Google constantly changes its ranking algorithm to give its users access to the most relevant and unique content. They ensure that websites with the finest and valuable articles get the exposure they deserve. During the 2012 Penguin update, they started to eliminate low-quality content and elevated the sites that produced high-quality ones to the top of the search engine results.
As for the pages that contained poor content, they were either pushed further below the search results, or they were deindexed. Since then, webmasters began to be more careful with their content strategy and SEO professionals tuned in to Google updates to ensure that their sites stay on top of the SERPs.
How do I recognize a penalty
Even the most experienced digital marketers are taken by surprise by Google penalties. The search engine may or may not inform you that you have been targeted as these penalties can be automatic or manual. If you notice that your site is not ranking well anymore, even for your brand name, then you might have been targeted.
A clue to look out for is when a high-ranking page of yours starts to slip back to two, three or four pages without any action on your end. Another determinant is that your PageRank has significantly reduced. An unexplained traffic drop is another warning sign from Google.
The most feared of all webmasters are the kind of penalties that would yield no search engine results. When you run a site search and type – site:yourdomain.com keyword on the search bar, but nothing comes up, then you have been targeted by Google. Sometimes, it would even remove an entire website from its cached search results overnight.
Here is an article explaining the different types of Google penalties.
What causes a Google Penalty
Google penalties are not randomly handed out. Since its main concern is to deliver quality websites to its users, penalties often come from websites who fail to comply with the Webmaster Guidelines released by Google. This is the bible of webmasters and digital marketers.
Misuse of Links
Your link portfolio may hold the answer to this question. If you have many links coming from unrelated and low-ranking websites, chances are, you will get penalized. Too many poor-quality backlinks will appear as if you have adopted manipulative link building schemes. These include link buying, excessive reciprocal links and other blackhat link building techniques.
To avoid getting punished by Google, or any other search engines, check your link portfolio and make sure that you are receiving high-quality backlinks. Associating your site with low-ranking and suspicious sites is dangerous.
On the internet, you will see all kinds of dos and don’ts about keyword density in a content. So it can get a bit confusing as to which rule you must apply to. The rule of thumb is to never use keywords excessively. In other words, if Google detects that you are cramming your content with an excessive number of keywords, you will get penalized for it.
Below are other causes for penalties:
Duplicate content – Publishing the same content or plagiarizing another work can be considered as duplicate content. You must publish unique content every single time. Use tools like CopyGator or Copyscape to screen your work for uniqueness and authenticity.
Hidden links – All links on your site should be visible to the users. Hiding links in the source code or changing its color to camouflage the link in the background will only draw negative attention to your site.
Forum Links and Blog Comments – Be careful when using signature links in forums and commenting on blogs. If you are adding a forum link, make sure to use natural and good techniques only. As for commenting on blogs, it would serve you more if you use your real name. Here is a Youtube video of Matt Cutts explaining on how you can comment on blogs safely.
Spun Articles – Spinning is basically stealing a content from another website. Do not pay marketers for cheap articles. If the price is too good to be true, chances are they are not selling unique content. If Google catches up with you, you will be in serious trouble.
What to do if I received a penalty
The most complex part of this endeavor is identifying the root cause of your penalty. Whether you got penalized due to unintentional or manipulative reasons, there is a bright side to this – penalties can be fixed.
You can track your backlinks and manually try to remove each one of them. If you fail to remove a link from a troublesome website on your own, you can reach out to Google and ask to disavow the link. You need to clean up anything that caused the penalty on your site. Once done, you can contact Google and request a reconsideration.
If your page has been completely removed from the search results, and there seems to be no other way to fix the issue anymore, the most valid option is to start all over again and create a new domain name. Once this is done, remember that it would be best to stick to white-hat SEO strategies to avoid getting penalized next time.