Receiving a penalty from Google is a nightmare. It is one of the worst things that could affect any website and its position in the SERPs. However, you still have the chance to redeem your site’s position and traffic in the search results.
A boatload of patience, solid time & effort, and a compelling strategy is all that’s demanded of you.
This guide will help you understand the different facets of a penalty, right from identifying factors that got you hit to recovering from the holds of a penalty.
Before we move on to discussing Google penalty and penalty removal, let’s think back on the aspects that roused Google to issue the painful penalties, both, Manual and Algorithmic.
Ranking on Google was no big deal THEN. You could just throw in keywords in your content as you like, create as many pages as you want on your website with thin content (yet rich in keywords), create excessive H1 tags, build huge amount links from private blog networks, manipulate your page rank with paid & reciprocal links, use exact match anchor texts and money keywords while building your link profile and the list goes on and on. Yes, I’m referring to Google’s Pre-Penalty era; the era where websites ranked like never before, and it was the very same era that website owners feared the most since it triggered Google to come up with two devastating algorithmic updates- Penguin and Panda.
Since then Google became highly concerned with its users and wanted to provide them with nothing less than legitimate and accurate content. But before we move on to the Post-penalty era, you need to know more about the kind of false practices that were followed to make a website climb up the search engine ladder.
Post-penalty era was the game changer. Websites that topped SERPs crumbled over a night when Google tweaked its algorithms in order to provide its users with the best of what’s available on the web. The consequence was a PENALTY! Google simply chose to penalize the websites that were pretending to be genuine by dropping their rankings from the SERPs and it even went a step further to wipe out certain websites entirely from the search. Nonetheless, Google never overlooked websites that were adding true value to the SERPs, by an extension of which, it elevated those sites’ ranking on the search page. When the search engine improved its algorithm, it did pave the way for a traffic drop but that doesn’t mean you’re completely dead and gone. You can still come back to life, for which, you first have to identify WHAT caused the drop in traffic.
Penalty doesn’t denote a single inappropriate aspect on your website. It’s multifaceted. Sometimes, you will just notice that your Page rank has gone to zero (PR hasn’t been updated since then), traffic has dropped only for a single page or exclusively for your target keywords, several de-indexed pages and lastly, chances are, your entire site might get de-indexed.
Once you’re hit with a penalty, recovering from it is a meticulous task. But before that, you need to identify the type of penalty that has knocked out your site.
Types of Penalty
Google’s penalty can either be Manual or Algorithmic. In general, your site might get penalised for one of these two reasons- one, if you are artificially trying to manipulate your website’s ranking on the SERPs and two, if your site does not intend to offer any sort of value to its target audience, then you must have definitely been hit by a penalty.
If you have been issued with a Manual penalty, then it means that someone from Google has personally scrutinized your site and found out that you have breached the webmaster’s guidelines (one or more). Unlike an algorithmic penalty, where you have to wait for the results, manual penalty gives you an opportunity to directly connect with the webmaster and submit a reconsideration request to get the penalty removed.
You also have the biggest advantage of showing Google the efforts that you have put to repair your site. Every single effort that you put to recover the site from penalty has to be documented as Google wants to see the measure taken by you to repair the penalized site
When you don’t get any such notifications (check Google Webmaster Tools) and moreover if you are suffering a severe traffic drop, then it goes without saying that your website has been slapped by an Algorithmic penalty. Panda and Penguin are the two types of algorithmic penalties. To know more on both the algorithms read through the following links.
Introducing Panda and Penguin: Basics
|Panda is purely associated with the content. Websites with low-quality on-page content that doesn’t add value to both the site and its users will be affected by the Panda algorithm.||Penguin is quite the opposite of Panda and usually affects a site that has manipulated its link profile by over-optimizing both backlinks and anchor text distribution.|
You will be hit by Panda, if…
Ø You have blatantly over-used keywords within your on-page content, title tags, meta descriptions, H1 tags, image tags, URLs, and even in your blog
Ø You have unnaturally stuffed your content with keywords. Of course, you need to use keywords in your on-page content (which is a facet of optimization) but the problem arises when you cross the limit. This is called keyword stuffing and spamdexing.
Ø You have more number of pages with thin and low-quality content. This also includes duplicates. Long contents always have value but if you’re going to spin your article, then again, you are eligible for a Panda penalty.
You will be hit by Penguin, if…
Ø You are buying links from all sources possible
Ø You are acquiring links from irrelevant sources (out of your niche)
Ø You are going only behind optimized terms and money keywords for your anchor texts (basically, a clickable link)
Ø Your anchor text distribution looks unnatural
Ø You are getting links through PVBs (Private Blog Networks)
Ø Commenting in blogs and forums without any genuine intention to contribute to the ongoing conversation
Now that you have a basic understanding of both the algos, let me also tell you there’s LOT more to it other than genuine content and a good link profile.
We just discussed that Panda penalty filters a site with low and thin content from the Search. Of course, it does. But, that is not the prime factor for your site’s traffic drop. Remember that the rationale behind your traffic drop need not always be Panda and Penguin. Yes, you did hear me right! A site’s traffic might drop due to several reasons. And, you also have to know that traffic keeps fluctuating all the time. So, do not fear a penalty the minute you see a drop in traffic. What is expected of you is to analyze and find out the exact cause that paved way for these drops and downs.
Am I hit by a penalty?
|Unless your site suffered a COLOSSAL drop in traffic and if that drop did not happen ALL OF A SUDDEN; you can breathe a sigh of relief and be assured-You are not hit by both Panda and Penguin.|
By the way, there are few SEO experts who do not consider Panda as a penalty and they prefer referring to it as an “algorithmic filter”. This is because, unlike Penguin that completely removes your site from the face of the search engine, Panda is more merciful. It still chooses to retain you within the search boundary yet keeps you at a greater distance. So recovering from Panda is not as nightmarish as recovering from a Penguin penalty would be.
What are the other reasons that might have welcomed / or will welcome Panda?
Ø If your site’s speed is too low, then it will definitely hinder user experience and anything that hurts users experience will welcome Panda.
Ø When your site takes quite a lot of time to load, you can’t expect users to sit and wait but to leave in no time.
Slow site speed is invariably proportional to quicker bounce rate.
Ø You got to be careful while placing ads on your website. Too many ads will eat away the main text area and will end up annoying users.
By annoying users, you’re upsetting Panda.
Ø If yours is a brand that is entirely based online and traffic is your main source of survival then you better create a trustworthy site; one that stands on your behalf, and earns recognition and adds to your reputation.
Ø Irrelevancy within your site is yet another factor that has greater potential to get your site knocked out.
Ø Check (with GWT) if your site is affected by any malware. If yes, then better fix it at the earliest before Panda catches a glimpse of it.
And there’s more!
How to identify a Panda algorithmic hit?
If you feel that your site is susceptible to any of the above (or all of the above) mentioned pitfalls accompanied by a seemingly dropping traffic, then either check your traffic data from Google Analytics or get the help from penalty checking tools – exclusively available for your salvation.
*(If you still don’t see any warning from Panda, take a deep breath and start working straight away before you get slapped with one).
The following links will support you with detailed steps and methods:
How to rectify and recover from a Panda penalty?
Rectifying and recovering from a Panda penalty applies for those sites that are already slapped and those sites that await a slap from the search engine maestro. Your acts of redemption not only makes your site search engine friendly but most importantly user-friendly since the search engine itself votes for the later. Like mentioned above, sites that were hit by Panda have the super advantage of getting ranked in the search as well as improve their rankings in the SERPs. Here’s a list of what exactly you have to do to redeem yourself from Panda:
1) On-page analysis:
Unlike Penguin, Panda is all about elements that are “on-page”. When you are trying to untie the knots, you first have to sort out the factors that got you muddled up. Get into the shoes of your target audience and look at your website from their eyes. Identify areas that need a facelift and start working towards creating a website that meets the requirements of its END USER.
Please keep in mind that you need to revamp your site for your target audience and not for the search engines and this is exactly what Google also demands from you. Simply because, Google cares about its users and it wants you follow suit.
What are you to trying to convey? Are you conveying it properly?
Ø Firstly, know that CONTENT is the only option that you have in hand to directly converse with your audience cum potential customers ( in the case of service providers) / followers (in the case of blogs).
Ø Also, never forget that it is this content that stands on your behalf. Imagine creating a loose content that does not clearly convey the services that you offer, one that fails to talk about the service itself and keeps bragging about your brand? Will the end user benefit? Will they come back for more info? When the end user does not come back, will you get enough click-throughs? And, if you don’t get enough click-throughs, can you rank well on Google? Think!
Ø Convince your customers through your content. Create valuable and beneficial content that will lure customers back to your site.
Ø Duplicates and thin content- certainly you need to weed them out. But getting rid of this threat alone will not relieve you from the penalty.
Ø Beef up your thin content and strengthen it as much as you can. While this might not be practically possible if you have too many pages with thin content, removing them is the safest alternative left in hand.
Ø How have you been blogging so far? Not necessary that you have to be a full-time blogger; even as a service provider, you can attract quite a lot of traffic through blogging. Stay away from spinning content and remember that you’re already slapped or will be slapped if you manipulate your content.
2) On-page Optimization:
Ø Creating pages and pages of candid content will not help you skyrocket the search engine. Well, you have to spend some time and effort optimizing your sites for the web.
Ø Prefer using Latent Semantic Index keywords (LIS) instead of short term keywords and be clever in your keyword usage. Since the concept of keyword density seems to slowly fade away, all that you can do is to be fair enough while using keywords in your main text area.
Ø Never stuff keywords in your title tags, meta descriptions, and H1 tags. Prefer using your primary keywords over here.
Ø How strong are you in internal linking? Though Penguin is solely dedicated to links; internal links are also very important to boost the value of your content. And anything that is concerned with content is related to Panda.
Ø The number of pages on your website equally matters. As much as you concentrate on removing duplicates from the site, also give equal significance in creating a decent number of pages. You might have crisp and genuine content but if it is a single page website, there is very little chance for it to show up on the search.
3) Content Strategy:
Ø We all know that content is the backbone of a website. But a content that lacks strategy will get you nowhere.
Ø When it comes to strategizing, you need to investigate the purpose (that is) hidden behind the content, who are its audience, the manner in which it should be crafted and the final shape your content takes decides your fate.
Ø If blogging is one way you rely on driving traffic to your website, then create a strategy and maintain a content calendar. Research for trending topics related to your niche and guess its success rate. Also, check the topic’s life on social media- the number of shares, likes and the re-tweets it gets. Only then must you embark on the writing process.
> Understand the pulse of your audience while creating content; be it for the ‘Service’ page or blog. Many of your to-be customers might want to use your service but not necessary that they should possess a complete understanding of your niche. Now it’s your duty to give them that basic understanding. Terms that are familiar to you might sound as jargons to them. So be mindful of your users.
When they don’t comprehend what you’re trying to convey, they will simply choose to leave you (neither are they going to return). This is why, it is reiterated over and over that you should always keep your audience in minds while working on your website.
4) List of SEO tools for Panda:
Tools make your life easier. We have just mentioned a few from the huge list out there. Here you go:
Ø Keyword research Tools:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Trends
- Google.com (in the incognito window)
- SEMrush (for competitor intelligence as well)
- Quora – look for topics with more upvotes (for keyword ideas)
- Facebook & Twitter (keyword ideas and also to understand the pulse of your audience base)
Ø Content related tools:
- Copyscape (plagiarism and duplicate content checker)
- Text Cleaner (helps in formatting)
- Similar Page Checker (check duplicates)
- Outdated Content Finder
- Content Strategy Helper
- Content Marketing Checklist etc.
Ø SEO tools:
- Website Penalty Indicator
- GetListed (scores your SEO visibility)
- Moz Bar
- Internet Marketing Ninja Tools
- MozCast (know if / when Google is testing its Algorithm)
- SEO Toolbar
- SimilarWeb etc.
Links were mostly “bought” before Google could unleash one of its painful penalties, Penguin. Once Penguin was out it in the open, people felt that its confederate Panda was way more merciful and compassionate. In general, both the penalties slapped sites that were breaching the Webmaster’s guidelines, though Penguin differed by giving a tight slap. The Penguin algorithm targeted those websites that were gaming the search engine by manipulating their link profile and making it “seem” healthy and natural.
“Link acquisition” and “Link prospecting” were unheard off / consciously neglected.
Removing unhealthy websites (that had bad backlinks and low-quality links) from the Search was the prime motive of this algorithm. Consequently, sites that legitimately “acquired” links were pushed to the forefront.
Unlike Panda that just “filtered” sites, Penguin strictly WIPED OUT undeserving sites from the Search.
The road to recovery demands solid effort and a boatload of patience. Before we move on to recovery, first let’s identify the factors that got you slapped by Penguin.
How to identify a Penguin slap?
Identifying Penguin is simple though recovery is highly time-consuming. Penguin is only bothered about your link profile, i.e. the kind of backlinks you have built, the quality of those built backlinks and of course, your anchor text usage. If your link building strategy is not up to the mark or if you don’t have one such strategy at all, then you must have certainly been hit by Penguin.
Following is a checklist to identify whether you are hit by Penguin:
Ø If your site’s traffic and position in the SERP seems to have tumbled out of the blue, then you might be suffering from a Penguin attack.
Ø With the help of link profile checkers, analyze your backlink profile, anchor text distribution, backlink breakdown and similar features that reflect the current state of your link profile.
Link Profile Checker Tools:
Ø These tools will reveal your backlink data and your anchor text usage. So this should be more than enough to find if your link profile looks unnatural, hence slashed by Penguin.
Ø In case you’re still unsure, make use of Penalty checking tools that will diagnose your website’s link profile. As most of these tools are integrated with your Google analytics or GWT account, thus provided results are trustworthy.
List of Penalty Checking Tools:
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Google Analytics (track your traffic)
- Panguin (Identifies which Penalty you’ve been hit by)
How else to identify:
Ø You might create likeable and shareable content to organically drive traffic yet see no results.
Ø Optimization and SEO also fail to drive traffic and your website adamantly refuses to climb the search engine ladder.
Ø Failing to rank for any of your targeted keywords including your primary keywords.
Ø Even building relevant and good quality links don’t help in bringing your site back to life.
Ø Your site is stock-still to all your efforts.
By now, you should have accepted the fact that Google has penalized your website with the worst of its algorithm, Penguin. Get set to rectify and recover.
How to rectify and recover from Penguin?
Recovering from Penguin is more of a procedure than a process. It doesn’t happen over a night. Google has to approve that you have cleaned your backlink profile and balanced your anchor text distribution. Convincing Google is no joke!
Prior to rectifying the factors that earned you a slap, know what those factors are.
a) Bad backlinks and Low-quality links:
– Links from completely irrelevant sources
– 404s and 410s
– Paid links and Reciprocal links
– A boatload of links from directories and PVBs
– Forum links where your brand hasn’t shown any kind of participation
– Links from websites that have poor domain authority
– Links acquired using money keywords
– Links from another country website (those not within your target market) etc.
– Links from meaningless blog commenting and placing an optimized link leading to your website
– External footer links
b) Unnatural Anchor text distribution/usage:
– Over optimizing by targeting money keywords
– Failing to create a diverse anchor text distribution
– Using only optimized terms as anchor texts
c) Link distribution: If most your backlinks are leading to either your Homepage or Services page, then you’re in for trouble.
|Note: Removing bad backlinks alone will not improve your rankings in the search result instead you need to build links alongside your link removal strategy. Balancing both is the best way to loosen Penguin’s hold on your site.|
Removing bad and low-quality backlinks is the only option you have in hand to recover from Penguin.
You might wonder, “Why not directly disavow?” – The answer is, Google expects YOU to put some effort in dealing with the bad backlinks. (That you either self-built or let another shady SEO firm do it on your behalf)
Steps to get started with your Link removal campaign!
Step 1 > Using one of the link profile checker tools, download your backlinks data. Also, download the same from the GWTs. —
Step 2 > Analyse and identify the bad and low-quality links that welcomed Penguin. Also, run the backlinks for duplicates.
Step 3 > You can remove certain bad backlinks that you built by yourself provided you still have your login details. (In the case of forums, web directories, article submission directories, microsites and blog commenting)
Step 4 > Start collecting the contact details of websites owners through Whois.net. If it is a legitimate site, then contact details should be available. But you can’t expect the same from low-quality sites or sites that were consciously allowing spam.
Step 5 > Reach out to the websites owners and request them to remove the backlink (s) leading to your site. It’ll be great if you can paste the URL of the to-be-removed link along with your email.
Step 6 > Wait till the website owners get back to you but don’t waste time. Now is the right time to turn your attention towards LINK BUILDING. Having learnt a tough lesson, start building quality links from relevant and authority sources.
Step 7 > On the other hand, you can’t hold onto your patience until you get a reply for all the emails you sent. You don’t even have a guarantee that all of your backlinks (you can’t get this ambitious) or at least half of your bad backlinks will get removed. Go ahead and just disavow.
But as far as you can, try and get a maximum number of links removed. Disavow the rest.
Link removal is laborious and that’s why you have link removal tools and services waiting to extend a helping hand. Most of these services also help you with the outreach part.
List of Link Removal Tools:
List of Link Removal Services:
Ø Rmoov (not sure if it’s a tool or a service)
Ø Remove’em (Tool and Service)
Ø Monitor Backlinks (Outreach is not taken care of)
List of other SEO tools for Penguin:
- Domain Hunter Plus
- Ontolo (Remove duplicates)
- Broken Link Checker
Read through the following links for more info on Penguin:
Fixing Google penalty (ies) will not shoot up your ranking in the search results. Of course, you’ve apologized to Google but that is not to going to restore your lost traffic and top position in the SERPs, especially if you suffered a Penguin algorithm.
Until Google refreshes Penguin, you might not see your traffic graph make any movement or might experience a slight movement that does no good to drive traffic to your site. Now this is why Google is trying its best to make Penguin a real time update.
To start driving traffic, you need to add value to your site and that’s just isn’t enough. You need to work towards building your site as an authority in your niche. And for that, you need to kick start your link building campaign which is of paramount importance to Google.
Post-penalty, you must be completely aware of the kind of links that you got to build to make your site search-engine friendly.
Even a good link can turn toxic if you fail to build it the right way. Likewise, you also can convert a not so good link into a quality link. Let’s see how to play the game simple and clever.
For instance, consider directory links,
While this is highly debatable, you still have the potential to turn a directory link into a high-quality link from an authority site. You need to
– Make sure if the directory is relevant to your industry.
– Check if the directory is a genuine one with good PA and DA.
– If there are leading e-magazines in your industry, chances are most of them will welcome directory registrations. Apart from merely registering, you can also go ahead and submit press releases, product update news, product-related videos, pdfs, and if they have a forum; well add value and earn a valuable link back to your site.
Let your content answer people’s query. Give your audience what exactly they want through your content. Be it in your own blog or through guest blogging.
– Even if the content is uploaded in your own blog, there is an opportunity to acquire a good amount of backlinks to your site. Wondering how? The answer is SOCIAL SHARING.
– If you have already created a trustworthy social profile, then “good” content will go viral.
Links built through social shares are considered natural. The more natural a link is, the more powerful it is.
– There are so many industry specific social media platforms apart from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Identify those platforms and acquire backlinks to your domain.
– Besides, your social ‘profile’ link itself has value.
However, you can convert this good link into a toxic one by manipulating your anchor texts and stuffing your content with optimized terms directing to a single service page. It is up to your anchor text usage whether you are building a good link or polluting your link profile.
More such clever practices on the links below:
As much as you concentrate on identifying quality sites for link acquisition, do give equal importance to the different types of links that you build during your campaign. Beating around the bush will hurt your link building efforts. Targeting high-quality links alone is practically impossible and it is not the smart way to enhance your site’s ranking on the web. Mediocre links will also drive constant traffic if they are a part of a broad link profile. Maintaining equilibrium matters a lot.
Yet another aspect that you can’t afford to skip particularly while discussing the diversity of links is Anchor text distribution. In fact, both the concepts go hand in hand. Creating a diversified link profile along with a clever usage of different types of anchors will help you skyrocket the search engine rankings.
Before Google could out roll out Penguin, anchor text spamming was at its peak. People purely went behind optimized terms and money keywords to build links. Since they (consciously/ unconsciously) ignored the significance behind these anchors, the high quality links that they built was also washed away by Penguin.
Once slapped by Penguin, they were left with no choice but to remove links from authority sites also, mainly because of their anchor text misuse. GotchSEO’s epic guide is a must-read to master anchor text distribution and rule over the search engines.
The following list will guide you in creating a diversified link profile:
Case studies are primarily meant for the masses; those victimized by a penalty and those who escaped one. Every case study contains practical methodologies from which people either suffered a penalty or relieved themselves from the penalty. These case studies are more of a testimony than a general must-follow tips and strategies where the success rate is most-often uncertain. So, here’s a list of penalty recovery case studies to guide you in your penalty removal process.