Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on December 16th, 2009

Steps To Take If Your Site Gets Penalized By Google

When you first get involved in search engine optimization (SEO), everyone tells you that black hat SEO tactics will get you penalized by Google. There is a lot of ‘don’t do this’ and finger wagging and anticipated public shame. But the truth is even the most honest website owners violate a Google rule from time to time. It could be for something as minor as a bad link sitting on your site, or much deeper issue that has been building up for some time.

Signs that you may have been penalized by Google are: if your rankings suddenly dropped, visitors from Google consistently dropped over a period of time, or, in more obvious situations, your site is unlisted by Google. If it is the latter, then you most likely did something that only Darth Vader would approve of.

If you feel like your website has accrued a Google penalty, the best thing to do is stop any new marketing initiatives you have in place and make a list of SEO efforts you have implemented in the past year or so. If your SEO efforts have been white hat (following Google’s webmaster guidelines) here is a recommended post-Google penalty protocol.

1. Use Your Google Webmaster Tools

Penalty or no penalty, installing Google Webmaster Tools should be the first step you take. Having Google Webmaster Tools installed on your site tells the search engines that you have nothing to hide and welcome their crawling spiders. These tools allow you to see what types of links are directly pointing at your site, and a very good starting point for your own investigation. Go through all the links and make sure there aren’t any from irrelevant or spammy websites. If you find any suspicious links, contact the bloggers and webmasters to remove the links.

2. Review Any Website Changes

Did you make any website changes over the last six months to a year? Chances you did. Go back through those changes and try to weed out the problem. Identify any new content that could appear to have too many keywords in it. Keyword stuffing is an easy way to get penalized. If you have any updated any links on your site make sure that you did not add links to spammy or irrelevant sites. Adding too many links too quickly is also a red light indicator to Google that you’re up to no good. Google recommended that no single web page should have more than fifty links. If you do make changes, don’t make them too quickly. Make a few and then wait to see if it resolves the issue.

3. Study Your Google Analytics

Your Google Analytics can help you reveal when most problems start occurring. Look for a significant dip in traffic to find exactly when your site was penalized. This will help you identify any possible marketing efforts that were conducted at the time that may have incurred the penalty.

Once you have a Google penalty it could take a little while to find the problem. Patience during a penalty is highly beneficial. If you are too hasty and try and undo a lot that you’ve done, you could do more damage than good.