SEO is an ever-changing game, there are many websites that crop up daily and there are also websites that no longer cease to exist. It is a competitive field and many websites often compete for the same search terms.
The Google algorithm changes daily with many tweaks and then big changes to the algorithm done on a regular basis. For this reason, websites are often moving positions in the SERPs.
What if your website suddenly loses a lot of traffic or you notice that you have dropped in position for keywords? Do you know how to diagnose what has happened to your website?
There are certain methods in SEO which Google does not find acceptable. In fact, any paid type of link building is spam and an attempt to game the algorithm. If you think about this it makes sense since if it was the case that all you had to do was buy links, then everyone would be doing it and it would provide poor experience to Google users.
You see Google want to provide the most relevant and useful results for its users. The way it determines the best results is based mainly on backlinks but also places a huge importance on content. As an example, if you are searching for a “strawberry cheesecake recipe” and you have not found the first result useful then it would make poor user experience if the second result was a copy of the first.
For this reason, duplicate content is a big no for Google. How does Google determine the authority of a website? It does this giving weighting to the backlinks to a website. Each backlink is a vote and a vote from a high authority website has a much higher weight than a vote from a spam website.
Now that we have covered the basics lets begin to look at how you can determine if your website has been hit by a penalty.
Check Traffic Sources
If the total traffic to your website has dropped then check the traffic source report in Google analytics to see where the traffic has dropped from. If the traffic drop is from Google Organic then we need to research further however if the traffic is from social, paid or email then it is most likely not an issue with Google.
This is the first step that you should take to determine if your website has been hit with a penalty.
Double Check Ranking Positions
You should double check the rankings for your website manually to verify that the ranking positions have dropped. A drop of a few points in the SERPs is normal and something that happens and can be expected but big drops are a warning especially if it has happened for a few keywords. Use Google Incognito to check the rankings to verify.
Is Your Website Still Indexed?
To ensure that Google is crawling and indexing pages from your website efficiently and effectively you should submit a sitemap to Google Search Console. When you have done this, you will be able to check which pages have been crawled and indexed in Google Search via the Search Console.
The robots.txt file is an important file on your website. It is used to instruct search engines as to the pages to crawl on your website. It is important to check that you have not added in a rule that blocks search engine crawlers from crawling or indexing your website.
Another way to instruct search engines is to use meta robots tag. This is done by checking the source code of individual pages.
Follow Google Rules
If you are certain that you have not done any of the above, then you should consider if you have used SEO techniques that are against Google terms of services.
If you have taken part in paid or spam link building, then Google is likely to penalise your website.
Google Disavow Tool
If you think you have taken part in spam link building, then you need to use the Google Disavow Tool. You should only use this tool as a last resort as it can have a huge impact on your rankings. You are basically telling Google to disavow links and not count them anymore in your backlink profile.
Google will then take this file into consideration when it calculates the SERPs.
It is possible but difficult to recover from Google Algorithm penalties. If you want to ensure that your website survives long term then you should focus on creating high quality content and avoid spammy link building techniques.
Google says that it gives more weight to high quality content so this is something that you should focus on as part of your SEO campaign.