by David Zheng
You’ve worked hard on SEO for your website. You’ve cultivated backlinks, secured guest bloggers, and stuffed pages with relevant keywords. That hard work pays off when your site lands on the first page of Google results, where everyone can find it with ease. At least, that is, until Google updates its algorithm, and your page is suddenly nowhere to be found.
It’s a frustrating scenario, and one that has played out for quite a few websites in recent years.
Traffic from Google to a popular WordPress hub, WPMU.org, dropped 81 percent after an update by the Penguin algorithm, for example.
What can be even more frustrating is not knowing why your search ranking changed. Fortunately, there are patterns you can watch out for and ways to get your site back where it belongs.
Warning Signs That Your Site Has Been Penalized
Before you can fix anything, you first need to determine whether Google is the reason for your drop in the first place. Here are the most likely indicators:
- Your traffic drops after an algorithm update. There are a lot of reasons you can lose traffic, but if you find that your organic traffic has taken a significant hit and there’s no pattern predicting this drop, it could be due to a Google penalty. Check the date when this drop in traffic began. If it corresponds with a major algorithm update, Google is the likely culprit.
- Google tells you. This one is obvious, but it’s important to note because there are two types of notices Google will send you through its Webmaster Tools. One is a friendly notice that simply tells you that Google has detected a potential problem. This type of notice allows you to be proactive in preventing your site from losing its position in the rankings and lets you avoid the second type of notice, which looks something like this:
This warning means that Google has taken manual action against you, and you will need to fix the problem and resubmit your website. The worst-case scenario: You’ve been de-indexed, and your site can no longer be found through Google at all. If that happens, the best choice is often to start over with a new domain. But there are steps you can take to ensure you won’t get blacklisted.
How to Get Back on Top
If you determine that Google penalized your website and you’re scrambling to figure out what to do, focus on these three areas to improve your SEO and get back on Google’s good side:
This has been a pet peeve of Google’s since its Penguin update in 2012. Link exchange (linking to someone else’s site and having him or her link you back) can be a good practice if you do it right. If an excessive number of sites that are considered low-quality link to you, this will seriously hurt you in the rankings. If the linkage to bad websites gets excessive, you can get de-indexed.
To fix this, make a list of backlinks, and remove or disavow the ones that appear to be spam. Google has a list of what it means for a backlink to be good or bad here. WPMU fixed its problem by removing 15,000 iffy backlinks from its blog network.
Unnatural Anchor Text
Google might classify your site as spam if the text you use when linking to another site (the anchor text) fails to describe the destination of a link or the use of anchor text is excessive. Make sure your links are useful to your reader and relevant to what’s on the page.
In 2011, Google introduced the Panda algorithm to stop sites with low-quality content from working their way to the top of search results. “Content farms,” sites that specialized in quantity-over-quality content, dropped from top search results overnight.
This sent a clear message to webmasters: Poor-quality content will no longer be tolerated. Get rid of posts that just serve the purpose of filling a page with relevant keywords, and stick with articles that users will truly find helpful. This practice will prevent you from being penalized and increase the chances of other high-quality sites linking back to you.
Recently, this red flag has extended to an overuse of guest posts — a strategy once considered very powerful for SEO. Guest blogging can still be a useful way to generate traffic, but make sure the person who is blogging for you is delivering good content, not just attaching his or her name to keyword-heavy fluff.
Search engine optimization can be challenging, especially when Google periodically changes the rules. But every challenge provides an opportunity. With these changes, Google is clarifying what a high-ranking website should look like, and by giving webmasters specific areas to focus on, Google has made it easier to determine how to achieve long-term SEO success while cutting out those who try to game the system. Behind all of these changes remains one driving principle: Websites should be created for the benefit of users, not to trick search engines.
David Zheng is the co-founder and CEO of Klout Fire, a digital marketing agency that helps brands drive revenue by acquiring customers and establishing brand awareness through inbound marketing strategies. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.