Google Penalty Recovery – The Complete Guide

With the constant changing nature of Google’s algorithms and quality guidelines webmaster’s today have a lot to contend with. If you want to stay in Google’s good graces you’ve got to constantly monitor your site both on page and off page to ensure you’re not affected by a penalty.

Unfortunately even when you feel as though you’re doing well you can still be struck by one of a few types of penalties. If this has happened to you the first thing you need to do is stay calm. The second thing you need to do is read this page and understand what it means, why it happened, and what you need to do in order to recover from it.

Some Google penalty recoveries can happen in as little as a few days (but this is not the norm). Just know that practically every site can get out of a penalty if enough work is put into it, and of course – following proven methods that work.

Let’s jump in and take a look at what’s going on with your site.

First thing you must do is determine how your site was affected?

  • Notice within Google Webmaster Tools
  • De-Indexing
  • Not Ranking For Target Phrases Any Longer
  • Ranking drops of 10+ positions in the SERP’s (if you notice that lots of your pages have declined, it’s very likely to be a sitewide penalty vs a specific page penalty).

By figuring out these factors you’ll be able to tell what update or action caused the change. We’ve got to diagnose the situation and this is how we do that.

Manual Action

This is when Google’s Spam team sends you a message within Google Webmaster Tools notifying you of a problem with your site. This is by far the easiest way to determine why your site was affected. Simply login to GWT’s and see if you have any notifications. Below is what an “unnatural links” notification will look like:

Unnatural Links Notice Example

If upon login you don’t have any messages you’re going to have to take a look at when you first saw traffic decline, the exact date of when this happened, and correspond that date with the Google Algorithm Change history.

For example if you saw a rankings drop on or around July 17th, 2015 that would be attributed to the Panda 4.2 rollout. Because Panda rolls out slowly over months, it may be possible that your ranking decline did not happen on exactly that date.

Panda Algorithm Update For 2017

The biggest update to Panda for 2017 (so far) isn’t really about Panda itself. It’s more about what version of content Panda will be looking at. Here’s what I mean…

Google is moving to a “mobile-first” index – this is one of the biggest pieces of SEO news to hit this year and here’s why.

Since the beginning of the Google algorithm they have used a “desktop-first” index for displaying rankings. That simply means they chose to show rankings based on a website’s desktop version of that content.

For the first time ever they’re rolling out a mobile-first index. They will now display search results based on your website’s mobile version. That alone is going to rock the search engine rankings. Most mobile site’s content is slightly different than the desktop and may not send the proper signals to rank in the same place as their desktop counterpart.

The story doesn’t end there…It’s not enough just to be “mobile-friendly.”

Google has been as open as they ever have been when it comes to mobile page rankings. They want them to load fast. Not only do they want them fast, they want them to load as close to instant as possible. Speed has always been a key Panda component. When it comes to mobile, Google wants webmasters to use their open source project AMP or accelerated mobile pages.

Without getting too technical this simply means that your mobile pages will be “leaner” therefore allowing them to load nearly instantly. Exactly what Google wants.

In fact, they’ve been so adamant about this project that they’re already giving ranking preference to AMP powered mobile sites. If you’re not using AMP on your mobile site, do it now. Don’t delay.

Adding AMP to your mobile site is simple when it comes to WordPress. It’s just a matter of a plugin. Be careful though. Not all AMP plugins are created equal. Make sure you use one that allows your mobile pages to show all of the same content the desktop version has (some don’t).

If done correctly your mobile pages “should” rank similarly to your desktop. This is why I’m adding this to the Panda section. You still want your mobile site to contain all of the same Panda preventative techniques your desktop site does. Especially when it comes to speed.

The Panda Algorithm update is a very common reason why many sites have seen a decline in traffic. You will see a pattern showing traffic that levels off after a sharp decline. This penalty is only concerned with your on-site quality.

Imagine your site is on a teeter totter. The more pages that Google deems to be low-quality, the closer your site get’s to tipping the teeter totter in the wrong direction. Once that happens you’ve triggered Panda and your rankings decline.

Google has stopped referring to Panda as a “penalty” per se because it affects your entire site. Instead they refer to it as a “Quality Algorithm.”

As Panda updates and refreshes over time you may find your site’s traffic continue to decline further if the issue is not resolved. Because this is a site-wide penalty it will affect your rankings for all organic keywords.

Recovering From Panda

The road to recovery with Panda can be a bit tedious. When you’re done, your site could see a near instant increase of 30% or more in traffic. Here’s what you need to examine and resolve:

Step #1 – Identifying & Fixing Duplicate Meta Tags

With the help of Google Webmaster Tools you can easily find which pages on your site share duplicate or low quality (meaning short or too long) meta tags. In fact, they’ll even show and bring you to the exact page on your site where the issue lies.

Step #2 – Identifying & Fixing Low Quality Pages

Google considers any page with 300 words or less to automatically be low quality. That’s step 1 in this process. Find any pages with less than 300 words and no-index, follow that page or add more unique content to the page.

Step #3 – Eliminate Junk Pages From Google’s Index

You’ve got to do a thorough search of the pages Google has indexed for your site. Examine each page and determine whether or not your want to fix it or de-index it. Most sites have many many pages that are not worth fixing and should be de-indexed.

Step #4 – Identify & Fix On-Site Duplication

Your site may contain more duplicate content than you realize. Finding the pages with duplicate content and removing them from the index or rewriting them will go a long way in fighting Panda.

Step #5 – Increase Site Stickiness

There are many ways to do this but the point is to improve your site’s user experience. Entice visitors to spend more time on your site and look at more pages.

Doing these steps may take some time but it will be worth it in the end. Your competitors will most likely not know about these techniques nor will they all spend the time to implement them.

Pro Tip – If you’ve got a large site this tool can be very helpful in identifying problem areas on your site. It’s called Screaming Frog. It will identify many of the quality issues and technical problems that lead to being hit by Panda.

Penguin Algorithm Update For 2017

Penguin saw a rather large update in 2016.  That has 2017 implications and beyond.  If you’re at all involved in the SEO world that would have been hard to miss.  Penguin is now real-time and included in Google’s core algorithm.

That scared some SEO’s.  The truth is though that this is a good thing.  If/when your site is penalized by Penguin wit will no longer take months on end to get out of a bad predicament.

In fact, penguin no longer truly “penalizes” you for your spammy backlink profile.  They’ve gone ahead and simply “devalued” bad links.  Again, this is another great piece of news because it means that negative SEO has seen it’s final days.

You may have 1 question at the top of your mind right now… “Does this mean I no longer need to use the disavow tool.”  I’ll answer that question on this page.

This update targets webmasters who have been unnaturally and often aggressively acquiring backlinks in order to “game” their rankings. If you’ve taken part in or have any of the following types of backlinks you may have been or will end up being hit by Penguin.

  • Link Buying – Either through common market places or secretly one to one with the seller.
  • Links From Sites Breaking Google’s TOS – This one is pretty self explanatory. Guilty by association.
  • Spammy Links – These can come from a variety of sources. Most commonly these types of links come from forum profiles and blog comments.
  • Site-Wide Links – These used to be highly effective links so some people still do this. Do not accumulate links from site’s footers or sidebars. That one link will be seen by Google’s spiders as many times as there are pages.
  • Links From Bad Neighborhoods – Don’t accumulate links from gambling or pornographic related websites.
  • Hidden Text Links – If your links cannot be seen by the human eye, it’s a bad link.

There are many more types of bad links, but avoiding those from this list is a good start. Many of Google’s penalties are a direct correlation to your site’s backlinks.

Recovering From Penguin

It all start by examining your backlinks in detail. You’ve got to find all of the links that may be considered bad, contact the site owner where the link resides and request removal, and finally disavow any links that could not be removed manually.

Step #1 – Get A List of All of Your Backlinks & Determine Which Are Bad

You can do this with a number of different tools on the market. A couple tools for your to look at are

  • ahrefs.com – This site’s data comes from a huge database. It’s very good at finding your links and telling you the quality level of the site the link came from. You’ll also be able to see many other factors like do-follow links vs no-follow.
  • majesticseo.com – This is a very common site webmasters use to do backlink analysis. This tool will help you to determine your site’s trust rating. You’ll get detailed reports showing you anchor text used and over optimization issues.
  • monitorbacklinks.com – This site will connect to your Google account, download their list of all links pointing to your site and help determine the bad links. They’ll also show you your competitors good links. A handy competitive backlink tool for sure.

Step #2 – Contact Site Owners Where Bad Links Reside

This is a very tedious step but one that Google wants you to take. You’ve got to contact site owners and request that they remove your link from their page(s). Keep a log of this. You’ll want to allow one week for a reply before you try contacting a second time. If after the second time they still do not reply move onto the next step.

Step #3 – Disavow Bad Links

This is arguably the easiest step to take in this process. Once you’ve identified the bad links and contacted site owners you can move onto this step. You’ll need to create a list of the links you want to disavow according to Google’s guidelines. You can use this tool to help you create that file

After you’ve created the file you can upload it directly to Google in Webmaster Tools. That looks like this:

google disavow tool image

Google Penalty Recovery Service

There a lot of recovery services and consultants available today. Since these updates started a few years ago there have been webmasters in need of help recovering their traffic standing. These services range in price and exact service from company to company obviously.

If you’re looking for a penalty removal expert for your own site you can expect to pay anywhere from $5,000 – $10,000 depending on the site. It’s a very in-depth process that consists of a lot of tedious work as you’ve read in the above guide.

Some of the more well-known recovery service providers are (in no particular order):

If you’re an SEO professional looking to offer penalty recovery services to your clients, you’ve got a couple of options. You could 1.) buy tools like monitorbacklinks and various on-site evaluation tools to diagnose the issues and fix them yourself OR 2.) You could use a white label solution from your favorite provider.

For example PosiRank offers a couple of solutions that would make a fantastic recovery product for you to offer.

#1 Full On-Site Audit

This will tell you everything you need to know about the site’s on-site issues. You’ll know exactly what to fix yourself or outsource the tasks necessary.

#2 Backlink Cleanup Service

This is a comprehensive manual process that they offer to help diagnose bad backlinks and create a disavow file. This one is a huge time saver and absolutely necessary when dealing with Penguin penalties.

These two services combined equal a fantastic recovery platform to sell services as an SEO. In fact, if you’re SEO inclined with your own site these services are great for you too.

Closing Thoughts

Google penalty recovery is a serious matter in today’s SEO environment. Webmasters all over the world are getting messages from Google everyday. Many lose their livelihoods over their traffic loss.

Fixing the issues involved in the recovery process are absolutely tedious. There’s no getting around that. But hopefully this guide was at the very least, a detailed start for you to regain control over the situation you or your client’s may be in. If you have questions feel free to contact us.

F.A.Q.

Q: How Do Backlinks Work?
A:  A backlink is an HTML link pointing from one website to another.  There are a few types of links that you will find.  First is a hyper text link.  This is a link that uses a word or phrase as the link leading to another site or page.  Second is an image link.  This is an image on a page that when clicked will lead the visitor to another page or site.  And lastly you’ll find “naked” links.  These are links that are simply URLs that when clicked lead to another page.

Q:  Are Backlinks Necessary?
A:  Backlinks are necessary components of Internet navigation as well as search engine optimization.  Backlinks provide ways for visitors to find relevant content from one site to another.  They also are considered a “signal” to search engine spiders that the site being linked to has some level of importance.  Backlinks are especially important when it comes to increasing your website’s search engine rankings.

Q: Which Backlinks Should I Remove?
A:  Links to remove from your backlink profile are links that come from “bad” websites, “bad neighborhoods, site-wide links, purchased links from link farms, and links from sites that are not indexed in Google.  For example having a backlink from a spam filled website is not a good link.  Google may interperet this as you, the webmaster, attempting to build up your backlink profile.  Or they may just see this as a link from what’s referred to as a “bad neighborhood” of links.  Either way removing or disavowing a link like that will help keep your backlink profile in good order.  This practice has become a common amongst professional search engine optimizers.

Q:  What Backlinks Point To My Site?
A:  Everysite will gain a different set of backlinks over time.  You can check your site’s backlinks by using tools like ahrefs.com or monitorbacklinks.com.  These tools will show you with a high degree of accuracy which sites are linking to you.  You’ll also be able to tell if the links are considered good or bad.

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