When your website suddenly suffers from an unanticipated fall in search pages ranking, the cause cannot be narrowed down to one specific issue. However, Google’s changes of algorithms are likely to be the most suspect cause. For instance, the recent Fred update.

Over the years, Google has released a variety of algorithm changes. Every new release affects site owners differently. There are those that gain and those that lose. As such, folks may at times incorrectly blame Google’s penalties for the drop in their rankings. Whether you have been hit with a Google penalty or not, white hat SEO practices will often lead to more positive SEO results over a long time.

Nevertheless, if you suspect you have been hit with a Google penalty, first browse through SEO forums plus relevant social media pages to ascertain that Google has indeed made some algorithm changes and whether they could be the cause for your problem.

However, an extreme reduction in traffic from Google non-paid search more than likely suggests a penalty; mainly if your website is not in compliance with one or a couple of the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Additionally, Google has increased the number of its filters and is now building them into its algorithms. This move by Google is facilitated by the need to maintain a high quality in the search engine result pages by detecting violations in the Webmaster Guidelines.

How to Check For a Google Penalty

When you suspect a penalty, begin by checking whether your site’s URLs are still indexed. If you notice none of the URLs is indexed, it could be an indication of a Google penalty, more so if your website was previously indexed.

Just check this by Googling Site:yoursite.com

If a couple of pages from your site, or even your entire website are no longer indexed, investigate for any new web server outages. This is because when the Googlebot crawls through sites, it tends to remove websites that give the return 404 feedback.

Another method involves searching for the exact domain and company names in Google. If your brand name previously ranked highly, but you are no longer ranked, it is likely that you may have incurred a penalty. However, the exception here is when regarding a new website that contains few to no backlinks, and may not have been indexed by Google yet, or if its content isn’t deemed to be good enough to deserve a higher ranking.

SEO penalties can often be page based as well and so doing a site:yourweb.com/page can help us find any page based penalty.

Nevertheless, not every penalty dished out by Google results in a fall in page rank. Various filters are triggered by excessive link buying, unnatural irregularities in backlinks, or reciprocal exchanges of links, especially when you apply the same anchor text in links.

Hence, to avoid a SERP filter or a resulting penalty, you need to be extra cautious about how you go about your link-building program. As such, do not make reciprocal link exchange the staple of your SEO link-building campaign. Also, if you have to buy links, ensure they are placed naturally within content on relevant websites. Do not have them placed on the footers or subheading of these sites’ content. Links that integrate typically within the content of relevant sites appear more sensible to the Googlebot.

If you feel that your site is being penalised, check whether it has breached any guidelines, and if possible, request for reconsideration via your Webmaster Tools account.

Interestingly, Google usually emails sites that are violating their guidelines before they apply any measures. The email is a statement asking them to clean up their act failure to which they may face a penalty or have their websites de-indexed. If the site takes heed of the warning and takes corrective actions to eliminate the breach, Google lifts the penalty and re-indexes the website. Many of these ‘penalties’ are in actual sense filters that are triggered by Google’s algorithms on detection of irregularities.

When your site receives a penalty, here is a guide on how to determine the cause and find a solution.

Overdoing link optimisation

Link Optimisation is behind most Google penalties. The use of poor SEO techniques such as aggressive link building while using the same keywords in all your link anchor texts will cause you problems; mainly if the site is still new and is quickly going up the ranks.

When doing a link building campaign, incorporate a variety of keywords in your link anchor text. Additionally, make sure that you distribute the bank-links that contain your name or URL fairly throughout your content while ensuring that the links also link to other pages apart from just your homepage.

There is a strong suspicion that Google has recently incorporated automatic over optimisation filters into their algorithms. These filters seem to automatically penalise a page that uses the same keywords for link building.

Keyword Stuffing

Avoid forcing keywords in your site’s content. Pepper them naturally using the appropriate copywriting methods.

Keyword analysis on Common Crawl.

Linking to Banned Sites

Check all the outbound links from your website. See whether the sites you are linked to having been banned. Typically, banned sites display Page Rank 0.

If your website is linking to a substantial number of banned sites or those that are considered to be manipulative link networks and other Black Hat sources, it might see you drop in rank. As such, eliminate any links you have to ban domains and Black Hat link farms. Moreover, desist from unethical link building methods if you do not want to get into trouble.

Devalued Links

Google’s effort to combat link spam has seen it devalue links from sources considered to be manipulative. Paid links, especially, are a preferred target by Google’s spam team as they continue to apply changes in their algorithms.

After link devaluation, your site stands to face the same fate as in the cases of reciprocal links and bought links; a drop in the rankings. Your site’s preference for a particular type of linking is what determines the severity of the fall.

Spammy Neighborhoods

Ensure that you do not link to bad neighbourhoods, doorway pages, or link farms.

If you’re still in doubt, use the Bad Neighborhood Detection Tool to check the quality of the sites that you are linking.

Another measure would be to Google the HTML home-page titles of the sites that you want to link . If these websites do not appear in the top 20 of the Search Engine Results Pages, avoid linking to them.

Use a tool like Majestic to check the spaminess of the neighbourhood.

Sitewide links / Crosslinking

If you are running more than one site and they happen to be simultaneously penalised by Google, check for interlinking between the sites. When two websites are interlinked through extensive keyword optimisation and happen to be on the same ISP, Google might consider this to be a link scheme.

As such, avoid site-word links like those that are provided in a Blogroll; especially if they are keyword optimised. Site-wide links, in fact, do not do a lot to improve your site’s visibility in SERPs as Google sees them as a single link from one site to the other. Also, utilising unnatural looking site-wide links excessively is usually a red-flag for Google and may reduce its trust in your site thus resulting in a drop in rankings.

Paid Links

Link buying is likely to affect your rankings negatively. Google’s spam team’s leader, Matt Cutts, annotates this on his Google SEO blog. He mentions that Google usually devalues links from companies that sell text links so that the recipient gets zero value from these links regarding having their page or website rank improve.

Reciprocal Links

A high link accrual rate resulting from a large number of reciprocal links added during the same period may trigger a penalty or have a SERP filter applied. As such, you should limit your mutual linking efforts only to organizations that you have a business partnership with instead for SEO purposes only.

A lot of reciprocal link building, mainly to low-quality websites or sites whose themes do not relate to yours should be avoided. This may result in a Backlink Over optimisation penalty, commonly referred to as a BLOOP by SEO experts. This penalty often causes a sudden and drastic drop in SERP rankings.

Duplicate Content

Even though the duplicate content doesn’t directly trigger penalties, having duplicate content might result in all the duplicate pages being placed into Google’s supplemental index thus causing the pages not to be ranked in SERPs. This will cause a sudden drop in traffic such as that caused by a penalty.

Google does not index duplicated content and, therefore, any website that uses large amounts of duplicate content is likely to suffer.

A lot of webmasters do not realise how having multiple websites offering the same content on the web negatively affects them. Having domains that have duplicate content tends to dilute your link equity.

Algorithm changes noticed after the Google Panda update suggest they are against duplicate content as Alias Domains seem to trigger the removal of site content from Google’s index.

Not utilising 301s for redirects

JavaScript and Meta Refresh automatic redirects cause penalties regularly because pages that use them are considered to be doorway pages. To avoid a penalty, use a Mode Rewrite or 301 redirect method instead.

Content Feeds

Even though content feeds are widely utilized online, evidence suggests that the post-panda period has seen to large amounts of duplicate data in content feeds having a negative impact on rankings.

Not Complying with Google Webmaster Guidelines

Google has been alerting webmasters that they feel are not playing by the rules via the webmaster since 2007. Google usually advises them to comply with the regulations.

However, persistently breaching the guidelines will see that particular site banned and filtered from the result pages without further warning. Upon receiving a Google warning notification, it is in your best interest to resolve the issue before submitting a reconsideration request.

Google SERPs Filters

It is now clear that the over-optimisation of a single keyword through the addition of many site-wide and backlinks might trigger a Google filter effect where the recipient of the links no longer ranks in organic SERPs for that specific keyword.

Consequently, the website’s Google Trust Rank can get affected leading to a reduction in rank for the other keywords as well. Nevertheless, the affected site may retain the ranks for its other long tail keywords if they haven’t been over optimized; especially if their pages have not undergone aggressive link building and contain natural links.

Making a recovery from a Google penalty is going to involve fixing the issue by addressing the cause and then waiting for Google’s actions. Recovering your Google ranking might take a couple of months; however, it could take lesser time if you follow through thoroughly on the solutions to your infringements.

Moreover, Google’s algorithms can still remove the penalties automatically if the affected site is still indexed by Google. However, if your site has not only lost Page Rank but is also de-indexed, you might have to consider making a re-inclusion request.

As of now, however, it is impossible to predict what the tech giant has in store for us in the coming days. Nevertheless, you can always find information about their latest update and improve your website’s optimization accordingly to prevent being penalised by Google.

Unfortunately, Google uses over 200 factors to determine rankings and, as such, small businesses may find it too difficult to keep up with all the regulations.

So, which factors should you spend the bulk of your efforts on? Since Google began its operations, it has released four major updates in its algorithms. They include:

  • Panda
  • Penguin
  • Hummingbird
  • Pigeon
  • Fred Algorithm

Grump Meter by Accuranker.

The constant changes and tweaks in these algorithms are what majorly affect websites’ rankings on results pages. The following are insights on Google’s algorithm updates to explain their penalties better.

Google Panda

This is Google’s first significant algorithm and is their most popular one. Anyone involved with SEO knows who the entry of the Panda changed the SEO landscape. Panda forced all businesses that rely on search engines to generate leads and make sales to pay attention.

The algorithm also drove home the fact that SEO is never constant. It will keep evolving and today’s best SEO practices can be outdated tomorrow.

On the wake of Google Panda’s inception, thousands of sites that had matching domain names were penalised in a move that shocked a lot of SEO experts.

What is Google Panda?

This is a search engine algorithm that was released in February 2011 and is named after a Google engineer: Biswanath Panda.

This update featured a search filter that was utilized to filter content based on quality. It targeted sites that had low-quality content by offering them less SEO power. By doing this, websites that did not make it through the Google Panda filter were unable to rank highly in Google’s SERPs.

The introduction of the Panda algorithm saw many site owners experience a drop in the organic traffic or an increase in their rankings.

Google Panda’s Impact on SEO

As stated, the introduction of Google Panda saw to major upheavals in the land of SEO. Thus, keyword research, targeting, and content strategies experienced significant changes.

SEO experienced other changes such as alterations in the ways in which links are built. This is because top quality links typically supplement your SEO by giving it more power or value.

By utilizing the Panda, Google could precisely discover the sites that were found useful by visitors as well as those that were found to be spammy.

The reason behind calling the algorithm an update is because Google periodically runs it. Whenever the search engine carries out a filtration, the algorithm changes a little.

Therefore, every time Google Panda runs a filter, high-quality content is automatically given a higher ranking in the search results while low-grade content sites are caught in Google’s crosshairs.

As of now, Google has released about 26 Panda updates. Also, the search engine regularly tweaks Panda.

Causes of Google Panda penalties

These are the risk factors for a Panda penalty:

Duplicate Content

A lot of sites tend to have similar content blocks on different pages of the website. This can cause a lot of problems to its visitors as well as SEO. Additionally, redirecting these duplicated pages increases your risk of getting flagged by Google Panda by tenfold.

When Google’s bots find any duplicate content on a website, they first analyze the different elements that form part of your webpage and will not penalize you initially.

It is, therefore, important that you eliminate all sorts of duplicate content from your website and instead focus on creating unique content that is both rich and helpful. Also, remember that presence of identical content in your domain names and URLs is likely to create a problem with Panda.

Auditing Inbound Links

Even though your site may indeed contain content that is both unique and helpful, your SEO might still not give you the preferred results.

If this is the case, try and audit the inbound links on your website. There is a chance that it is low-quality links that are responsible for lowering the site’s ranking. There are plenty of tools available to do this as a webmaster. Look at SEMrush, Majestic or LRT.

Google Panda specifically expects all websites to concentrate on giving quality information rather than quantity. Also, although you might be creating high-quality content at the moment, your past may haunt you if it contained poor quality content. As such, on top of creating excellent quality links, you also have to ensure that the links you created when you first started out cannot harm you.

Additionally, if there are a lot of inbound links coming to your website from unrelated sites, they might trigger Google Panda into penalizing you.

Therefore, ensure that you are linking to top-tier sites that share a similar theme with your site.

Reducing High Bounce Rate

A high bounce rate can have detrimental effects on your website. A bounce rate refers to the number of times users viewed just a page on the site. It raises the question of why the user did not spend more time on the website and explore some more pages.

Their quick exits might imply that your site’s content is either not interesting or useful to the visitor.

The higher the bounce rate, the more likely Google Panda will be in your case as it is an indication that your content is not useful enough to visitors. Nevertheless, you can analyze your site’s bounce rate by utilizing the Google Analytics account.

A bounce rate of more than 60% is typically regarded to be ultrahigh. A bounce rate below that is considered to be fair. However, this varies between industries.

It is a site’s design and usability that are usually the main suspects behind a high bounce rate. Thus, you not only need to improve your content’s quality but also optimize its design to make it more user-friendly.

Low Repeat Visits

If visitors to your site do not normally make a repeat visit, Google might interpret this as a lack of valuable information on the site.

Additionally, with mobile devices being used more than desktops to browse the internet, a website that isn’t mobile friendly is bound to suffer a lack of repeat visits. You, therefore, need to use data from Google Analytics to keep track of users that make repeat visits.

For instance, you can make a repeat visitor’s time worthwhile by offering them a reward such as an e-course, free report or anything you can afford to part with.
Increase your repeat visit stats through:

  • Offering relevant or useful content
  • Deleting irrelevant meta tags
  • Increasing your site’s load time
  • Not reusing content

Recover from a Google Panda penalty

After getting hit with the Panda penalty, the next course of action is formulating a recovery plan to solve that issue. You begin the recovery process by first ascertaining whether your site has indeed been penalized by Panda.

If there has been recent panda update and your site suddenly starts displaying a reduction in traffic, chances are you have been caught in the filter net.

Start by beefing up thin content or eliminating it entirely to improve your organic traffic. Additionally, changing your content strategy and starting to create unique, high-quality content will see the penalty removed in due time.

Google Penguin

The first Penguin update was released in April 2012. The Penguin update maintains a strict focus on incoming links. Before the Penguin update was released, SEO specialists used to utilize a variety of link building strategies.

The biggest difference between Penguin and Google Panda is that while the Panda update focuses on thin and low-quality content, the Penguin update is all about targeting sites that have suspicious links.

Although link building is still applicable to some degree, most of the traditional link building strategies, however, are now outdated.

Factors Penguin Penalty

Link Schemes

Even though link building still has its place, Google aims to only provide high-quality websites in its search rankings.

Nevertheless, there are people that use link schemes to gain an unfair advantage. These schemes involve generating links that are used to manipulate and induce search engines into improving the ranking of their web pages in search results.

As such, if the Penguin update accurately determines that you are using generated links, you can be sure of a penalty. Avoid link schemes at all costs.

Keyword Stuffing

Inasmuch as you may be providing top-quality content on your website, stuffing and forcing keywords throughout the text is likely to get Google Penguin knocking on your door. Ensure that your keyword usage complies with the Google Webmaster Guidelines by avoiding using the keywords excessively in your content.

The reason behind keyword stuffing by most people is to manipulate search engine rankings. Therefore, if a keyword sounds out of place in the content or is irrelevant in regards to what you are talking about, do not use it.

Nevertheless, keyword use is still relevant even after introducing the Penguin and Panda updates. Thus, rather than aimlessly stuffing the keywords into the content, create meaningful content around the keywords.

Ensure that the content is not only carefully crafted, but also offers a solution to the reader’s query.


Over-optimization comes from using too much SEO. For instance, over-optimized anchor texts often lead to a penalty from Penguin. To mitigate this risk, begin a social media marketing campaign to collect organic links that appear natural to your site.

To know whether you are over-optimizing, begin by examining whether the anchor texts used in your internal links are keyword rich.

Unnatural Links

Links that seem out of place are unappealing to the visitors as well as to Google. These links are a staple for websites that are usually off-topic.

In the past, these types of links used to work for bigger websites. However, since Google introduced the Penguin update, only a natural appearing link can get you a spot among the search engine results.

As such, you need first to remove all the unnatural links appearing in your webpages if you want to avoid the Google Penguin penalty.

Also, avoid all the other black-hat techniques such as link exchanges and paid links that used to work before.

How to avoid the Penguin Penalty

You can only avoid a Google Penguin penalty by crafting your blog posts in a way that earns it natural links.

Use the WOT (Web of Trust) tool. It is website auditor that reveals who among your visitors trusts your site.

In the event you have a low WOT score, redesign your SEO strategies. This implies that you create top-quality content while improving social engagement through social media websites.

Google Hummingbird

The Hummingbird was released in September 2016 by Google. Contrary to Google Penguin and Panda, the Hummingbird is not an update; rather, it offers enhancements to Google’s algorithms.

This tool provides Google with a more precise and faster platform which allows users to easily get what they are searching for whenever they key in the given search term on the search engine.

This implies that Google Hummingbird’s purpose is to enhance Google’s efficiency during the delivery of search results for a particular keyword.

In a nutshell, the purpose of Google Panda and Penguin is to provide updates for the current algorithm while the Hummingbird is a different algorithm by itself.

Since the Hummingbird was introduced, the focus shifted from the keywords to the user.
And even though keyword research is still very important, the value the keywords provide is even more essential. As such, use those keywords to create content that provides solutions to people’s problems.

Hummingbird and long-tail keyword

The post-Hummingbird era has seen to sites that incorporate long-tail keywords and phrases benefitting more than those that use seed or head keywords. As such, you should develop a preference for long-tail keywords if you want to enhance your site’s traffic.

Hummingbird is also biased towards conversational search. This means that applying conversational keywords could see you create very valuable content.

In fact, more people today are using conversational terms when searching for information. Therefore, design your landing page in a way that answers these questions. Use the Google Keyword Planner to aid your search for long-tail and conversational keywords that are applicable to your industry.

Google Pigeon

The advent of the Google Pigeon update saw the majority of online marketers changing their strategies.

Since its introduction in July 2014, the update has influenced SEO marketing methods immensely. The Pigeon update was not worldwide initially.

In the past, searching using Google Maps yielded different results from that of the search engine. However, Google Pigeon has impacted searches in such a way that web search and map search results are now more cohesive.

Additionally, Google Pigeon shows a preference for local directories when searching. It seems as though the Pigeon is Google’s biggest update yet regarding the Local search.
Avoid penalties from Pigeon by incorporating the same techniques you applied when avoiding Penguin and Panda penalties.

Mobile Interstitial Penalty

Google released the update that penalizes sites for intrusive interstitials in January 2017. So what does intrusive interstitial mean? Simply put, intrusive interstitials are popup windows. This update by Google is geared towards facilitating the search engine’s efforts in putting user experiences as the biggest factor in its new mobile-index. Even though this new penalty has its exception, we need to reconsider how to use pop-ups.

In August 2016, Google issued a statement saying it would no longer highly rank websites that employ pop-ups in their marketing campaigns. Google insisted that this move was aimed at creating a better searching experience for mobile users. As such, utilizing popups could see your page rank lower in the result pages.

To understand the impact of going down even a single rank, consider this report by Search Engine Watch:

  • 75% of traffic from the search engine results pages usually goes to the top 5 listed links.
  • The topmost link gets around 32.5% of the traffic.
  • The second one attracts 17.6% of users
  • Considering things from this perspective shows you that a slight slip can cause a serious drop in traffic as well as sales.

Exemptions to this penalty

Google, however, has offered some exemptions to this penalty. If your site is structured in such a way that it has to ask for consent from the visitor before it places tracking scripts (cookies) on their device, then you cannot be penalized, and you may proceed with your efforts.

Additionally, if you usually verify a user’s age before they can access the website, you cannot face penalties.

Google has also indicated that banners that take up a sizeable amount of screen space will also be allowed under the new guidelines. In addition, if the site content operates behind a paywall such that visitors need to sign-up to view the content, you are permitted to continue under the new guidelines.

What is not considered to be an intrusive interstitial

In the wake of the new penalty, website owners and marketers are trying to figure out how they can still launch successful campaigns using popups.

The evidence is growing about the benefits of a well-executed pop-up strategy. So, what can we do? A recent episode in Google Webmaster’s Hangout highlighted this query. The topic was on how marketers could continue using pop-ups on mobile without getting banned by Google.

A Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, John Mueller, annotated that Google’s main concern was the popups that surface in between the search click and the main content.

How do you avoid an interstitial penalty? Ensure that you have eliminated all intrusive interstitials that popup immediately a visitor lands on your site. Observe your analytics.

  • Are you recording a high bounce rate?
  • Do users leave the website once they see the popup?

Consider utilizing a heat mapping program to give you better insight into how people are interacting with the popups. Hotjar and Visual Web Optimizer are some of the programs that could give you a better look at how users are behaving on the site. Conversely, if you are not utilizing popups, are there portions of your website that could find value from this strategy? Reconsider your interstitials’ design. Try and make them smaller. Also, consider how they fit in with your site’s branding. Additionally, ensure that your visitors are receiving some value when you obtain their email addresses. Ensure that your tone is friendly and courteous in your popups. We, therefore, have to rethink our popup strategies and analyze how they affect user experiences. We may also have to adjust our marketing strategies so that popups are triggered by the user’s actions rather than simply asking for their emails.

Cloaking and redirects penalty

Cloaking is the act of displaying dissimilar content to Google’s crawler compared to what your users see, and this is considered to be a breach of their guidelines. To be sure, go to the Google Webmaster Tools to view what the Crawler sees vs. what you see when you visit the page normally.

Redirecting is whereby you offer your users a link, but on clicking on it, they are redirected to yet another. Google considers this to be sneaky behaviour.
Also, note that redirecting and cloaking could occur as a result of the website being hacked.

Additionally, many site owners could unknowingly hire SEO companies that utilize this malpractice and get penalized as a result.


  • Remove the code that causes cloaking if you have the expertise. However, if it was done by someone else, drop them and hire others to assist you with this.
  • Make a reconsideration request to Google.
  • For redirects, look for links that redirect in your site and eliminate them.

Payday Loan Update

Launched in June 2013, the Google Payday Update was released by Google to enhance the quality of search results from markets that feature a high spam rate. As such, the payday loan update targets topics such as loans, gambling, pornography, drugs, and prescription medicine.

This update targets keywords such as ‘payday loans,’ ‘easy,’ ‘free,’ etc. If your site operates in a spammy environment, recovering might be difficult, and as such, seeking the services of a professional SEO consultant might be the best plan of action.

Top Heavy Layout: Page layout algorithm

Google’s intentions from the onset have always been to offer users a pleasurable searching experience. The page layout algorithm is an update by Google that targets sites that feature too many advertisements such that visitors have to scroll down to see the content they are after.

The page layout has been updated four times since it was launched in 2012. Nevertheless, since the release of the algorithm and its updates, only less than one percent of sites have been affected.

These changes affect sites that feature excessive ads up to a point where the users’ experience became compromised.

The update does not typically affect all sites that have ads above the fold. It only goes for those that are excessive about the ads. Site owners, therefore, do not need to berate users with ads as this consequently leads to a high bounce rate. Pepper them accordingly.

The above information about Google’s various algorithmic changes and updates should assist you in designing an SEO strategy that ensures you do not get penalized by Google’s algorithms.

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