Matt Cutts received a question about how to know if and when Google has penalized a certain site and I think there are several takeaways from his answer, detailed at Search Engine Journal.
- First, you'll be notified in Webmaster Tools if you've been targeted manually by the Google webspam team. This is important because you won't necessarily receive a notification if you've been slapped by an algorithmic change. A manual action, however, is targeted specifically toward your site and it's something you need to address if you want your rankings to reappear.
- The second thing is this: Just because your rankings fall doesn't mean that you were penalized. As Cutts says, some websites could benefit from an algorithm change. Therefore, it isn't a penalty so much as it is a tweaking of the ranking priorities for Google's index. Your challenge, if this happens to you, is to find out why your site fell in the rankings and respond to that appropriately.
- Thirdly, some falls in ranking aren't as a result of algorithm changes at all. It could be that your competition got better at influencing their own rankings. In that case, you just have to get more competitive and learn how to fight back - in an appropriate search engine marketing manner.
- Finally, if Google is introducing a major update that has the potential to disrupt rankings across a large variety of sites in a large number of niches, then they'll make an announcement. Otherwise, they make algorithm changes all day long every day and those may be very specific with minimal noticeable ranking fluctuations or they could be more serious. They may or may not affect you and there's not much you can do about it if they do. Chances are, if they do, it will be minimal and unnoticeable.
Most likely, your rankings are going to fluctuate naturally from day to day, maybe even minute by minute. These fluctuations could be noticeable if you are in a highly competitive niche or they may be very minimal. And those fluctuations are likely a result of multiple factors that include algorithm changes and/or updates and the nature of competition for search rankings. You'd be better off just focusing your energy on keeping your websites well optimized and attracting the right audience for your brand.
(Google penalty / shutterstock)