Recently, Google placed a penalty on a client’s site. We were in the middle of a very large SEO project when we discovered the very few pages already released into Google’s main index were being removed. Yikes! We were placed in Google Jail. What do we do now?
Well, the answer isn’t simple. Google doesn’t provide a one-stop place that offers a handy list of a site’s penalties and possible resolutions. The process is lengthy, investigative and involves a lot of educated guess work. So, we followed this process with the help of a couple of savvy SEO colleagues and some very helpful posts at Search Engine Journal and Gabblet:
Use the Google Penalty Checker Tool at SEO Moves to see if a Google penalty exists for the site. Any type of warning that comes back tells us a penalty applies. However, this tool doesn’t tell you anything about the penalty. On to the next step.
Run the Bad Neighborhood tool to see if the site is linking to inappropriate content such as gambling or adult sites. The tool stopped after 4600 pages, but gave us some insight into a few issues that most likely haven’t caused the penalty, but we need to address at some point in time.
Check the Google Webmaster Tools account for inbound links. Check for penalties on the sites with the largest number of links to see if any of them are penalized by Google. If so, the site could be guilty by association. In this case the largest number of links are coming from a “sister” site on the same IP block. That site has one or more Google penalties.
Check for a Google penalty for the domain that owns the domain, if this condition exists. In this case, a large entity owns our client’s domain. That domain has severe penalties. Yikes again.
Check the Google page rank – a gray bar is a bad sign. In this case, the site is new with no page rank expected. The home page is white, but the product pages are gray – definitely an indicator, although many new pages were recently added to this site, so this condition is expected.
Check the link strategy. Using too many links with the same anchor text can trigger a Google audit. Our client’s linking is just fine.
Does the site include content that is an exact duplicate on another site? If so, Google recently changed its algorithm to eliminate duplicate content. See Matt Cutt’s blog post, Algorithm Change Launched.
Herein lies our biggest issue. Duplicate content from a partner’s site makes up a large number of pages. We’re concentrating on creating unique content as soon as possible.
We’re creating a strategy to resolve some or all of these issues. The first task: create unique and valuable content for each of the product pages so we’re offering a unique and valuable experience for our client’s visitors. Of course, this task was already on our list of to-dos, but now we’re raising the priority. Our focus has been on the SEO for on-page elements such as titles, headings and also the meta descriptions. Now we’ll shift our focus to unique paragraphs.