Q and A: How do I fix Ranking Penalties?

Question

Hi Kalena,

I love your blog… you have a lot of useful internet marketing content. I was wondering if you could do a blog post about the situation I’m currently having.

My site, [URL Provided], was recently penalized in Google. I got one of those -50 penalties where I go down to page 5 or 6 for all of my search terms (including site name). It has been like this for nearly 2 months… since September 24, 2010. I used to be ranking #1 for the term ‘auto insurance quotes’ and also on page one for ‘auto insurance’.

Now, they say that incoming links cannot hurt your site, but that is the only explanation I can think of for my situation. There are a lot of blog comments pointing to my URL. Most of these comments, as well as many of the links pointing to my site, are links that I personally never created. I have never purchased links nor have done any automated link building… The domain is 11 years old and I have devoted the past few years of my life to it.

James.

Hi James,

A sudden drop in search rankings is one of the worst nightmares for most website owners, and can be a very scary thing – particularly if your site relies heavily on organic rankings for traffic and sales.

I’ve had a look at your rankings, and can confirm that it looks very much like a ranking penalty has been applied by Google (although your rankings seem fine under Bing). Your site appears in position 47 on google.com for a query of your business name, with many other sites that simply mention your name outranking you.

Unfortunately it’s not possible within the scope of this Q and A to undertake a detailed analysis of your specific circumstances. However, I’ve outlined below some of the general steps that should be taken, and suggest that you contact a professional SEO for further advice.

It is unlikely that dodgy backlinks, or even duplicate content would result in a ranking penalty – the problem is much more likely to be caused by something on your site.

Identifying a Ranking Penalty

If you are monitoring your sites rankings, you should notice a ranking penalty very quickly, as you will see a sudden and dramatic drop in your rankings for all keywords and pages,  If you arte not checking rankings reguilarly, you may not realise there is a problem until you notice significant drop offs in traffic (via analytics) – or, worst case scenario, in your sales or enquiries.

Identifying the Problem

If you are using Google webmaster tools (and you should be), Google will often (but not always) notify you when a penalty is applied – and will also usually indicate what the problem is.  You should also very closely review Googles Webmaster Guidelines and check if there is anything on your site that may contravene Googles “rules”.

A ranking penalty may not necessarily be applied as a result of a recent change on your site.  The problem may have existed for some time, but have been triggered by a new crawl, a change in the ranking algorithm, or could also be caused by a combination of relatively minor problems with your site, which , taken in total, reach a trigger threshold.

Fixing the Problem

Once you identified the problem/s it is important to fix the issue completely as soon as possible.  It’s also a good idea to also fix any other “iffy” or questionable practices, as your site is likely to be submitted to closer scrutiny than normal before the penalty can be lifted.

Submitting a Reinclusion Request

Once you are satisfied that the problem with your site has been completely resolved, you need to submit a reinclusion request. Google calls these a “request for reconsideration”, and provide some good tips for how to go about doing this (along with a video from the Google Search Quality team) on their Requesting reconsideration of your site help page.

In your reinclusion request you need to be very clear about what action you have taken to resolve the issue and ensure that it will noit happen again.

Once a reinclusion request has been submitted, the Google search quality team will undertake a manual review of your site, and (as long as the site does now conform to their guidelines), will, probably reinstate your rankings.  Be aware though that this review process can take days or weeks.

If you’d like to find out more about the Ranking Penalty and Reinclusion Request, I blogged about it a couple of years ago, and the process is still pretty much the same  – “My Google Rankings have dropped and I think I’ve been penalised – What can I do?

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting SEO (Australia)

Q and A: How do I increase my site PageRank?

Question

Dear Kalena…

How do I increase my site PageRank?

Abi

Hi Abi,

I’m sorry – but you are probably asking the wrong question…. Even though questions like – How do I improve my PageRank? and How do I improve my Rankings? are probably the most common questions that most Search Engine Optimizers are asked, they are invariably not the question that should be asked.

When potential clients ask me questions like this, it is usually a pretty good indication that they have realized that their website needs to be more than just a great site – it also needs to be easy to find via search engines.

But questions like these are usually the wrong questions, as they also suggest that the site owner has not fully thought through what they actually want their website to achieve. Goals like, better PageRank, higher rankings, more traffic, or even higher conversion rates are all a means to an end.  The primary aim for most websites should simply be to maximize sales or enquiries.

So the correct question that website owners should be asking is actually “How do I improve my online sales/enquiries?” The answer to this question will vary, depending on the niche, the target market, and the current status of the website.  The “answer” may be any (or all) of :

  • Basic SEO – to improve the sites crawlability or increase the number of pages indexed
  • Content Creation – to improve the authority (and rankings) of the site for relevant keyword phrases
  • Link Building – to improve the sites PageRank
  • Conversion Optimisation – If the site is already getting good traffic volumes, but has poor conversion rates
  • Local Search -  to improve visibility for locality based search queries
  • Pay per Click – to quickly boost traffic volumes
  • or many other options..

There are a plethora of activities and strategies covered under the banner of Search Engine Marketing or Search Engine Optimisation and whilst there are some general principles that apply, there is rarely a “One Size Fits All” solution to optimising a website.  There are many different factors that must be taken into consideration when defining an SEO strategy, but fundamentally they should come back to the primary goal of your website.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting (Brisbane SEO)

Q and A: How do I check my Backlinks?

Question

Dear Kalena…

Hi there, I hope you can help. When I have a look in google webmaster for my site, I see 216 links back to my site but when I do a link:domain.com in google, it comes back with zero backlinks. Can you explain why that would be? Is this affecting my SERP? How can I rectify the issue?

Thanks! John

Hi John,

Monitoring the third party sites that link to your site (backlinks), is an important activity, as the quality and quantity of backlinks you receive is considered one of the more important factors that will influence how your site is ranked in the search results.  There are plenty of third party tools available to help with this (try a Google search for “Backlink Checker“), but, it can be quite difficult to get an accurate list of your backlinks.

You can also use search engines to help determine backlinks, however, they are notorious for only providing a subset of the total number of backlinks.  One advantage this method has though, is that you are also able to check competitor backlinks (which can be very handy for linkbuilding).

Traditionally Yahoo backlink data was much more accurate than that provided by Google – however since the Yahoo/Bing merger, the functionality of Link: and Linkdomain: commands under Yahoo has been restricted. You can still get an indication of backlinks via a command of the following form (under Yahoo or Google).

linkdomain:yourdomain.com -site:yourdomain.com

Which is intended to show which pages link to yourdomain.com, but exclude any inernal links.  For your site [URL Provided] Yahoo shows 363 links and Google 214)

Rand Fishkin (SEOMoz) wrote an excellent post in August outlining some alternate methods for determining backlinks  (see: 6 Ways to Replace Yahoo’s Link & Linkdomain Search Commands )

Googles Webmaster Tools is probably one of the better ways to determine backlinks on your own site (although you are not able to use it for competitor sites) .  It is widely accepted that webmaster tools will again not show all backlinks – however, it is believed to show most of the pages linking to your site that are likely to have an impact on your rankings.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting SEO – Brisbane

Q and A: Can my developer’s footer links cause a ranking penalty?

Question

Hello,

Our site [URL Provided] has a google penalty of some sort. Our webmaster has a link to his site anchor text his, on every page on our site. Our site is 3yrs old, pr3. Our homepage an only our homepage is not showing up in the google serps for long tail kw’s. When before it use to rank very well, the homepage that is. Now for kw;s our inner pages are showing up. Really confusing.. So with the above do you think this is our problem? Cause of our webmasters site wide link on our site?

Any info will be helpful.

Thank you
Carlos

Hi Carlos,

Rest assured that links to your web developer in the footer are very unlikely to have any impact on your rankings.  Site wide footer links to developer websites are pretty standard, and although once considered useful for SEO purposes are of questionable real value these days.

From a brief analysis I have undertaken on your site, I can see no evidence of a ranking penalty at all. If a  penalty was active it would most likely impact all pages (not just the home page), and would also affect specific queries as well as long tail ones – which is not the case  – your home page is showing up fine in the SERPs for your business name for example.

It’s not unusual for a home page to rank worse than an inner page for long tail keywords – particularly if the keywords are product related.  If someone searches for a specific product name or model number for example, you would expect (and hope) that your product page would show up rather than your home page.

If you are still concerned that your home page rankings have dropped for certain keyword phrases, I suggest that you undertake an analysis of your Google Analytics data – to see what keywords your home page has receieved traffic for historically.  You can then start to look at these keywords individually and see if there is a significant drop off.  Use analytics to identify any trends and help narrow down if/when the problem started to occur.

You could discover that a drop in rankings for your home page may have a corresponding increase in rankings for your product pages.  This is a good thing because it indicates that the search engines have a higher “confidence” in your inner pages, and probbaly means that your SEO strategies are working.

However, if your overall traffic (not just home page) has dropped, it may suggest that your competitors are getting smarter about SEO, and undertaking optimisation strategies to improve their own rankings (at the expense of yours).  This may indicate the need for you to review and improve your own SEO strategy.

Andy Henderson
Web Consulting (Brisbane)

Q and A: What is Keyword Stuffing?

Question

Dear Kalena,

Is keyword stuffing a bunch of the same keywords or is it a bunch of unrelated keywords?

Willie

Hi Willie,

The term “Keyword Stuffing” describes the practice of  repeating a particular phrase (often many times) within the text on a single page.  Typically this would be done with the same or closely related keyword phrases – with the aim  of trying to raise the profile of that particular web page for search queries on that keyword.

Usually a few mentions of a particular keyword phrase (or related phrases) would be acceptable (and normal), but it quickly becomes very obvious to users if a particular phrase is repeated over and over again within the content of a single page.  This type of “unnatural” repetition of keywords can be very annoying from a users perspective and may actually incur search ranking penalties. If a search engine considers the page to be “over optimised” it is unlikely to achieve good rankings.

Whilst mentioning your target keyword a few times within the content of your page is sensible, overdoing it can be detrimental.  In most cases when you are writing content, you should be trying to write it for the benefit of  the user rather than the search engines.

If you are concerned that some of your pages might be “keyword stuffed” an easy test is to simply read them through.  If the pages read well, are informative and feel “natural” then you are probably OK.  If the content is awkward and there are obvious repetitions of particular keywords, I’d suggest that you consider re-writing the page.

A handy online tool that I often use to get a feel for what a page is about is Tag Crowd.  This tool allows you to specify a URL, or paste in text, and it will create a Tag Cloud of the content provided.  If one or two keywords jump out at you from the tag cloud it generates, it is possible that your page may be over-optimised.

Andy Henderson
WebConsulting SEO (Brisbane)