You did a few simple things to your website and you got good rankings, visitors and revenue from your website. Then people started to abuse Google by doing dodgy things such as hacking websites and hiding text on websites to try to get top rankings. These techniques worked incredibly well and since then Google has been trying to clean the spam out of the search results.
They’ve introduced more and more sophisticated ways to eliminate spam but in reality they’re really struggling – the search results are as bad as they have ever been and Google’s forums are full of desperate, seemingly innocent people with terrifying stories of how their website has disappeared from Google and how their revenue has dried up overnight.
The current situation is that there are two main automatic penalties that you can be hit with and you can also be hit by a manual penalty that is applied after your site has been reviewed manually by a human being. All of these penalties can be overcome but they require a lot of hard work and a significant amount of pleading with Google!
Before we start, Google generally likes to be a vague and evasive as possible when it comes to penalties and how to deal with them. This is understandable because if they give too much information away then it makes it easy for people try to find a way around what they’re trying to do. But it makes life incredibly frustrating for those trying to overcome a penalty and those of us trying to advise on how to do so. We can’t tell you that if you do X, Y and Z then you’ll overcome the penalty – unfortunately it’s not that clear. But there are some specific things you can do which will ultimately help you get it lifted.
There are two main penalties that are in the headlines at the moment – Penguin and Panda.
Panda is meant to deal with ‘low quality’ websites such as sites that have very little text, have lots of adverts or have copied lots of content from other websites (known as scraper sites).
Penguin deals with websites that have somehow got spammy links pointing to their website such as from blog comments, directories, paid links etc.
Both are algorithmic penalties which means that humans don’t get involved – Google’s computers have evaluated your website and decided that it’s violating their guidelines in some way and marked you down. If a human within Google has looked at your website and decided that it’s violating the rules in some way then you’ll get a notification through Google Webmaster Tools(GWT). If you’ve been hit by an algorithmic penalty then the first you’ll know is when the visitors dry up and you find you’ve dropped out of the results. You generally won’t be notified through GWT.
So the first thing to do is to ensure that you’re registered with Google Webmaster Tools. Even if you’re hit by Penguin or Panda, you’ll need to use GWT to ask Google to evaluate it again after you’ve cleaned up the site and/or the links pointing to it so you might as well get registered now.
If you think you’ve been hit but haven’t had a notification then the first thing to do is to try to work out whether it was Panda or Penguin. Moz keeps a handy list of when various Google updates were made so find out when your traffic dropped and then head over to this page to see if it ties up with any of Google’s updates. Hopefully you’ll find that it’s aligned with a Panda or a Penguin update.
The actual specifics of how to fix a Panda or Penguin affected website would make this article run way too long, so I’d suggest having a look at the following:
For Panda, this is how someone managed to overcome their penalty: http://smepals.com/seo/step-by-step-guide-google-panda-penalty-recovery
For Penguin, take a look here for a more in-depth look at what causes it and how to recover from it: http://www.ecreativeim.com/google-penguin-recovery
By using GWT, you can request that Google re-evaluates your website after you’ve cleaned it and/or the links up. When you do the reconsideration, explain all of the steps that you’ve taken. Google appears to have a god-complex and wants to see that you’ve made an effort to justify them forgiving you.
One final note is about the Google Disavow Tool. If you’ve been hit by Penguin then you can ask Google to ignore specific links that you feel may be hurting your website. This sounds great, but for some reason, Google/god wants you to try to get these links removed manually in the first instance by contacting the website owner and only using disavow as a last resort. Google will also expect you to detail all of your efforts in the reconsideration request to prove that you’re jumping through their hoops. You and I both know that this is an unnecessary pain but in this case Google is judge, jury and jailer so we have no option!
If you’ve made it this far then you may want to think about another alternative – hire an expert to do all this for you! We can recommend some trusted, proven experts to do this so please get in touch.