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Under their guidelines of use, Google is pretty clear about what is and isn’t acceptable.

In fact, they are constantly evolving their algorithm in order to curate the best possible results for their clients – which usually involves penalizing websites that do anything unacceptable or shady in their book.

This can impact your business in a serious way if you rely on internet marketing for revenue.

If shady tactics are being used as a part of your marketing campaign, you can assume that your online presence has been put on a timer.

How to determine and fix Google Algorithm penalty

If you are using any of the unacceptable practices listed by Google  it will likely be just a matter of time before you get hit by one of their updates – whether it be Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird, Pigeon, etc…

In order to recover from one of these penalties, you’ll first need to determine the cause of it in the first place. Unfortunately, once you’re in penalty, it can take some time to get out, so it’s a lot easier to stay clear of them in the first place.

Google makes regular updates which are usually broadcast to the public (and discussed thoroughly).

As mentioned before, these updates are designed to generally improve the quality of content for Google’s users. However, each of the updates has its own purpose and unique focus.


Step 1: Diagnosing The Problem

So, what do you need to do when you are dinged by any of these Google algorithm updates? Well, let’s find out.

Usually, Matt Cutts is responsible for any kind of explanation about penalty updates, and you’ll often be able to find posts or videos about it from him directly.

The difficulty that occurs when an algorithm change has come out is in determining what’s just message, and what’s fact.

You can usually find some pretty good debates going on from SEO experts hammering out the update.

If you’re experiencing a drop in traffic to your site, or you have received a manual action, you can learn more about it via Moz’s Google Algorithm Change Timeline which helps show when an update occurred and the impact it was designed to have.

If you really want to figure out where your rankings are and what current, or potential, penalties you may be facing, take this next step by heading over to

You can start examining your ranking profile by taking a quick look for free.

Go ahead and bring them up at Once the homepage comes up, put in your URL. For this example, I’ll use our friends at

how to determine a google penalty

Once you get to the next page, click on the area circled that says, “Organic keywords.”

look up keyword ranking penalties

From here, you’ll find this page, which will show your ranking profile usually set to an “all time” view.

 how to look at your ranking profile for google penalties

Here, you’ll see that quicksprout has a healthy ranking profile. Even though there are some dips, which is normal, it’s in a general trajectory upward.

But, what does an unhealthy one look like? I’ll provide one for example. Notice how the dips are pretty heavy with no return to a healthy trajectory upward.

what an unhealthy ranking profile looks like

If you’ve got dips like this in your ranking profile, you’ll want to go back to Moz’s Google Algorithm Timetable and analyze what updates those dips are coinciding with. Make note of correlations.

It’s important to note here that you may not be experiencing only one penalty. You could be experiencing several.

If you have questions about it, give us a call to set up a free consultation and we can look at it and provide you with a professional assessment.

We regularly help companies work through their penalty issues and can help walk you through what steps you’ll need to take next in your internet marketing plan to recover.

Google’s Updates At A Glance

Step 2: Analyze for Panda

Panda updates allow web pages with high quality content to rise to the top of the search engine results and minimize the amount of poor quality content displaying.

You’re probably asking, “What content would be defined as poor?”

There are a lot of qualifications for this, but I think it’s best described in principle.

Basically, any content that was created solely for SEO purposes and not for the audience can often qualify. Articles that would be considered keyword stuffed articles, short articles that don’t offer much to the reader, duplicate content, or content that’s just an amalgamation of several articles word for word.

There are several other factors, but it basically comes down to this. What kind of benefit are you providing for your audience with your content?

If it’s not much, you may run across a penalty. If it’s high benefit, you’ll likely be fine.

What if I’m hit? How do I recover from a Panda Algorithm Update?

The first step you should take is analyzing your website content. If your content fits any of the descriptions listed above, you’ll need to start working through a strategy to fix it – namely writing.

Go through your articles and ask yourself, “Am I providing high value to my readers?” If not, it’s time to go through and re-write your content – or even scrap it and start over with a new article.

Make sure your content sounds original – and natural. If you have lots of pages talking about the same idea or thing, it may come across as duplicate to Google or low value.

Make sure and also take a look at your URL structure, meta data, and image alt text when you’re assessing for duplicated or thin content.

Recovery will require following all of Google’s quality guidelines (which you can find here). Take a read through, and see whether or not your website falls in line.

Step 3: Analyze for Penguin

Penguin was also made to allow high quality websites rise to the top of the search engine results and negatively affect poor quality websites.

Penguin’s point of focus, unlike Panda, is toward link building tactics that are known for being low value, black-hat SEO practices.

An example of this would be the practice of using comment links to send ranking juice from the post being commented on to the website of the one doing the commenting.

Other outright tactics that get penalized under Penguin include things like link schemes, over optimized anchor text, guest blogging for SEO purposes alone (and not for reader benefit), having unrelated content or pages that you’re linking on, using scraped or duplicated content, or using hidden text or cloaking – keyword stuffing would also be included here.

Okay. How do I recover from a Manual Penguin Algorithm Penalty?

Most of the time, we find that many penguin penalties are because of a poor link profile created by over-optimized anchor text and/or bad (or poor) link-building practices.

If you’ve been hit by this penalty, you’ll need to start cleaning up your link profile.

You can use the following tools to check your inbound links.

  • Majestic SEO
  • Moz
  • Google Webmaster Tools

There are definitely more, but these are some favorites that we like to use in penalty analysis.

Once you find out what’s going on, you’ll need to change, or sometimes remove, links depending on their value. This may mean contacting the webmasters of the sites your links are coming from and making a removal or change request.

Sometimes webmasters will be hard to get ahold of. In this case, you may need to consider removing a page on your site to remove links that are pointing to your site.

If these two tactics aren’t working, you may need to start building a disavow list for Google. After you’re done with this, put a reconsideration request to Google.

Make sure that you’ve thoroughly gone through your link profile and cleaned it as much as possible. Google makes the decision on whether your efforts have been good enough or not for them and sometimes it takes several requests!

Step 4: Analyze for Pigeon

This update was actually named by Search Engine land. Basically the update uses a location and distance ranking algorithm to help enhance local search results.

Decreases and increases in ranking from this kind of updates are not as strong as the previous two updates (Panda and Penguin), but it’s important to note – especially if you’re a business who serves a local region primarily.

How do I recover from a Pigeon Algorithm Penalty?

Pigeon’s primary focus was on local results. Because of this, you’ll need to make sure that your website is optimized for local.

You might be thinking, “I’ve had search engine optimization, why aren’t I locally optimized?” Local SEO is actually a different bird from regular SEO and you may not have been locally optimized, yet.

Here are some of the factors that impact local search engine optimization:

• Google Plus development by getting good comments and reviews from customers as well as filling out your profile with information and pictures.
• Verified, well-filled out accounts with your local directories. This would include Yelp, Yellow Pages, Google Places, Yahoo!, Facebook, and others.
• Optimized Meta data with location-specific keyword terms.
• Having your business industry and address prominent on your website and Press Releases (Name, Address, Phone Number)

Some factors work better than others and the impact can also depend on your industry. Take time to work through your local optimization, though. It will help with your Pigeon recovery.

Step 5: Analyze for Payday Loan

The Payday Loan algorithm was actually developed to hit search queries that were really spammy – hence the term “Payday Loan Algorithm.” There’s a host of spammy keyword themes that are getting knocked out by this update, so make sure and check this list to see if you’ve got anything on your site that qualifies as a SPAM trigger.

How do I recover from a Payday Loan Algorithm Penalty?

If you’ve been hit by this, it’s usually means that you’ve got a website full of spam. You’ll want to take a look at that list provided above and analyze the verbiage of your website.

If you have terms unrelated to your industry or if any of your content falls in line as being spammy (according to the list), do a cleanse, and then put in a reconsideration request like what you would’ve done to recover from Penguin.

When it comes to Google algorithm updates, providing value to your audience and tracking with Google’s guidelines will go a long way towards helping you stay out of any current update penalties – or future.

Have any thoughts or questions? Let me know in the comments section below, or contact us to set up a free consultation.