In some rare instances, your website may be penalised by Google. This occurs when Google reads your site and identifies discrepancies or ‘black hat’ SEO techniques somewhere in your site or the links pointing to it. There are a number of different reasons your website may be getting penalised. Often it will greatly affect the visibility of your website in the search results pages, leading to a noticeable drop in traffic. You will usually be notified of a penalty, and the best way to see these are by accessing your website’s profile on Google Webmaster Tools. Below is an example of what one of these penalties look like.
Google is constantly updating its search algorithm to make it more efficient and effective to the needs of its users. This is a complex science, which most of the SEO community revolves around, as shifts or changes in the algorithm can severely affect search rankings and will determine online marketing tactics from there on in. The most common penalties will be algorithmic in nature, and these may not even trigger warnings like those above – they are automatically and systematically applied as Google rolls out it’s search updates.
In 2011, Google Panda was released as an update to the search algorithm. Panda sought to reinstate the importance of high quality websites, using good content as a judge of this factor. What do we mean by good content? Well, the opposite of bad or ‘thin’ content. Panda Thin content is usually identified as duplicated content, cut and pasted around your site or indeed the wider web. Prior, companies had been over optimising their sites with their keywords and metatags, post panda, websites had to contain more variation, their content had to say something unique that would identify them from the crowd.
Later on in 2012, Google Penguin was rolled out that was designed to identify high quality websites through the number of links attached to them. Penguin can detect whether the number of links to your site has been manipulated as part of some kind of link scheme. Should your back links appear unnatural then you will almost certainly gain a penalty.
A Google Penguin penalty is harder to detect, since you don’t get notified via Google Webmaster Tools. If you experience a sudden drop in traffic, it may be down to a penalty, but it may also be down to natural fluctuations in traffic. As a usual rule, the best way of identifying whether Penguin is the case, is to keep tabs of the latest updates, if drop offs occur at the date, it will most likely be a Penguin orientated penalty. If not, it may be for some other reason or penalty.
Recovering from a Google penguin penalty will require a review of all your back links to your site and deletion of all those links that have been gained through questionable means. Google is always changing its algorithm, so it makes sense to keep up to date with how your website is doing and what it can be doing better, to maximise traffic and search ranking visibility.