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)

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