It’s a webmaster’s worst nightmare. You wake up one day, check your analytics, and notice that your traffic is plummeting. What happened?
Google penalties usually strike out of the blue. You thought you were doing everything correctly, respecting Google’s guidelines when an unexpected algorithm update takes you by surprise. When that happens, you can lose up to 20% of your traffic.
In all honesty, some websites truly deserve to get penalized. Their content is awful and consists mainly of spam and duplicated articles. But, that’s not the case with your PT clinic. You focus on quality content and on providing an excellent user experience.
So, how can you ensure that a Google penalty won't hit your site? And, most importantly, what should you do when the unexpected happens?
Let’s find out together, shall we?
Why and How Google Penalizes Websites
Google receives over 40,000 search queries every second. It’s the biggest and most powerful search engine, and it’s calling all the shots. People trust Google to deliver relevant and quality content.
The search giant values this trust and, thus, ensures that only the best websites get in the top ranking positions. Any site that threatens to break the unwritten contract between Google and Internet users receives a penalty.
Don’t assume that if your PT clinic site is rather large, you’ll be fine. After the Panda update in 2014, eBay lost its high ranking position. Thumbtack, a company that Google invested $100 million into was also hit by a penalty because of their shady link tactics.
So, no one is safe.
You can get two main types of Google penalties:
- Manual Penalty: Manual actions occur when a Google team member personally reviews and penalizes your site. According to Matt Cutts, Google initiates over 400,000 manual penalties every month. If it happens, you usually receive a notification in your Google Webmaster Tools account.
- Algorithmic Penalty: This type of penalty usually occurs when Google makes a change to its search algorithm. If you notice a sudden drop in traffic, check Google’s Algorithm Change History to see if a new updated happen recently.
Understanding the Major Google Penalties
Google is not a monster, lurking in the dark waiting for its next victim. Its focus is to deliver the best possible search results to the widest audience possible. Every website that was ever penalized by Google was involved in shady activities that went against its recommendations.
The best way to protect your PT clinic’s website against a penalty is to understand the reasons why your site might get on the wrong side of Google in the first place.
Here’s a look at the most common Google penalties.
- Low-Quality Links
One of the most common reasons a website receives a Google penalty has to do with low-quality backlinks. In fact, backlinks are so important that Google has incorporated the Penguin algorithm into its core. In other words, Penguin has now become an essential part of search rankings.
If you have backlinks from sites that have been banned or penalized by Google, have duplicate content, are unrelated to your niche or have thin content, then you risk receiving a penalty from the search engine.
After the last Penguin update in September, the algorithm is now refreshed in real-time. So, any change will become noticeable faster, and it will take a shorter amount of time to recrawl a page. In other words, if you are caught using shady link building practices, you could face an immediate penalty. On the flip side, though, if you’re working to remove a Penguin penalty, you won’t have to wait for a few months until the next update to repair your rankings.
- Thin or Duplicate Content
It’s no secret that Google rewards sites that deliver relevant, high-quality content and punishes those that have thin or duplicated content with little or no added value. As mentioned already, one of the reasons Google has become the biggest search engine is because of its user-centric approach. Google constantly tweaks its algorithm to keep up with the evolving search behavior of Internet users and ensures that it delivers only the best results.
But, while some of the more nuanced elements of search engine optimization have changed in recent years, the core principles have remained the same. Quality content is one of them.
Spam can encompass everything from spun content to malicious script that can cause harm to a system. A “user generated spam” penalty is caused by spam in the comment section and, although annoying and time-consuming, it can be removed easily.
Another penalty that you should be wary of is the “spammy freehosts.” If your PT clinic’s website is hosted on a service that is spammy, Google might take manual action on the service as a whole. One easy way to avoid this penalty is to purchase your own domain.
- Intrusive Mobile Interstitial
Google has recently confirmed that they have begun rolling out the intrusive mobile interstitial penalty. One thing to note is that this penalty only affects interstitials that occur directly after clicking on a Google mobile search result to a specific page. Your site won’t receive a penalty if an interstitial appears later in the click path.
The type of interstitial that will be problematic include pop-ups that cover the main content either immediately after the user lands on a page from the search result or while they are exploring that page or displaying an interstitial that the user has to dismiss before it can access your content.
- Keyword Stuffing
The Panda algorithm update in 2011 was the first time Google specifically penalized sites. The main targets were sites that relied on keyword stuffing and poor content. The problem with this algorithm is that it will penalize an entire site for issues on just one particular page. So, if your keyword density is too high on one of your pages, your entire PT website might suffer. That’s why you need to make sure that all your pages conform to Panda’s guidelines.
So, Your PT Website Has Been Hit by a Google Penalty. Now What?
Although a large number of sites are being penalized every month, just 5% of them are submitting a reconsideration request to recover their rankings. In most cases, webmasters aren’t even aware of the fact that their site has been penalized.
So, what should you do if you notice a sudden drop in organic traffic and are not sure if a penalty has hit your PT clinic's site?
Here are the steps that you need to follow:
- Familiarize Yourself with Google’s Algorithm Update History
First thing first, you need to be aware of the most significant Google updates and what they included.
- Determine If You Have a Ranking Problem
You need to diagnose the problem before you can take any action. For example, a few years back, a lot of webmasters thought that they were hit by a Penguin update when, in fact, they were dealing with an extended Panda update. Use a penalty indicator tool to audit your site and determine if an algorithm update has penalized you.
- Take Actions to Recover
If your PT website gets a manual penalty, you will receive a letter explaining the reasons for this action. Although unpleasant, this type of penalty gives you an idea of what went wrong and what you need to change to recover your ranking.
But, if an algorithm penalty hits your PT clinic's website, the things get a bit more complicated. You need to identify the connection between Google’s latest actions and your site’s sudden traffic loss. Keep in mind that ranking and traffic can also be affected by problems that may have nothing to do with an algorithm update.
If you determine that the main culprit is a specific Google update, make sure you review and understand the new requirements, and start making changes to resolve the issue.
How to Avoid a Google Penalty
It should go without saying that the best thing you can do for your PT clinic’s website is to avoid a penalty in the first place. Here are a few things you can do to ensure you stay in Google’s good graces.
- Ensure Your Website Is Up and Running All the Time: If your server crashes regularly and your website is unavailable, Google might completely de-index your page instead of repeatedly sending people to a dead site.
- Make Your Site Mobile Friendly: Recent reports have shown that visits to websites via mobile devices have overtaken desktop traffic. So, it should come as no surprise that Google will favor websites with a mobile-friendly design. Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test to check your PT site and determine if you need to make some changes.
- Optimize Your Site’s Speed and Performance: Google uses over 200 factors to rank a page and site speed and performance are among the most important. And, it makes perfect sense: in the era of instant gratification, a website that takes too much to load equates a poor user experience. Minify your code, compress your images, get rid of unnecessary plugins, and use a fast and secure web hosting service to ensure a seamless on-site experience.
- Focus Only on Quality Backlinks: The more backlinks you have, the better, right? Wrong! When it comes to your link building strategy, quality almost always beats quantity. Make sure that your get links from authority sites that are relevant to your niche.
- Create High-Quality Content: Internet users are under a heavy bombardment. 24/7 they are hit with thousands of marketing messages from multiple channels and sources. Although it’s becoming increasingly hard to get your prospective patients’ attention, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances. For examples, studies have shown that long-form content (between 1.500 and 2.000 words per post) perform better than short-form one. Link to studies and authoritative sources to boost the credibility of your content. Create content that adds value to your audience’s lives and helps them solve their problems. Even if the topic is not original, try to approach it from a fresh perspective.
- Use Brand Signals to Earn Google’s Trust: Include a phone number and a physical location on Google Maps on your site to show Google that you are, in fact, a real business. Link to your social media profiles. Build backlinks to your site using your physical therapy clinic’s name as an anchor text.
Penalties are part of the learning curve. Most of them are well deserved, but some can happen by accident. Understanding the reason your site received a penalty is the first step in fixing it and preventing future problems.
If you need help optimizing your physical therapy clinic’s website, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We here at PatientSites are always on top with every Google update, understand its requirements and recommendations and can ensure that your site will please both search engines and your patients.