It’s every business owner’s worst fears realised. Yesterday, everything was peachy, with your website receiving a healthy amount of organic traffic, but today, well, things are looking rather pear-shaped. The cause of your woes? A penalty from Google has hit you where it hurts. Your organic web traffic has dried up and that’s going to have a direct effect on your bottom line.

A Google penalty is a serious issue. In fact, it’s one of the worst possible issues that you could experience as a business owner because it means your website — and therefore your business — is no longer as visible on the world’s favourite search engine. If you’re reliant on organic traffic to drive interest in your business offerings, as so many businesses are in the current era, then a penalty from the Big G could have a devastating effect on your ability to operate.

What have I done to deserve this, you may ask? Well, that’s the big question, one that can only be answered by first understanding which penalty you’ve just been hit with, a manual penalty or an algorithmic penalty. These are the two types of penalties Google issues in its ongoing efforts to make the internet — in particular Google Chrome — a purveyor of great user experiences.

Manual penalties

Also known as manual actions, there are around 400,000 manual penalties dished out monthly by Google’s web spam team, headed by the ever-present Matt Cutts. Manual penalties are a big slap on the wrist applied by a human being, so if you’ve been penalised, it means that someone at Google has investigated your website and found an issue. There are a number of issues that can incur a manual penalty, most of which can be found in the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

If you have a Google Search Console, an absolute must-have for all website owners, you’ll have been notified of what you’ve done wrong and what you can do to be friends with Google again. If you didn’t receive a message from Google, that means your site has been hit with an algorithmic penalty. And that means it could some time before you see Google as a pal.

Algorithmic penalties

The result of a Google update, algorithmic penalties take the form of a sudden rankings drop. These penalties occur when Google makes adjustments to its algorithm and triggers signals it believes to be spam or impede the user experience. Algorithmic penalties tend to hit tens of thousands of websites simultaneously and to different degrees, which is likely to be of little to no consolation if you discover that you’re no longer ranking for your most important keywords.

If you suspect it’s an algorithm update that’s responsible for the sudden drop in rankings and traffic, check a leading SEO news source, like Search Engine Journal or Moz. If Google has indeed rolled out a new update to its algorithm, you’ll read all about it on one of these sites, in fact, the entire online world will be abuzz with reports of the drastic effects it has caused.

While Google won’t notify you of an algorithmic update, you can check your site’s traffic data in Google Analytics — you do have a Google Analytics account, don’t you? To check traffic data:

Log in to your Google Analytics account
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source > Medium
Beneath the graph, click Google / Organic
If necessary, change the time duration so you can see when problems began to occur.
Start by looking for a sudden decline in traffic, though if you don’t see this, look for a gradual decline. Also, bear in mind that what appears to be an algorithmic penalty could be something else entirely. For example, you’ve recently made a change to your site’s robots.txt file which prevents Google from indexing your site, resulting in its removal from organic search results.

Recovering from a Google penalty may or may not be a straightforward affair. If you’ve been slapped with a manual action, you’ll know what steps you need to smooth things over with the Big G. However, if an algorithmic penalty is responsible for your sudden drop in rankings and traffic, you’ll need to make changes to your site so that it meets the new algorithm requirements.

If you’re unsure why your rankings have dropped, don’t hesitate to contact the SEO specialists at Bambrick Media in Brisbane. You can get in contact with us here or by calling (07) 3216 1151.