So, your online business is chugging along fine. Your web traffic is at an all-time high and you’ve got a handle on search engine optimisation and content management thanks to that new SEO company you hired at a steal. Customers are pouring in. Everything looks great. Suddenly, your site traffic drops like stock prices on pumpkins after Halloween. What happened? Odds are, Google hit your site with a penalty or two.

Traffic is everything to an online business. Ranking high on Google can mean millions to your company. Content marketers push forward with new SEO tactics in order to get onto that first page. However, some marketers and SEO companies try to do this by cheating.

Google hates cheating and they will punish you for it. Google penalties can range from pushing your site down the rankings a bit to the outright delisting of your site. And if you violate PPC rules as well you could be banned from AdWords forever. For any site.

Violating Google’s policies is a problem that is so prevalent that Google initiates over 400,000 manual penalties every month. Can you reverse a penalty? It’s possible, but it’s very hard. In fact, only 5% of websites petition to have their rankings recovered. Most people caught breaking the rules just give up.

Am I Penalised?

So, how do you know if you’ve been penalised? First, there are two main penalties that Google can tag you with. The first is a manual action, courtesy of Google’s Spam Team and the other is an algorithmic penalty. Google is courteous enough to let you know that you’ve received a manual action. Simply go to Google Webmaster Tools and see if they’ve notified you of an action.

One of the most common violations is having “unnatural links.” Basically, it works like this: a website that has been banned from Google or was previously penalised has a link to your site and the team at Google decides to penalise your site as well. Multiple links coming from different sites with duplicate content can also raise eyebrows. Too many weak links can also get you penalised, or too many links from outside your niche. For example, if you sell organic salsa, it makes no sense that a website selling auto parts would link to your site. Google looks at these things to see if you’re cheating the system.

If you’ve been hit by an algorithmic penalty, it might not be so clear. A simple drop in traffic could be related to many things, but if you have eliminated all other possibilities, you may have been hit with an algorithmic penalty. If you have Google Analytics available, you might be able to determine which update brought about the penalty, but since there are over 500 updates every year, pinpointing what happened might be difficult.

There’s a paid tool available called Fruition Google Penalty Checker. By letting it have access to your Google Analytics account, it will give you a graph. The graph will display the penalty along with the percentage chance that it is affecting your site. A similar but free tool is Barracuda. Barracuda works much like Fruition but does not give you a percentage chance of which penalty you’ve acquired.

How Do I Recover?

So, you’ve determined which penalty you’ve received. Now what? Well, you can submit a petition for reconsideration on a manual penalty. If it’s an algorithmic penalty, it’s a slightly easier process, but by no means a walk in the park.

Just go over your search engine optimisation tactics. First, check your backlinks using Google Analytics. Scrub any that meet those aforementioned problem zones. Submit requests to the owner of the linking website to remove the ones that are out of your control and keep track of email requests to remove those links. Using WHOIS can help you learn who owns different domains. As a last resort, you can disavow links that you do not control by submitting them to Google for review. Disavowing tells Google to ignore that link as part of its algorithm, but should only be done after failing to get the site owner to remove their link.

Next, check your website’s content and ensure that there is no duplicate content, keyword stuffing, or any of the other practices that Google frowns upon for content and site structure. Make sure that you are familiar with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

In the end, the best way to recover from a penalty is to avoid getting one in the first place. And if you hire a company to help you out, be on the lookout for any rules they might be breaking. It’s your domain!