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How to Know if You Have a Google Penalty—and How to Remove It

Search engine optimization is hard enough when the playing field is level. For most businesses, good SEO means taking smart actions to rank higher on Google: creating great content, building strong backlinks and getting social media buzzing. But if you’ve been penalized by Google, it gets a lot harder. With a Google penalty, your site will lose out on organic search traffic no matter what you do—because Google is hiding your site.

Want to find out if you have a penalty and how to get rid of it? That’s why we created this video overview.

How Google Penalizes Sites

There are two different types of actions Google takes against websites: manual actions (penalties) and algorithmic filters. Both have the same effect of reducing visibility in search results and traffic to your site, but they work in different ways.

Manual penalties: A manual penalty means that someone at Google has looked at your website and decided to penalize it. There are several reasons they may do this:

  • Unnatural incoming links: Google can see all the links pointing to your site and may penalize you if they look manipulative. This includes not just spammy links, but also over-optimized anchor text. In other words, if 40 percent of the links pointing to your site all have keyword-heavy anchor text, it looks suspicious.
  • Unnatural outbound links: This means that the links on your site point to “bad neighborhoods”—domains that are spammy or are themselves penalized. You may be doing this and not even realize it, particularly if you were hacked.
  • Low-quality content or little content at all: Google expects sites to provide real content that’s useful to site visitors.
  • Pure spam
  • Keyword stuffing: Even if your site adheres to Google’s quality guidelines, it may raise a red flag if the copy is loaded with keywords in an unnatural way (this includes hidden text).

Algorithmic filters: Google doesn’t have time to look at every website and manually decide if it’s playing by the rules, but they don’t have to. Using the vast amounts of data at its disposal, Google can automatically filter sites that meet certain criteria so they don’t achieve lofty rankings. This is known as an algorithmic filter.

Most of the time, when you are being screened by an algorithmic filter, it relates to one of two major algorithm updates Google has rolled out, nicknamed Panda and Penguin.

  • Panda: The Panda update was designed to filter sites with thin content or little value. For example, article directories like HubPages and eHow used to create useless articles to rank for key phrases, which worked well until Panda came along.
  • Penguin: This later update was designed to filter unnatural links. Penguin takes a bird’s-eye view of all the links pointing at your site, essentially automating the process of penalizing sites with suspicious links.

The result of either kind of action is the same: less traffic for your site.

Finding out if You Have a Penalty

The first step to removing a penalty is finding out whether there is a penalty in the first place. There are several ways to do this, and it’s best to use all of them.

  1. Google Webmaster Tools: This free online toolbox is the only way to have a two-way conversation with Google about your site. “Two-way” in this case means that Google can alert you about a site penalty, and that you can alert Google when you’ve taken corrective action and request to remove it.
  2. Search: One simple way to see if you are being filtered is to run non-personalized searches on your company name, your brand/domain name and your own name. You should be on the first page for all of these; if you aren’t, there’s a good chance you’re being filtered. You should also search site:( If you don’t show up, there’s a problem.
  3. Compare your site traffic against this great tool, which shows every Google algorithm change in the past 10 years. If a drop in traffic corresponds to the date of an algorithm update, there’s a good chance you’ve been filtered.
  4. You can conduct a full technical audit: There are hundreds of other small ways you can lose standing with Google, and an SEO professional can help you identify the most likely culprits.

The Solution

So if you do have a penalty from Google, what can you do about it?

Google Webmaster Tools gives you a starting point. When you take corrective action, such as cleaning up old, spammy links or disavowing bad links from other sites, you can submit a request (with documentation) to Google asking them to lift your penalty.

Sometimes it takes much more than this. When you’re being filtered algorithmically, you need to know which specific problems your site has. Whether it’s weak content, suspicious links in or questionable links out, you’ll need to make the right changes to your site in order to get back on Page 1.

If you want help doing this, EverSpark offers a free 30-minute SEO consultation. We can help you understand the most likely causes of a Google penalty and show you what it will take to get your penalty lifted. Contact EverSpark today and schedule your free consultation.