Hit by a Google penalty? Don't panic – here’s how you can recover.

Digital360 on 8 May 2017

After you’ve spent all that time, money, and energy on SEO, the last thing you want to hear is that you’ve been hit by a Google penalty.

If Google thinks your site is violating its Webmaster Guidelines or manipulating search engine results (SERPs), Google will jump in and drop you right off its search rank.

If your penalty is manual (in other words, you’ve been banned completely), Google sends you a message to let you know. But there’s no warning if it’s algorithmic- that is, if Google's automatic filters have flagged your site as spam.

It’s always a good idea to be aware of these signs in case you need to start your Google penalty recovery. Here's what to look for:

  • First page rankings have been dropped to the second or third page.
  • Your site has completely disappeared from search rankings.
  • Your landing page doesn’t rank, even if other pages on your site do.

How can you be penalised?

Google penalties can happen with Google algorithm updates, when search ranking factors are shuffled around. The ‘Mobilegeddon’, Penguin, and Panda updates saw a number of sites suddenly dropped from search rankings.

If your company isn’t working with a best-practice SEO agency and you’ve been penalised without warning, it's possible your site has used 'black hat' SEO tactics. These penalties include:

  • Keyword spamming – Google can tell if you've overused keywords, both in and out of context, to try and improve your search rankings.
  • Bad links – Having low-ranking or unrelated links can bring on a penalty, and quick. It’s best to avoid buying links to boost your search engine ranking. Instead, focus on building links with high-ranking, industry-related websites.
  • Cloaking – Creating pages that are highly optimised, and which only search engines can see and are invisible to your visitors, will be flagged by Google. Cloaking is done to boost page rankings without having created quality content.
  • Duplicate content – This happens if Google deems your content as similar or copied from another site. It’s good practice to check using a duplicate content tool to avoid penalty.
  • Ads – While contextual ads (i.e. ads related to your industry or site content) are a great way to generate revenue, be careful not to overload your site. Ad spamming will also be penalised for being user-unfriendly – especially to those on mobile.

You've received a Google penalty – now what?

Google penalty recovery can take a little work, but is absolutely do-able. A practised SEO agency can provide the guidance, support, and expertise to help you identify your penalty, then start the Google penalty recovery process.

But, if you have the time to go it on your own, here are some Google penalty recovery tactics.

Is your issue links?

Your problem may be poor quality outbound links – the links on your site. This is an easy fix: review your content and links. Then remove any that are low-authority or irrelevant. This can also happen if users spam your pages with comments, posting outbound links. Again, these can be deleted easily, and avoided in the future by manually reviewing comments before they're posted.

If you received a manual 'unnatural links' penalty, this could be more tedious to fix. You’ll need to review all of your backlinks – the links around the web pointing back to your site. Export your links using a link quality tool, checking which are doing damage to your rankings. If you don’t own the sites with unnatural links, you’ll have to reach out to the site owners to request it be removed. If this isn’t possible, your next option would be to disavow the poor-quality links.

Is your issue a Google algorithm update?

There are two key algorithms to understand when it comes to major SEO penalties: Penguin and Panda.

Recovering from a Penguin penalty

If you’ve been knocked back by the Penguin algorithm, you’ll want to focus on fixing your links. The fix is much like the manual penalty for unnatural links above. So, simply take the same steps above to review, delete, and disavow any low-authority links. Because the Penguin algorithm targets your good to bad link ratio, you can also recover from the Google penalty by building new links with credible websites.

Recovering from a Panda penalty

Panda penalties aren’t as straightforward – they can happen for many more reasons – but here are the most common issues and fixes:

  • Duplicate content – Duplicate content often triggers a Panda penalty, but recovery is relatively easy. First, plug your domain into a duplicate content tool to find your duplicate pages, then you can either delete the content altogether, or link back to the original page.
  • Keyword stuffing – If you think the problem is your keywords, go through your content to find any keywords that sound forced or aren’t relevant. If they can be deleted, delete them, otherwise see which words can be swapped out with a synonym.
  • Page cloaking – Panda also picks up on cloaking, so if you know your site uses cloaked pages, go through and remove those to help get your rankings back up.

Avoiding future Google penalties

The best Google penalty recovery tip is, of course, to avoid a penalty all together. Sticking to best-practice SEO strategies, whether with a credible SEO agency or alone, is the best way to keep your search rankings up no matter the algorithm or guideline change.

We’re an SEO agency in Melbourne dedicated to outcomes. Want to find out more? Talk to us about your SEO needs.