There are any number of reasons why Google might penalize a website. For one thing, the preeminent search giant has been cracking down on black hat SEO over the last several years, with more and more targeted algorithms to weed out offenders using tactics like keyword stuffing and linking schemes to put their content in front of users, whether it’s relevant or not.
They’re also pursuing a mobile-first indexing agenda that means sites that optimize for mobile users are going to get top billing. It’s important to understand that Google is just trying to provide their users with the best possible service, including the more relevant and useful results for search queries. This is not only in their best interest, but also yours – you want targeted traffic to reach your site and provide the best opportunities for conversions and satisfied customers.
Still, it’s hard to keep up with all the rules, regulations, and changes Google comes up with, and you may find yourself on the losing end of the battle at some point. How can you tell if you’ve been hit with a penalty, apart from seeing a drop in traffic (which could be related to a slew of other causes)? Here are a few things you should know.
Manual Action vs. Algorithmic Penalties
There are two types of penalties you might face: manual action and algorithmic. What’s the difference? The first thing that separates these two types of penalties is the method in which you’ll discover your site has been penalized.
With a manual action penalty, you’ll receive a notification – Google will send a message to your Webmaster Tools to let you know what’s going on. If you start to notice a drop in ranking and results, you should check here first to see if you’re suffering a manual action penalty.
The message you receive should outline the problem with your page or your website, often complete with samples. This provides you with an opportunity to fix the issues and regain some ground, but you should know that manual action penalties are often of a serious nature, and you’re likely to suffer a major setback, if not outright delisting, when you get nailed for such offenses.
Algorithmic penalties tend to be less serious, but it’s a bit harder to identify when you’ve been slapped with one because you will not receive any notification from Google. Often, these are related to updates that you simply weren’t aware of and didn’t compensate for.
If you see a sustained drop in traffic for specific pages, products, or search terms, and you confirm that other common issues aren’t causing the decline, you should probably start sifting through recent Google updates to make sure you’re in compliance.
Cause and Correction
One of the best ways to determine the cause of a penalty and correct it is by using Google Webmaster tools. If you have a message from Google, you can get to work on correction. If not, try using Google Analytics to suss out the source of the problem, and then try to match it up to recent updates. If you’re still having trouble, you might need professional help to pinpoint the penalty and correct the problem.