Many website, businesses, and employees have been affected by Google’s recent clamp down on spammy and manipulative link practices. It is becoming an all too common problem for small business, and we are increasingly finding that new clients have been affected by penalization and need help finding a resolution.
Whether a site has been hit by a manual penalty, or has suffered a drop in traffic following a Penguin update, there is always a lot of work required in order to get a penalty lifted. Many of the tools needed are expensive, and many of the popular methods require a lot of manual work. This post offers some tools, guidelines, and methods for reducing the time and cost of penalty removal work.
The first step to any kind of penalty recovery is figuring out if you have a penalty and what kind of penalty it is. With manual penalties this is nice and easy as Google just tell you in Google Webmaster Tools. Algorithmic penalties are a bit more tricky, and normally you have to break the old correlation ≠ causation rule when deciding that one is present.
When dealing with new clients, we try to qualify them as quickly as possible – often clients don’t even know that they’ve been hit by a penalty. A couple of tools can give you a quick indicator:
Website Penalty Indicator – Cost $0
My company developed this tool recently (built using SEMrush traffic data), which can be used for a quick visual check on traffic trends, and if a website has seen any large drops following Google update announcements (or not, as the case may be…)
ahrefs – Cost $0 (paid plans available)
Our backlink tool of choice, ahrefs is largely considered among the SEO community to have the largest and most accurate index. For our budget-busting analysis we’ll be making use of the free account, which gives you restricted data and only 3 lookups a day – but that is perfectly adequate for our needs at this stage.
By looking at a site’s backlink numbers and their anchor text ratios you can get a pretty good idea how manipulative their backlink profile is, and whether it might be worth doing some further investigation.
Screenshots from these tools along with a brief explanation should be enough to convince most prospective clients that it is worth doing some more detailed investigations, giving you deeper insight into their situation.
Panguin – Cost $0
This a fantastic tool for identifying penalties, but it does require you to have access to the Google Analytics account of the site in question, so it is not much use for pre-qualifying. However once you do have GA access, it is incredibly useful. Once you log in, you choose one of your Profiles (Views) and Panguin will overlay Google update data over your Google organic search traffic.
You are looking for an update followed by a fall in search traffic (or a series thereof), which could imply a penalty is present. Make sure to compare the data to previous years to ensure it isn’t simply a seasonal fluctuation.
SEMrush – $0 (paid plans available)
A sublime tool for competitor research, SEMrush makes use of its database of ranking history for millions of keywords to give you loads of valuable data. In the absence of keyword ranking history, the SEMrush overview (free) can give us a great idea of previous trends.
Combining all these sources you should be able to make a fairly accurate judgment as to whether a site has been penalized or not.