Recovering from a Google Penalty (Or Preventing One in the Future)

In the age of Penguin and Panda, Google is quick to hand out penalties for any activities that appear unnatural or are blatant attempts to increase site rankings.  In early 2012, Google began handing out warnings in Webmaster Tools that alerted website owners to unnatural links leading to their sites.  Unfortunately, these warnings were in most cases precursors to rankings drops.  If you received a Google penalty, or want to avoid one in the future, here are a few steps you can take to help penalty-proof your site.

1.  Make Sure Your Site is in the Index

Step one is to determine what kind of penalty you’ve received.  To make sure your site hasn’t been deindexed altogether, try running a search for ‘site:’.  Hopefully, your homepage and many of your subpages will appear in this list.  If your site does not appear, you’ve probably been doing something you shouldn’t and may be better off starting anew.

2.  Get Rid of Any Paid Links

The first step to recovering from a penalty is to get rid of all paid links.  By paid links I do not mean directory listings for which you paid, or even advertising links on other sites, but unnatural links purchased solely for the purpose of increasing your site’s rankings.  A directory listing helps searchers find your site using a directory, so it makes sense, and an advertising link helps bring potential customers to your site, so that makes sense too, but a link contained within a spammy blog post doesn’t do anyone any good, and is therefore suspect for Google.  The sites most hit by the recent updates are content networks, or groups of blogs created solely for the purpose of posting useless content with a link to your site in it.  Dump these as quickly as possible because, while they may have helped in the past, they are most likely resulting in penalties now.

3.  Review Your Link Anchor Text

The best way to review your links is with a program such as SEOMoz’s Open Site Explorer.  After entering your website in the search bar, this program will show you all the links pointing to your site.  Here you are looking for anything that seems spammy and comes from sites completely unrelated to yours.  You’ll also want to look at your link anchor text.  A natural link profile should have the website URL and the site name as two of the most common anchor texts.  A link profile that is incredibly unbalanced, with thousands of links with a single keyword phrase anchor text, is suspicious and probably sends up red flags for Google.  If possible, go through your existing links and try to create a more balanced profile.

4.  Review Your Site for Duplicate Content

For many sites, it’s easy to copy and paste content and simply change the city names where appropriate; however, this practice can result in deindexing.  Creating unique content for every page on your site is a good way to ensure that you don’t result in penalties as a result of duplicate content.

5.  Clean Up Your Website

Check Title tags, internal links, alt img tags, and anything else for deceptive practices.  Before doing this you may want to review Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and check the Design and Content guidelines.

With its recent updates Google is increasing forcing SEOs to play nice, following the guidelines that they created.  In the future, Google will most likely continue to mold search results in a manner that suits them most and follows their rules, so SEOs and webmasters would be wise to familiarize themselves with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (linked above).  These guidelines tell us exactly what Google wants—and doesn’t want—and basically forecast changes that the search engine will seek in the future.

Geoffrey Hoesch is the owner of Dragonfly SEO, a Maryland-based search engine optimization firm.  To the best of his ability, he practices white hat optimization strategies, believing that it is possible to achieve good results without having to participate in shady practices. Follow him @dragonflyseo

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