There was a time when a website’s content didn’t matter all that much. As long as the SEO expert responsible for marketing it played nice with Google’s algorithms, it ranked high. Those days, however, are now far behind us.
Today, Google’s way more selective about what sites it allows at the top of its rankings – and far harsher on the tactics it’s identified as underhanded. What that means is that if you engage in black hat SEO, you’re going to get penalized. If you let too much spam crop up on your site, you’re going to get penalized.
And if your site consists of low-quality, ‘thin’ content, you’re going to get penalized.
Worse still, it might not be immediately evident that you’ve been hit with a penalty. Although Google does notify webmasters of major penalties through the Webmaster Tools platform, it also takes a number of smaller actions against sites – and it doesn’t notify them. As such, you might well be getting penalized without ever knowing you’ve done something wrong.
Not a pleasant thought, is it? The good news is that if you’re careful enough, you can both avoid the harsher penalties and take action if you’re hit with the smaller ones. That’s what we’re here to talk about today – we’re going to go over the signs that you’ve been hit with an SEO penalty, and what recourse you’ve got if you have.
Check Google Webmaster Tools
Your best bet in terms of SEO is to keep a constant eye on your site’s metrics. Thankfully, Google Webmaster Tools provides an excellent platform through which you can do so. Be sure to periodically check and see if you’ve any major warnings reported in Google Webmaster tools, advises BlueGrass managing director Kevin Gibbons, speaking to econsultancy.
“Keep a close eye on your organic search traffic and rankings to spot any recent drops in performance,” says Gibbons. “One thing I would highly recommend is link cleanups and frequent auditing for any site, whether penalized or not. You want to make your profile as clean as possible; prevention is definitely better than cure!”
When you do audit your site, be aware of the following signals and warning signs (via econsultancy):
- Drops in site traffic with no indication of recovery
- An unusual volume of bad links pointing to your site
- Market conditions that may have led to a drop in traffic – new competitors, other companies in your industry being penalized, etc.
- Unnatural/out of context links
- Overly keyword-rich anchors or over-targeted keywords.
- Low-quality sources
Use Third-Party Tracking Software
“With the right tracking tools, you can see almost immediately [when you’ve been hit],” says Intelligent Positioning Director Sam Silverwood-Cope. “There is a distinct difference in the pattern of the demise of a site between a penalty and an algorithmic hit. A penalty will most likely affect the whole site or whole sections of a site.
There are plenty of online tools that you can use to determine whether or not your site’s suffering. In addition to your regular SEO tracking software, consider making use of a platform like FE International’s Website Penalty Indicator.
Remember: Prevention Is The Best Tool
Generally speaking, if you’re engaging in any ‘questionable’ SEO – link farms, content schemes, misleading content/advertising – then you’re probably going to get hit with a penalty. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. For this reason, I’d strongly advise steering clear of any SEO experts who over-promise, lack transparency, or have a poor reputation online.
Working with them will only harm your rankings in the long run.
“An SEO cannot guarantee that a website will be number one for a given keyword phrase in Google search any more than a billboard salesman can guarantee that an ad will be seen by precisely 340,000 drivers over the course of a month,” writes Legal Ink’s Chris Dreyer. “When choosing an SEO or online marketing agency, be skeptical of guarantees.” Beyond that, you also need to ensure your site is easy to navigate, with high-quality content, great links, proper targeting and well-designed ads.
Ultimately, if you’re doing everything you can to make your site as top-notch as possible, you really don’t have a whole lot to worry about at the end of the day – everything will sort itself out in due course.