Lately there has been a lot of confusion surrounding Google’s search engine updates and how they are affecting the traffic and rankings of the websites that they deliver in their search engine results pages (SERPs). Throughout all of these updates, it is easy for a website to slowly or rapidly begin to lose traffic and/or rankings without knowing the root cause. Often times, the true cause of the lost traffic or rankings is incorrectly assumed to be a penalty.
The good news is that penalties or “manual actions” by Google are actually rarer than people think. Let’s take a look at the main differences between a Google penalty and an algorithm update.
Penalties or “manual actions” are when Google determines that a website has blatantly gone against their guidelines in an attempt to manipulate their ranking within Google’s SERPs. Let’s take a look at what makes up a penalty:
Algorithm updateson the other hand are not manual actions. These are changes to Google’s algorithm that decides how they evaluate a website. It is much more likely that a website was affected by a Google algorithm update than a penalty. Let’s take a look at what makes up an algorithm update:
- Very little on page textual content
- Issues with duplicate content
- Technical issues such as slow page load speed
- Unnatural inbound links
- Filing a reconsideration request is not likely to help. Reconsideration requests will provide more detailed information about manual actions only.
- Even after fixing any issues, there will still need to be another algorithm update for your website’s rankings and traffic to return to more normal levels.
The best way to avoid being negatively affected by either a Google penalty or algorithm update is to stay informed about Google SEO ranking criteria, perform routine SEO audits of your website, create new and engaging content, and offer your customers or clients the resources that they want online and with the best possible experience.
It is a well known fact by most of those who own or operate a website that having links to your website on other companies or people’s websites is beneficial for a few reasons:
But many people wonder, “How do I find out who is linking to my website?” Google provides a tool to see when your website has been linked to, what websites are linking to yours, and what pages on your website people linking to.
All of this data and more can be found in your Google Webmaster Tools account. If you are unsure if you have an account, check with your webmaster or IT team in order to verify that you have access. If you do not, it is very simple to set up. Have your webmaster or IT professional visit this link to the help article from Google about how to verify your website with Google’s Webmaster Tools.
Now let’s go over how to find out who is linking to your website. Once you have verified your website with Webmaster Tools, visit www.google.com/webmasters/tools/ to log in to your account dashboard. If you are managing multiple sites, they will all be listed in your home dashboard once you log in.
Next, select the website that you wish to collect your data from and you will see a more detailed dashboard than the previous one. This dashboard is specific to the website that you have just selected.
The next step is to click the option that reads “Traffic” on the top left side navigation of the page. This option will be the third possible choice below “Messages.” A drop down menu will appear that gives you the following 3 options:
*Note: They will not be numbered in your webmaster tools account.
Select “Links to Your site” and you will see 4 separate sections of data.
Lastly, the data for numbers 2, 3, and 4 above can be downloaded to a .CSV or Google Docs file. This is done by clicking the “More »” link beneath any of the sections then selecting “Download this Table” near the top of the page.
You also have the option to:
Now, take this data and make use of it. What pages on your website have been more popular than others? Is everyone only linking to your homepage, and not specific internal pages? Are there websites linking to yours that would make a good partnership?
One of the most useful aspects of Google Webmaster Tools is the ability for webmasters to assess how “crawlable” their site is. In the “Diagnostics” section, one can see the reason Google is unable to crawl and index certain pages of their website. Here are some of the issues Google will report on in this section:
In the above example, the errors could have been caused because the Sitemap contains older, removed pages and/or the URL contained within the Sitemap has been manually restricted (intentionally) by the webmaster.
For a more comprehensive list of diagnostic errors found in Webmaster Tools, visit: https://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35120