Been penalized by Google lately? Site rankings drop dramatically or traffic numbers down?

Google has been known to apply a variety of filters or penalties to web sites that do not follow their Terms of Service. However, don’t fret.  If you manage to correct all errors, you could be forgiven and filters will be removed (even with no reconsideration request in Google Webmaster Tools).

Google Penalty

One problem is that many site owners are not aware that they have been penalized. They could be unaware of the duplicate content penalty, bad neighborhood problems, packed SEO, or over-optimization. Most times these issues are invisible even to a seasoned SEO.

Here are a few flags to consider if you see some adverse rankings and traffic patterns happening to your web site.

1. Sudden Loss Rankings This is a penalty that could be applied to the whole site. It could be that the problem is with external backlinks, could apply to the entire site or one or a few pages. If to the entire site it may have to do with backlinks and if internal pages more than likely is an internal issue.

2. General Query Differences Some webmasters notice site rankings in search vs. a separate database. This is not confirmed but highly speculated.

3. Your domain is not #1 for [] search. Note that this can be a sign of some issue only for established sites – new sites can be found nowhere for the domains search naturally.

4. [] returns 0 results (again, for established, prior indexed sites). This flag is the most dangerous one: it might mean some dramatic error on your side (you might have mixed something up with Robots.txt, robots meta tags or redirects) or you might have done something really bad. In this case, reconsideration request is your only hope, I am afraid.

5. Don’t Jump the Gun Even for older, well-established sites all of these things can happen temporarily without any penalty being involved. People should make sure that radical changes stick before hitting the panic button. Normal churn usually clears up within 2-3 days, although on some rare occasions it can last 1-2 weeks (Google often rolls back the index when churn lasts that long). If you see no improvement after 3-4 weeks, you’ve probably been penalized.

A ton of errors and issues with your web site can be seen early and addressed in Google Webmaster Tools. The account is free, and by submitting sitemaps and understanding how Google views and crawls your site, you can avoid or catch major headaches early with your site. If you need help getting an account set-up and your account sitemap submitted please contact TM.

Thanks to Ann Smarty at Search Engine Journal for the insight on these tips.

4 responses to “Common Google Penalty Flags

Posted by Ryan Shelby

Speaking of internal links, if all internal pages have the same menu structure that all links to one another, should the internal links on the internal pages contain a nofollow, or should they be left alone?

Posted on February 16, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Posted by Dean

Hi Ryan,

This is a good question, worthy of a backlink even! To answer your question, nofollows should not be applied to internal links on internal pages.

When you utilize nofollow links, you are telling spiders not to crawl the links at all. This means that the content of those pages that you’re linking to will not be crawled and no value or “link juice” will be passed to those pages either.

The important thing to remember is that spiders rarely, if ever, enter through the homepage of your website. Typically they will find a link for you on another website and follow that link into it. If all of the links on the page it found were nofollow links, then your site wouldn’t be thoroughly crawled on that visit/crawl.

For example, if a link on a website somewhere pointed to this blog post or another page of our website, and the links were marked rel=”nofollow”, the other pages would not be crawled and the spider would leave.

Using rel=”nofollow” links should be done with extreme caution and should only be applied to links which go to pages that you do not want indexed or crawled. Examples of these types of pages would be “send to a friend”, “product review” pages on a shopping cart which are dynamically created, but in reality contain the exact same content as the product page itself (however, with canonical links this isn’t as much of a problem anymore).

Other pages that you might want to apply rel=”nofollow” pages on are tag pages on a blog or any other page that you couldn’t specifically control the meta, content and title on. You want to pass value to and make sure that only the substantially important pages of your site are crawled and ranked.

If you have further questions about what types of pages or under what circumstances you should use rel=”nofollow” links do some research into the supplemental vs. primary indexes of Google in conjunction with any duplicate content findings on your site.

I hope this helps and please let us know if you have any questions or need more follow up.

Posted on February 16, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Posted by Ckint Dixon

1. The only penalty is a full ban. Everything else is a filter that is applied.

3. Nofollow does not tell the spiders not to crawl links it tells them not to trust the page being linked to.

3. You need to study SEO a lot more before writing the serious fiction you are currently typing.

Posted on May 29, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Posted by DZ


Thanks for the clarifications on a few items. Yes you are correct, in a way….maybe it is the “context” of what is being said? I am not sure that I agree with what you commented or if your comments didn’t contain malice to an extent…

#1 Penalty vs. Filter – does it really matter? Is it “context” of the word?

#2 Dean stated:

“When you utilize nofollow links, you are telling spiders not to crawl the links at all. This means that the content of those pages that you’re linking to will not be crawled and no value or “link juice” will be passed to those pages either.”

He is correct except for the fact that nofollow will tell the spider to NOT pass value, or “juice” on to the containing URL of the anchortext. This may of been misunderstood.

There is nothing I have ever seen, read or heard at a conference or in discussion with others that a nofollow strictly tells spiders not to “trust” the page being linked to. That seems kind of harsh.

In regards to your #3 statement – it is really a matter of your opinion. We obviously didn’t comment on your blog that was last updated months ago. You found our blog through organic search, read and made a comment. We didn’t engage you, you engaged us and it was the efforts of SEO that brought you here.

Lastley, if you are ever int he market for some links – be it DoFollow or NoFollow take a minute to look over at That is the other company I founded. You can buy no footprint links there.


Posted on May 30, 2009 at 11:01 am

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