The question “How do you know if your website has been hit by a penalty ?” has been asked of me quite often, and even more so in the past few months with the Google Panda and Google Penguin updates. Google has been handing out penalties, or is refining their algorithms constantly, it’s just that in the more recent times more and more sites seem to be effect by them. We even wrote about one case we looked at back in 2009. And even back in 2007 there was the roll outs that tackled paid links, see wolf-howl.com. So these aren’t anything new per se.
Example of a penalty
Basically what happens, is that your website will notice a significant drop in traffic, see the example around the end of May of this year. Note that I am only looking at the Organic Search Traffic graph, I’ve excluded the statistics for type-in, PPC, referral traffic as sometimes these can hide or blur the effect.
Over night the search traffic dropped dramatically, and this can be confirmed by clicking on individual keywords in your Google Analytics Reports, and seeing that the number of visitors coming for the top keywords had completely fallen off. These changes happened at once for more than a few keywords. Rankings for these keywords were averaging between position #2 and #7, and after this date they dropped off to the 2nd or 3rd pages of results.
Reasons for Google could penalise your site
There could be multiple reasons for your penalty, and it can be a bit of a tricky tasks to identify them. If you’ve done anything shady like buying links, buying Google plus votes or Facebook likes then it’s likely that Google has noticed this. The best start is go back to basics and check everything, from issues in your Google Webmaster Console to reading Google’s starter guide Search Engine Optimisation.
And even once everything is looked at it could be possible that your competitors in the market have just blown you out of the water. Generally if this is the case the drops are more gradual, unless you are heavily depending on one keyword to deliver you a high percentage of your traffic.
SEO takes time
It’s not always the case that you can fix a penalty in such a quick manner, as in the example above, here’s one we are currently looking at.
A big thanks goes to my clients for allowing me to share these graphs, you guys rock !