If you are disappointed by the performance of your website in an online search then one of the first questions you need to ask is: Does my website have a Google penalty?
Much is written about Google penalties, the different types, names and dates, and how to recover from them. It is a confusing and ever changing story. I want to give a brief simple guide to help you determine if your site is being affected by a Google penalty.
How To Detect a Google Penalty
Have you had a notification in Google Webmaster Tools?
If Google has (manually) penalised your site you will receive a notification in your Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) account. This is usually for larger more serious offenders who are already well aware that they are not entirely innocent.
Is your site in Google’s index?
If your site has been removed from Google’s index you are likely to know about it and be well aware that you have a problem but it is the next thing to check. Go to Google and type in site:yourdomain.com. This will give a list of all the pages on that domain in Google’s index. If your site has very few or no pages in Google’s index then you need to investigate — it may indicate a penalty.
Have the numbers of visitors finding your site in a web search dropped dramatically?
Look in your analytics at a graph of organic search visitors over the last year. (In Google analytics go to Acquisition, select All Traffic then select source google/organic). In some situations you will see a sharp drop-off — that’s a pretty good indicator of a possible penalty and you can check if that is associated with Google rolling out another update. Often the decline will not be clearly associated with a specific date but gradual, hidden in the noise of normal fluctuations over Christmas or summer – you may still have a penalty.
Is your site hit by a Google Penalty but performing well in a Bing web search?
Google and Bing do the same thing but in different ways using different algorithms. Often a keyword will be on page one with one and not in the top 50 with the other. Having said that in many cases careful comparison of your sites performance in the different search engines can give evidence that your site is being penalised by Google. I would recommend analysing your rankings for at least 50 keywords and comparing your site to other technically similar sites as there are many other factors that affect ranking differently in Bing and Google. This can be complex. We are happy to include this as part of a website audit to help you asses your site fully.
Has your site got an unnatural backlink profile?
Large numbers of backlinks gathered in a short space of time, with the same anchor text or from low quality sites are all considered by Google as evidence of an unnatural linking profile and this may result in a penalty. Again this can be time consuming and complex to asses but can be included as part of an audit.
As outlined by Colin’s previous post better search rankings is only a means to an end and should not be the sole target for a marketing campaign, but it is not something to overlook. You do not want to miss the opportunity to attract new visitors to your website at just the moment when they are searching for your services. Often if you are frustrated by declining rankings marketing professionals will be quick to recommend investing in a website redesign, more content or link building. Any company that has been working on your website for some time will probably not want to raise the possibility that your site is being penalised by Google. My research and experience in this area has convinced me that many websites whilst not seriously penalised are significantly under performing in Google search results due to algorithmic penalties that they may not be aware of and are not easy to detect. I value your comments and feedback on this topic.
I hope this post has been informative and helpful. If you suspect your site is under performing or being penalised in Google search results and want a clearer answer prior to deciding whether to invest in a new site, SEO or domain recovery activity please do not hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to discuss this further.