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: 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 & A: Duplicate content with dynamic sites.

QuestionDear Kalena…

I’m working on a CFM database driven site and Google thinks we have hundreds of duplicate title tags and descriptions because pages on the site can be accessed using the normal page # and/or the page # plus navigation query strings.

Example: (these 3 urls all go to the same page and Google is logging them as 3 different pages in my Google Webmaster View)

1) body.cfm?id=19‎

2) body.cfm?id=19&oTopID=19‎‎

3) body.cfm?id=19&oTopId=62‎‎

To avoid a duplicate content penalty I cleaned up my sitemap.xml to only include the page # with no query strings. (Example = body.cfm?id=19‎) In my robots.txt file I’ve also added the disallow code to block any file with ‘TopId’ in the url. I’m hoping this will help…have you experienced this type of problem before?

Thanks! Mitch

Dear Mitch,

Your question was the source of some debate over here, so thanks for bringing it up! There is a question as to whether Google will actually index pages with session ID’s, and the general thinking is no, so you may be in the clear.

You seem to be handling the problem of duplicate content with database driven sites well, however. It’s best to pick one of the URL’s to include in your site map. You can also be sure NOT to link to any of these pages with duplicate content, from within your site. If you do need to link to these pages, be sure to use “no follow” tags on your link.

Best of luck, Nick Loeser

TheSmallMerchant.com