Did My Website Get Penalized?!

How do you know if your website has gotten an SEO penalty from Google?

If you’re seeing a big drop in clicks and impressions and you’re losing a lot of keywords in a short amount of time, it’s natural to wonder if somehow your website has an SEO penalty from Google. The reality is, that is very, very unlikely to happen.

Far less than one percent of all the websites in the world will ever receive some kind of SEO penalty assessed by Google. SEO penalties are reserved for websites that consistently maliciously try to hack Google’s algorithm. For example, they may have injected code on other websites to force more backlinks, or maybe they just spent a lot of money building super, spammy backlinks.

Most websites, even those that do aggressive SEO, do not have to worry at all about getting a penalty from Google.

If you do get a penalty, you will actually see what’s called a “manual action.” Google will write you a note in Search Console and say, “Hey, we’ve noticed a few things here we think you’re doing that we don’t approve of. We’ve de-indexed your website. Take care of these things, do these steps, and then resubmit your website, and we’ll take a look and possibly re-index it.”

a screenshot from google search console showing a manual action warning for unnatural link building

The much more likely reason you’re seeing a big drop in clicks, impressions, and keywords is that Google’s algorithm changed, and what was ranking last week is no longer ranking with the algorithm update.

In this case, you want to look at the keywords you’ve lost. Look at the pages that have lost the most clicks, study the keywords, and figure out what is ranking there now. It might have been that you used to have a blog driving a lot of clicks for a certain keyword, but you search it now, and that keyword just brings up nothing but videos. Or maybe you had a product detail page rank for a keyword, but when you search it now, the results are just category pages or listing pages.

Rather than worry about Google penalties, what you really need to do is go study those certain search results and then make the adjustments on your site. Maybe you need to create a video, maybe you need to create a new blog, maybe you need to optimize a different page, but the likelihood that you’ve dropped from a penalty is very, very low. The likelihood is that you’ve dropped because the algorithm updated and you need to make some changes—that’s really where I would recommend you start looking.

Austin Cline

Austin Cline

Austin Cline is the founder and principal at Sitemap.io. He is actively involved in the SEO community and frequently writes about the intersection of great content marketing and search engine optimization. You can connect with him on his LinkedIn and sign up to get his posts to your email by joining our email newsletter.

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