It might be very obvious if your website has been hit by a Google penalty – you may have been removed from the index altogether! Alternatively you might have observed a less dramatic but still damaging effect, like a decrease in rankings or traffic. Obviously, whichever scenario, you will want to investigate why and how this has happened.
Here is a brief overview of the type of penalties a website might be affected by and also what you can do to find out whether you have been hit by one.
What are the different kinds of Google penalties?
The first type of penalty, often called a “slap”, is essentially a side-effect of an algorithm update. The original Panda update in 2011 was targeted at low quality sites or websites with “thin” content. Following the Penguin update sites with a large number of overoptimised links may have seen a decrease in rankings/traffic. It is a good idea to keep track of these updates and think about how they might possibly affect your website so you can prepare.
A manual penalty, on the other hand, is a much more definite outcome. This is when Google has actually visited your website and it has then been flagged for spam or other practices to do with design, content, links etc. that go against their Webmaster Guidelines.
Have you received a manual penalty?
If you have received a manual penalty you should see a notification in your Webmaster Tools account in the Site Messages area. We have previously written a detailed post about removing a manual link penalty.
Has your website been affected by a Google algorithm update?
If you fear you may have been hit by an algorithm update you can take the following steps in order to gain more of an understanding of your situation:
- Are you still indexed?
Use the site command; “site:yourdomain.com”. This should give you a quick indication of your indexed pages. For a more reliable test you can log into Webmaster Tools and don’t forget to double check your robots.txt file for any errors.
- Check Google Analytics
Do you spot any drops in traffic unusual for the time of year?
- Check Panguin
Panguin is a tool that will overlay known algorithm update dates onto your Analytics traffic graph. This may help you to pin point any potential problems and where your traffic change and algorithm updates may intersect.
- Check MozCast
MozCast measures the change in search results. A high reading (or temperature) indicates a high level of flux and this can mean algorithm changes.
- Check Twitter
Seen nothing on Panguin and nothing definite on MozCast? Try taking a look on Twitter. If there is much fluctuation you can guarantee that some of the experts will be talking about it. You may want to check the following accounts for any news:
And if it’s really serious, the head of Google’s webspam team: Matt Cutts