Identifying Search Engine Penalties

Google: Just throwing out red cards left and right!

What do webmaster nightmares look like? Usually they involve a large, unexplained drop in page rankings that’s accompanied by a similar drop in traffic. If this wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

The key to combating this nightmare is taking a slow, calculated look if your site’s been issued search engine penalties and what you can do to correct the problem.

In recent post on Search Engine Journal titled, “How to Identify Search Engine Penalties,” SEO guru Sujan Patel gives webmaster some tips for handling this situation. Here are his tips for identifying and correcting the problem.

Check with Google

Once you’ve noticed a problem you need to get onto to your Google Webmaster Tools account to look for notifications. Google has been issuing a lot more warnings lately and often provide very specific information about what’s going on.

Check the News

What you think is a penalty might actually be an algorithm change. The difference is that an algorithm change is re-prioritization of ranking elements and a penalty is just what it sounds like. Take a look at sites like to find out exactly what Google is up to because it may change your response to the problem.

Learn more about Google’s Duplicate Content Penalty.

How Bad is it?

Determining how bad the damage is also going to determine your corrective actions. Patel recommends Googling your own URL to determine whether or not you’re still indexed. If you’re traffic is still steady, but you’re ranking have fallen, you’re probably still in pretty good shape.

Read Your Terms of Service

Once you’ve determined the cause of the penalty, take a close look at your terms of service agreement to see if you’re really in violation. Few of us take the time to read these agreement but when you’re penalized you’ll want to go over them with a fine toothed comb.


Getting those rankings back is going to be a study in SEO fundamentals. That means quality content and plenty of organic links. Suffice to say, rebuilding could take a few months.


Patel goes into a fair amount of detail in his posting and we encourage anyone interested in this subject to read it in its entirety here.

What do you do when you’re hit with penalties from Google? Let us know in our SEO Forum.

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