If a sudden decrease in traffic is occurring on your website, do not necessarily assume it is from the Farmer/Panda update; Google has been cracking down on websites with many inbound paid links with renewed vigor.

The Incredible Hulk transformsIn some cases, Google has been manually punishing sites. Two high profile cases where Google hulked out are JC Penney and Overstock.com.

In both cases, JC Penney and Overstock had SEO firms who’s strategy revolved so heavily on “link building” that inbound links were being paid for, which is against Google’s guidelines – which makes Google angry. And you wouldn’t like Google when it’s angry.

With these two high profile cases coming on the heels of each other, there is evidence that aside from the “Farmer” algorithm update, Google may also be cracking down on sites with paid and/or irrelevant inbound links.

Am I Being Penalized for Paid Links?

If you think you have been affected by Google’s paid link penalty, here’s how to verify in Google Analytics:

  • Sign into Google Analytics
  • Under the website profile, click on Traffic Sources
  • Click on Referring Sites
  • Change the date range to the week before you noticed a decrease in traffic
  • Take note of your highest referrers
  • Change the Date Range to the week you noticed a decrease in traffic
  • Take note of your highest referrers
  • Look for any drastic changes, or some sites suddenly disappearing from the list

To verify that Google traffic in particular has taken a hit:

  • Click on Search Engines
  • Under the graph, where it says “Show” click on “non-paid”
    If you use another analytics program (Coremetrics, Omniture) look in organic referrals by Search Engine.
  • Check to see if you have seen a dramatic decrease in traffic
  • Compare that to the previous week and the previous month
    Saturday and Sunday may be normal low traffic periods.

If your referrers have seen a change, and Google traffic has dropped significantly, you may have been penalized by Google

If you are running a rank checking program, you should wait at least a week after you’ve noticed these fluctuations and then look to see if your rankings in Google have dropped.

Why wait?

  • Because the rank checking program may not have updated accurately
  • Depending on real time search, and which servers are hit when the program runs, you may initially get inaccurate results. A week will give the results time to normalize

I’m Hit! Now What?

Next steps are request reconsideration from Google. Remember to be very detailed when writing out the case for reconsideration.

Avoid Being Penalized in the Future
Many site owners have little to nothing to do with link building, but that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook. If you own the site, you’re responsible for SEO tactics. Be sure you stay informed. Discuss link building tactics with your SEO Department/Firm and ask questions like:

  • What is our linking strategy?
  • What websites are we linking to?
  • How do we know these websites?
  • Who runs the website?
  • Why are they linking to us?
  • Are they affiliate links?

When considering link building, keep these things in mind:

  • Link building is about building relationships online and offline
  • Make sure the links you are receiving are from trusted sources
  • If it’s ambiguous, make sure the inbound link is from someone you or someone who reports to you can contact