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The Complete Guide to Google Penalty Prevention and recovery

  1. What is a Penalty?
  2. Why does Google Penalize the Sites?
  3. Types of Penalties
  4. The Left, Right and Centre of Algorithmic Penalties
  5. Google Manual Penalty explained
  6. Symptoms of Penalties
  7. Diagnosing Penalties
  8. The Cure and Aftermath
  9. Preventing Future Penalties

1. What is a Penalty?

soccer On a football (soccer) field if a player(s) plays against the rules intentionally he is bound to get a penalty from a free shot to red card depending on the severity of the action. The same is applied by Google when a site is not following its Webmaster Guidelines intentionally or unintentionally. Like a football Penalty Google too has a series of Penalties ranging from page level Penalty to sitewide Penalty.

Same as a football penalty a single unruly action may cause havoc to a website’s position on Google. Google too observes the actions closely as a reference and warns website owners with a yellow card. When it figures out that the warning is not taken seriously in the right perspective by the owners who continue to trick Google with black hat techniques, Google shut downs permanently with a ban. This is a red card which means the site has lost the trust of Google and will not be available on Google’s searches. This is a very dangerous situation considering that every business person and thing is searched for before taking is searched for before taking an action. Missing on Google’s searches is pretty much invisible online.

2. Why does Google Penalize Sites?

Google’s ideology is that everything about a site should be organic. Let it be the content, links, backlinks, citations review or anything else concerning a website is expected to be natural. Google hates manipulation, which they have clearly said in their webmaster guidelines and advice webmasters from time to time through Webmaster Blog, Mattcutts videos and Webmaster Central at YouTube. However there are a number of site owners who want their traffic to multiply exponentially in a short period of time. They employ black hat techniques either by themselves or through agencies which adapt a make-money-quick-and-exit strategy. Some innocent site owners also get victimized choosing the wrong service provider.

3. Types of penalties

  • 3.1 Onsite Penalty

    Google Penalize sites for shady Onsite techniques such as

    • Keyword stuffing
    • Cloaking
    • Doorway pages
    • Corridor pages
    • Duplicate content
    • Lean content
    • Content scrapping
    • Excessive Ads
    • Too many outbound links
    • Paid ads which pass link juice and a couple of other factors.
  • 3.2 Offsite Penalty

    Offsite Penalty Google keeps a close watch on who is linking to your site and how it is linked. As discussed earlier Google comes strong on sites which employs unethical strategies to get the backlinks. Below are the most penalty prone links. If a site with these types of links has not been penalized until now one can be sure of a penalty anytime

    • Low quality Article, Directory, Bookmarking, Social Media sites
    • Links from SPAMMY Blog Comments
    • Forum Signatures
    • Links from Banned Network IP’s
    • Paid Links
    • Links from FFA, SPAM & Link farms
    • Links from Malicious Sites
    • Links from Irrelevant Sites
    • Links from Foreign Language Sites
    • Links from Content Scrapper Site

4. The Left, Right and Centre of Algorithmic Penalties

Algorithmic penalty, as the name suggests is based on certain predefined algorithms, that apply to sites which violates guidelines Google has publicly announced. There are several algorithmic penalties which are rolled out frequently. Only the penalties which affect a significant amount of queries are publicly made available.

Algorithmic penalties affect a site in a number of ways.

  • 4.1 Major Impacts of Algorithmic Penalties

    Page Level Penalty

    If a particular page(s) violates the guidelines or if it has unnatural backlinks then penalty is applied to that particular page(s)

    Site wide Penalty

    If the entire site violates onsite guidelines or if unnatural backlinks are built to the home page then algorithmic penalty is applied to the entire site.

    Total Ban

    Google bans network sites, contact scrapping sites, sites purely made for AdSense, MCM, racist and terrorism related sites. This is a sure death.

    30+

    For reasons unknown Google Algorithm penalty slaps and they are pushed beyond the third page even for their brand name searches.

    Sand Box

    When the algorithm is not sure if a site is violating the guidelines are not, but suspects something unusual then the site is sandboxed for the algorithm observes the site and decides whether to penalize or not.

  • 4.2 List of Algorithmic Penalties

    Penguin 2.1 or Penguin (ver-5) Algorithmic Penalty

    Penguin 2.1
    • Period: Oct 1st week 2013. This is another refresh of the original Penguin 2 Update
    • Cause: Bad backlinks- From article directories, paid links, low quality directories, PR sites, social bookmarking, sitewide links, Link farms
    • Effect: The sites hit by this update almost lost 80% of the organic traffic from Google leaving several website owners devastated with no clue on what to do next.

    Humming Bird Algorithmic Update

    Humming Bird
    • Period: August 4th Week 2013. This is an updated version of Caffeine with LSI content.
    • Cause: Lean content and long tailed keywords
    • Effect: Pages which ranked higher for long tailed keywords disappeared in the SERPs while pages with LSI content especially with question answer style content ranked good.

    The Panda Refresh Algorithmic Penalty

    Panda Refresh Algorithmic Penalty
    • Period: June 2nd Week 2013. This is yet another panda pounding on the sites missed out on the previous Panda update.
    • Cause: Duplicate content, thin content, Scrapped Content, Low quality content, Copied Content
    • Effect: Pages with the above content where totally wiped out of the search results, no matter how much backlink juice they had. In some cases the domains were also penalized.

    The Penguin 2.0 Algorithmic Penalty

    Penguin 2.0 Algorithmic Penalty
    • Period: May 4th Week 2013. Although this penalty was rolled out a couple of months back, Google officially announced that they have rolled out Penguin 2.0 which is all about links as Penguin 2.1, but sites where mainly hit on their home page rankings.
    • Cause: Same as Penguin 2.1 Bad Backlinks but links pointing to the home page- From article directories, paid links, low quality directories, PR sites, Social bookmarking, Sitewide links, Link farms
    • Effect: Unlike Penguin 2.1 only the homepage and domains where affected. Millions of sites disappeared from the index of Google and their searches.

    The Phantom Algorithmic Penalty

    The Phantom Algorithmic Penalty
    • Period: May 2nd Week 2013. No official announcement but a large number of sites where affected by this Unknown aka Phantom Update
    • Cause: Unknown- Speculated to be an Untold Penguin Update
    • Effect: Single page sites and sites with too many backlinks were hit hard.

    The Panda Algorithmic Penalty

    The Panda Algorithmic Penalty
    • Period: March 3rd Week 2013. Jan 4th week 2013 This was the devastating algorithm update officially announced in the first week of Jan and subsequently by March.
    • Cause: Duplicate Content, Lean Content, Content Scrapping, Syndicated Content, Spun Content, thin Content
    • Effect: Almost all the article directories, content syndication & content scrapping sites were taken down. Sites like ezinearticles.com, amazines which dominated the SERPs for years disappeared overnight.

5. Google Manual penalty Explained

A human brain is incomparable to any algorithm which makes it a double edged sword, finding loop holes in the algorithm to find those who utilize the loop holes. While Google employs the best of the brains to enhance their algorithm to make it invulnerable, there are passionate individuals, groups etc. Who find their own methods to trick the algorithm?

To tackle this Google has employed hundreds and thousands of searches evaluates across the world. Their job is to find out sites, pages which doesn’t follow the guidelines, yet appear on the top positions. This team work day in day out with their watchful eyes and report those sites and associated sites, Network etc. which has bypassed the algorithm penalty. They will evaluate the site for onsite, offsite factors especially look for unnatural links and if found offensive send a warning to the website owners. Google manual warnings should be considered very serious as it is their way of saying “Look we know what you did to trick us.

  • 5.1 List of Manual warnings

    The Most Dreaded Manual Action – “Unnatural links to your site

    • Cause: Bad links- From irrelevant sites, other languages sites, article directories, paid links, low quality directories, PR sites, social bookmarking, Site wide links, Link farms, reciprocal links, 3way links etc.
    • Effect: If you have received this warning then chances are that the traffic must have fallen from the cliff and from my experience these sites witness a drop in organic traffic  from a minimum 40-80% in some cases 90 plus. This is one message no webmaster would like to see in his lifetime. Don’t get carried away by the smile of Matt & his colleague as they are delivering a sugar quoted quinine pill.    

    I know what you did – “Unnatural links to your site-Impact sites

    • Cause: Pattern of backlinks, Paid networks, unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links. This s a way of Google telling you that “Hey I know what you did to get these links and get rid of it”
    • Effect: As “Unnatural links to your site

    Links that pass the juice – “Unnatural links from your site

    • Cause: Selling text links at site to pass link juice.
    • Effect: Sites are not affected initially but failing to take action may lead to a 20-40% drop in traffic.

    Doom & Disaster – “hacked site

    • Cause: Site attacked by Malware, Virus, Trojan or any other hack.
    • Effect: Almost 100% drop in traffic.

    Cheating Googlebot – “Cloaking & Sneaky redirects

    • Cause: Showing different version of pages to Googlebot and the Visitor, tricking Googlebot with keyword rich content, while showing a lighter version to the visitor and using doorway pages.
    • Effect: 20-40% drops in organic traffic. The pages which employ the above technique are dropped from index

    Cheating Googlebot: over optimization “Hidden text and/or keyword stuffing

    • Cause: Trying to cheat Googlebot with hidden text in form of layers, divisions or by camouflage and excessive usage of keywords only for the sake of optimization.
    • Effect: 40-60% drops in organic traffic.  Pages or sometime the entire site is de-indexed by Google.

    Useless Junk – “pure SPAM

    • Cause: Spun content, Scrapped content, automatically generated Gibberish, Translated content by automated tools, MFA content.
    • Effect: Almost 100% drop in traffic.

6. Symptoms of Penalties

The impact of penalties differs from one type to other. While every penalty result in lower ratings on SERP (Search engine result pages) and subsequently a decrease in organic traffic. This cannot be determined in a day or two unless the site is slapped by a massive penalty.

Here are some of the symptoms and possible penalties.

Falling from the cliff

Falling from the cliff

If the analytics graph shows a sudden decrease in traffic like falling off from the cliff and no significant rise from the fall, most likely the site had attracted a sitewide penalty.

To the absolute bottom

To the absolute bottom

When the organic traffic falls to zero or negligible percentage compared to the existing traffic, then the site is blacklisted or harmed permanently.

Crests and troughs

Crests and troughs

When you see a zigzag in the site is under surveillance prior to penalty.

Linear drop

Linear drop

This is related to onsite issues. Google algorithm detects that the pages of the site are no longer updated or fresh and reduce the importance of the pages. The Graph will be a gradual decrease like a slanting line.

7. Diagnosing Penalties

Diagnosing Penalties A penalty is not so hard to diagnose, however a number of site owners panic and misjudge penalty impacts, confusing them with seasonal holiday impacts. A most common reason overlooked while diagnosing penalty is the crawling and accessibility of the site. Due to various reasons the pages may not be accessible to Google bots. We discover time and often that webmasters block Google bot IPs by mistake which is a disaster. Also half-baked SEO’s configure the robot.txt wrong which affects the site largely.

When you sec a drop in traffic, do not panic give it some time, find out if there was any algorithm updates rolled out at the period of time.

  • Check webmaster tools for crawls & index
  • Check webmaster webpages
  • Check with your SEO provider or your team to see if any changes had been made to site recently.
  • Make sure it is not a holiday or off season. You can do this by comparing the organic traffic for the same period of time with the previous year.
  • Check the Google trends, for e.g. If your site is about “swineflu” the traffic would have decreased abruptly after the outbreak is contained and situation become normal
  • Check the landing page traffic with the previous period and , sec if there is a drop in traffic
  • Check if any pages are removed or renamed and if so properly configured with 301, 404 redirects.

If all of the above are ok, then you have to check for the period in which you experience drop in traffic and whether there are any corresponding penalties rolled out during that period. The complete list of algorithmic penalties with their date of release is given under 4.2 List of Algorithmic Penalties.

8. The Cure & After-math

If you had received a manual penalty (unnatural link warning) from Google web spam team then you need to follow the below process in the same order. Remember you have to strictly follow the procedure and give attention to details. If you miss any of the steps, or do it in a different order, the penalty will never be revoked.

Step 1 [Analyzing back link profile]

Download the backlink profile from webmaster tool and analyze the list for site wide links, unique domains and segment them.

Step 2 [Audit bad links]

Audit bad links Browse through every domain and check for the following

  • Low quality Article, Directory, Bookmarking, Social Media sites
  • Links from SPAMMY Blog Comments
  • Forum Signatures
  • Links from Banned Network IP’s
  • Paid Links
  • Links from FFA, SPAM & Link farms
  • Links from Malicious Sites
  • Links from Irrelevant Sites
  • Links from Foreign Language Sites
  • Links from Content Scrapper Sites

If the domains falls in one or more of the above then separate then into a sheet and mark as bad domain. While analyzing the domains consider a machete approach.

Step 3 [Audit Anchor text]

Identify the Anchor text density from the incoming links. Anchor text density is a major criterion and if you have a high density you need to connect the webmaster to change the Anchor text to organic and not the exact keyword (key phrase)

The ideal density of Anchor text will be approximately

  • 30% – Exact match Main Keyword (E.g.: Nike shoes)
  • 15% – Exact match Variation (e.g.: cheap Nike shoes, discounted
  • Nike shoes)
  • 20% – Secondary keyword (Nike Sport Shoes)
  • 5% – Secondary Keyword variation (Cheap Nike Sport Shoes)
  • 10% – Brand (e.g.: Nike)
  • 10% – URL (e.g.: Shoebazar.com)
  • 10% – Generic (e.g.: Click here)
More on Anchor text density

Step 4 [Sending link removal request]

Get the contact email of the website owners for which you need to remove the backlinks compile a list. If the contact email is not available on site you can use the contact form. If you don’t find both, you can use the “whois.com” database to collect the owner details. Try every possible way to collect the details, let it be LinkedIn, or FB fan page or a yellow page.

Write a detailed courteous mail requesting the site owners to remove the links. Include a sample link from where your site is linked.

Send every mail individually and have a proof of that. Use an email from your domain and creating an email in the name of“backlinkcheck@yourdomain.com” is recommended to send the link removal request.

Sample link removal request mail

Hi,
I am [Name], working for [Insert your Domain]. I am trying to remove some backlinks pointing to our website [Insert your Domain].com from [Backlink domain]. I would really appreciate your help in removing these links.
Here is a sample link
Sample Link URL: [backlink]
The links may hurt both our rankings and I will be grateful if you can remove the link. If you could please send a confirmation note letting me know that the link has been removed, I would really appreciate it.
If you have any queries please feel free to enquire at [E-mail]
Thanks in advance!
I hope to hear from you soon.
Webmaster,
[Insert your Domain]

Step 5 [Sending 2 reminders]

Wait for 3-5 days’ time and if you don’t hear from the site owners, send another reminder and subsequently send the second reminder after 5 days from the first reminder

Step 6 [Create a Disavow file]

Only about 20-30% of the site owners will respond. Some of them even demand money to remove the links which you need not pay. Create a well formatted Disavow file. While creating the disavow file try to disavow the entire domain rather than individual URLs unless the URL has a better value than the domain

[More info on how to create a disavow file]

Step 7 [Disavow links]

Login to your WMT account Go to [https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main] and upload the disavow file

Step 8 [Send Reconsideration Request]

As soon as you have submitted the disavow file you have to send a detailed reconsideration request with the details of your effort to remove the bad links along with proof.

(Reconsideration Request Sample mail)
Hello Google Search Quality Team,
Since receiving your response to our original reconsideration dated 11/07/2013 we have been diligently working to remove all unnatural links pointed towards our site at www.domain.com. We believe we have been successful in making our site compliant with your search quality guidelines and have reviewed the quality guidelines multiple times before submitting this reconsideration request.
Here are the specific changes we’ve made since our original reconsideration request:
We have closely examined the links report in Google Webmaster Tools and assessed whether these links were likely to be considered to be ‘unnatural’ by Google. We have made a concerted effort to remove these links by contacting the webmasters controlling these domains. Evidence of this communication is available in the following Google Docs document:
(Insert Google Docs Link)
(Add screenshot in drive)
We were unable to remove (domain count) domains due to no response after multiple attempts from webmasters who control domains which have unnatural links pointed to our domain. We have disavowed these links using the Google Disavow Links tool and the file name “domain.com Disavow Nov 2013.txt”
We are committed to doing whatever it takes to meet the Google Search Quality guidelines. If you or your team still finds links that do not meet the guidelines, we would highly appreciate an example of the specific links that are outside the guidelines to help our efforts in removing these links.
Thank you for your time and your consideration.
Sincerely,
yourdomain.com

9. Preventing Future Penalties

It is very important that you protect your site against any vulnerability, activities which may lead to a penalty. Creating a trust with Google is hard to achieve but losing it can happen within a moment if google detects something wrong or fishy. You should be very careful on your promotional strategies, content etc. Let us see how a future penalty can be avoided.

  • Monitor Back Links: Whether you like it or not your site may be linked back from forums, blogs, social media and other sources. Rarest of rare cases a disgruntled staff or competitor may buy bad links to your site. You have to monitor closely on what type of back links you get and if they are relevant. This can be achieved by downloading the links from webmaster tools and analyzing the “first found” date. I recommend doing this at least once in a week.
  • Choosing The Right Service Provider: Most of the damage is done by amateur service providers, freelancers you find at places like digitalpoint forum, warrior forum etc. I had done a case study with the service providers of a couple of forums where I hired a number of service providers for a new site to build links. It was a disaster and had to close the site eventually.
  • Be Aware of the Strategies: Let it be your in-house team or your service provider, get a detailed plan on what they intend to do. That will give you a clear idea on what type of links and how they are built for your site. You have every right to ask your service provider or your staff on the strategy and do not shy away. If the plan includes any of the below, then reject it outright.
    • Low quality Article, Directory, Bookmarking, Social Media sites
    • Links from SPAMMY Blog Comments
    • Forum Signatures
    • Links from Banned Network IP’s
    • Paid Links
    • Links from FFA, SPAM & Link farms
    • Links from Malicious Sites
    • Links from Irrelevant Sites
    • Links from Foreign Language Sites
    • Links from Content Scrapper Sites
  • Links from your Site: You may be tempted to link to your partner sites, but never do that unless the site is related. If you are to link, use the “rel=nofollow” tag.
  • Content Management: Check for plagiarism when you hire a content creation service provider. You can use copyscape.com to check for duplicate content. Google hates duplicate content, lean content, content scrapping etc. Make sure the content is
    Unique Fresh and informative with the right amount of keywords.

In some cases your site may generate user created content in the form of reviews, comments etc. You need to check it out from time to time and remove SPAM

  • Protecting the site from vulnerabilities: Host your site at the right web server with not too many sites hosted on the same server. Choose the right hosting provider which assures a 99.99% uptime with tight security. Malware attacks, downtime will ruin the site performance and lead to a penalty. So choose your hosting wisely.

Free manual backlink audit by experts at SIM

Manual backlink audit, removal and disavow services by SIM

Free Website Analysis Tool

Useful Videos

Sharing Webmaster tools access

Know how to share webmaster tool access in this short screencast

Downloading Backlinks from webmaster tools

This screencast explains how you can download backlinks from Google webmasters tools

How to prepare disavow file?

Preparing a disavow file as per Google guidelines is not an easy task. Watch this video to know how to prepare one.

Recovery from action

In this video, Mattcutts explains how a site can recover from penalty

Unnatural links to your site

Matt explains the actions you must take when you get a manual warning from Google.

Infographics

P2p deadly Google Algorithmic Penalties of 2013

Google Algorithmic

How to create a disavow file?

disavow

News articles

  • 1. Matt Cutts: Use the Link Disavow Tool Even if Your Site Hasn't Been Penalizedby Jennifer Slegg, SEW Read the news
  • 2. Google Manual Vs Algorithmic Penalty Explainedby Jenifer Renjini, SIM News Read the news
  • 3. Google's Disavow Tool Works - Penalty Removalby Duke Tanson, Moz Blog Read the news
  • 4. 8 Reasons Your Reconsideration Request Will Failby Marie Haynes, SEW Read the news

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