Unfortunately, there are no websites or tools that can identify 100% whether or not your website is penalised. At best, there are websites which read your Analytics and map dates against Google’s Algorithm changes to highlight any correlation between traffic drops.
Identifying there is a problem
It’s likely that you suspect your website is penalised due to traffic drops without a clear reason. It’s important never to jump to the conclusion you are penalised without gathering evidence, start by reading the Google’s Quality Guidelines,
To begin with your traffic assessment, make sure you are not doing any of the following:
- Automatically generated content with keywords and no value to the user.
- Participating in link schemes with followed links to manipulate PageRank.
- Creating pages with little or no original content, for example copy + pasting content from another website such as article or news post.
- Cloaking content or URLs by showing Google Bot something different than the user.
- Sneakily redirecting users to a different URL than the one originally requested.
- Hiding text or links with CSS (font-size, colour, positioning) so the text is not visible to the user but can be crawled.
- Creating doorway pages to rank high for certain queries and funnel users providing a poor user experience.
- Copy or Scraping content from other websites without adding any original content, input or value.
- Participating in affiliate programs with no originality or personal input that is different from the product.
- Loading pages with Stuffing unnecessary keywords into the page.
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or running an executable without the user’s knowledge.
- Using rich snippets Schema markup incorrectly, or in a way that misrepresents content to users.
- Sending automated queries to Google.
The above rules are put in place to ensure the user receives the content they are looking for. Even if you manage to rank highly for a query that is irrelevant to your content – the user will leave with a bad taste in their mouth providing no benefit to you.
The two most devastating penalties are Penguin and Panda.
Launched in 2012 with a focus around website links that manipulate Google’s PageRank feature into boosting your websites rank. This update saw 4 major roll outs until October 2016 where it became real-time.
Here is an example of what the Google Penguin Penalty looks like:
Previously, you could participate in a link scheme and increase rank for months then drop overnight once Penguin was rolled out. This was a common technique that unethical SEOs would use, boost your ranking very quickly, receive payment and disappear when you are penalised. This update now works in real time which prevents such acts from happening.
A common problem with affiliate links is that since the links need to be tracked, they may require id parameters (www.affiliate.com?id=12345) for the destination page to track user activity and sales. Because of the id parameter, Google sees that you are tracking the link, this leads them to believe that there is an exchange of money involved in this link which could be boosting your PageRank. You should tag the href with rel=”nofollow” so Google will not suspect you are not using a link scheme.
To remove a Penguin Penalty you need to analyse your backlink profile and assess the problematic links.
Problematic links could be:
- Links from a low quality directory
- Large amounts of rich anchor text links
- Followed links with parameter tracking
- Article and review spam links
Making sure these links contain rel=”nofollow” will disassociate your website from them, if you are unable to change the link you can disavow the domain – this will tell Google you want the links removed from your backlink profile.
Panda was launched in 2013 and has seen many updates over the years. With each update the algorithm may become more strict or include new requirements.
Content is the main focus of this update, the goal is to provide users with authentic and quality content. Websites which copy content in order to receive traffic is unfair to the original creator.
Here is an example of what the Google Panda Penalty looks like:
Problematic content could be:
- Thin content throughout your pages, low word count
- Duplicate content (including meta descriptions and page titles)
- Passing content from another site as your own (copy + pasting, scraping)
- Spamming keywords or hiding content from users
- Quality of your site and content
You can check the webmaster advice from Google to find out more.
There is speculation that the behaviour of users on your site (bounce, time on site, returning visits etc) can cause penalties. We know that Google does pay attention to these signals, it unclear of what action Google will take from these signals. Either way, you should be watching your users behaviour and make changes to improve low performing pages.
Removing a Panda penalty requires fixing all the problems by editing content or removing/noindexing problematic pages, if you are copying content – search a paragraph in Google to see how many similar articles there are, is the content you have different? Is it useful to the user?
Finding correlation between traffic and algorithms
Using Google analytics, create annotations for each algorithm update, like so:
The Google Algorithm change history contains the Panda and Penguin updates along with all other updates. You can see all of the current algorithms and their severity on our Website Penalty Check page.
When you your annotations are in place, segment your data into Organic traffic and see if your traffic has dropped around the same time as the updates. Penalties can affect sites different and will not always show a 90% drop. Check within your Search Console if there has been a manual action taken against your website.
If you need an assessment on your website, get in touch today.