Google penalties can sneak up on anyone. You’ve watched your sites’ rankings grow steadily and seen traffic increase, then out of nowhere you’re hit by a feeling akin to walking back to the car to find a ticket firmly fixed to the windscreen. Switching on your computer to find a slump in rankings – and the horrid realisation that you have been hit by a Google penalty – is a massive blow, and one some assume they can never recover from.
There is, however, a case for this seemingly bleak occurrence actually being a turning point from which you can go forward stronger.
Many that had managed to escape a dressing down by Google in the past found their sites faced with warnings and ranking drops for the first time when Penguin was first rolled out last April. Subsequent updates (most recently in October 2012) have only tightened around those still relying on outdated SEO practices. It all seems a little unfair, but the harsh reality is that Penguin is designed to find sites that still rely on poor SEO methods which should have been cast out at the advent of Panda in 2011, if not before. In short – and somewhat controversially – if you are given a penalty at this point, you probably deserve it.
If you haven’t been hit yet, then it’s time to take preventative measures as a major Penguin update is expected at some point this year.
Believe it or not, there is an upside to all this, both for businesses and customers. Once the dust has settled from the initial impact of either Panda or Penguin, the clean-up operation can begin. Whilst recovery from a Google penalty or algorithmic update does not happen overnight, if it’s done properly then you can future-proof your site at the same time, thereby minimising the risk of this happening again with later updates.
Try imagining you have a brand new site, and can do everything from scratch. What would you do? It’s now 2013 and things have moved on considerably from keyword stuffing and getting links to your site on every site possible, regardless of relevance and quality. If you had to start over, surely you’d look hard at your onsite text first, given Panda’s preference for great content.
Then, look at technical issues that may be slowing down your site or preventing it from being indexed properly. Follow this by looking at all your inbound links – and that really means ALL of them – as, again, if you were starting over knowing what we do now, no bad links would be built in the first place.
The key thing to remember when trying to fix your site after a penalty is not to go for a patch-up job. Instead, pull it apart and remove anything that may cause further difficulties down the line. If you think you may be guilty of keyword stuffing then don’t just remove a few, take the time to rewrite content in a way that is beneficial to your audience (whilst at the same time adhering to the magic minimum ratio of 15% text to HTML).
Backlink penalties are a little harder to deal with, but again simply removing or disavowing one or two that you think are causing the problem only masks the issue. A good rule of thumb is: if you wouldn’t be happy to build that link again today, then it’s not good enough to keep. Pulling down any questionable links may leave you a little short of backlinks and cause a further knock in rankings in the short term, but coupled with a good link building strategy going forward you are likely to see the benefits as more Google updates are run.
If you were given the chance to do it all again from the beginning I’m sure you would do a lot differently. So instead of treating a Google penalty as a setback, try to think of it as the shove you needed to look at your strategy and clean up some historical mess. All this, of course, is rather time consuming, but by taking the time to weed out anything that may cause you to be penalised further – or prevent the recovery of your rankings – is time well spent in the long game that is SEO.