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13 May 2014

4 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Site While Under a Google Penalty

4 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Site While Under a Google Penalty

It may seem like the end of the world when you get a notice in Webmaster tools about a manual link penalty, or you see the results in the rankings from an algorithmic penalty. Getting such a penalty does mean you have a lot of work to do to get back into Google’s good graces.

While you’re working on getting out from under the penalty, you still need to put forth effort to bring visitors to your site. Although this is a challenge when your site is no longer ranking for your major keywords, a few of our subject matter experts provide ways to bring in that traffic you need.

Create Great Content for Your Site

David Gould, Director of Strategy

David-ThumbCreating new, quality content and improving existing content is a must for an algorithmic penalty like Panda, but it can also help sites that have been dinged with a manual penalty as well. With manual penalties, prime web pages and keywords can bottom out in rankings and traffic until offsite links are cleaned up. In tandem with those link improvement efforts, developing content can be a critical asset for a few reasons:

  1. It creates new, viable pages as avenues for site traffic while more authoritative pages are under penalty.
  2. Once on your site, visitors can still be directed to penalized pages with links and calls to action.
  3. Natural links to new content pages can improve your site’s overall link profile as you work to get out of penalty.

Remember that while you should still look to develop long-term authority for competitive keywords, you want to get some quick wins. To bolster new content, be sure to incorporate topics that are positioned for discoverability, focusing on relevant, longer-tail keyword phrases. In particular, answer questions that your customers are actively searching for.

And finally, look to offsite avenues to publish and share your content. Guest blogging has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately from its use as a spammy link building tactic, but it’s still a valid means to publish valuable content to an engaged audience. Be sure to focus on quality websites that are relevant to your industry, but while your site is under penalty (and even when it’s recovered) it’s a great way to increase your reach and grow your audience.

Paid Promotion

Zach Etten, Director of Digital Advertising

Zach-E-ThumbCreating engaging, helpful content will elevate your brand to levels you’ve never known before, but getting hit with a Google penalty and losing nearly 100% of your organic traffic can be a big blow to those efforts. To make up for lost traffic and revenues, providing your content with a bit of a boost via paid promotion can pay huge dividends.

With the world going social, running paid ads on the major social networks can be just the boost your content needs to capture traffic, social shares, backlinks, and leads. Here are some networks worth testing:

Social Networks

Content Promotion

Google

It’s important to remember that these networks are not one-size-fits-all and every network may not make sense for your content. Like anything else, make sure you go in with a well thought-out strategy for reaching the right audience, measureable goals, and proper tracking.

It all has to start with good content, but once you have that, don’t be afraid to put some budget behind your content to share it with the world. You may be surprised how often viral content got its start with paid promotion!

Social Media Activity

Sarah Schager, Senior Social Media Strategist

Sarah-ThumbIf a site is under penalty, the traffic from search results could cease to exist. Since many sites depend largely on this traffic, each day they are under penalty could result in copious financial losses. Therefore, it is a more important time than ever to focus on driving traffic from other sources, like social networks. The content we talked about above just became even more important because that is going to be the driving force of your social strategy.

You will want to consistently share your blog content across all of your social networks to increase their exposure and build up your fan base. Another strategy is to offer deals to get people to less interesting pages, for example a product page on an ecommerce site.

Last but not least, we strongly suggest allocating a budget to promote your content to a wider audience on your social media networks. Here is an overview of where to get started:

  • Facebook Promoted Posts: Add a budget to a new or existing post to extend its reach. You have two options with promoted posts including boosting the post to your fans and friends of fans, or targeting the post to a specific demographic. Sidebar ads can be useful to promote your page. A recently added feature is custom audiences, which could be especially valuable to brands that are new to Facebook.
  • Twitter: Twitter offers promoted tweets to increase their visibility and reach your current followers as well as potential followers. You can target potential followers by demographic, interests, followers of certain people, etc. For newer users, Twitter also offers a promoted account option which can allow you to quickly build up your following than you would organically.
  • Google Plus: Promoted posts were just recently announced, and for those of you with 1,000+ followers it will be a solid option as well. Brands will be able to convert Google Plus posts into a display ad that can run on the Google Display Network.
  • StumbleUpon: Promote your blog content on StumbleUpon. This site’s Paid Discovery feature has proven to consistently deliver targeted traffic to your website for all types of content. Since users come to this site with the intent to find content, and sponsored posts are mixed in with organic ones, these ads are not viewed as an interruption and typically are well received.

Overall, sharing content via social media will assist in supplementing the traffic that is lost during the time a site is under penalty. Once a site’s penalty is lifted, we strongly recommend continuing with the above mentioned strategies to keep your digital marketing strategy diversified.

High Level Link Building

Kaila Strong, Senior Director of SEO Services

Kaila-ThumbWhen you find your site under a penalty for unnatural links, obviously, your view of link building changes. Links are still important to your site and as you will be requesting that many come down, some should be replaced with higher level, more natural links. These types of links are worthwhile for building the authority of your site, traffic potential and possible conversions. Here are some ways to acquire these types of links while still under penalty:

  1.  Unlinked brand mentions: It’s quite possible that your brand, or staff in your company, are mentioned online without a link to your site. Search for those mentions and send a request to add a link if it is a quality site that is relevant to your niche.
  2.  Leverage Content: If you follow David’s advice above and invest in great content for your site, it will more than likely to garner links as people share it. Seek out opportunities where a link to your content should be added, maybe to a resource list or top 10 post.
  3.  Lists and Resource Pages: Seek out website lists and resource pages that are relevant to your industry. A good way to find these is to do a competitor backlink analysis to see where your competition has links. You’d be surprised how many opportunities there are on .gov and .edu sites for these types of lists.
  4.  Associations: Does your company belong to associations that have a website that links out to its members? Seek these out, and you might want to think about joining if you’re not a member. Associations can be great for niche authoritative links and local associations can help send geo signals for your site too!
  5.  Learn advanced search commands: In order to perform the tactics above, a knowledge of advanced search commands will help immensely and save you time. Get familiar with site specific searches such as site:gov or site:edu to narrow your prospecting searches to the most authoritative sites on the web.

Bonus Section – Steps for Recovering from a Manual Penalty

Brynna Baldauf, SEO Specialist

Brynna BaldaufPull a list of backlinks from OpenSite Explorer, AHREFs or Majestic SEO. You should also pull a list of backlinks from Webmaster tools and combine it with your list of backlinks from any of the other services. This will help you to get a complete list of links pointing to your site, which is a very important step. After all, how can you attempt to remove links if you don’t know they exist?

Organize your list of backlinks in one spreadsheet so that you can see if there are duplicate URLs from any of your data. Once the duplicates have been removed you will need to choose some metrics on which to evaluate the links. It is important to choose four to five metrics that you trust and will be relatively easy to measure across all of the URLs in your list. You should be evaluating each URL against each metric to ensure that there is consistency in your review. Create a space in the spreadsheet to write down notes about each URL and a separate column for marking down if a link is worth keeping or if it’s possible it might be harming your site.

After reviewing each link, gather the list of URLs that have been marked for removal.

At this point you will need to set aside some time to attempt to contact each webmaster and politely request that they remove the link. If they are not responsive to the first email you send, Google advises us to wait a few days and email them again. If again they do not respond, attempt one last contact request before placing that URL in the Disavow bucket.

Once you have completed your outreach requests, create a new spreadsheet and gather the URLs which did not have any success through contact efforts. Trim each URL down to the root domain. Then you should remove any duplicate domains from this list.

Example:

Mysite.com/thispageB and Mysite.com/thatpageA will both become Mysite.com.

After removing the duplicates, write “domain:” in front of each domain to tell Google that you wish to disavow the entire domain. The easiest way to do this in Excel is to use the concatenate equation so that the prefix can be added to an entire list at once.

Example:

domain:Mysite.com

After compiling the domain and its tag counterpart, open Notepad or any program that allows you to create a .txt file. Paste in the column of domains and save the file. It should look similar to the following:

Image OneAfter your text file is saved, it is time to write the reconsideration request. This should be a word document that expresses to the reviewer at Google why you think your site does not deserve to be in penalty any longer. There should be a strong message of what you have done since receiving the penalty to better your site and why it benefits the community to have your site be freely accessible through Google.

After this document has been crafted, it must be uploaded to Google. Log into Webmaster Tools and head to the Search Traffic section. Under Manual Actions, you will see a large button that says “Request a Review”.

Image TwoSimply upload your documents and wait for the Google reviewers to review your request and hopefully for the penalty to be lifted!

Hopefully you’re getting out of your slump about receiving a penalty and now feel inspired to use some of these ideas to improve the traffic to your site. You will want to put a good strategy behind this process as something to remember is that usually the first request isn’t successful to have the penalty turned around. Google wants and expects you to do and show the work to have it lifted.

Once the penalty has been lifted, you need to continue to monitor your backlinks on a regular basis to make sure any links built to your site, some without your knowledge, are beneficial and won’t come back to bite you. Once Google has your site on their radar, they will be keeping a close watch, so you need to keep your backlink profile clean.

What has your experience been with a penalty? How many requests did you have to send to have it lifted? Do you have any other ideas for boosting the traffic to a site under penalty?