A website owner trying to identify and fix Google penalties by analyzing a sudden change in website traffic on his computer.

How to identify and fix Google penalties

Websites, in general, use a variety of SEO techniques to improve their ranking positions on Google. At the same time, Google is constantly improving its search engine for better efficiency and experience for its users. Sometimes, for different reasons, these changes collide with optimization, issuing different types of penalties for websites. And the most notable changes happen if websites go against Google’s specific guidelines. As a result, it causes a sudden drop in rankings for many. In that case, websites need to place a lot of effort to identify and fix Google penalties and do everything necessary to prevent them in the future.

Detect, identify, and fix Google penalties

In general, Google practices implementing different regulations and algorithms to filter out everyone who is breaking the rules. They clearly state that anyone who doesn’t follow their guidelines and tries to manipulate their search engine and users will eventually face a penalty. Consequently, we have seen numerous changes happen over the years, each with its own impact on the state of the search engine result environment.

How is the evolution of Google search affecting websites?

With constant improvements from Google, it can be hard to follow all the evolutionary changes. Sometimes, websites are penalized for using bad practices. But, sometimes, it can happen even to the most sincere website owners. Regardless of the cause, losing the hard-earned ranking positions can be devastating, especially for small local businesses whose whole existence depends on their website’s SEO ranking and traffic. In essence, being aware of the tactics you shouldn’t use is, by far, the best way to avoid this situation. And closely following the Google webmaster guidelines is an essential precaution for those who are just starting out.

Major types of Google penalties

If your website is experiencing a considerable decline in traffic and suddenly loses its SERP position, you might have been penalized by Google. Usually, the first step is to identify if that is the case. For the most part, fluctuations in ranking positions are regular and quite often. But, more drastic ones certainly point to something more serious at work.

Altogether, there are two major types of Google penalties:

  • Manual issued penalties
  • Automatic algorithmic penalties

Depending on what you are dealing with, fixing will require different approaches.

Manual penalties

As you can assume, manual penalties are actions taken by Google’s human auditors. When they receive reports that your website is in direct violation of their rules, they will closely evaluate your website. If the circumstances require disciplinary actions, they can manually flag your website for a penalty. Some of the most common reasons for manual penalties are:

  • Too many unnaturally acquired links
  • Spammy links, content, or structured markups
  • Irrelevant, abusive, deceptive, or thin content
  • Misleading, hidden, or cloaked redirections
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Hidden text
  • Hacked pages
  • and many others

Fortunately, manual actions are easy to identify since Google will send a notification to webmasters.

An auditor in a suite pointing toward the “Audit” button.
When it comes to breaking their guidelines, Google can be very strict.

 

Algorithmic Penalties

In essence, algorithmic penalties are not actual penalties. It’s “only” that you are facing the consequences of the changes in Google search engine algorithms. Depending on the way websites are built and optimized, this can lead from minor all the way to massive changes. If a website is using strictly forbidden “Black Hat techniques“, it can even be banned from Google altogether. Also, they can affect only specific pages or entire domains. They are much harder to identify since you are not getting a notification from Google. You will have to cross-reference different information to get to the bottom of the problem.

Probably the most infamous algorithm changes everyone in the web world has been hearing about are:

  • Panda update
  • Penguin update

The Panda Update

In 2011, a major update by the name of Panda shook the web world. With the goal to filter out websites with low-quality content, it surprised many website owners. For some, it took years to recover their websites from such an impact. On the other hand, websites without generic, plagiarized, and thin content experienced the pinnacle of their rankings at the time.

A panda chewing its food.
The Panda major update was nowhere near cute as the real one.

The Penguin Update

Another major player in the algorithmic game is the Penguin update. Its goal is to analyze link profiles across the web and eliminate and correct pages with irrelevant, artificial, and suspicious links. From the second quarter of 2012, it caused a lot of disturbance and reshaped the digital marketing approach in general. The main message Google was starting to send is that backlinks should be acquired naturally to benefit visitors and users. Not for search engines, crawlers, and mere ranking manipulation.

How to fix Google penalties?

Fixing the situation with penalties requires identifying the core of the problems and decent resources, time, and knowledge. Those without a good in-house marketing team should consider hiring SEO professionals for this. When it comes to manual penalties, Google will send you a notice, along with the reasons. For algorithmic issues, it might be a bit harder to identify all the elements you need to work on. In most cases, you will have to use SEO tools to find and analyze the causes for the negative performance of your website. And then, cross-reference all the information from reports with algorithm update dates.

Scribbling the “Assess” word from wooden tiles.
You have to closely assess the situation and identify the causes.

Some of the most popular tools for dealing with penalties are:

  • SEMRush
  • Rank Ranger
  • The Panguin Tool
  • FE International
  • and others

Dealing with the Manual penalty

Once you receive the notice from Google, it will be pretty clear about what you need to do. Among many actions, the most common are:

  • Cleaning your backlink profile
  • Adding more relevant content
  • Improving the overall user experience (UX)
  • Cleaning the suspicious scripts and code
  • Repairing the consequences of hacking
  • Lowering the number of redirects
  • and similar

The best course of action here is to completely audit your website. Just in case you, and even Google, overlook something that might cause you problems in the future. Finally, after all the work is complete, you will have to submit a request to Google to reconsider lifting the penalty.

Fixing the Panda penalty

Since the content is the main issue here, a lot of work awaits. Basically, it’s necessary to reevaluate every page to find what requires your attention. It can be plagiarized, duplicate, or information-thin content. There might be problems with formatting and user-friendliness, or it can be some problem with your markup (HTML) or styling (CSS) code. Anything that causes conflict with Google Guidelines has to be fixed.

Fixing the Penguin penalty

For “the Penguin”, you will need to primarily focus on your links. Your backlink profile has to be flawless, now more than ever, in order to lift Google’s punishing flags. This is a tremendous job that requires you to analyze every backlink and conduct a thorough cleaning. On websites with a decent amount of backlinks, this will be nearly impossible without advanced tools. So, use Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, Link Research, and Webmaster Tools to complete your research. The next step is to contact webmasters to remove undesirable links. If they don’t comply or answer back, you will have to disavow those links through Google.

Finally, you will have to keep a close eye on rising SEO trends and constantly monitor the changes. Both in the best practices and Google updates. To avoid having to identify and fix Google penalties again, it’s best to follow Google webmaster guidelines closely. This way, your website will set long-term goals and implement safe techniques without having to worry about the penalties in the future.

 

A silver laptop displaying Google’s search engine page.

Must-have elements of SEO strategy for service-based businesses

A silver laptop displaying Google’s search engine page.

 

Must-have elements of SEO strategy for service-based businesses

In the digital age, few marketing practices have seen as much attention and devotion as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). As a series of practices that aims to rank content in search engines, it boasts undeniable potential. Still, SEO is an extremely deep subject for multiple reasons. From its reliance on Google’s 200+ranking factors to its long-term nature, it can certainly dismay the uninitiated.

Indeed, measuring SEO Return on Investment (ROI) is notably difficult, and not all SEO endeavors fit all businesses equally well. Thus, let us use this article to delve into fundamental, must-have elements of SEO strategy for service-based businesses specifically.

How service-based businesses differ as regards SEO

The fundamentals of SEO are identical between service-based and product-based businesses. They are, after all, aligning their websites and content with the same search engine criteria. Thus, where they differ lies in how they approach SEO and where they focus on. In this specific dichotomy, the difference lies in what they’re selling; intangible services versus tangible objects.

Simplifying the difference for text economy, then, product-based businesses can often rely on impulsive purchases from broad audiences. That is, their content marketing strategies can rely more on eliciting emotional responses from a wider customer pool. In contrast, service-based businesses address more specific audiences, which are typically better-informed on, and more engaged with, their service. Thus, they need to emphasize service quality, sometimes rightfully sacrificing tone for substance. Moreover, they need to leverage social credit comparatively more, as customers seek intangible, often long-term or subscription-based services.

In-house SEO versus hiring an SEO specialist

The aforementioned differences aside, a final factor for both to consider is who will handle SEO. DIY SEO does have benefits, such as lesser upfront costs and businesses acquiring first-hand knowledge. However, SEO does have a steep learning curve, and early mistakes can have long-lasting consequences regarding ranking and revenue. Thus, while the final choice will depend on you, service-based businesses do have more incentives to hire outside help. However, should you do so, due research to choose the perfect person for the job is highly advisable. After all, not all professionals are equal, and your unique needs must be met in full from the start.

A tablet on a desk displaying a pie chart dubbed “traffic sources overview”.
If implemented correctly, SEO will generate notable traffic for any business website.

Must-have elements of SEO strategy

Now, with the above context in mind, we may explore must-have elements of SEO strategy for service-based businesses. Throughout most of its history, SEO has delved into 3 key areas of focus:

  • On-page SEO
  • Off-page SEO
  • Technical SEO

None of these subsets are of lesser importance, for service-based businesses or otherwise. Thus, we’ve gathered 2 elements from each subset that should deserve your attention.

1. On-page SEO

On-page SEO delves into on-page elements, as the name implies. These include images and videos, Call to Action buttons (CTAs), and others. The two most crucial aspects of it are, arguably, content itself and CTAs.

Quality content

It’s not entirely uncommon for service-based businesses to forego content marketing altogether, even if at the cost of additional traffic. For those that do not, content quality is still a profound subject that would warrant its own article. We may, however, consolidate the fundamentals down to the following:

  • Factual accuracy. Your content should strive to be as factually correct as possible.
  • Visual appeal. Your content should be digestible and enticing. Consider white space, visual elements, and other factors that affect visual appeal.
  • Your content should address your audiences’ interests and satisfy their search intent. Consider your choice of keywords to make your content relevant to your audiences.
A woman in a pink dress using a laptop.
Content quality will determine audience engagement, in turn affecting both search engine rankings and conversions.

Clear, alluring CTAs

For all its quality, your content should still facilitate conversions. It does so through CTAs, which are the primary focus of Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). This, too, is a very deep subject, whose basics we may distill down to the following:

  • Visibility and readability. Ensure your CTAs are always visible, and other on-page elements do not distract from them. At the same time, ensure your choice of font makes them easily readable.
  • CTAs that incite urgency or suggest exclusivity typically function better. Consider countdown timers and exclusive offers in this regard.
  • Multiple CTAs may induce choice fatigue and hamper conversion rates. Thus, consider limiting each landing page to a single CTA.

2. Off-page SEO

Unlike on-page SEO, off-page SEO addresses off-page activities such as social media promotions. Among must-have elements of SEO strategy for service-based businesses, it encapsulates backlinks and reviews.

Backlinks

Backlinks are links to your content from external sources. SEO-wise, they help enhance your page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA), boosting your ranking efforts. Practically, they generate referral traffic and help build trust – which is crucial for service-based businesses, as highlighted above. To build a healthy backlink strategy, consider the following:

  • Content quality and promotion. Producing impeccable content will naturally generate backlinks through cross-channel promotion. Consider the skyscraper technique in this regard.
  • Branded mentions. You may scout the internet for unlinked branded mentions to claim backlinks, without additional effort.
  • Backlink type balance. A healthy balance between Follow and NoFollow backlinks is advisable. Google values natural-looking backlink profiles, and both types generate traffic.

Reviews

Similarly to backlinks, reviews are excellent social credit – especially for service-based businesses, whose audiences examine them carefully. They also affect such practices as local SEO, so you may address them in such ways as the following:

  • Elicit reviews across channels. You may do so through social media posts, popups, and so forth.
  • Feature them prominently. Most customers value reviews highly, so feature them prominently on your testimonials page.
  • Respond to them. Many bad reviews may be withdrawn if you can address their grievances, so always try to do so. It will also reassure other customers of your professionalism.
A man in a black suit pointing at a 4/5-star review.
Reviews serve as excellent social credit, assuring customers of your services’ quality.

3. Technical SEO

Finally, technical SEO ensures your website’s technical health, as the name implies. While it’s less complex by comparison, it is by no means any less significant. Two among its most notable subjects are sitemaps and breadcrumbs.

XML and HTML sitemaps

In brief, XML sitemaps are reserved for search engine crawlers, allowing them to index your pages. In contrast, HTML sitemaps are visible to human visitors and help facilitate easier navigation to your site. Healthy SEO requires both, so you should:

  • Provide Google with an XML sitemap. While it can be a challenging process, third-party tools and such WordPress plugins as Yoast SEO can offer immense help.
  • Provide your visitors with an HTML sitemap. Fortunately, creating HTML sitemaps is the easier process of the two, as SEMrush explains.

Breadcrumbs

Finally, breadcrumbs offer visitors a small text path at the top of pages that immediately tells them where they are. They are immensely useful for both search engines and visitors, as they consolidate content hierarchy and ease navigation, respectively. Fortunately, there are multiple third-party tools to help you implement them, such as the aforementioned Yoast SEO plugin. For service-based businesses, there are two main breadcrumb types to consider and choose between:

  • Hierarchy-based breadcrumbs. These follow visitors’ journeys from your homepage to subsequent pages and reflect your site’s hierarchy.
  • History-based breadcrumbs. In contrast, these reflect your visitors’ journey paths chronologically. Notably, you may also combine the two.

Conclusion

To summarize, there are must-have elements of SEO strategy for service-based businesses across all SEO subsets. For on-page SEO, content quality and pristine CTAs are crucial, as they entice visitors to convert. For off-page SEO, backlinks and reviews are invaluable, as they generate traffic, build trust, and serve as social credit. Finally, for technical SEO, sitemaps and breadcrumbs ensure technical health and cater to both search engines and visitors. These are, of course, only some of the fundamentals of SEO, but we do hope this list served as a helpful starting point for your future research.