Google penalty. But the reality is that it can happen to anyone. The best way to recover from a penalty is to ensure that your website complies with all of Google’s guidelines. But where do you start? Join our CEO and founder, Dave Snyder, on Search Engine Journal’s Helpful Content Update Webinar. You’ll get the inside scoop and expert insight on the Google Helpful Content update and how you can keep your content marketing strategy on track.
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