In 2011 Google rolled out its Panda update. One of the purposes of Panda was to weed out “low quality” websites and push them down in the search engine rankings.
A lot of spammy sites which didn’t deserve their high rankings were blasted into oblivion. The first Panda update sent shock waves through the internet marketing and SEO communities—and scared the crap out of a lot of people, who’d been served notice that Google was not on their side.
Perhaps you saw your rankings for certain keywords dramatically change — for the worse. Or maybe websites of yours were de-indexed, disappearing from the Google search results entirely!
Since last year, Panda has undergone numerous changes and updates. And from what we hear from our “inside sources,” we’re only seeing the beginning. More updates are on the way—and now, Google isn’t just targeting obvious low-quality websites. They’re waging war against any type of SEO that isn’t pure “white hat.”
Google will undoubtedly continue to tweak its algorithm in an ongoing effort to place certain types of sites at the top of its rankings, while demoting the sites and pages that are more concerned with making money than providing a positive user experience. And if you’re using SEO tactics — even ones that you feel are safe — you’re going to have to be especially careful and strategic from now on, because Google can demolish your rankings without warning if they see something they don’t like.
Even if you’ve never been “slapped” by Google, I suggest you implement the tips in this article to make your website “slap-proof” — because otherwise, your most important rankings could drop at any time. And if your site experienced a sudden decline in rankings a long time ago, and you never bothered to try to fix it, it’s not too late. Implement these strategies and you might be surprised by how quickly Google rewards you for your efforts.
And before you jump into action, you might want to ask yourself these questions:
Question 1: Were You Actually Penalized, Or Was Your Rankings Drop Due To Something Else?
Since Google is notoriously vague and ambiguous with the way they behave, it’s up to individual webmasters to best determine for themselves what happened to their site. You should be aware of the fact that not all losses in rankings are a result of being penalized by Google. Here are a few questions you can ask, to diagnose whether your site was actually penalized by Google—or if your loss of rankings and traffic is due to another problem.
Question 2: Is Your Site Still Indexed?
Check if your site is still in the Google index by going to Google.com and typing in the box: “site:yourdomainname.com.” If your site appears in the results, then you’re still in the index. You haven’t been hit with the ultimate penalty.
Question 3: Was Your Site Hacked?
There are websites getting hacked every second of the day. We’ve lost rankings due to security breaches on our websites, which were totally unrelated to Google updates. Figuring out whether your website’s security has been compromised often requires some technical expertise. Your site may be infected with something that most scanners cannot pick up.
You can use the Google safe browsing checker to see if your site has been hacked: http://www.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=yoursitehere.com
However, the above tool is not 100% fool proof. We’ve had situations where sites of ours were indeed hacked, but it wasn’t picked up by the safe browsing checker.
If you suspect your site may have been hacked, here are the 3 steps to follow:
- Check using http://www.google.com/safebrowsing/diagnostic?site=yoursitehere.com
- Contact your hosting company to see if your server security has been compromised
- If necessary, hire an expert who can clean up your site and get it functioning correctly again
Question 4: Have You Been Participating In Any Link Networks (my problem)?
Link networks come in all shapes and forms. Some of the most common are blog networks. One of Google’s recent Panda updates targeted a number of high-profile blog networks and de-indexed portions of them. If one of these networks contained blogs that had links pointing to your site, then you lost link juice when Google wiped out those blogs. Your website wasn’t directly penalized by Google, but you lost a bunch of links which were pointing at you. This would explain the decline in your rankings.
Question 5: Have You Been Too Aggressive With Your Link Building?
If your link velocity hasn’t been steady, and you recently acquired a large number of backlinks, then it’s normal for your website to “dance” around in the rankings for a week or two, before Google decides where it belongs. To figure out whether your site is in this “dancing” phase, run the same check as above. Perform this search in Google.com:“yourdomain.com”
- If you’re in the top 3 results, don’t worry. This is just a dance, and you’ll recover and stabilize soon.
- You are NOT in the top 3 results, then you may have received a penalty.
Google Penalization Recovery
In February 2011, Google’s Panda update came along and it totally dropped my rankings of my window cleaning site over night. In a matter of hours, I lost ALL of my page 1 rankings. I used to be #2 in Google.co.uk for “window cleaners” and “window cleaning” search terms for whole Britain. I went from being #2 to being buried on page 500!
Here is the message I’ve received from Google Representative in my Google WebMaster Tools account:
Dear site owner or webmaster of http://mysite.co.uk/,
We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate Page Rank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass Page Rank or participating in link schemes.
We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.
If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.
If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.
Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team
I knew that at some point, I’d probably have to submit a Google reconsideration request. In your Google Webmaster Tools account, there is an option to submit a reconsideration request. This means you can send an email to Google to plead your case.
I knew that before I submitted my request, I had to make some changes to my site to show Google that I’d taken action—that I was sincerely trying to improve my website to meet their new quality guidelines. The problem was, I had no idea what the new guidelines were. Google wasn’t saying much. They do provide some basic guidelines in the Google Webmaster area, but they never tell you specifically how to comply with their latest rules and changes. It’s up to you to figure out it out—or suffer the consequences (and most probably you know them :-))! So how was I supposed to start fixing my sites, when I had no idea what the problems were? I needed input from Google in order to clarify what they thought was “quality,” and why my site was in violation of their new guidelines.
Reconsideration requests must be treated very delicately!
You should only submit one of these requests when you want someone at Google to take the time to manually review your site. Never submit a request until you’re confident that your site will pass their review. And you should never use one of these requests to try to ask questions.
Submit a Reconsideration Request Form in 5 steps:
Let them know you have taken the time to watch the Google video about reconsideration requests.
Stress the fact that you have looked at their quality guidelines I then mentioned that I’d looked over the Google quality guidelines several times, to make sure I understood everything—and I also mentioned that I’d had a look at their design and content guidelines, and also their technical guidelines, just to make sure.
Explain the fixes you made, providing as much detail as possible. List the changes and improvements you made:
- All of my content is unique
- My site is made for primarily for users and not search engines
- I have no tricks installed to manipulate search engine listings
- I’m not involved in link schemes to increase my site’s PR and I don’t link to bad neighborhoods
- I don’t use shady computer programs to check rankings or submit pages
- I don’t have irrelevant keywords
- I don’t have hidden text or hidden links
- I don’t send automated queries to Google
- I don’t have cloaking or sneaky redirects
- There’s no malicious behavior on my pages
Submit a reconsideration request through Google Webmaster Tools. What you include in your Google reconsideration request is very important. You might only get one shot at this. Make it count.
So what did I do?
I introduced myself in a polite way, and explained that I’d done my best to improve my site and bring it up to a higher level of quality. Then I copied and pasted the action steps I’d given in my forum post, and concluded by mentioning that I’d take whatever additional steps were necessary to meet their quality guidelines. The tone of your reconsideration request should be positive, sincere, and cooperative! You won’t get anywhere with Google by accusing them of treating you unfairly, or trying to pressure them. Google is in the business of providing the best possible user experience. And if your chief complaint is that you’re making less money due to a Panda slap, I’d say that’s a clear sign to Google that your primary interest is making money, not providing your users with a relevant information and rewarding experience. So leave all of that stuff out of the discussion.
You must also show them that you spent a considerable amount of time and effort to make changes to your site. The more detail you give, the better. Whoever reads your email should be impressed with the amount of work you put in before you submitted this reconsideration request. It’s a show a good faith on your part. Put in the work first. Prove you’re serious about earning their respect. Then ask them to take a look at what you’ve done.
Be patient while you wait for a response for a few weeks! Here is one article from SEOMoz site about recovering from Penguin update – CLICK HERE TO READ.
Here are some videos about reconsideration request from Google WebMaster Tools Channel
How long does a reconsideration request take to process? (Video)
Are reconsideration requests read by real people? (Video)
How do reconsideration requests work at Google? (Video)
Tips on requesting reconsideration (Video)
How to Avoid Google Penalization | 13 Tips and Suggestions:
Whenever you are writing an article on your topic, make sure to have:
- Headings and subheadings within the article itself
- Images/videos within the article
- Longer word length – 500 to 700 words
- Integration of social network plugins
- Live commenting section that is open but moderated
- A low ad to content ratio
- Not many ads above the fold
- Focus on (re-)building a “high quality site.”
- Make your pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users. Think about the “user experience” first, and the search engines second. Before you post a new article, ask yourself, “would I bother to put this on my site if search engines didn’t exist?”
- Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or Page Rank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
- Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages or check rankings. Such programs consume computing resources and violate Google’s Terms of Service.
- Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
- Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects.
- Don’t send automated queries to Google.
- Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords.
- Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
- Don’t create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.
- Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.
- If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.
Make your site is a high quality one! As for what constitutes “low quality” websites, this is how Google says it defines them. They’re sites:
- That visitors don’t want to bookmark
- That lacks original research, reporting and analysis
- That has factual, stylistic or grammatical errors
- That is hollow / irrelevant for end-users
- That is contrived / keyword-stuffed just to drive traffic
(Re-) Build ONLY High Quality Site(s)!
If you have articles that are obviously targeting a specific keyword, and you have other but super tightly-related keywords over and over again on your site, it’s going to raise red flags. It can’t be obvious that you’re making a site just to make money by selling a bunch of different offers.
High Quality site has a high content-to-ads ratio: lots and lots of original content, and just a few ads. Google places a big emphasis on ads-to-content ratio. Try aiming for 70% content and 30% ads above the fold.
You need to have good, easy-to-use navigation. Don’t have all of the links on your site lumped together on the left side of your navigation. You need to show credibility. You need to have:
- About Us Page
- Site Map
- Contact Us Page
- If needed add them to your site ASAP!
You should also have social networking plugins installed on your site that allow you to post user comments. These are all ways of demonstrating to Google that you want to provide a safe, trustworthy and engaging environment for your users.
You need to have good on-page structure. It’s pretty obvious how much time someone took to create a webpage by looking at the page itself. If you want to make sure your site looks like you spent some time on it, then do some of the following:
- Use sub headings
- Use bullet points
- Use images
- Embed videos
- Focus on the user experience
Keep in mind, there is no such thing as an “instant fix” when it comes to SEO and Google. Any recovery process will take time. This isn’t something that’s going to be fixed magically within a day or two. This is especially true if you received an algorithmic penalty as opposed to a manual penalty. If you received an algorithmic penalty, even submitting a Google reconsideration request isn’t going to help your situation. You just have to wait until the next algorithmic update comes along. How long will this take? Sometimes weeks, other times months. In short, you just have to be patient.
You can share your thoughts on the topic in our forum! Click here to join the discussion.
After you have submitted your reconsideration request form you can use the disavow tool to remove all the backlinks which are harmful to your site! You can use Google’s disavow tool. To learn how to do it – visit this disavow tool discussion.
Learn more about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) by watching our Professional SEO Course.
Good luck with your SEO and Google Updates Recovery!