The Marketer’s Guide to Google Penalty Recovery

Not every Google update is accompanied by the hysteria of Mobilegeddon. Most updates hardly register as a whisper. In fact, did you know Google tweaks its algorithm at least 500 times a year? That’s more than once a day! And with each update, search marketers receive little to no announcement.

Unfortunately, the only time marketers might notice something is askew is when organic search traffic takes a tumble. That’s bad news, as decreasing revenue almost always follows.

With so many possibilities for taking a fall, it’s crucial that you safeguard your SEO campaigns with a Google penalty recovery plan. Here is a rundown of questions to ask and steps to take on the path back to SERP search ranking superiority.

Is it manual or algorithmic?

Before you can determine your plan of recovery, you should identify the cause of the penalty. Was the penalty manually generated or was it algorithmic? You can determine this fairly easily within Google Webmaster Tools as most manual penalties are accompanied by a warning message.

An algorithmic penalty, by contrast, does not come with a warning. If this is the case, consider doing some research to see if your dip in traffic coincided with the dates of an algorithm change. These days, Google does not formally announce its updates. However, other resources exist on the web to help you figure out the situation. Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History is particularly helpful, and a good place to start.

Do I have any bad links?

In the case of a manual penalty, you should take these steps to clean up your link profile:

Step 1 – Go to your Google Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, and get a list of your inbound links. This appears in the “Links to Your Site” section. If you would rather not use Google Search Console, there are other free and premium options for acquiring this information. Open Site Explorer by Moz and Ahrefs are two such data tools to get insight into your link data.

Step 2 – Conduct a link profile audit to identify bad links. Here are some examples of bad links that Search Engine Watch has identified:

  • The domain isn’t indexed in Google
  • The link appears on a web site that has malware or a virus
  • The link is from a page with a Google Page Rank of zero
  • The link comes from a link network
  • The link appears sitewide, such as in a blogroll
  • The link is a paid link

Step 3 – Contact the source of the bad link and kindly ask them to remove it.

Step 4 – Use the Google disavow tool on all bad links. This tool ensures that the search engine does not take certain links into account when assessing your site. Here are the instructions for the two-step process for disavowing backlinks.

Word of warning: Google cautions that the disavow backlinks tool is an advanced feature that if used incorrectly, could possibly do more harm than good to your search results. Only use the disavow tool if you are confident that you have many spammy and low quality links that are causing problems for you.

Step 5 – Resubmit your site for Google reconsideration. To do this, sign in to Search Console and confirm you have fixed the issues described by the manual actions section. Before you submit, review the Security Issues in the Search Console for any additional issues on your web site. Lastly, click “Request a Review.” You can get more information on the process from this webmaster support page for reconsideration requests.

Bonus Tip: The steps listed above also apply if you are trying to recover from a penalty generated by the Penguin algorithm update.

Was it something I said (or didn’t say)?

If you determine the penalty is a result of the Panda update, then your problem is not links, but rather content. Since 2011, the Panda update has been weeding out websites with low-quality information. If you have been affected by the Panda update, take these steps to recover from the penalty:

Step 1 – Audit your web site content. Take a long, serious look at the information and blog articles that appear on your web site. Do you have what Google considers to be “shallow” or “thin” content? According to Matt Cutts, head engineer for Google’s Webspam team, thin content offers little or no added value to your customer.

Examples of this type of content include:

  • Thin affiliate pages
  • Automatically generated content
  • Scraped content

As you audit your website, look for pages that contain this kind of content. Is it obvious that the content was created for robots and not for people? If so, remove those pages completely or improve them with a high-quality content marketing strategy in mind.

Step 2 – Overhaul your site with original, relevant, and high-value content that helps your customers and business prospects. High-value content tends to run longer, so if you have a company blog, focus on posts that are between 700 and 1000 words or more. If you run an ecommerce site, create product descriptions that are at least 250 words.

At the same time, quantity doesn’t always equal quality, so make sure that you always create content with the user experience in mind. This can be as basic as formatting your content in a way that makes scanning easy. From a content marketing perspective, this should also include creating content designed for specific buyer personas at each stage of their buyer’s journey.

If you want to learn more more about how to overhaul your website content with a marketing strategy that sells, check out last week’s post.

Am I good on-the-go?

If “Mobilegeddon” caused a day of reckoning for your business, take the following steps to recover from Google’s mobile-friendly search update:

Step 1 – Check on a smartphone to see if your site has the mobile-friendly search label. If you have been designated as “mobile-friendly,” this label will appear as text under the URL in the first section of the search result snippet.

Step 2 – If your site isn’t listed, obtain a complete list of your mobile issues from Google Webmaster Tools’ Mobile Usability Report.

Step 3 – Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to check specific individual pages.

Getting back to SERP superiority

Don’t let a Google penalty bring you down. The steps listed above will help you quickly recover and get back to the top of your industry.

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