How to handle a Google penalty

Small business website worries – How to handle a Google penalty

Just before Mother’s day Google decided to apply a penalty to Interflora which resulted in it effectively disappearing from Google’s results for highly lucrative terms such as “Florists”, “Flowers”, “Floral Gifts” and even “Interflora”. It was a disaster for them and while they haven’t made any public comment, it must have had a significant effect on them financially.

Why did Google decide to remove them from their index? They won’t say, but some sniffing around has found that it was because Interflora were aggressively trying to maintain their #1 rankings and in the pursuit of that, they broke Google’s rules and so Google decided to make an example of them.

Essentially what happened is that they paid a number of newspapers to write advertorials about them and include a link back to the Interflora website. The more high quality links pointing to your website, the higher you’ll rank. Unless, of course, you’ve paid for them and Google finds out in which case they’ll chuck you out of the results even if it’s coming up to one of the most lucrative days of the year for you!

So Interflora have learned their lesson and Google has made businesses sit up and perhaps think twice about their link building and SEO practices. Luckily Interflora had the resources to deal with the fall-out, remove the links and are now sitting back at the top of the rankings – although perhaps a little bruised and out-of-pocket.

However, small businesses over the last two years have really taken a battering from Google – the Panda and Penguin algorithm changes have penalised huge numbers of websites – many of which have been unable to recover and have ditched their website and started again. If you paid for links or even paid for some cheap, seemingly legit, search engine optimisation in the past then there’s still a chance that Google will apply a penalty in the future because they are continually “improving” their algorithms.

The good news is that it’s possible to recover from a Google penalty but the bad news is that it’s not trivial and will require an investment in either cash or in time.

However, in the first instance, make sure that you’re registered with Google Webmaster Tools. If you do have a manual penalty applied then you’ll be notified through this and then you can start to take action.

If you’re hit by a Penguin or Panda update then you won’t be told directly but you’ll be able to tell by looking at your visitor stats. If the drop in rankings (and traffic) occurs at the same time as an algorithm update (which you can see here) then you can be fairly sure you’ve been hit by one of them. At that point, unfortunately, it’s time to call in an SEO agency to either provide recommendations on how to fix the penalty or, depending on the agency, to fix it themselves.

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