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Dealing With Google Penalties & Notices

Written on:March 29, 2012
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We’ve covered a lot of ground over the last few weeks since Panda 3.3 kicked-off, and thankfully, we’re now seeing some early indicators of recovery

We work with many professional SEO’s and have quite a network of experience to tap into. Over the last few days, we’ve all started to see and hear of a growing number of cases where people have ‘beaten’ the Panda slaps that have hit many of you so hard.

While it’s still early days, we thought we’d share some methods, strategies, options and analysis about what seems to be working, and hopefully offer ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’ for those of you still feeling the pain!

1. Start By Taking A Long Hard Look At Your Site

Look at your ‘on-page’ SEO. Make sure you’re not over-optimised with your Page Titles, Headers and content. Have you gone bonkers with a high keyword density? Make sure the keywords that each page is optimised for don’t provide anything higher than a 3% keyword density (maximum.)

Check your WP Plugins etc. Make sure you’re not looking like a link-farm with loads of OBL’s (Out-Bound Links) on each page due to some plugin.

Is your site loading at a sensible speed? Or is it running like a dog from too many plugins with a huge SQL load.

Is your content of a reasonable quality? Is it scraped or auto-generated gibberish? Do you have loads of mass-generated and highly similar pages, specifically created to attract a bunch of long-tail traffic? An example of this is a site with 500 extra pages of the same spun-content with different headers and page-titles for different GEO keywords. i.e. Bristol Plumbing Engineer, Manchester Plumbing Engineer, London Plumbing Engineer etc. This is a huge red-flag and very easy for Google to spot. ‘On-site’ duplicate (including auto-generated highly similar pages) are much worse than duplicate content across different sites. (You can get away with duplicate content across multiple sites if it’s of high-quality as it can be seen as syndication.)

Is your layout or theme effective and professional. Or does it look like amateur-hour at the local beginners HTML club? Do your Ads dominate the page and push all your content into odd-shapes? Does the page feel like it was designed, or auto-produced?

Is your internal linking and navigation appropriate for a commercial site. Do you have all the pages pointing at one ‘money-page’ with the same anchor text?

Check your site stats & bounce rates etc. (cPanel AWStats or similar.) Is everyone leaving after 5-15 seconds? Why? If Google are constantly seeing everyone hit the ‘back’ key and go for another search result, it doesn’t look good for your site.

Take Action: Make changes to your Meta Page Titles, Description and Keywords and clean up anything obvious from above. Then build more links or social bookmarks to those pages to get them noticed and re-spidered.

2. Keep Building Links – But Analyse & Increase Diversity

Start by running any available link reports you have to check your link-profile and anchor distribution. Are there any obvious or glaring factors at play? Do you have 80% of your anchors using one term? Have you over-prioritised your home-page with links?

One of the most important factors to remember is: Don’t Stop Building Links to your site! Keep the link-velocity going. But… Make sure you’re now using highly diverse anchors, and that you’re linking deep throughout the site to ‘dilute’ any major issues away. You can’t generally remove over-optimised links, but you can dilute them down to normal ratios.

Simply keeping your link-building going and diluting any over-optimisation issues can work wonders. It may take time (see number 3) but this, combined with number 1 can solve many people’s penalty problems without any other intervention.

You should also start building ‘Asset-Quality’ Web 2.0/buffer sites – and then build a lot of links at them. This will help leech some authority-rank towards your site, and also increase social signals – as these sites are highly visited and often re-cached very frequently.

Build social links/signals from Facebook posts & Twitter tweets, and keep them coming regularly across your site. Just simple pure URL links – nothing fancy. You just want social signals pointing towards the pages of your site.

Because of the way Google is now using social signals and other ‘activity’ effects as part of their ranking factors, it is becoming increasingly important to move away from the concept of pure volume of links as the primary ranking mechanism. A steady drip-drip-drip of links and an established link-velocity are now fundamental to Google’s approach. We need constant link ‘love’ from a wide variety of sites to keep our site looking socially significant and active.

Many SEO’s now feel that a regular flow of diverse links and active social signals are more important than trying to maintain the older SEO concept of one-off high-PR links. It can often be better to receive a link from a low PR, but often visited and re-cached page, than some high-PR page that never gets any social interaction. And remember that ‘social activity’ isn’t just contained inside the major social networks. Social activity is any continual signal that keeps your site looking like it’s being discussed – and that it remains ‘relevant’ to people and therefore the Search Engines.

3. Just Give It Time

Simply put… Wait it out!

We’re already getting many reports of people who’ve received penalties and Google notices simply returning to their old positions –  just by following the first 2 steps…

They kept their heads, stayed under the Google radar, maintained a good diverse link-building strategy, possibly improved and cleaned their sites up a bit, changed some page-titles etc., and added some new content… and then just waited to see what would happen.

And no matter what strategy you choose to follow, patience will be necessary.

DO NOT expect to turn things around in days. We expect it to take weeks and maybe months for sites that have poor link-profiles and many problematic on-site factors. But keep working on the site; add new content, improve on quality, and keep building a steady flow of diverse and deep links.

4. Remove (Or Maybe Replace) The Offending Pages

Why not completely remove the offending pages from your site? Obviously you can’t remove the home-page, if that’s the problem, but if it’s any other page, then who’s to say you can’t remove it (thus removing the page penalty) and even replace it with a newly re-created page. Obviously you’ll have to re-build the linking from scratch, but at least you’ve kept the site and the overall ranking that it’s achieved (including the overall inbound link count you’ve created to the domain as a whole) and are only rebuilding part of it. This may help you get your ranking back faster, and will definitely help with long-tails and other side-traffic.

5. Remove GWT & GA From Your Sites

This is not really a cure, but many SEOs have been reporting that removing their Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics accounts have helped in conjunction with other techniques. Some are saying to not only remove all the on-site factors, but to actually completely delete the Google accounts themselves.

We’re doubtful, and think it’s the other changes that have been responsible for their recovery, but we do feel that anyone who has multiple sites should avoid using these tools anyway, as a matter of course.

In and of themselves, GWT and GA don’t cause any issues that we can detect, but they do provide a very clear indicator of single-point ownership to Google…

And with Google’s new privacy policy, they have effectively allowed themselves to access virtually all data they collect from each system as one. This means that they can collate more business intelligence about you as the owner and make connections that they wouldn’t have been able to make previously. Even if it’s only 20% more information, we think this is generally unwise from an SEO perspective. And there are plenty of other analytics programs you can use, so there’s no need to use Google’s.

If you have Google AdSense on your sites, then this is obviously another connection footprint, but we would still choose to minimise any other tools and not make all ownership obvious. Having your AdSense Publisher ID in an advert block, doesn’t necessarily tell Google you own the site, so why back this up with GA & GWT?

6. DON’T Submit A Google Reconsideration Request

In fact, don’t contact Google at all. There are many SEO’s who controversially think this part is vital…

If you want to stay off the radar, and have done some aggressive and poorly optimised link-building in the past, then do you really want Google taking a closer and deeper look? And are you convinced your content and sites will stand up to that kind of scrutiny? And don’t forget, we’re not talking YOUR standards or even what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here; but Google’s highly biased way of thinking. And let’s not forget, that’s the same way of thinking that got the penalty or notice issued in the first place.

And for a reconsideration request to have any effect, they’ll want to see some significant changes. If you’ve been notified of ‘unnatural linking practices’ etc. then it’s highly unlikely that you’ve been able to do anything about it. Removing existing published links is virtually impossible; and Google know it.

So what does a ‘Reconsideration Request’ actually bring you? Apart from putting you firmly back in Google’s sights; and drawing you back into their game. Many SEO’s think that the best way is just to disappear, and use several of the other techniques described on this page to get your rankings back naturally.

Conclusions?

There ARE methods that seem to be working; even if it’s just ‘wait it out’. Paying attention to the steps above and scrutinizing your site carefully can often point to several factors that you can improve upon. But most of the early recovery we’re seeing is from people who’ve kept building diverse links, made a few changes and improvements, and kept adding new content.

Good luck!

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