Before you go searching for things like “How to Recover from a Google Penalty”, “How to Recover from Penguin”, or “How to Recover from Panda”…you might want to first determine if you were actually penalized.
Sure, sure, your rankings suddenly dropped, and it looks like the timing matched a Google algorithm update…but that doesn’t actually mean YOUR site was penalized! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “help me I got penalized” when there wasn’t actually a penalty in place.
Before we dig into other possibilities, it’s important to learn a bit more about the two key things that can trigger a ranking drop: algorithmic changes, and manual penalties.
Algorithmic changes are turned loose and that’s that. Unless Google does a rollback, which is rare, you’re stuck with your algorithmic “penalty” until you fix whatever you did wrong. You can’t file a reconsideration request for an algorithmic hit, and it won’t go away on its own.
Both Google Penguin and Google Panda are algorithmic changes that can result in a drop in rankings. Penguin was specifically targeted at keyword stuffing and anchor text over-optimization, while Panda (all versions) has targeted thin, duplicate or low quality content, and sites with a very poor user experience (i.e. sites loaded with ads/affiliate links, content farms, scraper sites, etc.)
Thankfully, if you fix the issues that triggered an algorithmic hit your rankings should bounce back pretty quickly, the next time the change re-runs.
The other side of the ranking drop coin is a manual penalty, and these originate from quality graders, spam reports, legal take-down requests and other similar situations. Thankfully, manual penalties are almost always set to go away automatically, usually within 30 days. If that isn’t fast enough for you, or if you were doing some pretty serious crap and your penalty is sticking around for longer than 30 days, you can always submit a re-inclusion request (after doing your best to fix whatever was wrong, of course.)
So if your rankings have dropped and the drop seems to coincide with a known algorithm release date, it’s got to be a penalty…right?
Wrong. The most common cause of a ranking drop that coincides with an algorithm update is link value elimination. To put it simply, if you’ve done some low quality link building, the chances are good that at some point the sites linking to you will be hit by either an update or a penalty. When that happens, the value of links coming from those sites vanishes overnight, which can cause a drop in rankings that looks just like a penalty.
So…how do you know?
For a penalty, it’s simple. Google is now extremely transparent when it comes to true penalties, so if you’ve registered your site with Google Webmaster Tools and you get a penalty, you’ll be notified of the action.
If it was an algorithm update, just check your analytics to see if your rankings tanked on the day of the update (SEOmoz, Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal are usually pretty on-the-ball about announcing algo updates.) If a drop coincides with an algorithm update, then the odds are extremely good that the algo update caused the drop.
So, penalty or algorithm update, how do you respond?
If it was a penalty, you need to do your best to remove whatever offending elements caused the penalty. Once removed, you can either wait 30 days for it to go away on it’s own, or immediately send a re-inclusion request once you’ve made the necessary changes.
If what you did was particularly shady, there’s always a chance that you’ll need to start over on a new site, but hopefully you weren’t too naughty
If your rankings dropped due to an algorithm update, then that is a different story.
Step one will be to gain an understanding of what the algorithm was targeting. With Panda, you should be checking your site for too many ads/affiliate links, low quality/thin content, and duplicate content.
With Penguin, you’ll be looking for instances of keyword stuffing on your site (in any form) and for over-optimized anchor text in your link profile (there is no known limit, but we believe you’re in trouble if more than 50% of your total links are coming from keywords and/or if more than 10% of your links to the site as a whole or to any individual page are coming from any one keyword.)
For Panda, after removing the offending elements, you should be good to go. For Penguin, you’ll need to remove links if possible, and build new, higher quality, brand name focused links to dilute and fortify your link profile.
Of course, this is a bit of an over-simplification, but those are the nuts-and-bolts of algorithm updates and penalties. If you’re looking to learn more, check out these awesome resources from my buddy Jayson: