Get Your Website Back on Track
As Google continues to raise the bar on SEO quality requirements, we’re starting to pick up more and more clients who have been hit with a penalty and lost the bulk of their previous rankings and site traffic. While this is a terrible situation to be in, its also something we have a lot of experience with and we know just how to handle it.
The one thing that never changes when a site has been hit with a penalty is that it takes time. No matter how much work goes into fixing the problem, a change in rankings can’t happen until Google has “seen” those changes and you’ve started to demonstrate positive patterns with a genuine change of habits.
For some great general info about what you should/shouldn’t be doing, check out our blog post – The Best and Worst SEO Tactics for 2014
What Is A Google Penalty?
A Google penalty is a situation where your site is seen to be taking part in manipulative “black hat” tactics and you are either removed from the search results entirely or dropped considerably lower down. Since ranking on page 2 downwards will see you get less than 1% of the potential traffic, this can have a considerable effect on how much business your site generates.
Google’s algorithms are continually getting smarter and more effective at understanding just what your site is about and what you’re doing with it. What they’re really looking for is a clean, helpful site that is easy to navigate and provides great information for visitors and this is really done by looking for positive or negative patterns that your site may demonstrate over time.
If you’re seen to be employing black hat tactics like the ones listed below then there is a good chance you will get penalised and can potentially render your site completely invisible by search users.
- Directory link building
- Blog comment spam
- Over-optimised content
- Over-optimised anchor text
- A large number of backlinks from low quality or irrelevant websites
- Too many ads on your site
- Ads too high up on the page
If you’re using any kind of SEO tactics that exist purely for the sake of your rankings and it provides no real-world benefit to the user then it is typically something that you should avoid. The common question that we ask ourselves is “would we do this if SEO didn’t exist?” and if the answer is no, its time to move on and put that time and effort into something more positive.
Major SEO Penalties You Should Be Aware Of
While Google releases constant minor updates and larger ones on occasion, the two biggest ones that all website owners should know a bit about are known as the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates. Both of these are still being refined in further updates but the aim of each doesn’t change, they’re simply getting better at understanding what you’re up to.
Avoiding these penalties really is as simple as maintaining ethical white-hat practices where the only changes you make to your site are those that make it more helpful for visitors. Remember, as a general rule anything that helps the user will also help your search rankings!
This update focuses on the offsite factors to help determine the quality of your website. Several years ago any link was considered to be a good link and a “strong” backlink profile was simply one that had a high volume of links.
The introduction of this update thankfully forced a drastic change in the SEO industry as it doesn’t just look at how many backlinks you have but also the quality of these links. A small volume of links from powerful and relevant websites will give you far greater value than a large number of directory links or backlinks from irrelevant websites.
Tip: If your backlink profile doesn’t look too good, take a look at our Link Removal page to see how we can help!
Released not too long after the Penguin update, Panda looks at a number of onsite factors to determine how good your visible elements are. It looks for over-optimised (spammy) elements like page content, page titles, meta descriptions, navigation etc.
It also looks for intentionally deceptive behaviour like “cloaking” where users are presented with a different version of your site than the search engines.
How We Fix It
In its simplest form, escaping a Google penalty is a matter of reversing all SEO tactics that have been used across your site. The exact plan of attack will differ depending on your exact situation but in most instances you will be hit by either the Penguin or Panda updates and we deal with them in separate ways:
Getting your site out of a Penguin penalty involves a lot of time looking over your backlink profile to see exactly what has been done and developing a customised plan to get it fixed quickly. Generally we need to:
- Identify the worst of your backlinks
- Contact these poor sites and politely ask that they remove the backlink
- Compile a list of sites to send to Google asking them to ignore the links (disavow)
- Monitor the removal of links and any change in the strength of your backlink profile
- Begin building new, high quality editorial backlinks
Fixing a Panda Penalty
When getting out of a Panda penalty situation we will look at the following factors and put together a structured plan in priority order:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Headings (H1, H2, H3 etc)
- Page content
- Image alt text
- Ad placement
- Page layout and content distribution
- Navigation and internal link structure
- Duplicate content
- User interaction (high bounce race, low time spent on site etc)
If you are unlucky enough to have onsite and offsite issues then this will require a combination of all of the above steps in order of priority and the severity of your situation.
How Long Does It Take?
This is definitely the most common question we get from penalised clients and the truth is that like most things in SEO, its impossible to give a definite answer.
Basically the worse your situation the longer it will take to resolve and Panda penalties are easier to fix than Penguin but it really could range anywhere from 2 weeks to more than 6 months.
What Google is looking for is a consistent pattern of improvement; don’t think that you can simply re-write your home page content and suddenly the Panda penalty is lifted! Truly fixing up your site takes time and Google will continue to cache and index your site throughout this process so if you’re doing it properly it will be quite clear that you’ve changed your ways.
Since you’re relying on Google’s algorithms there really is no way to speed up the process, all you can do is get the priority site updates applied and monitor the results while the smaller tasks are taken care of.
The Fastest Solution to a Bad Penalty
If your site has been hit hard with a penalty and you’re nowhere to be found in the SERPs then it can be faster to start again with a fresh site.
This solution isn’t for everyone and the decision isn’t to be taken lightly but some situations can take more than 6 months to bounce back and the rankings never seem to truly recover 100%. If your site does appear to be one of these unfortunate few, it can be much quicker to build a new site ASAP, optimise it and begin building strong links quickly. This will still take some time since your new site will likely be sandboxed for a while before it even starts to rank but 2 or 3 months is still better than 6!