How to Recover Your Rankings After a Penalty

Your site has finally achieved a top ranking in Google.

And traffic is steadily increasing as expected.

But the next day you login to your Analytics account, you notice that traffic has taken a complete nosedive. You search for your primary keywords and find that your site is nowhere to be found. This scenario is more common than you think so what happened?

The dreaded algorithm update.

Google has a set of quality guidelines that webmasters must follow. Violating these in any way (e.g. link spamming, keyword stuffing, etc.) can result in a ranking penalty. So one day you could be ranking for your target keywords and be completely gone the next.

It can seem like a rather hopeless situation if your site has received a manual or algorithmic penalty. It takes time but it is entirely possible to recover your rankings. Here we look at how to get back your lost rankings and traffic.

Why Your Site Was Penalised

Google looks at hundreds of different factors to determine rankings.

But two of the most important are content and links to your page.

Any indication of spam or questionable tactics with either is the cause of a majority of ranking penalties. Here are the two main penalties you should know about:

  • Panda: Released in early 2011, the Panda update aimed to lower the rankings of sites deemed as low quality. Sites with spammy or barely any content at all were likely to get hit with a penalty. As a result of this update, higher quality and authority sites were pushed further up the search results.
  • Penguin: Links carry a great deal of weight but many marketers soon started spamming their sites with a horde of links. To combat this, Google released the Penguin update aimed at penalised sites engaged in questionable link building practices such as buying links or participating in link schemes.

If your site has been hit with a penalty, it most likely due to low quality content or spammy links.

Fixing a Panda Update

If your site has been penalised by Panda, it is likely due to the following reasons:

  • Low quality content: This means that your content is stuffed with keywords or simply rehash of what is already online. What Google is looking for is engaging content that provides value.
  • Duplicated or scraped content: Scraping content from other sources is another reason for ranking penalties as is duplicating content across your site. Make sure that your content is completely unique.

The first step is to conduct a content audit.

Screaming Frog comes highly recommended as it analyses your meta data (including page titles and meta descriptions) and can identify instances of duplicate content. You can use the free version and have everything compiled in a spreadsheet for further analysis.

Go through each page and optimise your content. This step can be rather time-consuming especially if you have a lot of pages. But it is absolutely necessary if you want to recover your rankings.

Fixing a Penguin Update

Links are important as each is seen as a vote. But where those links come from matter a great deal. A link from a relevant source will carry far more weight than a link from a spammy source.

Having links from the following sites can get your site in trouble:

  • Spammy sites or those that have been banned from Google
  • Sites with duplicate or scraped content
  • Sites that are unrelated to your industry
  • Sites with thin content such as directories

Too many of these links to your pages will more than likely result in a ranking penalty so you need to take steps to have them removed.

Start by logging into your Google Search Console account. Here you can see a list of links to your site by clicking on Search Traffic on the left menu and selecting Links to Your Site.

Download the links and click through each. Take note of any questionable links then send an email request for removal to the webmaster. Most will comply with your request but other times you may not get a response. In these cases you can submit a list of links using the Disavow Tool.

Even after take the steps to remove offending links, it is still a good idea to conduct a link audit on a regular basis.

How Long Does it Take to Recover Rankings?

It depends.

Even after optimising your content and removing spammy links, it can take weeks or even months to recover your rankings. It can be rather discouraging after all the effort you put in but the key is to focus on publishing quality content and building relevant links to your pages. Taking these steps will gradually improve your rankings in the search results.