Does your site suddenly experience a huge drop in search traffic?
Does your site drop in search rankings, from page 1 or 2, to page 10 (or beyond) in Google search rankings?
If these happen to you, then your website is probably hit with Google Penalty.
(If your website drops 10 positions from no.10 to no.20, please, it is not a penalty. It may just be your competitor ranks ahead of you!)
I have been working on SEO in Singapore for the past 7 years (even before there are such things as penalties).
In 2014, I have a website that is hit with Google penalty, and upon further analysis, it is hit with Google Penguin penalty. I have successfully recovered my site from the penalty, and it is back to its high rankings.
So in this article, I will share with you the exact steps I took to recover my website, and how you can do it too.
What is Google Penguin Penalty?
Google’s Penguin deals with off-site optimization, usually in the case of heavy and spammy backlinks and high anchor text ratio. Websites that are penalized have previously added tons of backlinks to their website, or built backlinks with their main keyword only as their anchor text (this is called over-optimization).
This is seen by Google that is manipulative link building, and not acceptable according to their guidelines.
I know some business owners whose websites drop in search rankings due to penalties, but they don’t know anything about linkbuilding. Upon further discussion, I realized they have outsourced their SEO work to some other SEO agencies. I shall not name the agencies but I can say, some SEO agencies can be using shady SEO practices without you knowing.
Nonetheless, the main job is to get your website up the search rankings again, if your business relies on search engine for leads and sales.
If your site is penalized by Google, then here is the step-by-step plan what you should do to recover your rankings.
1) Know what penalty you are hit with
You can be hit with a manual penalty, or a algorithmic penalty.
For a manual penalty, Google will inform you through your Google Webmaster Tools. For an algorithmic penalty, you are not informed by Google. You just have to do a search, and if you see your rankings fall drastically, that means your site is penalized. Either way, the recovery stage is the same.
Signs of a Google penalty:
- Your website has ranked on page 1 for the main keyword for a period of time (more than 3 months).
- Your website drops more than 100 places in search results. (You used to rank on page 1. Now your website is found on page 11 for the main keyword)
- Your website is still running perfectly, it’s just that the rankings have dropped.
This is NOT Google penalty:
- You just bought a new domain, you built a website on it and did some linkbuilding, and realized your website is ranked on page 11.
- Your new domain (which is less than 6 months old), saw its rankings jumping up and down, between page 1 and page 10 of search pages.
This is a sign of ‘Google Sandbox’, which usually happen to new domains. Google will put new domains in this ‘sandbox’ to prevent new domains from popping up too fast up the search results. This effect will usually take about 6 months, before new domains ‘get out of the sandbox’.
2) Check your backlink profile
Because Penguins deal with off-page optimization, your next step is to see what sort of backlinks are built to your website. If you work with a SEO agency, request a link profile from them (they should give you a list of links they build to your site.)
If not, you can also use tools to analyze your links. The tools I use include MajesticSEO, Ahrefs, MonitorBacklinks, and Moz. These backlink analysis tools are quite good to identify what links are coming to your site. These tools are free to use (limited capabilities). If you really want to analzye all your links, then get the paid ones.
Alternatively, you can also log on to your Google Webmaster Tools to check the incoming links to your website. Google WMT report may not be comprehensive, but it is free!
3) Check for toxic links
Spammy backlinks are the ones that are likely to trigger the penalty. These links can come from suspicious foreign sites, or from sites with ill-repute, like viagra, gambling, porn…etc.
Low quality backlinks, like forum profiles, comments, side-bar, footer done in large volume will trigger the penalty too. These toxic links are usually built using softwares like Xrumer, GSA, or hiring cheap freelancers to spam websites with backlinks.
4) Remove those links
Two ways to remove those links. One, is to contact the siteowner to remove that backlink pointed to your site. Two, is to select the backlinks, put in a file, and submit to Google to disavow.
Try to get the website owner to remove that link because disavow effect takes time, and removal is not guaranteed. When you use the disavow tool, you can disavow via the domain level. If you disavow the domain, any links that come from this domain is disregarded by Google.
Note: Disavow toxic links only, not your precious and valuable links.
5a) Submit a request to Google
Then, go to your Google WMT. If you are hit with a manual penalty, you would have received an email from Google about the penalty. If that’s the case, submit a request back to Google that you have done the necessary checks and have taken action to revamp your site to fit Google’s guidelines.
Apologize and request for the penalty to be lifted from your site.
If you didn’t receive an email from Google about the penalty, then you have hit with an algorithmic penalty. Your site must have hit some triggers and it kicks your site out of the search pages automatically.
Hence, if you have completed step 2 to 4 on removing your bad links, you just have to wait. Wait for your site to recover from the disavow process to take effect, or wait for a new algorithm refresh.
How long do you have to wait? There’s no specific number of months. You can wait from 3 months to 9 months.
The 5 steps above is what you do to get your business website up and running again.
What can you do while you are waiting for Google?
As we know that there is no time frame for penalty recovery, there are somethings you can do to get your business back on track! You can wait for Google, but your business cannot wait for Google for leads!
This is what I did while waiting for my website to recover:
1) Build a new website
If your website is full of toxic links and seemed to be ‘doomed’, then you might just want to register a new domain name for your business. However, this can only apply if you are running small sites, or small businesses, who doesn’t mind changing the domain name.
However, using a new domain name won’t work for big companies. Hence, if you have a big company, do the next method.
2) Continue building links
Obviously, don’t build those links that get you penalized in the first place. Continue to build links from high authoritative websites. Be a guest writer for top magazines and blogs in your niche. Build social links from social media platforms. Create good content that people want to share, or even better, make it viral on social media.
3) Open up your lead channels
Search engine optimization is just one method of lead generation online. True, search traffic is highly profitable and I can attest to that. However, it is risky to put all our eggs in one basket. Use this time to diversify your lead channels.
If you’re doing B2C, you can use Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, or Google Adwords, YouTube Ads, Display advertising, and many other forms of online advertising. It is a whole new ball game itself on media buying, but it can be profitable for some businesses too.
If you’re doing B2B, no doubt search traffic can reap you high returns. But to diversify your lead channels, you can also do Google Adwords, Display Advertising, or go offline like networking, public launches, or even cold calling.
So there you go, the step by step process I used to recover my own penalized website and get it back up on Google search results again. If you have any queries about the recovery process, let me know in the comment below.