An unexpected drop in your website’s positioning within search results is a possible sign that you have been hit by a penalty. Such a drop could have a serious impact on your business, so it is of utmost importance to determine what kind of penalty was imposed (and why) in order to rectify the problem as quickly as possible.
Knowing why Google penalties are issued, what they are, what signs you should look out for and how to recover from penalties is therefore imperative.
Why Google issues penalties
Google’s mission is to provide internet users with the best, most accurate, relevant and useful information online. As such, the way sites are ranked is continually updated and improved. While this is undoubtedly fantastic news for users, website owners are faced with a constant battle to meet Google’s guidelines, which currently requires them to invest a great deal of time and effort into the usefulness and quality of their sites’ content, achieving outstanding brand exposure and gaining top-quality external links. Penalties are issued to websites failing to meet these guidelines or considered to be of low quality.
Types of Google penalties
There are two distinct types of penalties, algorithmic and manual:
Algorithmic penalties: These penalties typically occur shortly after updates/changes to ranking algorithms (the two biggest and most significant of which were the Panda and Penguin updates). Website owners are not notified of these penalties.
Manual penalties: These penalties are usually issued if Google detects something that breaches their Webmaster Guidelines on your site. Site owners are often notified of manual penalties. Notifications typically include the reason a penalty was issued.
Signs of penalties
Your site may have been hit by a penalty if your:
- Site stops ranking well
- Site’s page rank unexpectedly drops down to zero
- High positions within search results start dropping away for no apparent reason
- Site cannot be found anywhere within search results
A penalty notification from Google is, of course, an unmistakable sign that your site was hit by a manual penalty.
Top reasons for penalties
The Panda updates were designed to reward sites with high quality content (by ranking them higher) and crack down on sites of low quality. Penalties based on these updates may be issued for a site having:
- Duplicate content (large amounts or passages of content that can be found on other sites)
- Thin or poor quality content (less than 250 to 300 words of valuable, unique content)
Making sure your content is unique, original, informative and at least meets the minimum word count as shown above helps to avoid Panda-related penalties.
Penguin-based penalties are usually issued to crack down on sites utilising spammy techniques in their link building efforts. Such penalties may be issued when a site contains ‘unnatural’ reciprocal links (sites teaming up with reciprocal links for better rankings); links from so-called ‘link farms’ or excessive use of specific keywords within the anchor text of links.
Manual penalties may be issued if your site contains unnatural links; has been hacked or is:
- Stuffed with keywords
- Not mobile friendly
- Not regularly updated
They may also be issued if you over-use H1 tags or use robots.txt to block too many of your pages.
How to recover from penalties