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How to Tell If Your Website Is Penalized by Google?

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It becomes a nightmare for a business owner to discover that that his/her main business website has been penalized by Google. Not all declines in rankings are caused by penalties but only a fraction of those. So, how can you find out, whether your domain has been penalized by Google and why? Answers to these questions will help to get your business back on track thereby generating higher revenue and ROI.

What is a Google Penalty?

A Google penalty happens when any site is being removed entirely or partially from the Google index or the site’s search rankings are dropped significantly due to algorithmic spam action taken automatically by the Google’s Webspam filtering algorithms like Penguin or manually by the Webspam team.

Google Penalty

Penalty can result in the drop of rankings for the entire site, or for some pages on the site that are found to be manipulative or for any specific keywords that are found to have been spammed. A drop in rankings affects the online visibility of the site thereby affecting revenue.

How to Identify a Google Penalty?

  • The easiest way to identify a Google Penalty is with the help of Google Webmasters Tools. You need to sign into your GWT account, click on ->‘Search Traffic’ -> ‘Manual Actions.’ (Please refer to the below screenshot) Google will either display a message stating “No manual webspam actions found” indicating that your website is safe from any algorithmic or manual penalty or it will display the type of penalty (see types of manual actions below) applied along with proper instructions as to how you can get rid of the applied penalty.

Webmasters

  • Another way is to log into analytics and find out the date when organic loss in traffic was witnessed. Find out if there was any Google update launched on that date like the Penguin or the Panda (Please refer to the below screenshot highlighting organic loss in traffic from the Penguin update). If yes, then surely your site was affected by the update that was launched at that particular point of time.

Penguin

  • You can also determine a penalty simply by entering your domain name on Google and seeing whether your site ranks in the first page for that query. For example, if your domain name is “example.com” (brand name related domains not exact match keyword targeted domains) and your site is not ranking on the top 10 results for the query “example” then you can sniff a penalty. If you are still unable to figure out this way then simply enter the title tag text and see if the site is ranking. (You can also use double quotes for exact matching of title tag text if the text is composed of common words only). Unable to detect your domain under all these queries might indicate a penalty.directory_bin

Types of Manual Actions Displayed in GWT

  • Site Wide Matches – This type of penalty impacts the entire site. The entire organic visibility of the domain gets hampered.

Webmasters

 

  • Partial Matches – This type of penalty impacts only certain sections or URL’s of the site. It does not affects the entire site meaning only the affected section or URL’s will lose organic visibility and the remaining ones will continue to get displayed on Google as usual based on the current ranking algorithm.

The below screenshot displays the type of manual action displayed under GWT:

Webmasters

Each section may include one or more of the following types of actions:

1. Unnatural links to your site-impacts links

What does this mean?

This message means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your siteOverall site ranking is not affected under this action because Google feels some of the links created are outside your control. Here is a screenshot displaying this sort of penalty:

Webmasters

Why this happened?

Site was caught buying paid links or engaged in excessive link schemes for manipulating Page Rank that are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Overall site ranking might get affected in future if proper action is not taken. Some negative SEO done to your site can generate this type of penalty.

Suggested Action

Conduct a link audit and get as many artificial links removed as possible, then submit a reconsideration request.

 

2. Unnatural links to your site

What does this mean?

This message means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site.

Webmasters

Why this happened?

Site was caught buying paid links or engaged in excessive link schemes for manipulating Page Rank that are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Overall site ranking might get affected.

Suggested Action

Conduct a link audit and get as many artificial links removed as possible, then submit a reconsideration request.

 

3. Unnatural links from your site

What does this mean?

This message means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links from your siteThis might affect your entire site or some portions of your site. 

Webmasters

Why this happened?

This happened because Google detected that you have unnaturally linked to other websites related or unrelated to your own niche. These links can be paid or in exchange of any other reward. Site wide links, footer links, author bio links, resource pages links, link exchange pages links, paid editorial links, optimized anchor text links that are paid etc. can come under this type of action.

Suggested Action

Scan your site and identify any links that violates Google, such as excessive link exchanges or paid links.

Once you have identified those, add a rel attribute to them so that they no longer pass PageRank. You can also use robots.txt to disallow crawling of URL/URL’s containing the links.

 

4. Hacked site

What does this mean?

This message means that Google has detected pages that appear to have been hacked by a third party. Such content are often categorized under cloaking and Google displays a message: “this site may be hacked” in the search results. This is show in the below image:

Domain

Why this happened?

Due to vulnerable security issues, your site was hacked by any third party hacker where the existing files on your site were modified. This appears as spam in Google’s index and hence Google reduces the rankings of websites having hacked content in them.

Suggested Action

Login to your Google Webmasters Tools account and check the messages section. Google provides detailed description as to which files on your site were found to be hacked. To investigate hacking or malware using Webmaster Tools, complete the following steps:

  • Login to GWT, go to messages.
  • Navigate to Security Issues :
    • Sites affected with malware will show a top-level heading of “Malware,” and then categories of malware types, such as “Modified server configuration” or “Error template injection.”
    • Sites that were hacked to serve spam may display a top-level heading of “Hacked” and then categories hack types, such as “Content injection.”

Webmasters

    • Sites with a “phishing notification” in Webmaster Tools Message Center may not show any information within Security Issues. By creating phishing pages on your site, the hacker is using your site to obtain users’ login, password, or financial details, often by masquerading as a trustworthy site.

Take the help of some technical expertise and get these things fixed up as soon as possible. Also, ensure that your site has adequate security so that no hacker can ever hack your site in future.

After you have cleaned all the things, request a review of your site.

 

5. Thin content with little or no added value

What does this mean?

This message means that Google has detected low-quality pages or shallow pages on your site. Pages having thin content, auto-generated content, scraped content, low quality guest posts, low quality user generated content that was/wasn’t editorially approved etc might come under this category.

Webmasters

 

Why this happened?

Your site is having low quality content pages. These types of content serves little to no value to the users and in order to keep the search results clean, Google takes actions on sites generating such less user-friendly content.

Suggested Action

Conduct a complete content quality review of your site. Check for the presence of thin content or doorway pages on your site. Also, check for several similar content pages that add little purpose. Get them removed, redirected, edited so that they do not create a negative user experience. You can also get some help by reading this guide to building high quality sites.

 

6. Pure spam

What does this mean?

This message means that Google has detected the presence of automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content from other websites. In simpler words, your site has violated the Google Webmasters Guidelines.

Why this happened?

Google counts auto generated content, scraped content and cloaking under aggressive spam techniques and takes action on sites using them.

Email

Suggested Action

Conduct a complete content quality review of your site. Ensure that your site does not use excessive copied/scraped content. Also ensure every page on your site serves a specific user purpose and are not created to serve as bait for search engines to display advertisement and earn revenue.

 

7. User-generated spam

What does this mean?

This message means that, Google has detected user-generated spam on your site. This might affect the entire site or some of the pages on the site.

Webmasters

Why this happened?

This happened because some or most of the pages on your site have low quality/spammy content found on forum pages, guestbook pages, or in user profiles.

Suggested Action

Check the pages on your site that lacks quality content. You might have allowed users free registration and free posting of content through forum profile, blogs or forum posts. This has unknowingly generated a lot of user spam. Identify those pages and get them removed. Then submit a reconsideration request.

 

8. Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects

What does this mean?

This message means that, your site is showing different pages to Google bots and users. This might affect your entire site or some portions of your site.

Why this happened?

Cloaking happens when you redirect users and search engine bots to different pages. It is the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines. It is counted as a Black Hat SEO technique and is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Sneaky Redirects

Suggested Action

Identify the affected areas on your site and use the fetch as Google tool in GWT to compare the pages as seen by you and as seen by Google. Remember, Google must see the exact page/content as seen by a normal user. Also, check for URLs on your site that redirect users to somewhere other than where they expected to go and fix those.

 

9. Hidden text and/or keyword stuffing

What does this mean?

This message means that, some of your pages may contain hidden text or keyword stuffing. This might affect your entire site or some portions of your site.

Find Hidden Content

Why this happened?

Google has detected some or most of the pages on your site having content that are filled with keywords. Such content are created solely for the purpose of ranking higher on the search engines and affects the overall user experience. Also, some or most of the pages on your site might be having text that is invisible to the user but visible to the search engines in order to manipulate the Google ranking algorithm.

Suggested Action

Identify the affected areas on your site and use the fetch as Google tool in GWT to compare the pages that’s visible to Google crawler but isn’t visible to a human user. Check for text having the same color as the page background or hidden CSS styling or keyword stuffed alt tags.  Fix these issues as request a reconsideration.

 

10. Spammy freehosts

What does this mean?

This message means that, a significant fraction of the pages on sites hosted on a service are spammy. The entire website is affected by this action. 

Spammy Freehosts

Why this happened?

This might have happened because your free hosting site has generated a lot of user generated content that are mostly spam and serves no real user purpose.

Suggested Action

Get rid of all the spammy user accounts and remove all the low quality content from your site. This is a long task and will require much effort before you can get rid of the entire user generated spam present on your site. Once, you are sure, all the pages in your site are unique and add value to the end user, you can go ahead and submit a reconsideration request.

11.Spammy structured markup

What does this mean?

This message means that, Google has detected some of the rich snippet markup on your pages may be using manipulative techniques.

Email

Why this happened?

It might be possible that your rich snippets are having irrelevant or misleading content or the marked up content is hidden from the users.

Suggested Action

Please go through the rich snippet guidelines mentioned by Google and make sure that the rich snippets you are using on the site follow these guidelines. Use the Structure Data Testing Tool after you have made the required edits to check they don’t have any errors. This tool can be found under Google Webmaster Tools -> Other Resources section. Any inappropriate mark-ups will be highlighted in red and you may take the intended actions based on the errors. Once the final changes are made and you are sure that the rich snippets are accurate and are not violating any guidelines then you can submit a reconsideration request.

Major Reasons Why Google Penalizes a Website?

Google might penalize websites who do not pay close attention to the quality guidelines suggested by Google and are found to be engaged in illicit practices particularly Black Hat SEO techniques. In other words, this is what is known as Webspam. As per Google,”Webspam” refers to pages that try to trick Google into ranking them highly”.

Here are some reasons, why Google might penalize any website:

  • Entire site or some of the pages on the site are found to be deceptive like showing different content to the user than to the search engines.

Cloaking

  • ‘n’ number of low quality pages are found on the site. These pages have thin content (Panda might hit sites having thin content in them) and are created solely for the search engines in order to get ranked on a number of keywords.
  • Deceiving users by creating doorway pages/bridge pages/gateway pages. These pages are created just for spamdexing. Clicking on such a page from the search engine results takes the user to another page with a help of a fast meta refresh command. Google does not allow such pages to spam their index.
  • Site has automatically generated content or Scraped content. As a best practice, not more than 5-10% of any page should be copied from other resources. Google also has a tool for reporting scraped content. You can access this tool here.
  • Participating in link schemes in order to build low quality unnatural backlinks to the site for the sake of manipulating the Google’s ranking algorithm. (See link spams below)
  • Having pages with little or no original content or engaging in black hat (banned) practices like Sneaky redirects or Hidden text or links.

SEO

  • Creating pages stuffed with keywords that are irrelevant or manipulative.

SEO

  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value.
  • Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
  • Abusing the rich snippets markup.

Fake Rich Snippet

  • Sending automated queries to Google.
  • Displaying lots of ads on the site and not following an appropriate ad to content ratio.

SEO

Major Google Algorithmic Updates That Causes Penalty

 Google has a special set of algorithms to automatically detect spam. These algorithms act as a filter or are integrated with the main ranking algo in order to get rid of spam from the search results. Let’s discuss the major updates that might cause a Google penalty:

Panda Update – Launched in Feb, 2011, this update was aimed to lower the rank of websites having low quality/ thin content or a lot of advertising in them. This update was also known by the name “Farmer” because it targeted content farms having a lot of low quality and spammy content in them. This update affected the entire site or some of the pages.

Panda

If the site gets affected by the Panda update then the first step is to check the top landing pages on the site before and after the hit. Reviewing the content quality in the top landing pages of the site prior to the hit will give you sufficient answer why the site got penalized. Also, keep in check the mobile search quality issues related to your site.

Penguin Update – Launched in April 24th, 2012, this update lowered the rankings of websites that used Black Hat SEO techniques and unnatural linking patterns to manipulate their search rankings. If your site gets affected by this update then conduct a link audit and check that your link domain’s link profile is not coming under any of the below mentioned link schemes.

Google Penguin Update

More information: Another step to reward high-quality sites

 

Payday Loan Update – Released in June 2013, this update was designed to combat specific search queries that tend to have a high number of extremely spammy results. Google’s Webspam head, Matt Cutts had indicated that this change affected queries such as “payday loans” on Google.co.uk and other pornographic and spammy queries like “casinos”,” Viagra”, and “debt consolidation” .

 

Spam Spam Spam

If your site is affected from this update then conduct a link audit and site content quality audit on your site. Fix up the identified issues at the earliest.

More information: Google Spam Algorithm For Spammy Queries: Pay Day Loans+

Pirate Update – As the name suggests itself, this update decreased the rankings of sites having high number of valid copyright removal notices. If your site gets hit by this update then check for copyright related issues and fix them at the earliest.

Google Pirates

More information: An update to our search algorithms

EMD Update – It stands for Exact Match Domain update. It was launched on Sep 2012. This update was aimed to lower the rankings of low quality exact match domains. For example, if you have exact match keywords like “bakerylosangeles” in your domain name that provides a strong signal to Google that you are having these words in your domain simply to rank for the query “bakery los angeles” so Google might take action on such spammy domains.

Google EMD

The best way you can reverse this penalty is to improve the overall quality of your site in terms of content, backlinks and user experience.

More information: The EMD Update: Google Issues “Weather Report” Of Crack Down On Low Quality Exact Match Domains

Forms of Link Spams to Avoid – Link Schemes

  • Buying links or exchanging goods or services in return for links that pass PageRank.
  • Participating in 2 way, 3 way or any other form of link exchanges.
  • Unnatural links generated by bulk article submissions or guest posting campaigns using exact match keywords targeting the promoted pages again and again.
  • Using link building software to create a number of low quality links within a short period of time.

Stop Spam

  • Engaging in any form of unnatural links creation like the ones mentioned below:
  •  Text advertisements that pass PageRank
  • Editorial links received after paying money. (A form of link buying)
  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases:

(Ex —To have a hassle free relocation, you need to find out the best relocation services in Canada. It is important for you to choose the finest Canadian relocation service. —-)

  • Directory or bookmark site links coming from spammy websites or from sites that serve no purpose other than selling links.
  • Site wide or non site wide links generated via widgets.
  • Site wide links generated from footers or templates of various sites.
  • Forum signature or post links having optimized anchor text or naked URL.

Ex- “I agree to this information
Best web design company | web design services company | best web development company” —  (Adding links under signature using exact or phrase match anchor text)

  • Links from blog comments using optimized anchor text or naked URL

Google Requests Users to File a Spam Report – Beware!

You should never trick Google because if you do, anyone can file a Webspam report against your website. The below screenshot displays the page where users can easily file a spam report against any domain that does not complies with Google’s quality guidelines.

 

SEO

Captcha

The best approach is to create content based on giving the best possible information to your prospective client/customer and abide by all the Google guidelines. Suffering from a penalty is bad for your business and its overall branding. The below resources will help you to create a website that will be loved by Google.

Must Read Resources/Useful Links to Have a Google Friendly Site

Hope this information proved to be useful for your business presence on Google. Do you have any suggestions for any new features that the RankWatch team must implement in order to identify and easily deal with Google penalties? Please share your comments with us, we truly value and love the feedback of our customers.

 

 

 

 

 

Vaibhav Kakkar
Vaibhav is the Co-Founder of RankWatch and feels his soul ambition lies in the field of Internet Marketing and subsequently helping businesses succeed online.
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