Hit by a Google Search Algorithm Update? Google Penalty Check 101
In a day and age where your competitors are constantly working on moving past you and bagging a high position in the search engine result pages (SERPs), you need Google to be on your side. That’s a given. And that’s where a Google penalty check comes into the picture.
Have we lost you?
Don’t worry; keep on reading and you’ll see what we are talking about.
What are Google updates and penalties?
Google updates its algorithms frequently (more than a staggering 500 times a year)! Some of these updates are minor while others can have catastrophic effects on businesses trying to rank.
But why does Google update its algorithm? Essentially, the giant does it to:
- Provide the best user experience to users
- Give users the best possible answers to their search queries
These are the core reasons that drive Google’s efforts to make sure their algorithms remain up to speed with the world.
But why are Google updates so important for you?
The reason is simple – the updates have a very important role to play in businesses losing traffic to their sites.
And as we said when we started off, that is not acceptable in this competitive day and age.
Another reason is that on top of avoiding penalties, you can optimize your website content in accordance with the latest update before your competitors. This, of course, gives you a massive edge over them.
Google penalty check – have you been targeted?
Sites can be penalized for not following the rules. Google has put its guidelines into place for people to follow – if you fail to do that, you face the consequences.
And that is where a Google penalty check comes into the picture.
There are two types of Google penalties:
- Manual action penalty
- Algorithmic penalty
Remember that – we’ll come to it later.
How can you know if you have been hit by a Google update?
Are you unknowingly not following a rule, causing a decrease in the traffic to your site?
How can you pinpoint the problem and start to fix it?
We’ll come to all of that in a minute.
But before that, let’s take a look at some of the latest Google updates – and the most popular ones – you need to know about (if you don’t already).
Latest Google updates that took the world by storm
This update to Google’s algorithm, which was launched in 2011, waged a war against sites it categorized as low-quality due to poor content, old design, and too many ads among other things.
It aimed to reward sites that had high-quality content that would be helpful to users who made search queries.
The update came out in stages spanning four year, the last of which, hence, was in 2015.
The first of the Penguin update came out in 2012.
The target of this algorithm update was to red-handedly catch the sites that were spamming search results by buying links or obtaining them through other sneaky means.
Link-building is a must when it comes to healthy SEO practices and Google wanted to reward sites that were working toward building genuine links.
This update was launched in 2017.
With the world moving more and more toward mobile, Google aimed to gives mobile users a better experience.
To ensure that, it cracked down on sites that failed to provide a user-friendly mobile site to their consumers.
Bert has been launched and it will change the way search and content marketing works. Google itself has claimed it is the most important update that has come out in the last five years.
Why is it so important?
Nuance and context are the main focus of this update – it will allow search to comprehend complicated queries that would be hard to understand without context and an understanding of language.
At a time when machine learning and artificial intelligence are gaining traction, Google is applying the same principle to search.
With the powers of Google’s AI system algorithms RankBrain and Bert combined, complicated search queries are no match for Google.
As is evident by the name, this was another algorithm update that was aimed at mobile search.
With it, Google aimed to enhance the search experience of the mobile user. It did this by improving the ranking of sites that had easy-to-read text and design elements that made navigation easy.
In short, high-quality mobile versions of sites definitely moved up search results as a result of this update. And vice versa (Yikes!)
Of course, if you’re looking for a list of ALL the major updates that Google has introduced, you can find them here in a very comprehensive list by MOZ:
Now that we know a little bit about Google algorithm updates and penalties, let’s come to the main question:
How do I carry out a Google penalty check?
If you want to fix a problem, you need to
- Find out if a problem exists.
- Determine what exactly the problem is.
If you have a feeling that your site has been affected by a recent Google update, you should find out for sure.
A basic way to know that your site may have been affected by a Google update is if the traffic to your site witnesses a massive change. And this can be in any direction.
When you see such a change and you haven’t done anything to cause it, warning bells should start to go off in your head.
Let’s dive a little deeper and see how to know for sure.
Remember the two different kinds of penalties we mentioned earlier? It’s time to discuss them in more detail!
Manual action penalty
Manual action penalties are a walk in the park to discover – you are literally told where you went wrong.
When you are hit by this kind of penalty, you will receive a notification about the penalty in Webmaster Tools.
More often than not, the message Google sends you will lay out all the details for you – why you were hit. This will help you easily see which update affected your site.
Correcting the issue, on the other hand, is another story entirely. But we’ll save that for another blog post.
That was all about the manual action penalty – as easy as 1, 2, 3. Now onto the algorithmic penalty.
This is where things get a little harder to determine. Why? Because you are not informed what went wrong.
You need to do a number of things to carry out a basic Google penalty check.
Firstly, keep track of the traffic on your site.
A sudden change, usually a drop, in traffic can point in the direction of an algorithmic penalty.
But traffic to a website can change for a number of reasons other than a Google algorithm update.
Analyze the change in traffic and when you have been able to rule out any other reasons for a traffic change, you can move on to the next step.
Second, you want to review your rankings.
A change in rankings for certain keywords or phrases can also hint at the effect of the latest Google updates on your site.
You, thus, also need to monitor them.
If you see that your rankings have dropped, along with your traffic, a Google algorithm penalty is likely the culprit.
But which update caused it?
Here’s how you find out!
Study your traffic with respect to updates.
Here is the first thing you can do.
In Google Analytics, you need to open up a graph of the website traffic that has come to your site from Google.
If the drops in traffic you have identified clearly correspond with a Google update on that day, you have found your culprit.
But this is easier said than done – after all, as we mentioned earlier, Google can release upward of 500 updates per year.
One way to go about doing this is relating the changes in traffic to the major updates that have dropped in recent years (some of which we have mentioned above).
Another way is to let the top tools in the market help.
Use a Penalty Identifying Tool
There are plenty of tools out there that can predict which penalties hit your site.
Let us list some of them here:
- Google Search Console
- Fruition Google Penalty Checker
- SEMRush Sensor
- MOZ Algorithm change history
- Panguin Google Penalty Check Tool
For more details about these tools, as well as more tools themselves, check out this extremely helpful resource:
Carry out an SEO analysis of your site
The negative affect of a Google update on your site (lower traffic and rankings) is likely the result of a penalty.
We’ve established that much.
It is also evident that you are doing something that is triggering the system to penalize you.
So one way you can discover the issue is by analyzing your own SEO efforts and identifying any harmful (black hat) practices that may be the culprit.
Look out for things such as the following:
- The quality of your content is low.
- You over-stuff your content with keywords.
- You’ve been sneaky in your link-building efforts – low-quality backlinks are dominant.
- There are too many pop-up ads.
- You don’t have a security certificate (http site vs. https site).
- Your site isn’t optimized well for mobile.
- The design of your site isn’t user-friendly.
There are many, MANY things we can add to this list but you get the point. Looking at your own site critically can help you determine the problem without a formal Google penalty check.
What now? Keep track of the latest Google updates!
Once you have identified which update you are up against, you can take the right steps to tackle it.
- Fix the issue.
- File a reconsideration request if it is a manual penalty.
- Wait for the request to be passed (or you can simply wait for the penalty to expire, although that can take a while).
- AVOID getting penalized in the future by remaining up to speed with the latest Google updates!
The best way, by far, is to avoid getting a penalty.
While you can use the methods we have described above to identify and fix the issues, it isn’t easy to gain lost credibility. Nor is it easy to get your rankings and traffic back to the level they were at before.
So avoid penalties by indulging in top-notch SEO practices, and ensuring your content marketing game is on point, your site has high-quality information, and the user experience is not compromised in any way.
Would you like to read more about fixing the issues a penalty identifies with your site and getting back on track?
Let us know in the comments and we’ll discuss the steps to take after a Google penalty check in detail.
In the meantime, stay safe from Google penalties – may the protection be with you.