If you’ve noticed a sudden drop in visits, or suddenly found your site doesn’t appear in Google search results, then you could have been hit by a site penalty.

Check Google Search Console

The Google Search Console should be the first place you check to find out the health of your website. If you have been hit with a ‘manual’ penalty you should find a message from Google in your messages telling you that you have been penalised and the reason. If there is no message, it’s likely that you have been caught out by a change in the Google algorithm.

Algorithm penalties

Google regularly updates their algorithm – Moz has a helpful history of updates, so you should be able to correlate your drop in traffic with one of these updates to help you identify what has caused it.

Identify problem backlinks

Low quality links to your website are one of the most common causes for a Google penalty. These type of links can include:

  • Links from website which has been de-indexed from Google. To find out if a site is de-indexed do a Google search for “site:websitenamehere.com”
  • Websites which are in an area unrelated to your website – for instance if you sell building materials, it makes no sense that you have links from a site showing tourist information.
  • Websites with an automatically generated content of poorly written content. Watch out for random content, spelling mistakes and lots of unrelated links out – these are signs of low-quality content.
  • Links from gambling or adult sites
  • Comment spam and forum footer links
  • Site wide links, such as those which appear in sidebars and footers
  • Promoted content – if you’ve paid sponsor a link make sure you’ve used the no-follow attribute so Google knows you are not trying to buy page rank.
  • Sites with duplicate content. These are often template sites created for the express purpose of selling links.

To find out more about bad backlinks, take a look a Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Analyse your backlinks

To analyse the backlinks your website backlinks, you can use Search Console. Log in and click on ‘Search Traffic’, then ‘Links to Your Site’. In the section ‘Who links the most’, click on more – then click on the ‘download latest links’ button to download all your links as a CSV file. Use the tips above to identify links which you think are suspect and then you can work on cleaning them up.

Clean up your backlinks

Request that links to your site are removed

If you are sure that you want to remove a link to your website, the first thing to try is contacting the webmaster of the site with the link to ask them to remove it. Make sure you email from your websites email address and be polite – if someone has added spam comments to their site they will probably want them removed as well! Make sure you make it easy for them by telling them exactly which page it is on.

Disavow links you can’t get rid of

Once you’ve got rid of all the links you can using step 1, you can then disavow the rest. While this won’t get rid of them, it asks Google not to take them into consideration when ranking your website. Go to the disavow tool in Search Console and follow the instructions.

Clean up your content

If you think you have received a penalty because of your content (most likely from the Panda update) then you need to take a look at the content on your website. Make sure you don’t have any duplicate content (if you need to have the same content on more than one page use a canonical tag) and that your content is relevant to your industry. Also make sure you avoid automatic or machine generated content and be wary of allowing ‘guest’ posters on your blog.

Submit a reconsideration request to Google

If you had a manual penalty message, you should find it contains a link for you to ask Google to reconsider your website. You can write a message as part of this, which will be read by a real person at Google, so be nice! Also, be honest – if your SEO company paid for these links, then blame them. Google likes to see evidence you are now doing the right thing, so mention if you have disavowed links or asked webmasters to remove spam links.

And finally…

If you’ve tried all the above and still had no success, why not get in touch to see if we can help?