Do I have Search Penalties On My Website? How to Find and Fix Them


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man with head in hands receiving a penalty in front of judge banging gavel

A drop in search rank can mean a host of issues. One of those issues may be a search penalty on your website. 

Google algorithms change often and get savvier over time to websites that lack clear intent or quality user experiences. Though falling victim to a new Google filter isn’t the same as a penalty, you should still stay on top of the latest developments that could harm your search rank.

Below are several useful tips on how to discover if your website has fallen down the algorithm rabbit hole, and how to begin climbing out of it.

Our friends at Romain Berg offer comprehensive website design, SEO, and maintenance to help you stay ahead of changing Google algorithms. Visit their website today to learn more about how outsourcing your SEO can deliver a higher search rank and increased traffic to your site.

Penalty vs. Filter

AdobeStock 137344495Google has two main ways to “penalize” your website in search ranking. One is a manual action, and the other is a filter.

In a manual action, a Google evaluator notices your website may be breaking some rules of white hat (above board) SEO. For example, if you have a bunch of click-bait links on your site, but no useful content to speak of, it’s a red flag for Google evaluators.

If someone reports your website to Google, that’s another way their evaluators may issue a manual action to your site.

If your website triggers an algorithm filter on Google, it may alert the evaluation team to an issue as well. Sites with spam, malware, or paid links are common targets for evaluation and manual action. Hidden text and keyword stuffing are also common triggers for manual action.

You can view manual actions by accessing the Google Search Console and then click “Search Traffic” and choose “Manual Actions.”

Filters are less prominent search rank influencers. But, they can still influence your rank over time, especially as Google filters become more sophisticated. You can discover the filter impact on your search rank reasonably simply.

Pandas, Penguins, and Hummingbirds, oh my!

tiny penguins marching across a computer mother boardBack in the early 2000s, Google changed its search algorithms infrequently and without much finesse. Fast forward to now, and Google’s search criteria have gotten sophisticated, agile, and they evolve continually.

Though Google changes search engine algorithms more often now and usually on the down-low (600 times per year), the most significant updates are named and publicly released.

The Panda and Penguin updates refined Google’s preferences for quality content and backlinks, respectively.

The Hummingbird algorithm represented a significant up-leveling in Google’s understanding of different search words. 

Hummingbird is primarily the reason we can use plain language and colloquialisms in our search queries and get accurate results. Hummingbird also enabled an improved user experience with Google voice. And, voice recognition technology still drives the nuance of continual algorithm evolution.

With Panda, sites that had oodles of duplicated, thin, or poor-quality content dropped through the floor of search rank. As the Penguin update rolled out, sites with paid links, self-made links, or other low-quality link markers paid the price. 

The reason why some webmasters or site designers built these suspect links in the first place was to attempt to outsmart Google. Before Penguin, websites ranked higher based on backlinks in general, no matter how they were attained. 

As Google became more sophisticated, its ability to recognise and filter poor content or fishy backlinks improved.

Using analytics to find penalties

Sussing out a penalty requires gathering some data from Google analytics. If you notice that your site traffic had an otherwise inexplicable and significant drop during a certain time frame, it could be the result of a filter. 

It’s wise to stay tuned to Google’s publicized algorithm updates and monitor your organic traffic for a few weeks after the announcements come out. 

Prevent penalties by having a superior website

Website planning. Web designer working on website sitemap. Flat layIf there’s an easy way out, many people will take it. Such was the way with SEO when Google was a mere babe in the woods.

It was simple to spam your way to the heights of the search rank by stuffing your site with keywords and building backlinks with little integrity.

If you’re an SEO easy-way-outer today, Google has your number. The way to continually avoid Google search penalties and increase search rank is to offer up the best website you can possibly muster.

Here’s a short list of all the things you should have on your site for the best results:

  • Useful content that your audience enjoys, and they will engage with by commenting, sharing, or converting
  • Links that tie your website to other reputable, accurate, and reliable sites or content
  • Clear, conversational intent with keyword use; in other words, no keyword stuffing
  • Images, function, and interactivity that keep your users fascinated, thereby increasing your bounce rate
  • A precise understanding of your brand and the ability to communicate its message directly to your audience members online

EAT your content for best search rank

man eating burger in front of lap topFinally, if no one ever tried to game the system and simply provided high-quality content, we probably wouldn’t need penalties and algorithm updates and filters. 

Sigh, if only we could make everyone in the SEO world act right, yes? The ultimate solution to avoid search penalties is super simple — use the EAT rule when creating your content.

Provide material that contains Expertise, illuminates your Authority, and is Trustworthy. In other words, if you’re pushing products, services, or content you wouldn’t want your closest friends to consume with confidence, maybe you should rethink your life choices. 

Your backlinks should be reputable and organic (not paid or self-made), and your keyword uses conversational. Website authenticity is the name of the game to avoid search penalties.

When you promote yourself and your company with content integrity and superior user experience, your search results speak for themselves.

When in doubt, outsource to a crack SEO team

Our friends at Romain Berg produce EAT content for their clients as if their lives depended on it. (Their lives sort of do depend on it, actually.)

Fill out their contact form today, and they’ll help you audit your site for any filtering red-flags, re-tool your content strategy, and drive results, not hype.


About the Author

Sam Romain

Sam Romain

Digital marketing expert, data interpreter, and adventurous entrepreneur empowering businesses while fearlessly embracing the wild frontiers of fatherhood and community engagement.

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