For the past year, I’ve been presenting and writing about the death of “old school” SEO tactics. These are tactics that worked well just a few years ago, but are now no longer effective and can get you penalized by Google. A Google penalty means you’ll lose your search engine rankings, and with them, your traffic and sales.
Here’s the kicker – a penalty is more like an oil spill than a speeding ticket. With a speeding ticket, you just pay the penalty and go back to business. With an oil spill, there’s a LOT of cleanup before you get back to the way things were before the spill. And if you don’t clean up that mess, then it’s probably going to be an issue for a very long time (possibly forever). That’s unfortunately how things work with Google penalties as well.
If you have any reason to believe you or an SEO company you hired in the past did something risky, then follow the 3 steps below to conduct a 10-minute Google penalty risk analysis. This analysis primarily focuses on unnatural linking, which is the most common penalty we see when we review websites.
1. Check for Webmaster Tools Manual Action
The first step is the easiest and should only take a couple minutes if you already have Google Webmaster Tools set up. If you don’t have Webmaster Tools, then go to http://www.google.com/webmasters/. It’s free and really easy to create an account.
Once you’re logged into Webmaster Tools, then navigate to the Search Traffic link on the left, then click Manual Actions. You should see a message that says, “No manual webspam actions found.” That means you’re in the clear for a manual penalty. If you see a message, then you have a manual Google penalty. Read the message from Google and then either follow the directions provided by Google or get professional help to remove the penalty.
2. Check Anchor Text Distribution
The next step should take about 4 minutes. We’re going to check the anchor text distribution of the links from other websites. Don’t worry if that last sentence didn’t make sense. I’ll define everything so it’s clear.
Anchor text is simply the words that are used as the hyperlink (or link for short). For example, if the link says click here, then “click here” is the anchor text. Anchor text distribution is the distribution of words and phrases used in the anchor text.
Now, you may be wondering why this is important so here’s a quick SEO lesson to bring everyone up to speed. One of of the biggest factors Google uses to rank your website in the search results is the quantity and quality of links from other websites. If you have lots of links from relevant, reputable websites, then you’ll rank higher than your competitors that do not have as many links. Think of it like a popularity contest.
When Google analyzes a link they look at the quality of the website (i.e. do real people actually use the website or is it a fake, spammy blog?), relevance of the website (i.e. is it related to your industry?), and finally the anchor text (i.e. what does the link say?). Google takes all of that into account and gives more weight to certain links.
OK, back to anchor text distribution. One of the tell-tale signs that your website is at risk of a Google penalty is very high anchor text concentration for target keywords. For example, if you’re a moving company and most of your link anchor text is “new york city moving company” then you are at risk.
Google knows that most websites will not naturally get links from lots of other websites with the same anchor text. That’s clearly a red flag that the links were unnaturally created by you or your SEO company. Whenever Google determines you’re doing something to unnaturally manipulate their search results, then you’re at risk of a penalty.
To analyze your anchor text link distribution, use OpenSiteExplorer.org. Type your domain in the search box, click Search, and then click on the “Anchor Text” tab to review the anchor text of links pointing to your website. If you have a high concentration of non-brand keywords, then you are at risk. While you’re at it, I also recommend you review the websites linking to you to see if they are relevant, legitimate websites. Again, if they are not, then you’re at risk.
3. Check Organic Google Traffic Trends
The final step should take about 4 minutes to bring us to the grand total of 10 minutes. If you didn’t see a message in Webmaster Tools, then you do not have a manual Google penalty. However, you could still have an algorithmic penalty from a recent Google update like Penguin. This is especially true if you found any issues during step 2 above.
The tool we’ll use here is Google Analytics. If you’re not yet set up on Google Analytics, then go to http://www.google.com/analytics/ and create your account. Then you or your webmaster will need to add some code to your website. Unfortunately, Google Analytics will only show data from the time you install the code on your website. So if you didn’t have an account, you will not be able to complete this step.
For everyone else, let’s go through the steps once you’re logged into Google Analtyics. Click on the Acquisition button on the left, and then “All Traffic.” Next, look for “google / organic” in the first column of the report and click on that result. This brings us to the Organic Traffic report for your website. Next, change the date range so that you’re looking at traffic from January 2012 to today. This will give us a nice picture of your SEO traffic trends.
Looking at the graph, do you see any big drops in traffic? If you do, then try to match the dates to the Google algorithm updates listed here: http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change. For example, if you have a big drop in traffic around late April – early May 2012 or late May – early June 2013, then you’re probably dealing with a Penguin penalty.
Are You At Risk?
Take 10 minutes today to see if you’re at risk, or if you already have a Google penalty.
First, check to see if you have a manual action in Webmaster Tools. Second, review your anchor text distribution to see if you have a high concentration of keywords in your anchor text (which is a red flag for Google). Third, review your Google organic traffic in Google Analytics to see if any drops in traffic match up with major algorithm updates.
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