A newer problem plaguing website owners is the potential for low-quality SEO efforts to result in a ranking penalty (or an organic “slap”) from Google. This guide covers everything you need to know to avoid a penalty, how to tell if one has affected you, and what you should do to recover from one.
Manual vs. Algorithmic Penalty
Algorithmic penalties happen when Google’s ranking formulas detect strong signals (onsite or offsite) which suggest your site may be of low quality or is employing manipulative practices to rank higher in the search results. Of the two types, this is the easiest one to fix.
A manual penalty happens when a member of Google’s team directly visits your site (after their algorithm has flagged it) and decides to invoke a manual penalty based on their findings. This is typically accompanied by a message such as the “Unnatural Linking Notice” in your Google Webmaster Tools account. For you to make a recovery, you will have to address all site issues, and then submit a reconsideration request. Consulting with an SEO Expert can be help maximize your chances of success.
What Are the Symptoms of a Penalty?
How do you know when you’ve been “slapped”? As detailed above, symptoms may include a sudden drop in rankings & traffic, or even a bold “Unnatural Links” warning message in Google Webmaster Tools. If your site is no longer shown on Google at all (search for your domain name to find out), that’s a strong indication of a penalty.
Our Google Slap infographic (full size at the end of this post) shows the 6 largest factors that can put your site at risk for a penalty. To recap those potential problem areas, they are as follows:
Your site could be at high risk if it contains any spun or duplicated content, poorly written English or grammatical issues, keyword stuffing (especially if it’s worded unnaturally), or simply lacks value for your readers.
Solution: Focus on creating exceptional quality, data-backed content that sparks a genuine interest from your reader base. Avoid the temptation to outsource writing to a low-cost overseas worker. Remove or replace problematic content ASAP.
Be especially concerned if your site is the focus of paid links, “followed” Guestpost links (which violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines), link exchanges, blog comments, most directories, or any links from unrelated or foreign sites.
Solution: A handful of legitimate, quality links provide more benefit than hundreds of unnatural links. Leverage your quality content to earn real links by building relationships with key influencers in your industry. Itemize your low-quality links, then attempt to have them removed. If that fails, disavow them in Webmaster tools.
Note: Only remove / disavow a link if you are confident it is low-quality. If in doubt, first seek advice from someone knowledgeable about SEO best practices.
Targeted Anchor Text:
Google is realizing that numerous inbound links with exact match anchor text (your keyword phrases) often represents an attempt to game the search engines in your favor. These days, this linking practice can create a penalty.
Solution: Avoid specifying the anchor text that linking sites should use (let it form naturally). Update or remove highly-targeted links. Let your future link text develop without intervention.
Is your site “trying too hard” to rank for a keyword? If you’re pulling out all the stops to rank for a phrase, don’t assume Google won’t take notice sooner or later.
Solution: Put user experience first. Craft your titles and content around providing the most helpful, captivating result available for that term, and Google is likely to reward your legitimacy. Edit your existing pages to reflect this mentality.
When you visit a website, do you love seeing more ads than content? If not, then you aren’t alone. Excessive ads, especially ones “above the fold”, increase your risk of a penalty.
Solution: Tweak your ads around quality rather than quantity, and try not to place them within the first few paragraphs. Use your engaging content to “hook” your readers into scrolling down the page, where careful ad placement targets their interests.
Low-Quality SEO Services:
Many SEO providers still use low-quality or spam-based techniques. You could do everything right and still get penalized by their efforts. Some may not even disclose their methods to you until it’s too late.
Solution: Closely watch their efforts, and agree upfront on frequent, detailed progress reports. Choose to only work with experts who are transparent about their methods and have a track record for ranking legitimate business websites.
Preventing a Penalty vs. Fixing One
The old-fashioned adage doesn’t lie: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Remedies for ranking penalties are no different – if you’ve already been hit by a penalty, then recovering your good-standing with Google is far more difficult than taking steps ahead of time to prevent a penalty in the first place.
If any of the previously-mentioned problem areas apply to your site, take action now to fix them. It will help save a host of frustrations in the future.
Do Full Rankings Come Back After a Penalty is Lifted?
With time, it’s certainly possible to make a full recovery. Typically, however, websites tend to remain on a short leash immediately after a penalty is removed. Traffic usually stabilizes somewhere between the pre-penalty figures and where it was during the penalty.
If you have a great SEO foundation to help boost you out of the penalty (using the Google-approved approach, this time), that can help make up for your lagging traffic. It’s critically important to optimize the right way as you move forward. It will be increasingly difficult to convince Google to lift a penalty the second time around.
Recovering from a manual penalty requires you to submit a formal reconsideration request once you’ve done your part to fix the above issues and have all unnatural links removed. An important note is that it’s not enough to simply discredit these links with the Disavow Tool – you must make an attempt to each website directly and ask them to remove your links from their site.
For a reconsideration request to work, you must document each of these attempts and submit that file to Google with your request to prove you have made an honest effort to change your ways. If you have numerous unnatural links, this process can take a bit of time, but it’s what must be done to make a recovery.
Recovery Needs to be Urgent
If your website is a direct source of business revenue, or if it directly influences your perceived level of professionalism when accessed by your potential customers, then it’s crucial to address this problem as soon as feasible.
When profit is on the line, you shouldn’t take any chances. a qualified expert for help in making sure you’re on the right track.
Here’s our full-sized infographic for reference: