How Can I Tell If My Site Is Affected By A Particular Algorithm?

| May 20, 2014

graph-declineWhen you aren’t seeing the results you thought you would from search, it’s easy to start thinking the algorithms don’t like your site.  In a recent webmaster video, Matt Cutts answers a question from a user about how to tell if your site has been affected by an algorithmic penalty.

Google offers a lot of concrete answers in its videos however in others (such as this one) much of the data is vague and subjective.  This is mostly because Cutts has to walk a fine line.  Google wants to help webmasters make quality sites for their users but they don’t want to give away their secrets.

Manual Spam Actions

In the first part of the video before getting to the main question, Cutts talks about manual actions.  If you think your site has been affected by Google (or maybe you were doing something you shouldn’t have been), your first course of action should be to check your webmaster tools account.

If you don’t have one of these accounts you should set one up.  Not only can you get all sorts of free information but you will be notified immediately should something be wrong with the way your site is indexed.  You might have to watch this video a few times to catch the idea but if you don’t see a manual action in your account, you technically haven’t been affected by any kind of penalty at all (more on this in a moment).

crawl-errorUser Error

For many website owners, it is unlikely that Google either pulled your site aside and demoted it or that an algorithm change caused its ranking patterns to fluctuate.  If you see that your site isn’t showing up where it was before (or at all), there are a variety of technical configuration settings you can check.

  • Ensure proper configuration of your robots.txt file
  • Make sure meta no-index tags are removed from your pages if they were present before
  • Check webmaster tools to see if there are an excessive number of 404 errors or if there are accessibility warnings
  • If you’re using a template on your site, ensure that third party URLs from theme creators are removed as sometimes this can cause Googlebot trouble in accessing your site.

Algorithm Changes and Penalties

Cutts eludes to the fact that there aren’t really “algorithmic penalties”.  If a website’s position in search changes as the result of an algorithm, it has more of a passive affect rather than a direct one.  In other words, algorithms are designed to find relevant and useful content for users and not to search out and demote bad content.

Another thing that Cutts points out is that Google rolls out hundreds of changes each year to its algorithms.  Many of these go largely un-noticed.  Chances are that if you haven’t heard about a larger update that the company is rolling out, smaller changes probably aren’t the reason your site isn’t performing well.

Check out the video for yourself and let us know what you think of it.