What a Google Penalty Looks Like

Google penalty logoMy site Wantbox (find someone for remodeling the bathroom) recently recovered from a sitewide Google algorithmic penalty. With Google, you never know for sure why you were penalized, but after reading a lot of posts, interacting with a few SEO experts and doing some thoughtful head scratching I made a bunch of changes to the site and waited it out.

In the end, I believe that Google felt I had too many links from my online birth announcement site into Wantbox. I removed most of the links and added “rel=nofollow” to the remaining ones. I admitted my error in a reconsideration request to Google (Google’s response to my request included below), documented specifically what I had done to fix the problem and waited it out.

Below is the graph of how the Google penalty played out. I wasn’t surprised by the 90-day duration of the penalty: I had read other reports of similar link-based actions. I didn’t expect, however, the gradual ramp-back of the the “penalty release” period. In all, it took about 4 months to get back to normal traffic.

What a Google penalty looks like
Source: Clicky Search Traffic (my favorite analytics service)

The moral of this story? Make sure that you know Google’s Webmaster Guidelines like the back of your hand and be very careful with your site’s backlink profile.

My Google Penalty Timeline: [UPDATE]

  • March 18: my site penalty started (day 0)
  • March 18: Added “rel=nofollow” to the backlinks from my other site (day 0)
  • April 6: Finished all site changes that may have caused a problem (day 19)
  • April 10: Submitted a reconsideration request to Google (day 23)
  • April 19: Received Google’s response to my reconsideration request (day 32 / day 9 after request)
  • June 14: The penalty was lifted, traffic started to recover (day 88 / day 65 after request / day 56 after response)

Personally, I do not believe that my reconsideration request had any impact at all on the timing of my site’s penalty. All it did was inform me that the penalty was algorithmic and not a manual action by someone on Google’s webspam team.

I’m also not convinced that any of my site changes really mattered (NOINDEXing thin pages, NOFOLLOWing affiliate links, fixing duplicate titles, etc.) I think I collected too many backlinks too fast from one of my other sites, which triggered the penalty. If anything, the one change that mattered was adding “rel=nofollow” to most of my links from my other site.

For the truly curious: Google’s response to my reinclusion request

Subject: Reconsideration request for http://wantbox.com/: No manual spam actions found

Dear site owner or webmaster of http://wantbox.com/, We received a request from a site owner to reconsider http://wantbox.com/ for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team. Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site’s ranking. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users. If you’ve experienced a change in ranking which you suspect may be more than a simple algorithm change, there are other things you may want to investigate as possible causes, such as a major change to your site’s content, content management system, or server architecture. For example, a site may not rank well if your server stops serving pages to Googlebot, or if you’ve changed the URLs for a large portion of your site’s pages. This article has a list of other potential reasons your site may not be doing well in search. If you’re still unable to resolve your issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support. Sincerely, Google Search Quality Team

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