If you've recently suffered from a traffic loss due to a Google penalty, you will find the information required to recover here. Recoveries can happen as quickly as 72 hours while other penalties can take months to resolve. Regardless of the situation you are in, there is hope and all sites can be rescued.
This is accomplished by examining the symptoms (site-wide traffic drops, keyword specific drop), the dates correlating with Google updates and any notices you may have received in your Webmaster Tools.
Action Step: Use the following section to properly identify the type of penalty that is affecting your website. If you find that your site corresponds to different types of penalties, then you may attempt to correlate traffic drops with known Google updates.
Quality Algorithm" which evaluates the quality of your entire website.
If the algorithm determines that your website is providing low quality content, then Google will assign your entire website a lower quality score which will make it increasingly difficult for you to rank in the search engine. The rank modifier can severely impact rankings and can lead to massive traffic losses.
This is why Google Panda is a site-wide penalty that affects the rankings for all your organic keywords. If you are penalized by Panda, you'll notice that:
The latest roll-out is Panda 4.1 released in September 2014 and it affects 3.5% of search queries. Source: Pierre Far's G+ Account
Panda Related Decline in Traffic
Panda Traffic Decline Stabilizes
The main element to remember for Panda is it is a site-wide quality algorithm which affects all keywords and all of your traffic. This means that if all your keywords have dropped by a certain percentage (verify this by looking at your Google Analytic traffic), then you might be affected by the Panda algorithm.
Currently, the most effective recovery method is Panda Breakthrough which takes the same information and presents it in a different way to both the users and the search engines so that they deem it to be of higher value. When the information is presented in an optimal way, search engines assign higher quality scores to the pages which ultimately leads to recovery. The higher quality score is partly due to the improved user experience which entails better user metrics by the visitors. This can lead to longer dwell times on the site which returns favorable search metrics.
The second most common penalty is the Google Penguin algorithm which primarily affects website owners that have engaged in aggressive link building campaigns. Introduced in April 2012, the algorithm looks for aggressive and unnatural link patterns to punish websites that are attempting to manipulate search engine rankings by building artificial links.
Google's stance on link building is that every external link to your site should be natural and given due to the quality of your content. Therefore, any link created with the purpose of increasing your rank is considered to be a violation of Google webmaster guidelines. This includes paid links, asking for a link, negotiating link exchanges, automating link creation via SEO tools and mass syndication with the purpose of manipulating search rankings.
When Google's penguin algorithm detects that you are attempting to manipulate the rankings via unnatural link building, it penalizes your site for the keyword and/or group of keywords that you are targeting.
If you're penalized by Penguin, you'll notice that:
Sharp drop to near 0 traffic for a specific keyword indicates a potential Penguin penalty
Keyword specific drop within the span of 48 hours indicates a potential Penguin penalty
One important distinction about the Penguin penalty is that it is page specific (Often affecting the homepage, but can also affect sub-pages) meaning that one page can lose it's rankings while another one on the same site performs well.
The recovery process for Penguin is explained and simplified inside the Panda Breakthrough program but here are the basics. The webmaster must extract the link list associated with his website through the webmaster tools "latest links" and remove the links that fall into an unnatural pattern. Removing the links, followed by a reconsideration request and a new link building campaign will lead to a traffic recovery.
Other penalties without official names exist and can result in de-indexed pages and/or sites. These are fairly easy to identify and revolve around spammy links, spammy low-quality content and/or other black hat techniques.
To identify if your site has been de-indexed, type: "www.yoursitename.com" in Google and see if anything shows up in the search results.
For pages, you can also attempt searching for a specific snippet of text (7 words) using quotation marks. For example: "This is a the first line of text in my first paragraph" should return your site.
You may also use the command "site:www.yoursitename.com keyword" (without quotes) to determine if the sub-pages are properly indexed.
Last, you may also use the Google Webmaster Tools to further identify indexation issues.
Any site can recover, even if it has been de-indexed and is currently not being listed in the Google search results. Google still crawls de-indexed sites and pages, it just chooses not to list them in the search engine until you resolve the issues associated with them.
Manual actions against your site can also be taken resulting in various penalties (Often severe drops in rankings or being completely de-index) If you have received a message in the Webmaster tools under "Search Queries" and "Manual Actions", then you have a manual penalty associated with your site.
Manual penalties can be for any webmaster guideline violation but are commonly seen in response to:
Manual Penalty Example:
Every manual penalty is assigned a specific duration but you should act quickly to resolve it and file a reconsideration request. Manual action is known to range from 3 months to the expiration of the domain name.
If you have noticed that your traffic is declining over longer periods of time, it is often the result of the Panda algorithm and minor updates that Google is constantly making to their search engine to increase search quality.
Google looks at over 200 signals and unless you're keeping up with them at all times, it might be difficult to pin-point the exact cause for the traffic drop. These algorithmic changes can result in devastating effects over time. An algorithm change can be as small as placing slightly more importance on sub-headlines (and less importance on the main headline) or as massive as changing how Google evaluate links.
Examples of gradual traffic drops:
Gradual Traffic Decline Example:
Slow decline in traffic over time
If you have experience a gradual decline, applying the concepts to resolve a Panda penalty will often result in major traffic increases. The best solution is often to find a reliable source of SEO information about Google and apply them to gain a competitive advantage.
If you are still unsure of the type of penalty associated with your site, then you may attempt to correlate traffic decline dates with Google update dates. Google periodically announces when they release a major algorithmic update.
If you notice a traffic fluctuation on the same date as an algorithm update, you have likely been affected by that update. Unfortunately Google sometimes releases multiple updates (ie: Panda, Penguin and E.M.D. [Exact Match Domain Update]) within the span of 48 hours, making it quite difficult to pin-point the exact penalty.
Here are the most famous penalty dates but there are dozens of minor updates that have occurred between them:
Once you have correctly identified the type of penalty associated with your site, you may begin resolving the issue. Here is an overview of the steps involved in recovering from each penalty.
In the how to recover from panda section, you'll discover how Google evaluates your content and how you can modify your existing content to satisfy Google's algorithm.
Here is a broad overview of the Panda process:
Example of a Panda Recovery
Rapid traffic increase after a Panda recovery
Penguin is a page specific, keyword specific penalty that looks at attempts to manipulate search engine rankings. Penguin works primarily by detecting unnatural links pointing to your site which means that recovery involves the removal of the links harming your page.
In the section how to recover from penguin, you'll learn about what Google considers a bad link, methods for finding the infringing links and what do to once you've located the links.
Here is a broad overview of the Penguin process:
Example of a Penguin Recovery
Major Traffic Increase For The Site's Main Keyword
The Google team can issue manual penalties to sites and pages it deems to be violating the Google webmaster guidelines. The penalties vary but they are usually relatively easy to identify because manual penalties always have an associated message located inside the Webmaster Tools.
It is not uncommon for webmasters to submit 7+ reconsideration requests over the course of a year before finally succeeding. Fortunately, it is possible to get it right the first time and have a manual action lifted within a few days.
To locate your manual penalty:
Although there are specific procedures to accelerate the recovery of a manual penalty, here is a broad overview of the process: