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  • Weathering a Google Penalty Storm


    Google penalties are no laughing matter. They wreck havoc on websites which can be particularly frustrating if you erroneously received a penalty. Fortunately, this happens less frequently today than in the past several years. The vast majority of Google penalties are legitimate.

    Weathering a Google Penalty Storm

    You may not even be aware you have suffered a penalty.   All you know for sure is you have lost traffic as well as ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).  And, you are losing a lot of money as a result of your drop in rankings.  So, how can you weather a Google penalty storm that has devastated your online business? For starters, take a deep breath…relax…and let’s begin by getting on the same page.  Trying to deal with a penalty haphazardly could make the situation worse.

    What is a Google penalty?

    Google penalties are not new.  They occur for a variety of reasons but can generally be categorized as a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines or their terms and conditions of service.  Any black hat SEO practice can trigger a Google penalty.  You do not have to intentionally violate one of Google’s requirements to receive a penalty – a penalty occurs regardless of intent.  Of course, if Google believes you are deliberately trying to get around their ranking algorithms, you can receive a more severe penalty that can result in the de-indexing of your entire site.

    What is the result of a Google penalty?

    If your site receives a penalty, your site and each individual web page that is indexed could be dropped lower on SERPs.  Your overall PageRank will drop as well.  And this has a trickle-down effect.  When customers can no longer find you on SERPs, they are likely to take their business elsewhere.  Your reputation is negatively impacted. And, of course, you will be making significantly less money without the organic traffic to your site provided by Google.  The longer your site is penalized the greater effect it will have in these areas of your online life.  A Google penalty is serious business – multiple penalties can be downright devastating.

    Is a ban the same as a Google penalty?

    A ban is worse than a penalty.  Sites that are banned by Google are completely removed from Google’s index.  This means banned sites will not be listed on SERPs.  Typical sites that are banned are those that are spam sites or activate malware when visitors enter them.  A penalty usually results in your web pages being dropped in rankings.  So, your content is still in Google’s index but it is not high enough on SERPs to matter.  If Google decides your penalty is severe enough to warrant complete de-indexing, this is still not as serious as a ban because you still have the opportunity to address the penalty and fix your site.

    How do I know if I have a Google penalty?

    Depending upon the exact problem, Google may notify you about the issue.  If you notice a drop in rankings, go to Google’s webmaster console to see if you have been contacted by Google about a potential penalty.  You will need to register for an account to access the console.  You may even receive an email from Google. Even if you do not have a message from Google, you can assume it is a penalty if there has been no new major competitors arriving on the scene or major change such as a Google algorithm update that naturally altered rankings of websites.  What you want to look at is the extent your site dropped in rankings.

    There are several specific types of penalties that you need to be aware.  A Paid Links Penalty is triggered by sites who artificially obtained high rankings by using link farms and other paid link schemes.  A -30 Suppression Penalty is triggered when a site has more ads than legitimate content and use doorway pages to redirect visitors.  Even sites that use the same anchor text keywords throughout a site may fall victim to this penalty. A -950 Google Penalty is typically viewed as the worst to receive.  Often applied to individual web pages rather than an entire site, this penalty is likely to occur if you continue to offend after receiving other penalties.  The minus sign in front of these penalties indicate the number of places your site will be dropped if you receive that penalty.  You can be #1 on SERPs, receive a -950 Penalty and end up on page 100 in the blink of any eye.

    How do I recover from a Google penalty?

    Begin by identifying your particular penalty.  If Google hasn’t provided direction to you in the webmaster console, see if you can figure it for yourself.  A professional SEO service may be able to help identify the exact issue. You do not have to use them to help fix the problem if you do  not wish to, but a third party review of your site could identify additional issues that need to be addressed before other penalties are triggered.

    Once you have identified the problems, you need to fix them. Depending on the exact nature of the penalty, this can take time and money to accomplish.  You may have duplicate content which means all of your content needs to be rewritten. If you are not a writer or you do not have one employed on your staff, you should seriously consider hiring a professional copywriter.

    After you have fixed the problems that triggered your penalty, you can request reconsideration from Google to get your site back on SERPs.  The reconsideration request is a serious process that must be followed for your site to be included on Google’s search index again.  Not only do you have demonstrate you have fixed the problems but you must also convince Google they will not occur again.

    What do I do in the mean time?

    You will need to be patient because there is no quick fix here.  In fact, if your site suffers from a -950 penalty, it can take months for the issue to be completely resolved, including having your site back on Google’s search index.  Take this time to brush up on SEO best practices.  Understand the difference between black hat and white hat SEO tactics.  And, if you have not already done to, reread Google’s Webmaster Guidelines as well as their terms and conditions of service.

    Until your site is re-indexed, your business may be financially bleeding without the same level of income it previously enjoyed because of Google traffic.  While you are waiting, and if your budget allows, look into other non-search marketing opportunities that you can engage in to direct customers to your site.  Look into online directories that target your customer demographic.  Consider those directories that you have to pay to be included in since they may have a better customer base themselves.  Trade organizations and chambers of commerce sites are ideal for local businesses with web presence.

    Strengthen your social media campaigns. You do not need Google to do this – you can even beef up your Google+ profile to get it included on SERPs in place of your website until the penalty issues are resolved.  You will also want to focus on your article writing and press releases during this waiting period. If your blog did not get penalized along with your other web pages, spend time get your message out via blog postings.  The point is you want to maintain contact with customers and followers during your penalty crisis.  You just need to find ways that do not rely on Google search results to do that.

    Look at pay-per-click options like Google AdWords, Microsoft AdCenter, and Yahoo! Search Marketing to get paid traffic to your site.  You can still use Google AdWords as long as visitors are taken to a web page that has no penalty associated with it.  If your entire site has been penalized but is still indexed, you should be able to Google AdWords in this situation as well.  Avoid Google AdWords if your entire site has a penalty – give your attention and money to Microsoft and Yahoo! Instead.  Since you have addressed the penalties at this point, you should be okay with those ad programs.

    If you sell products, you can also take advantage of auction sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace to get your products in front of customers. You will have to pay to sell your items but it is a small sacrifice compared to complete loss of revenue. You just need to be creative and figure out ways to make up for the loss in revenue caused by the Google penalty.

    A Google penalty can feel like the end of the world for businesses who did not deliberately try to mislead Google to get higher rankings.  But there are ways you can weather the storm until your world is righted.  Use this time to make your website and your business better.  You will need to focus on maintaining your current customer base while trying new approaches to get new customers.  By the conclusion of your penalty experience, you and your business should be stronger and prepared for just about anything thrown your way.

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