If you’re an ecommerce company or a business that gets lots of leads through the web, a Google penalty can be extremely painful. Having your website knocked down a few places in the search results (or getting taken off altogether) can instantly reduce your traffic and keep hundreds of potential customers from finding you online.

Today I spoke with Alex Chapman, one of our SEO consultants, about the details of these penalties and how businesses can be affected by them. Let’s start with the basics…

What Are Google Penalties?

Google uses a variety of algorithms to investigate websites when determining how to rank them for specific search terms. If these algorithms detect that a website has failed to meet Google’s guidelines (or – worse – is using black hat SEO techniques), the website may be pushed down in the rankings or even de-indexed from the search results.

Depending on how bad your website’s transgression is, Google can choose to penalise just the offending pages of your website or your website as a whole.

How Does Google Know Who To Penalise?

There are 2 main algorithms linked to penalties: Penguin and Panda. Don’t let their cuteness fool you – they can pack quite a punch! Panda deals with onsite elements (such as your content and user experience) while Penguin inspects offsite factors (like the external links that lead back to your site).

When Do Google Penalties Get Dished Out?

A website will generally get penalised directly after an algorithm update. Panda gets updated every month while Penguin refreshes its feathers sporadically throughout the year. Updates to the Penguin algorithm are usually announced by Google so they shouldn’t catch any savvy companies by surprise.

On top of these algorithmic penalties, Google can also punish websites manually. In other words, if a worker at Google suspects and then confirms that pages of your website don’t meet the guidelines, they can arrange a manual penalty.

Bad Bamboo Makes An Unhappy Panda

Unhappy Panda

And by ‘bad bamboo’ I mean ‘dodgy onsite practices’. Here are some of the things that can turn Panda sour and result in a Google penalty for your website:

  • Duplicate content (text that is identical to another website’s content)
  • Internal 404 errors
  • Content stuffed with too many keywords
  • Hidden content or links
  • Unresponsive or slow loading times
  • Over-optimisation
  • An automatic redirect that takes visitors away from what they clicked in the search results
  • Page layouts with too many ads
  • Spam links
  • Spun content (text copied from elsewhere and rewritten by a program to appear original)
  • Thin content (pages with minimal content or none at all)
  • Hacked malware.

Keep Penguin Satisfied With Non-Fishy Link-Building

This algorithm dishes out link-based penalties to websites that have suspicious or improper links leading to them. Whenever a Penguin update gets announced, these are the things you should make sure you’ve avoided in your offsite strategy:

  • Over-optimised anchor text (it’s better to have your brand name as the link rather than a keyword)
  • Link farms
  • Links that are low quality or not relevant to your business
  • Excessive reciprocal links (e.g. between partnered companies)
  • Links from foreign sites (unless relevant)
  • External footer links
  • Blog networks
  • Bulk link-building over a short period of time
  • Links from posts in forums.

OK, so you’ve been penalised. Here’s what you need to do.

Shake it off

(Just kidding.)

The key here is to understand what exactly has caused your penalty. You can sometimes find this out by checking the messages in your Webmaster Tools account. In other cases, you will need to compare your Google Analytics stats with recent algorithm updates to uncover the culprit.

For Penguin penalties: You’ll need to fix up whichever external link is causing the problem. This could mean disavowing a troublesome link or having a link taken down, for example.

For Panda penalties: Once you’ve identified the onsite issue, simply correct the problem and wait for the next update. This could mean improving the layout of your navigation menu, making your website mobile friendly or rewriting some content.

Note: While the majority of penalties arise from Panda and Penguin, there are other kinds as well. However, other penalties are almost always incurred manually, which means you’ll get an explanatory message in your Webmaster Tools account to help you rectify the problem.

You can get more information about penalty recovery directly from Google here.

There’s a lot to take in, isn’t there? If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, don’t panic – help is always available. Contact us for a chat about Google penalties and how we can keep your website in the clear.