Sometimes website owners will say that they have been “hit by an algorithm update from Google,” which sounds the same, but it isn’t. What they are referring to when they say that is that one of the recent updates that Google has done to improve their search engine has made their site less relevant compared to their competitors. Often times this is a result of using practices that Google once allowed but has now deemed to be less than ideal. Subsequently, their site does not carry the same authority that it once did and can suffer from reduced traffic until they correct the issues that caused them to drop down. Google is constantly making updates to their algorithm so this type of thing can happen at any time and is basically just considered a natural shifting of results as Google’s algorithm changes and evolves over time. When a big algorithm change happens, many sites can be affected (and if it’s big enough Google will give it a cushy cute name to make non-offending sites feel all warm and fuzzy inside – like panda or penguin).
A manual penalty on the other hand, does not have the same mass scale. Manual penalties are handed out on an individual basis and are considered punishment for using tactics that are widely known to be off-limits. Getting hit with a manual penalty from Google’s Web Spam team can wreak havoc on your site and leave you trying to pick up the pieces.
But how do you know if you have been hit with a penalty? These signs should alert you that you have indeed been hit with a penalty.
You Get a Webmaster Tools Notification
Google’s Web Spam team will actually let you know if you’ve been penalized and why. I know, shocking, right?! They will post a notification in your Google Webmaster account letting you know that there’s an issue. This is why it’s essential to not only have Google Webmaster Tools set up, but also to check it regularly.
Overall Site Traffic Drops Off
If you don’t use Webmaster Tools, your best bet to determine if you’ve been hit with a penalty is to monitor total site traffic. A significant drop in overall traffic can indicate that you’ve been given a penalty by Google. The tricky part, however, is that without Webmaster Tools you won’t know if the traffic slump is due to a manual penalty or an algorithm update. Before assuming that you’ve been hit with a penalty consider these other potential causes first:
• Google Analytics tracking code has been removed or corrupted and is no longer tracking data properly (find and verify code at the source to rule this out as a possibility)
• Google has rolled out an algorithm change (search online and see if other people are complaining about Google’s actions affecting their site)
• Natural fluctuations like seasonality
• Change in competition (research whether or not one of your main competitors is doing something that could pull significant traffic away from your site)
So what should you do if you have been hit with a penalty from Google? First of all, investigate what caused the penalty and stop doing whatever offense triggered it right away. After that you’re going to have the uphill battle of trying to restore Google’s faith in your site, but it can be done! Consult an SEO professional and find out which steps are necessary to take for your particular situation. With hard work and adherence to best practices moving forward, your site can regain its former glory!
By Kate Pierce. Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Web Consulting for small businesses, Copywriting and Local Online Marketing. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and enjoys cooking, watching sports and spending time outdoors. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about marketing theory and SEM trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!