How To Tell If Your Site Has Received A Google Penalty

What Actions Does Google Penalize For?


Since the birth of the Internet as a business tool, perhaps no topic in online marketing has drawn more attention and caused more controversy and confusion than search engine optimization (SEO). And as the “Big Daddy” of online search engines, Google gets the overwhelming majority of attention from the media, online marketers and SEO professionals. In January, 2013, Google sites accounted for 67% of all Internet search traffic.

Webpage traffic is very important for online marketers. You may have an e-commerce website you've set up to sell products. Maybe you are trying to use your site to get noticed by a large number of prospects whom you hope to persuade to call you to set up a consultation. You might have a landing page that is focused on compelling readers to sign up for your company's newsletter. For all of these scenarios, traffic is critical.

Since December 2000 (when Google first started changing its ranking algorithms), because of the growth of the commercial Internet and the interest in online traffic, a multi-billion dollar industry has sprung up around SEO.

As you might imagine, with a growing number of businesses of every shape and size investing in SEO and trying feverishly to win a front page Google ranking, this industry is VERY competitive.

And, not surprisingly, a lot of shady, unscrupulous SEO consultants have developed some very sneaky, sophisticated tricks in hopes of “gaming” the Google system.

Also not surprising, Google is constantly fighting back. It's seeking to punish those who use underhanded SEO tactics. The company is punishing violators of its rules by removing some previously high ranking pages from page to keyword search results.

Why? Google, even though it is still by far the most popular search engine, has competitors like Bing and Yahoo. Google users who feel like they got a “raw deal” when visiting a site they found in a Google search might decide in the future to try another search engine instead.

Google is adamant about giving quality websites exposure and wants to give its users the very best search experience possible. Google engineers are constantly working to improve their search algorithms to help users easily find the answers they are searching for and to direct them to pages that provide a great user experience and are loaded with useful, easy-to-read content.

So What About Google's “Hummingbird” Update?

So What About Google's “Hummingbird” Update?

In keeping with Google's commitment to providing a great search experience, it has recently released a new upgrade called Hummingbird. Hummingbird is Google's largest search algorithm upgrade since 2001.

Whereas Penguin and Panda were like new parts to make the existing “engine” run more smoothly, Hummingbird is more like a new engine. It allows users to enjoy a more natural, “human” search experience. But, according to this article on, Hummingbird has no effect on SEO.

What Actions Does Google Penalize For? 

So what will Google penalize you for? There are many rules and possible infractions, and a comprehensive answer to this question is way beyond the scope of this article. But we will cover a few of the basic violations you'll want to be aware of.  Avoid these to reduce the likelihood you'll get penalized in the first place.

Duplicate Content: If you have the same or very similar content on two or more of your website's pages, it can lead to a less than optimal user experience.

Note – there is a raging debate and much confusion over whether Google penalizes for this. Whether it's grounds for a penalty or not, if it (or any other action) is likely to cause a user experience that's subpar, avoid it.

Keyword-Stuffed Content: It's worth repeating - Google values user experience. Loading up your content with an unreasonable amount of keywords will make it unpleasant to read and will diminish its value.

"The best SEO is great content" Seth Godin

Here's a useful rule of thumb, for SEO purposes and to resonate with your site's visitors – write your web content for people first and search engines second. Write quality content that engages and solves problems for your reader, and DO NOT stuff your content with keywords.

Excessive Website Downtime: If Google repeatedly can't find your site, it will remove it from its search index. Invest in reliable hosting services for your site.

Slow Page Load Time: This will lead to user frustration and a possible Google penalty.

Buying Content From A “Content Farm”: This is a classic example of the old adage “You get what you pay for”. Don't buy poor quality, cheap content intended only to take up page space. Not only will this result in you being penalized by Google, it will likely turn your readers off and drive them away.

How To Tell If Your Site Has Received A Google Penalty 

What Actions Does Google Penalize For?

With the mystery and confusion surrounding SEO and the way the industry (and Google's response to it) is constantly changing, even honest, well-meaning online marketers intent on doing the right thing can fall victim to a Google penalty.

Just imagine: Your site has several pages consistently enjoying first page Google rankings for keywords that are important to your potential customers. A steady stream of traffic is flowing your way, and quite a bit of it is converting! Then one day, you find out this wonderful stream of traffic has dried up. You do a keyword search and notice you aren't on the first, second, or even third page.

 No Traffic For You! 

Who could forget the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld - “No Soup For You!” Well, it looks like you've been hit by the Traffic Nazi! But, unlike that classic Seinfeld episode, this is no laughing matter. This is a serious problem that just might destroy your business. You need to find out if you've received a Google penalty and what you can do about it.

You've probably been penalized by Google if

  • Your previously very high amount of site traffic disappears overnight
  • Not only do you no longer rank for your keywords, you no longer rank for your brand name
  • Your entire website was removed from Google's results cache
  • Your once lofty pagerank plummets to a one or zero

Have You Been Penalized? 

The question of “What do I do now?” after you get penalized, is probably too complex to be answered in this brief post. This article has an interview with Matt Cutts, head of Google's Web Spam team. Matt suggests visiting the Google Webmaster Help Forum among other things.

If you can afford it, this is a situation where you probably want to invest in the services of an ethical, reliable SEO professional with a proven track record.

Think “Long-Term”

A lot of website owners get into trouble because of impatience. They anxiously want their SEO efforts to pay off right away. This rarely happens. Business owners need to view SEO as a long-term traffic strategy.

Note: For some great advice on how to combine SEO and shorter-term traffic generating tools, check out this article.

Make outstanding written content part of your long-term SEO plans. Despite what some may think, content that readers love and content that appeals to search engines aren't incompatible. Keywords still matter in SEO rankings. And your readers will find your content more relevant and compelling if you will add (not “stuff”) the keywords they used when searching for your product or service – the keywords that led them to your site.

Another important part of SEO success is getting other sites to link back to your site. Instead of using some shady “blackhat” “SEO ninja” tactic like buying links (an almost guaranteed way to get hammered by a Google penalty), draw quality links to your site by adding ample amounts of content that is of such high quality that you attract links "organically" because other website owners want to share your content with their site visitors.

A Word About Google Penalties And Landing Pages

Like we've previously talked about, landing pages can be a valuable addition to an online marketer's toolbox. But don't think of landing pages as being some kind of special category of webpage exempt from SEO rules and free from potential Google penalties.

With landing pages, just like with your other online pages, you need to follow SEO best practices. Of course, you want your landing pages to have content that is search engine optimized and that appeals to your reader; this is no different from what you want and need with your other online pages.

It's critical for SEO that your site pages, including your landing pages load quickly. You also want landing pages designed for an enjoyable user experience and optimized for conversion.

Lander, offers you state-of-the art, conversion-optimized landing page templates to help your online marketing campaigns sizzle. And we have great news. You can try out our landing pages for free!

Happy Marketing!