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Shajith Ali
Shajith Ali

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How to detect and get out of a Google penalty?

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A penalty from Google can be extremely detrimental to your site.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know if you've been penalized, and even more difficult to lift it and make a full recovery.

Let's take a look at the different types of penalties Google hands out, how to tell if your site is suffering a penalty, and what exactly you can do to regain its favor.

It occurs when your website is flagged and given a sanction by a human review team or when it is negatively victimized by an algorithm update (penguin and others).

Google penalties are intended to sanction all SEO techniques that attempt to manipulate algorithms and search engine ranking criteria and factors.

They generally result in the site losing positions, generating fewer visits or, in the worst case, de-indexing it.

They are bad for business , especially for companies whose top ranking website is the main driver of revenue. With the power to dramatically reduce your site's ranking and engine visibility, Google penalties pose a real threat to any project that relies in part on SEO as a lever for gaining visibility.

This guide will give you some advice on how to identify a sanction, avoid it and get out of it.

What is a penalty?

It is a sanction against a site whose content conflicts with the rules imposed by Google. There are two types. The algorithm, given by a computer program, and the manual, given by a human.

Algorithmics

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These are those applied directly by the Google algorithm , without the intervention of human personnel. They are more frequent because they operate in real time and have a greater processing capacity to study hundreds of criteria. They are caused by a signal triggering a specific element of the algorithms.

It does not warn webmasters of the implementation of an algorithmic penalty.

Manuals

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A manual penalty is issued when an anti-spam team employee manually reviews a site and determines that some aspect of the site violates the guidelines.

Google notifies of these actions via the Search Console. On this interface, you will receive a notification telling you that your site has acquired a sanction resulting from an employee verification.

The following are possible causes for the penalties applied:

  • User generated spam.
  • Artificial netlinking to your site.
  • Creating networks like PBNs to manipulate algorithms.
  • Artificial links on your site.
  • Free web host associated with spam.
  • Problem with structured data.
  • Aggressive spam.
  • Hidden images (cloaking).
  • Hidden text or accumulation of keywords.
  • AMP content mismatch.
  • Misleading redirects on mobile.
  • Uninformative text that is of little or no interest.
  • Cloaking techniques or deceptive redirects.

What are their consequences?

They can have more or less important consequences for a site and its visibility.

  • A slight drop in rankings for certain keywords.
  • A sharp drop for some keywords.
  • They can target one page, several, a complete site.
  • A site completely deindexed from the engine.

How do you know if your site is penalized?

If you are penalized manually , you will be notified as the website owner. You will receive a message via the search console explaining all the reasons for which you have been penalized. Along with the notification, you will also get instructions on how to correct the problem and get the penalty lifted.

Once the issues have been resolved and you have successfully processed the reconsideration request, it is able to rank your site normally, without having to start from scratch.

But if you get an algorithmic penalty , then things are more complicated. You need to do an audit and find a correlation between Google's actions, recent algorithmic changes and updates, and poor SEO practices on your site.

How to identify the causes of a drop in traffic?

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There can be different causes for lost visits which are not necessarily penguin penalties or the like. It is important to carry out an audit and a checklist in order to find the real origin of the problem.

  • Consult the search console: it provides a single dashboard for all questions related to the health of your site in the context of SEO. If your site has been penalized manually, you will receive a message advising you of this and giving you specific instructions on how to proceed. In the absence of a message, action on the part of Google can be excluded.
  • Consult Analytics: monitoring your site via Analytics will allow you to have an overall view of what is happening on your site in terms of traffic and Internet browsing.
  • Track your positions: Tracking your site's positions on different queries allows you to identify general ups and downs in positions, and track these changes over given periods. This makes it easy to see if ranking drops affect specific pages, specific keywords or the entire site as a whole.
  • Check the presence of competitors: it sometimes happens that direct competitors appear en masse in the engines and upset a well-established ranking.
  • Seasonality: there are times of the year that are more conducive than others to certain businesses. Special events like the world cup can change the face of the usual visitor curves. A drop in audience can occur without necessarily having as its origin a drop in SEO performance.
  • Assess your recent activity: It's important to assess your strategies and determine if any of your recent activity could be responsible for a sudden change in your site's quality rating. These are not only factors directly related to SEO, but also changes on the site (hosting, technologies, user experience, advertising, popup…).
  • Determine if there has been an algorithm change. If there is no manual action on your site and you haven't changed anything in your strategy recently, your ranking change is likely due to a Google update. Sites keep a list of all algorithm changes, including minor ones, to check if there is a correlation between algorithm changes and your mishaps.

What are the main penalties and how to get out of them?

In order to maintain the relevance of its index , Google has implemented over the years a multitude of criteria to highlight publications that it deems qualitative and downgrade or penalize others, or manipulate its results.

Penguin

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Penguin was another big update in 2012 that reshaped the SEO landscape after its initial release.

Penguin is essentially an algorithmic “bad link” detector. Google rates the overall quality of backlinks, how quickly a website acquires and retains them, and the diversity of a website's backlink profile (anchor names, nofollow, dofollow, high quality, low quality, thematic referrer urls…).

If it determines that your backlink activity is “unnatural,” you will be penalized.

  • Acquisition pattern : buying from mediocre and irrelevant sites, intended to develop an artificial representation of relevance and reputation.
  • Excessive anchors : the use of over-optimized exact anchors in large numbers.

It only affects specific urls . But, since the affected pages are usually the ones with the most backlinks, most sites hit by Penguin still end up losing the vast majority of their traffic.

Today it works in real time and continually deprecates spammy links. They will not have a positive effect on your search rankings.

Any that are purchased, or created to manipulate rankings, are considered “artificial, deceptive or manipulative outbound links” and will be penalized.

Competitors may try to get you a penalty through negative SEO work.

Resolution

Here are some recommendations for getting out of Penguin:

  • Remove all unnatural links.
  • Reduce optimization of anchors you have access to.
  • Dilute the anchors with new, unoptimized ones.

Panda

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Google's main goal is to provide the best results to users . Duplicating or posting low quality is not an optimal experience for users. It rewards good sites while reducing the prevalence of poor ones.

Panda is particularly dangerous because it's a site-wide penalty, which means all of your rankings are affected.

It specifically aims to target sites filled with bad content and devalue them, in favor of the better ones.

Over the years, it evolved into a more global quality search algorithm, which eventually made it into mainstream operation.

Here is a list of causes that can trigger it on content:

  • Thin: containing very little text (i.e. a few words or sentences) and containing no relevant or substantial information.
  • Poor: Containing little or no useful information for readers.
  • Duplicated: copied from another site or from several pages of the same site with identical or very similar content.
  • Untrustworthy: From sources that are not authoritative or verified.
  • Content Farm: Containing a large number of poor pages with no real value to human users. Short articles that cover a wide variety of phrases with the sole purpose of getting rankings on Google.
  • High ad-to -content ratio: ad with very little original text.
  • Blocked sites: which users have chosen to block and which indicate that the site is spam.

Resolution

Here are some recommendations for getting out of Panda:

  • Identify and remove any auto-generated content, poor doorway or affiliate pages.
  • Use e detection software to find any duplicate content.
  • Delete and replace with unique text. Improve those with low word counts and make them more detailed and informative.
  • Invest in the services of a professional copywriter to help you create quality posts.

Cloaking

Cloacking in SEO is a practice of presenting different content to human users and crawlers.

If detected, this is a tactic that can result in the site being completely removed from Google's index.

Resolution

To avoid cloaking , you should always focus on developing valuable content for your audience and making sure the engines will see exactly the same as your audience. Forget all sorts of cover-ups and instead focus on relevance.

Slow loading

The speed of a site has become an important criterion in terms of user experience. Having a fast site increases conversion and optimizes crawl budget. A site that is too slow will be penalized.

Resolution

Using a speed test tool will tell you about any issues that are causing your site to load slowly and what you can do to improve your site speed.

PageSpeed ​​Insights is a tool provided by Google.

If you use WordPress , you can dramatically increase your site speed by using plugins for caching, optimizing your image heaviness, simplifying code…

Broken links

Google always keeps an eye out for updates. That's why it is able to discover the deepest hidden errors of your site. One of these errors is “page 404”, or a broken link. If you have any on your site, Google will think that you don't care about user experience at all or that the content is out of date.

Resolution

You need to scan your site for broken links and fix them.

If the 404 error is caused by a fake URL from another site, you just need to implement a 301 redirect from the fake URL to the right target. The same is true if the broken link is also from your website. If you don't know where to redirect the broken link, it's best to remove it from your page.

Hacked website

Hackers can infiltrate your site to add their own malicious links. They often "hide" this content, which makes it difficult for you to find it, as it is rare to inspect its source code once a site is live.

But Google will spot it and add a notification to hacked pages, causing organic results to drop.

Resolution

  • Quarantine your site.
  • Determine if it is spam, malware or something else.
  • Determine how the hacker gained access to your site.
  • Clean up malicious content and install necessary security features to protect vulnerable areas and prevent hacking again.
  • Ask Google to remove the notification about the hack from your site.
  • Make sure you always have a clean and recent backup of your site in case of a hack.

Spam via users

User-generated spam is poor content commonly found in online forums and comments posted on blogs.

Resolution

  • Identify the pages on your site where users can leave comments.
  • Check them out and delete all inappropriate comments with spammy usernames (viagra, porn, affiliate...), comments with irrelevant links, automated comments, off-topic comments as well as advertisements pretending to be comments .
  • Prevent unmoderated content from appearing on your site.

Keyword stuffing

You can be penalized for keyword stuffing , i.e. having too many keywords or similar expressions in your texts , especially if the phrases are repetitive and impact readability for the reader. The same goes for hidden text, which is a dishonest SEO practice.

Resolution

  • Deleting and rewriting all repetitive paragraphs or containing a lot of keywords.
  • Fix title tags and alt text that contain strings of repetitive words or phrases.
  • Write content that complies with the natural referencing standard in order to improve the quality of your site.
  • Remove any hidden text or make it visible so it's obvious to human users, but also engines.

Mobile non-compatibility

“Mobile friendliness” refers to a number of things like responsive design, properly sized UI elements, loading speed, text readability…

Google can penalize sites that don't have mobile compatibility.

Resolution

Check if your site is mobile friendly with the Google-Mobile Friendly test .

Having a mobile-friendly site means that your site:

  • Does not use technologies not visible on mobile such as Flash Player.
  • Displays text that can be read without zooming.
  • Uses links and buttons that are at an appropriate distance to be easily "clickable".
  • Use of responsive to adapt to different screen sizes.

How long does it take to get out of a sanction?

There is no concrete way to know how long it will take to recover from the lifting of an algorithmic penalty and return to the top of past results. The amount of time it takes to recover will depend on how many positive signals your site sends to Google.

If they sent you a message notifying you of a penalty, there are steps you can take to resolve the issue. Once you have been able to completely fix the issue, your ranking should be restored to its former glory as soon as the index is updated.

  • Find out why you were penalized.
  • Correct the problem.
  • Appeal the manual action and request reconsideration.

If your appeal is rejected , you will receive a detailed explanation of why and what steps to take to resolve the issue. Don't just fix the problem that penalized your site. Take the opportunity to remedy any other potential violations. Do the maximum work before sending your resubmission request in order to demonstrate your good faith and have it lifted.

If you would like more in-depth advice on this subject, or if you are the victim of a penalty, do not hesitate to contact us.

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