One of the possible drama scenarios from the perspective of SEO is, for sure, getting a penalty. As you probably know, there are sports penalties, induced by breaking up the rules of a game. Situation with Google penalties is pretty similar- if you don’t obey to the rules, penalty will follow.
Metaphorically said, we all are SEO cooks, and we try to make a cake. We put all the needed ingredients, put it in the oven, and ** BOOM**! The cake is gone! That is just exactly what happens with the traffic on your website, it is gone. The rankings are gone also. This means only one thing-you got a penalty.
Now you stare at the rankings, analytics, asking yourself where is all this coming from? So you start digging through, take a deep dive, trying to find anything. It is just a matter of time, but you will find it for sure.
And then happens what? Google says:”Sorry, but we will take an action on your website.”, depending on what they've found. If they found it to be you breaching their terms and conditions, they will take an action on your site which we will go in details now. The second part is an algorithmic devaluation. That means Google runs an algorithmic script across the whole internet and they refresh it periodically. So you got Panda and Penguin algorithm refresh. Those can devaluate some aspects of your site, depending on what Google finds natural or unnatural.
Less painful sign than a penalty can be ranking drop, and in the worst case there wouldn’t be any traffic to the site. Then there come millions of questions-how did all of this happen? Just like that, it happens totally unpredictable. Your site would become completely invisible to the ordinary visitor. But, of course, the most important thing to do is react as soon as possible.
Even if your intentions on the site were completely fine, even if you didn’t cheat or tried to play the system, you can get it. It’s not fair, I know, but luckily, you can fix things. This is not the end of the world and the presence on the internet, just a small pause. Be positive and focus on the goal- not to even get a penalty.
There is a root of every problem. The thing is, when it comes to Google penalties, it can refer to a mistake or an issue from long time ago. Getting a penalty means that almost each segment of managing the site must be overviewed. The desire to have successful website with a lot traffic is understandable, but not at any price.
Something what you should try to do is to keep the tabs on. If it is possible, monitor your backlink profile as often and thoroughly as possible. This is a way to prevent any kind of penalty. This is also the case with repetitive anchor text.
Google penalties can seize the whole website, or only certain pages. But, in case that many of them are recognized as inappropriate, then even the one which are suitable can be penalized too. This can seem frightening, but what happens mostly is a rank dropping. For example, you’ve been on at 12thsearch page, now you are on 90th.
This severe rank drop is a sign of a penalty. Moving a few positions backward can be result of your competition’s campaign and efforts to improve, while you are not working hard enough. Sometimes it comes about new algorithm’s updates with whom your site needs to be adjusted.
There are usually some warning signs, though typically you don't get manual action out of the blue, against some kind of ranking or traffic drop. So, what can you do now?
Go to WebMaster Tools and there would be a message. Unlike before, when there was no message, Google improved in the last few years. So this way you can check in WebMaster Tools and see what did you did or why has the penal happened. But, what if you don't get the message? That would be a problem, but let's hope that it would be there, as it is much easier to clean up. In other cases, it can be in a situation of constant guessing.
Supposing that there is a message, let's see what you can do immediately. You are starting this process as you need your traffic back. In other words, the traffic means money and you don't want to lose money. In this stage it is important that you detect the exact problem and the history of it. Now we come to the roots of the issue we mentioned couple of paragraphs above.
Let’s clarify different categories of penalties. There are algorithmic and manual ones. As you conclude this logically, either someone from Google detected a mistake on the site or the algorithm recognized it himself. The next division is inside the algorithm penalties- Penguin and Panda.
Penalty is a phrase for both algorithmic and manual actions. It is important to clarify this stage and the difference between these two. A manual action is where member of the Google web spam review a website following on either information triggered from an algorithmic update or among a web spam notification. So, when someone reported your site you can't know that, you are not Google.
When it comes to manual penalties, most people won't be dealing with that and if they do, they will normally know as there would be a notification in Google search console. With an algorithm penalty there is no notification, just graduate drop in traffic and rankings.
It means that you have to a time travel adventure now, and find where and when the ranking drop happened. Almost in every case, there is a bad backlink or couple of them that induce the drop.
Algorithm changes appeared not so often before 2010. But then it all changed with the coming out of Caffeine. The change in the results happened many times in a day. The thing is, these weren’t announced. Only three of them are announced, and those are Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird. Those are pretty funny names for a penalty, but it is not so funny when you get one.
Panda appeared in 2011, and made a big BOOM. It was all about content quality. Low-quality pages ranked low and high ones ranked at the first page of search results. It is first name was Farmer and it has been renamed to Panda.
Panda affects the whole site. Google supposes that if some of your site pages have bad quality, all of them actually are low quality. Low quality backlinks have a little or not at all social interaction, and you must admit it- this is what you need to keep your website in the game. Panda is a site-wide penalty.
What is interesting, even there are some factors by which Google gives someone a penalty, but you just can’t know all of them. But, some of those wide-known are:
Poor users experience
How to recover from a Panda penalty? As Google does the algorithm fresh monthly, and checks if the sites meet the criteria. Sometimes it has to go through several refreshes. Panda 4.0 appeared in 2014. This was a dramatic one which caused several major changes.
Some questions that should be answered before applying Panda are:
Does the content has a value and a good sense?
Is there something users can complain about?
Was the article well-written and edited?
Does it give useful and applicable information?
Create quality content only
Delete all the low-quality pages
Remove spam comments
Use Latent Semantic Indexing
Improve the speed of your website
Let us explain one sort of key thing that happens with Panda. Once a Panda penalty happens, it is a gradual decline. When it comes to rankings it usually like this- ranking, ranking, ranking, and it suddenly goes to zero. It is more likely go to like this with Panda- losing ranking, losing ranking, so you can see it is going down.
Panda is about quality, so we are not talking about spam content. It is about the time on the site, balance rates, user metrics, even some social sharing, basically anything that would make site quality. But, when it comes to Panda penalty, as it is not manual, sending a reconsideration mail won’t do the job. You have to do it yourself by improving the site and waiting for the new Google refresh.
Penguin appeared in 2012 with a mission to reduce manipulative activities on sites. It is the first name was Over Optimization Penalty. Penguin has less updates in comparison to Panda. This algorithm is about links. Be careful which sites have a backlinks to yours, as it is recommended to find trustful ones. Links are connected to anchor text. It is a text inside of a link. If you try to make your site appear with higher ranking than it really is, Google will recognize it.
This penalty targets earlier links which Google believes they shouldn't pass the same amount of page rank and authority that other links do. Then it would discount them. Also if you got links with a particular anchor text or particular coming from a different country that may be looking unnatural to Google. What it will do? It will bring down your search result automatically.
There are some discussions if it is site-wide penalty and in some cases, it was proven that some pages with bad backlinks can affect other pages on your website and penalize it as a whole, but generally it affects one side of the website only.
It is important to know that it is very hard to gain high rankings after being penalized with Panda. Building a site on a unnatural or fake links will send the message you are not trustful enough. It will take much time if you want to convince Google that your actions are totally fair.
What is important to know if you want to escape this kind of penalty:
Don’t even think about Black Hat Techniques
Avoid keyword stuffing
Keep away from excessive link-building
Publish only relevant and meaningful content
Penguin is about spam filters, about removing or penalizing spam sites. We are talking about automated spam backlinks, large-scale networks, keyword stuffing, over-optimization of anchor text. Penguin happens due to over-optimizing the site. So, Google penguin is a link focused algorithm. What does that mean? It means they are looking for some manipulative actions, link activity. People have tried to gain links or to manipulate anchor text, or some other ways to manipulate links in order to boost a website's performance in search results. There are definitely some ways to fix Penguin, depending on whether it's link based. A link based penalty, or a spam, we have to go and look at everything in a detail but there are some solutions.
There are also two types of optimization:
Talking about on-page SEO, some of the mistakes are related to unnatural keyword and tag structure, keyword stuffing and off-page makes heavy link building, using the same link type excessively, applying the same anchor texts to more site pages.
Panda is the kind of penalty which happens because of the bad content quality. Writing an article/post according to the search engine rules only, but at the same time ignoring the users’ needs can harm your site. Panda penalty occurs on a monthly basis and without an announcement. Penguin can be expected in exactly proposed times over the year and before getting one, you will be warned.
Use Disavow tool
Delete links from untrusted or penalized sites
Delete toxic links
Delete paid links
If you maybe wonder what are those bad links- they come from different actions, such as playing some poker games online, bad redirects, links from websites which post plagiarism content, or from the sites which are not in a relation to your website niche, visiting adults websites etc.
You can also use backlink audit. You should do a complete clean-up of your site. Don’t go only after the suspicious links, but after all the links on your site. Recovery from a Penguin penalty requires that there I no bad quality links.
A tool which is recommended to be used with these penalties is Spyfy. This tool does what it name says- spying. It spies on your competition and see which keywords they used. Keywords are bidding on with Google PPC traffic, but we would use this to look at the history.
The tool SEM rush does similar things as Spyfy but has some small differences. So paste the domain of your site, or whatever you like, within a Spyfy dashboard, and can do a research. Then you eventually go to SEO research and overview, and on this site you can see the history.
Be careful about writing a reconsideration e-mail to Google. Never behave like you didn't do anything wrong and ask for a reconsideration. Probably you won't hear from Google ever again in this case. Sometimes even if you wrote a good request you may not hear from them.
In all the cases you need to go line by line, website by website, link by link. Now you are scared thinking there are hundreds of links to go through. Here are some guidelines... You can sort those links into spreadsheets and put them in Disavow tool. This tool is recommended by Google itself. But yet this is a great tool, don't rely too much on it. It is a handy sort of things, but Google likes to see that you've gone through the effort. Use an e-mail to reach to webmasters, it will get noticed for sure.
For Google it is important that you think in a direction of a penalty. So you did all of the things above and now it's time to write to Google. Accept any kind of culpability if you did something wrong that broke the rules, and as much as detailed as possible. Explain what you did and what you are doing to actually clean up the mess. Let them know you are committed to resolving this issue and want to help to clean your search results.
Set expectations as this is going to be a long process, but the patience is the key. This is a waiting game. Never be angry, just ask about the information because you can go into the wrong direction without their help. They would probably give you breadcrumbs, so send a reconsideration request more times and collect those crumbs. Those little pieces will make a significant change.
Best advice here is not to stop trying. You have to send it all over again and investigate as much as possible to find a mistake. Some reaction will follow, still it's never sure when.