Google SEO & Search Engine Marketing Services

How To Spot The Google Penalty

One of the most frustrating problems you can come across as an SEO is a Google penalty, in fact the hardest part about it is trying to identify what you have done wrong exactly. Google has many filters in place to catch sites that do not adhere to their TOS and most of the time simply cleaning up the mess is enough for you to receive forgiveness for your sins, however sometimes you will need to go through the painful reconsideration process.
There is however a bigger problem than simply finding out where you have gone wrong and that is simply identifying you have a penalty in the first place. There are a number of reasons why you might receive a penalty, duplicate content, bad neighbourhood and over optimisation are among the most common, along with the real black hat gems. If you aren’t SEO-savvy these issues can easily go unnoticed and sometimes it may only involve a simple fix.
Anyway, what I wanted to do in this post is tell you the sure fire flags that would suggest you have some kind of penalty.
A Drop in Google Search Traffic
A sudden loss of search traffic could indicate a Google penalty, or more specifically a sudden, significant drop in rankings. I’m not just talking about page 1 to page 2, I mean page 1 to page 50,60.

If this has happened there is a good chance you have been hit with a penalty.

There are however a few things I would like to point out.

  • If your rankings have been effected for all your pages, site wide, then there is a good chance the problems are related to your external links.
  • If your rankings have dropped on 1 page then you should be looking at your internal linking structure to ensure it is getting the best possible exposure.
  • If your site is new (12 months or younger) your rankings may fluctuate naturally, don’t worry about it unless the drop has lasted over a month
No Result For Your Domain Name
This applies to sites that have been indexed already. If you can no longer find your domain when doing a direct search in Google the chances are you will have been penalised.

If your site is brand new your not going to find it until it has been indexed for the first time.

The []Search
Again this applies to sites that have already been indexed and if you can’t find your page using a site search in Google this usually spells big trouble. Either you have accidentally robots.txt your page or you or previous owners has been playing dirty SEO with the Google SERPS.
Matt Cutts informed us all recently that Webmaster Tools may inform us of issues that have resulted in a penalty, I have never seen this but we’ll take his word for it.

Check out the below video for more information, also check out tips on requesting reconsideration on the webmaster blog.


I hope none of you are suffering with a penalty, but it’s always nice to know what to do if you are.



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Author: Tim (254 Articles)

is the owner and editor of SEO wizz and has been involved in the search engine marketing industry for over 9 years. He has worked with multiple businesses across many verticals, creating and implementing search marketing strategies for companies in the UK, US and across Europe. Tim is also the Director of Search at Branded3, a Digital Marketing & SEO Agency based in the UK.



Injury Lawyer Los Angeles May 31, 2009 at 11:47 pm

My home page went from PR 5 to PR 3 after webmaster accidentally did a canonical link that changed my url from to

This happened right in the middle of PR toolbar update. webmaster tools reads a duplicate content issue. I fixed it, but too late. No loss at all in position in SERPS.

Do you think my theory that PR is sill really 5 is correct? But that did not fix in time for toolbar update?

Tim June 1, 2009 at 3:12 am

@injury lawyer,

Pagerank changes almost daily and is only updated every 3 – 4 months on the toolbar. The chances are you are already sitting at 5 again but don’t get too hung up on PageRank, it is only a small part of ranking higher, building on and off page relevance is far more important.

Injury Lawyer Los Angeles January 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Yes you were correct. That last time, it went back to PR5. But I recently added flash, noticed that slowed me down and then, voilla, PR4. I read that Matt Cutts was saying load speed could affect PR. Do you think that did it?

Again, SERPS loooking good!

Tim January 8, 2010 at 2:20 pm


I am not sure I buy into the load time = good/bad ranking argument just yet. The only thing Google have said on it is that if your page takes an exceptionally long time to load it could experience a drop in rank, however this should not effect PR. You links are changing all the time and this is often the reason for increases and decreases in PR.

Good to hear things are going well in the SERPS

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