So what is a Google penalty? That’s what happens when Google delists or manually changes the rankings for certain websites which violate their quality guidelines. For example, if you were to scrape your entire website from another site or you were to engage in various black hat SEO techniques and they catch you, they might delist you for doing it.
It Happen to J.C. Penney
This in fact happened recently to a very large company, J.C. Penney, who had for months been ranking in the number one spot for a large number of popular keywords, including Samsonite luggage and lady’s dresses. It turns that someone (the company insists they knew nothing about it) had arranged thousands of shady backlinks for them.
When the New York Times broke the story a few weeks ago, Google lowered Penney’s rankings significantly for many keywords. For its part, Penney has said they intend to try to regain their rankings legitimately, rather than through trickery. But what if you’re not a big company like J.C. Penney?
What if you run a small site and you don’t have the massive amounts of money to spend on SEO that Penney has available? Here are the five steps that mere mortals need to take in order to ensure they can recover from what is politely known as a Google penalty (as if this were a football game and you got a penalty from the umpire).
Figure Out if It’s Really a Penalty
Google changes their algorithms on a regular basis, typically as many as 500 times a year. Usually, the tweaks are moderate changes, though some are major ones such as the one just announced which the blogosphere seems to feel is targeted at content mills.
This is not necessarily a penalty directed at a specific site. Instead, it’s a new policy which Google is implementing to try to improve their listings. So, if you find that you’ve been de-ranked, it’s possible Google has changed their algorithm and that there’s nothing you can do but rebuild.
On the other hand, if you find you’ve been delisted completely or you’ve dropped precipitously in rank and you see that other, similar sites to yours have not dropped, then you probably have gotten a Google Penalty (you can check if you were delisted by typing “site:yourdomain” into Google).
Figure Out What You Did Wrong
Remember that black hat SEO is not illegal. You won’t go to jail or pay a fine for engaging in it. However, Google can effectively destroy your business by refusing to send searches your way if you violate their rules. Therefore, you need to carefully check on the rules on Google’s webmaster page and see what you’ve done.
Fix the Problem
This should be obvious – fix the problem. Sometimes, this is easier said than done. If you have white text on a white background or you were keyword stuffing or scraping content, it’s relatively straightforward to fix. If however you have lots of spammy links to your site, this could be harder to fix since you need to contact those websites to have them removed.
Google does have a contact form on their webmaster blog. You can contact them, say that you believe you received a penalty from them, explain what you’ve done to fix the problem and ask that your site be looked at again.
Finally, you need to rebuild your website’s rankings. Even if Google does reindex you, you won’t start off where you were. You’ll have to work hard to rebuild after a Google penalty and engage in plenty of quality, white hat SEO techniques to make sure that you look good to Google.