Google works hard to keep its search results as clean as possible, giving priority to high-quality websites and relegating low-quality results to relative obscurity. Unfortunately, some legitimate websites inevitably get caught in the crossfire. If your website is penalized for any reason by Google, you will notice a sharp drop in traffic as your website disappears from the top of SERPs
Here’s how to find out whether you have received a penalty from Google and what you can do about it.
Work Out What The Penalty Was For
The first thing to do if you know or suspect that you have been penalized by Google is to establish why. Google’s penalties fall into two broad categories – manually applied penalties and algorithmically applied penalties. The difference between them is fairly self-explanatory – a manually applied penalty is applied by a member of Google’s spam team, whereas the algorithmically applied penalties are automatically applied by Google’s algorithms. Google’s algorithms will still play a role in most manual penalties, as it is the algorithmic tools that will usually bring suspect sites to Google’s attention, although user reports may also be used.
If any kind of penalty has been applied, it should be easy to ascertain. If you head over to the Google Search Console, you will find the Google Webmaster Tools suite. If a manual penalty has been applied to your account, you should see a new notification here. If there are no notifications or messages immediately apparent, you might need to dig a little bit deeper to find out the root cause.
If the penalty was an algorithmic one, you won’t receive a notification; you will have to do a bit of detective work instead. Try to correlate your drop in traffic with updates to Google’s algorithms – if your drop in traffic occurred at the same time as the release of a major algorithm update, that suggests that you have inadvertently fallen afoul of Google’s new policies. If you can identify what specific policies you are now transgressing, you can adjust your website accordingly.
Unless you have done something specific and obvious to land yourself into trouble with Google (in which case, the best solution is for you to undo it and not do it again) then we can all but guarantee that the issue is bad backlinks. Bad backlinks are a problem that can affect just about any website and there is unfortunately little that you can do to prevent them from happening. However, there are steps you can take to recover your reputation and to stay on top of bad backlinks in the future.
The kind of backlinks that will negatively impact your website and lead to penalties are generally fairly obvious:
- Backlinks from any websites that have themselves been penalized or delisted by Google will create problems for you. You should work to remove any backlinks from websites that violate Google’s policies. You can quickly check whether a website has been delisted by Google or not by performing a search for “site:www.website.com” in Google.
- Websites that simply duplicate other content will also create problems. These websites tend to be low quality and often exist for black hat SEO; Google frowns upon websites receiving backlinks from these sources.
- Websites that have no relation to your niche. One of the most important factors that Google considers when rating links is its relevance. Recent updates to Google’s algorithms have highlighted how important they consider user intent and the relevance of search results to the future of internet searching.
Other sources to avoid include spam websites and websites that are hosting illegal content. We hope you don’t need us to tell you that, though.
Finding Bad Backlinks
Before you can address issued with bad backlinks, you need to identify them. There are plenty of tools that will enable you to do this, ‘Monitor Backlinks’ is one of the most popular options out there. Once you have connected it with your Google Analytics account, you can then use Google Webmaster Tools to import your links and see all of the bad backlinks affecting your website.
Once you have a list of backlinks, you will then need to check the URLs to see whether the websites are legitimate or not. Note that backlinks to your website from blog comments and forum posts can also count against you if they are low-quality sources.
Once you have identified any bad backlinks that are harming your website, you then need to request their removal. The easiest way of doing this is to contact the website owner if you think they will be amenable to removing your link. If you are having an issue with spambots posting a backlink to your website in the comments section of a legitimate forum or blog, there is a reasonable chance that the website owner will be willing to help you.
The more polite and specific you are with your request, the more likely it is that the webmaster will comply. Even if you don’t expect them to give you any help, it is still worth contacting them just in case. Make sure that you keep track of any email requests that you send and try to avoid spamming webmasters with requests.
If you aren’t having any luck going through the website owner, you can always choose to disavow the link. Before you create a disavowal report, you should clear any bad links that you can. That’s why we recommend that you contact webmasters beforehand – even if they ignore your request, you could potentially save yourself a lot of time for a little effort.
You can use the aforementioned ‘Monitor Backlinks’ tool to export a disavowal file containing all the backlinks that you want to disavow. You can then use Google’s ‘Disavow Links Tool’ in order to submit your exported disavowal report.
Once you have submitted a disavowal report, it usually takes between two and four weeks for it to be processed. Once it has gone through, you should see your site’s reputation begin to improve pretty quickly.