Has Your Website Been Penalized by Google? How You Can Fix It

Google aims to match its users with content that best answers their questions and search requests. To accomplish this goal, Google’s search engine usually changes an does an algorithm update which finetunes the process.

Google updates are generally met with anxiety because marketers don’t know which of their current practices will take a hit. Months of work can go up in smoke and your site can be taken out of the search index in the blink of an eye. It’s the period when everyone in the SEO space is kept on their toes.

What does it mean to be penalized by Google?

Google punishes sites that don’t conform to its rules of marketing practices. If you use Black Hat SEO tricks or have poor content, your site may be weeded out. This can happen by either a manual penalty (done after a manual review) or an algorithmic penalty (done after an algorithm update).

Sometimes it’s easy to predict what the new update may contain, but most times it’s not. Google may decide that an SEO best practice in the past is no longer feasible. It’s a game of chance and marketers should be ready to adapt to every update.

How to know if you’ve received a penalty

The earlier you find out if your site has been hit with a penalty, the earlier you can fix it. In case of a manual penalty, you’ll receive a letter of explanation via Google webmaster tools. Unfortunately, with algorithmic penalties, it’s more difficult.

An algorithmic penalty can either lead to a drop in the amount of traffic your site generates for a keyword or a drop in page ranking. If you see that the search volume for a particular keyword hasn’t changed so much, but your traffic has drastically reduced, you may have been penalized.

Also, if your page ranking used to be on the top spot for a keyword and suddenly drops to the bottom or the next page, it may be due to a penalty. It’s important to note that you can lose traffic and page ranking due to other reasons that have nothing to do with the algorithm.

Other ways to know if your site has been hit:

  • When you try to search for your site using site:yourdomain.com, you don’t get any results.
  • Your site no longer ranks for your brand name.

Why your site has been penalized by Google

There are many reasons why your site can face a penalty, some of them are:

1. Keyword stuffing

Along with Google’s 2011Penguin update came the possibility of being de-indexed due to keyword stuffing. In a bid to rank for a certain keyword, you may become overly enthusiastic about mentioning it all over your article. This high-keyword density, whether intentional or not, can get you penalized by Google.  

A good alternative is to use LSI keywords, which are words and phrases that are closely related to your main keyword. The Google algorithm checks for context, not just words, so this will help it better understand how relevant your content on a certain topic is.

2. Buying backlinks

This is one of the most common black hat SEO practices. Taking this shortcut can lead to buying bad links, and it can affect your ranking. On the bright side, only the pages with bad backlinks will be affected, not the entire site.

3. Copied content

Duplicating or plagiarizing content from another site will get your site penalized. All your content should be original to avoid this punishment.

4. Hidden content and links

It’s not a good idea to use the color of your page background as your anchor text color.

Hidden links and content on your pages can come off as suspicious. The search engine may take it as a way of trying to mask black hat practices and penalize you for it. If you have any hidden links, get rid of them.

5. Internal error pages

While 404 pages are getting increasingly colorful and creative, users don’t like them, and neither does Google. The search engine is focused on ensuring that readers have good user experience and get satisfactory content according to what they search. So if your page contains a lot of internal errors, it may assume that your page can’t show the answers that users need.

6. Confusing use of heading tags

Heading tags have a hierarchy from h1-h6. They organize your site so that when Google crawls it, it knows what the main heading and subheadings are.

This helps it to rank your page according to the relevance of your content. If your h-tags are used in a confusing way, it becomes confusing for the algorithm. For example, the h1 tag tells Google what the main heading is for a particular page. Using h1 multiple times on a page creates confusion on what the page is talking about.

7. Excessive link exchange

Too many reciprocated links, i.e., linking t,o sites and having them link back to you, comes off as suspicious. To Google, it may seem like an attempt at a black hat link building practice. If it’s not done in moderation, you may be penalized.

8. Building bad links

Linking to sites that contain malware, spam ads, or any illegal content can taint your site. This will also happen if you link to sites that have been penalized by Google or contain many errors. You should check your links regularly and make sure that they still work and lead to reliable sites.

9. Spam comments on your site

Allowing spam comments on your site or being associated with spam content posted on other sites can earn you a penalty. You should pay more attention and comb through your pages to get rid of them so that you don’t lose your ranking.

10. Excessive use of outbound links

Using too many outbound links in a post makes you look like you’re exchanging a lot of links to boost your page ranking. The algorithm may not be able to tell if it’s intentional or not and you may get penalized.

What to do when your site has been penalized

To fix a Google penalty, you can file a reconsideration request to be re-included in its search index. While sending your request, there are three things you must include if you hope to be considered.

  • Give a fully detailed explanation of every issue that’s wrong with your site.
  • Describe every step you’ve taken to fix the issues.
  • Attach documents that show the steps. If you had to remove bad links, show documentation that proves it. If you removed poor content, then show proof that you replaced it with better content.

 

If your reconsideration request isn’t approved, you may have to move to a new domain. Black hat SEO tricks may feel like a smart move, but it ends up being a waste of time and money when you get caught. The process of getting your site to rank can be slow and tiresome but doing things the right way will pay out in the end.

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About the Author: Gregg Anderson

Gregg Anderson

Gregg is principal and senior advisor of 41 Orange.

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