Skip to main content

Whiteboard Video: How Do I Know if I’ve Got a Penalty?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=””][vc_column_text]The second video in our Google penalty series is all about how you know if you have a Google penalty. There are many ways which we can identify whether you might have been penalised, and we can identify the type of penalty too. Here you’ll find 3 of the best indicators that you’ve been hit.

We’ve also transposed the video below and added a shot of our whiteboard.

How do I know if I've got a Penalty

Hi, my name’s Martin Woods, Head of Technical and Insight at WMG, and this is another video all about “How do I know if I’ve got the dreaded Google penalty?”

For the observant of you and who can read my handwriting, you can see that I’ve quoted ‘penalty.’ Penalty is a phrase often used to encompass algorithmic issues as well as manual actions. Technically, an algorithmic issue isn’t really a penalty, but for the purpose of the terminology that’s used, we’ve used it here to describe the overall analysis stage.

3 Ways to identify a penalty

1. Google Webmaster Tools

So the first and easiest way to identify if you’ve got a manual action against your website, or manual penalty, as it’s often referred to, is to check your Google Webmaster Tools account. If you don’t know what that is, there’s loads of information out there which can tell you how to set up an account, or ask someone who has access existing.

When you’re inside your Webmaster Tools account, you will be greeted with the usual dashboard. In order to navigate around the dashboard, you’re looking for two key things.

Firstly is a message that will say that if you’ve had a manual action taken against you, Google are kind enough these days to notify you with a message that will also be passed through to the email address which is registered with the account. But it will be under here, so under Webmaster Tools section, it’s actually in the first of the left hand categories, Site Messages, and in there it will have a notification if anything has happened to your account, with other things that happened, maybe a big drop in traffic or big increase in traffic. So there’s other mentions in there.

If you haven’t got a message in there, the other place to check is under Search Traffic, and then you go to the Manual Action section. In there, hopefully you will see no actions, but if you have any actions against you from links or any other actions – not just links actions – they’ll be in there.

The two you’re looking for which are links penalties, which come from Penguin, you’re looking at the partial match, the partial match being they’ve taken action against some parts of your website and not the whole website; and then the site-wide, which is “We think you have been manipulating our algorithm so much that you’re in breach of the Webmaster Tools guidelines, that we’ve taken action against your whole website,” and that’s when the message which will relay that you probably no longer rank for any of your terms or your brand name anymore.

2. Google Analytics for Algorithmic Issues

Algorithmic issues. The manual penalty analysis and the action; that’s probably the easiest to understand and to get information from. Algorithmic issues are slightly harder. Algorithmic issues, there’s two real ways of understanding if you’ve got an algorithmic issue with your website.

The first one is using your analytics source. So if you quickly create a filter –and you might not have Google Analytics; you might use Omniture or another platform, but if you create a filter or get someone who can create a filter for source Google, and then obviously looking for the medium which is organic.

These are the kind of patterns which you’ll look for when you’ve created that filtered segment. You’re looking for a pattern in terms of the volume of traffic. Now remember, if you’ve got a site which has seasonal traffic differentiations, you’ll have to remember to take that into account. It might not necessarily be an algorithmic thing; it might be just that there’s low search volumes at that time of the year.

Then you can cross-correlate that data and compare it to any announced Google updates. Probably the best location for the date of those updates is on the Moz website. If you just type into Google “Google algorithmic updates,” and then it’ll give you the dates, which then you can compare on your analytics.

Here is an example in #1 of a slow and steady decline. This is really hard to judge, because there’s no clear pattern of when the traffic’s dropped. That just typically means that your website’s not as authoritative as it used to be and it’s having a different pattern. That wouldn’t necessarily indicate that you’d have an algorithmic Penguin issue. More investigation needed, I’m afraid.

The second type of traffic analysis is the Penguin refresh. This is quite clearly identifiable. It also looks very, very similar to a manual action that’s been taken on your site, where you’ve got a certain volume of traffic and then suddenly, without warning, drops significantly. Now, they don’t all look like this; it can be steps, lots of different steps as it gradually gets worse, or it can be sudden declines, sharp declines.

The first example of that in this illustrative graph is a Penguin refresh that’s devalued quite a significant amount of links, and then the traffic has sort of maintained it itself afterwards. Then going on from that, then it looks like there could be some kind of manual action there, maybe even a site-wide or a partial match, which has further brought your traffic down.

The thing to remember with that is that once Penguin hits once, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not going to hit again or you’re not going to have a follow-on manual action. Typically, if things are looking bad, they’re probably going to get worse.

Last action is the seasonality, as I discussed before. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to tell from your traffic, especially if you’re dealing in very, very large volumes and you’ve got a very, very brand heavy search volume. Added to that, we don’t get the keyword data anymore because it’s not provided, so it’s making it increasingly harder to tell. Maybe you could start looking at landing pages and see if the actual landing pages seem to drop instead.

3. Rankings of Particular Keywords

So that’s the analytics. The last area to focus on is the rankings of particular keywords. Now, by that I mean if you’ve got any historic ranking data, so if you’ve been tracking that, if you’ve been using an SEO company, if you’ve been using any third party software, you’ll be able to see which keywords and when they were affected, and then correlate that back again to the date. If you haven’t got that data, I could recommend a tool like Search Metrics that looks at big volume keywords, and then you can correlate that back again to your site, if you can see any sudden drops.

Hopefully that’s explained a bit about have you got a manual Google penalty or an algorithmic issue.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]