The Dreaded Google Penalty – Part 1

Graphic of the impact google penalties has had on my income

Earlier this week we wrote about how this site was created as a result of having to migrate all of our material from our previous site In that article we explained why we had to move, largely as a result of the copyright owners of the name Keurig instigating their rights under law as owners of that trademark.

Not long after this shift our new site received notification from Google that they had reviewed our new site and as a result a manual action penalty had been applied as the site was in breach of Google Quality Guidelines. Specifically, Google believed the site breached their guidelines around thin content and therefore they penalized it in ranking and search results. Google can undertake a number of actions in these cases, including ranking penalties, a site being de-indexed completely, change how the site appears in search results or the site is considered “to be less trustworthy than sites that follow the quality guidelines” (Google email, October 16, 2014).

The Quality Guidelines written by a Google for webmasters provides help in what Google is looking for in sites that it deem appropriate to rank in its search results. Overall the purpose of the Guidelines is to provide Google users with the best search results for the issue they are searching for. So a worthy goal and one we fully support – as we too use Google when we are searching on the net.

Receiving a penalty like this does come as bit of a shock and this appears to be Google’s normal way, without any warning. For example they don’t notify you that they have concerns about your site and give you an opportunity to address them. They just apply the penalty and then let you know they aren’t happy. Depending on how one looks at this, at least they let you know they have penalized the site – takes some guess work out of the process.

Now we hadn’t read their Quality Guidelines before, to be honest we spend our time writing new content and responding to emails and comments from our readers. Which is why we are here. But you bet we got those Guidelines out when we received the penalty notification!

We saw a massive drop in visitors to our site as a result of the penalty Google applied. Previously on a good day we would receive over 3,000 page views. After the penalty was applied this was down to less than 200. And the drop-off is instant; if people don’t find you in Google then they just don’t visit. We don’t get visitors by people typing in our domain name into the URL window and not much referred traffic from other sites. But we do get most of our traffic from what they call organic, ie from search engines. And from this the vast majority is from Google. The other engines, like Bing and Yahoo, provide very few of these visitors. And yet the irony is that in these other two search engines our site ranks often number 1 or 2 for many related keyword phrases. Often outranking Keurig themselves!

So after digesting the impact of this penalty, reading through the Guidelines and searching around the net, we then had to decide what we were going to do to get this penalty removed. Google does provide a facility for you to have your manual action reconsidered and perhaps removed. But the first step was to find out what a thin content penalty actually meant.

Google defines this type of penalty as applying to a site where they feel the content provides little or no value to readers and therefore adds little or nothing to helping the user in their search query in Google. Google provides examples of these typical sites, which include affiliate sites that add nothing to the products they are selling, the content is largely copied from else where, the content has no relevance to what the site is about, or the content is so poorly written that is would be difficult for a reader to gain anything meaningful from the text.

The Guidelines provide some broad issues that Google will not tolerate and then goes into specific issues that it does not want to see web masters taking part in. But of course the formal notification when it turns up in one’s email does not state which parts of the Guidelines you are deemed to be in breach of nor what parts of your site are the offenders in this case.

Notwithstanding this, we pressed on determined to improve our site and to get the penalty removed. Actually this is the approach and the way we have prioritized our work over the last month or so. We know that in the end if we can improve the site with better quality content, that is relevant and reliable for readers, then the penalty has been a good thing … if not somewhat painful.

In Part 2 of this article we will take you through the work we carried out and how we got on with the black box that is Google reconsideration requests.