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What is a Google Penalty in SEO? Site links profile analysis

It’s important to realize, if your link profile looks unnatural, you’re at risk for a Google Penalty. And as it turns out, nofollow links are a big part of a natural link profile. For example, look at YouTube.

According to Ahrefs, 8% of their links are nofollow. But, that’s not to say that you need 8% of your links to be nofollow. It just goes to show that natural link profiles have some nofollow links.

What is a Google Penalty in SEO?

Before I let you know more about Google Penalty and how to avoid being a victim, it’s important you understand the difference between nofollow and noindex.

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Chiefly, when we talk about these two terms, the noindex directive is a metatag that you add to certain pages on your website. This tag tells search engines to not add a specific page to their index.

On the other hand, nofollow links tell search engines to not follow a particular link. So, if you don’t want a page indexed, a nofollow link isn’t going to work. Use the noindex tag instead. These are some of the key elements to consider when discussing the source of Google Penalty.

What is a Google Penalty in SEO?

The Google Penalty (aka the Sandbox Effect or Sandboxing) is a name given to an observation of the way Google ranks web pages in its index. For SEO wannabes, you can check your site status in your Google Search Console, under Security and Manual Actions.

This helps you to see if you’ve received a manual action penalty. And hopefully, it’s all clear to you now. However, the active age of a domain should not be confused with the date of registration on a domain’s WHOIS record. But instead, it refers to the time when Google first indexed pages on the domain.

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For instance, you can picture this scene. Whereby, one minute your website is going from strength to strength, with organic traffic and conversions steadily growing. Thus your online business is doing great. And then, BAM! In the blink of an eye, half your traffic vanishes without any hint of danger.

Then, unfortunately, there’re neither some warning signs nor upfront alerts. And suddenly, all your keywords are plummeting along with your site traffic. In such circumstances, your online business presence is in jeopardy. What do you do? I’ll come to that later on, but first.

Identifying and removing bad links can be a time-consuming process. However, through setting up a link remediation process, you can quickly and easily deal with any bad links that may be a part of your link profile. By being vigilant and watching your link profile like a hawk, you can prevent issues that may otherwise wreak havoc on your clients’ search performance.

Which are Examples of Google Penalty?

Setting up a regular maintenance schedule for checking your link profile is always a good idea. Especially if you are working for a large business brand.

Perse, when you work on big sites, it can be a challenge to monitor all the resources in the company. Including Who is acquiring links? What links are they acquiring? When are they acquiring links? Where are they acquiring links from? Why are they acquiring these links?

As well as How are they acquiring these links? All of these can impact how Google perceives your link profile. In order to keep manageability to reasonable levels, I recommend having one person in charge of this process — from month to month or quarter to quarter (however you want to do it).

The following is a brief listing of what constitutes a bad link based on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. As well as examples of each that should concern you:

1. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

Buying or selling links for the purpose of impacting search engine rankings is considered a “link scheme,” and Google frowns upon this. The buying and selling of links can take several forms. For example:

1.1. Exchanging money for links or posts that contain links:
  • These are not always easy to identify but look for any page on a site that is an obvious “buy a link from me” page.
  • To identify a paid blog post, look for multiple followed links to the same website that have been placed using keyword-rich anchor text.
1.2. Exchanging goods or services for links:
  • This happens a lot in certain industries, such as the health and fitness industry. With free samples given in exchange for a link.
  • Alas, it is usually not possible to identify such an affiliation because the blogger doesn’t point out their affiliation with these types of links.
1.3. Sending someone a ‘free’ product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link:
2. Excessive link exchanges, large-scale article marketing, or guest posting campaigns

Basically, a link exchange means “link to me and I’ll link to you.” These also include partner pages created exclusively for the sake of cross-linking. A good example of this is any site in any industry that acquires links from partners who also link back to the blog.

Just for the sake of links and nothing else that may add value from an SEO perspective. And in addition to that, there is also guideline violation in terms of large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.

One way to identify these types of links is to look at whether they come from an obvious article marketing site. Anything with the word “article” in the main domain is usually a good guess. And where guest posting will be a bit less obvious and mostly cannot be identified.

Unless the guest comes straight out in the post and says, “I am a guest of so-and-so’s blog.” And as such, it is impossible to catch everything. But, the likely situation is that links like these are so minimal. So minimal that they may likely never be a problem.

But if they are, they will show up and be obvious when you put together your link profile.

3. Using automated programs or services to create links to your site

In general, the guidelines for Google Webmaster in this case include using anything like ScrapeBox. Or even similar services to create thousands of spammy links (often in a short period of time).

Common types of links that are indicative of this kind of violation include forum profile links and blog comment spam. Identifying these should be fairly simple when performing a link analysis on your backlink profile. Other mentions include text advertisements that pass PageRank.

Not forgetting, advertorials or native advertising where payment is received for articles that include links that pass PageRank. As well as guideline violation on links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites. For example (from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines):

There are many wedding rings on the market. If you want to have a wedding, you will have to pick the best ring. You will also need to buy flowers and a wedding dress.

4. Low-quality directory or bookmark site links

In simple terms, this includes any link from any directory that was done just for the sake of the link. Without adding any value from an SEO perspective. Most all directories created within the past 10 years that feature only links without adding any other value can be considered a violation of this guideline.

However, the major exceptions are local SEO directories. If the link is added to these types of directories as part of a local SEO campaign, this should only affect the local part of the algorithm. And therefore, it should not impact normal algorithmic link acquisition activities. Unless something else is seriously wrong with your link profile.

In addition, there’s also guideline violation for keyword-rich, hidden or low-quality links embedded in widgets that are distributed across various sites. For example (already available on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines): Visitors to this page: 1,472 car insurance.

There’s also guideline violation on widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites. The key here is “widely distributed.” Meaning that it’s done on such a large scale as to outnumber all other links that have value in that link profile.

Lastly, there’s also guideline violation on forum comments with optimized links in the posts or signature. For instance (already on Google’s Webmaster Guidelines):


Thanks, that’s great info!

– Paul

Paul’s pizza san Diego pizza best pizza san Diego


How does a site lose traffic?

Well, in reality, as most SEO webmasters already know, links are still extremely important. In order to rank high in the Google search results. In fact, a recent study performed by Backlinko showed that “the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.”

Thus, it makes sense for most large companies with a significant website presence to implement a regular link pruning schedule. Basically, at jmexclusives, we call our process of link pruning “link therapy.” And one of the normal ways most sites handle a penalty is reactionary in nature.

As such, your SEO team may even wake up one day and find the scariest of emails an SEO expert can receive in their inbox. And as soon as they notice the manual penalty email, they’ll scramble to analyze their site’s backlink profile.

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At times, by so doing, they’ll find they have indulged in one too many link exchanges or article marketing techniques. And eventually, depending on how bad it is, it can take weeks or even months to clean up the link profile before submitting a reconsideration request.

Usually, a manual penalty is only reserved for the worst of the worst in violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Whereby, a majority of sites affected by ranking issues related to bad links will be faced with an “algorithmic penalty” instead.

This means that the site will lose search visibility as a result of an algorithm update such as Penguin. And in these cases, the SEO will not receive a notification from Google.

How to Identify & Fix your Site mistakes 

One way to identify if your site’s been hit with a Penguin penalty is to check your traffic in Google Analytics — or whatever your primary Web analytics platform is. And if you see a sharp drop in just organic search traffic one day, it can be cause for alarm.

In such a case, you can use a tool like Panguin to overlay your Google Analytics data with major algorithm updates — to see if you’ve been affected. And then, there are other ways to keep issues like this from happening. So let’s take a look at what you can actively do to make sure that your link profile is always in tip-top shape.

One of the first steps I recommend is creating a regular link therapy schedule. That will help you identify and eliminate problem links before they become an issue.

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While there are many ways to gain bad links, it is not always obvious what is a good profile and what is a bad profile.

Ideally, you should be performing regular links therapy — in order to find and remove bad links from your site’s link profile. This activity will help you find links that are harmful to your site’s rankings. It’s crucial to find and remove these links to ensure that your site never falls under a penalty.

To that end, establishing a workflow structure that works for you will be important to ensure the longevity of your website.

Almost always, the problem relates to quality in these 2 areas:
  • Backlinks – If you get a manual penalty for unnatural links, it’s usually because you’ve bought links or created link schemes on a large scale.
  • Content – If you get a thin content penalty, it’s usually because you’ve created loads of thin content, such as doorway pages, that are only there to try and manipulate Google search results.

So, it’s essential to accurately diagnose which penalty you’ve been hit with before making any changes. And you can do that using one of the penalty checker tools I’ll list below.

But, wait a minute! What are Algorithmic Filters? An algorithmic filter is part of the main Google algorithm that can cause your site to be algorithmically suppressed. For example, the Panda algorithm can act as a filter to suppress your site’s ranking and traffic.

You can check to see if you have a drop in organic traffic that coincides with a known algorithmic update. But that in itself is not 100% proof.

What is the Google Penalty Checker Tool?

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a Google penalty checker tool that helps identify if you’ve been hurt by an algorithmic update or manual action. By pinpointing the source, and then providing insight into how to fix the problem.

Bearing in mind, Google’s algorithms rely on more than 200 unique signals or “clues.” Making it possible to surface what you might be looking for. These signals include things like specific words that appear on websites. As well as the freshness of content, your region, and PageRank.

One specific signal of the algorithms is called Penguin, which was first launched in 2012 and today has an update. And after a period of development and testing, they’re now rolling out a new update. That’s to the Penguin algorithm in all languages. You can read and learn more about that in this article from Google Search Central.

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In a nutshell, Google has a team of reviewers that manually check and rate websites. Based on Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. If your site gets reviewed, and an issue is spotted, then you might receive a manual action.

You can check this in Google Search Console Tools, under Security and Manual Actions. Other best tools to check if your site has been affected by a Google Penalty or Filter include:

  1. Google Search Console
  2. SEMrush Sensor
  3. Mozcast
  4. Accuranker Grump
  5. Algoroo
  6. Fruition

The tools in this list work in a couple of ways. Some of them act as a general barometer of what’s happening in the Google Algo world. So that you can go and check your analytics manually.

While others allow you to see which Google algorithm update has hit your site. Particularly, by linking your Google Analytics account to the tool. And then finally, there’s the Google Search Console. It helps with identifying and fixing any manual actions you get hit with.

I hope this guide was helpful to you and your SEO team. But, if you’ll need more support, you can Contact Us and let us know how we can help. You can also share your additional thoughts and questions in the comments section.

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