Take An Audit Of Your Site And Compare Notes To Recent Updates
Sometimes a specific dropoff of traffic aligns coincidentally with a particular announcement of Google of an algorithm update however, there’s several “Checks” you need to do before declaring yourself punished by the SEO gods.
Penalty Check Part 1: Doublecheck your data
You need to know when recent updates were made, did your server have an outage? Did someone remove a Google Analytics tag from part of the site? Did you turn off paid advertising and didn’t segment your direct traffic from your organic before you panicked?
You’ve got to establish WHAT was changed recently on your site FIRST. Make sure it’s not a false positive.
Penalty Check Part 2: Doublecheck your assumptions
If you’re working with a business that has particular seasonality involved, there are days or times of year where people stop searching. Say, “Kentucky Derby” related phrases. They’re 100% going to have particular drop offs. Be sure to segment your traffic to just Organic, or review only your Search Console data.
If you haven’t removed large parts of your site, re-written significant parts of your content, made technical SEO changes to hreflang, no-follow directives or canonical issues. If your site hasn’t been offine, or you haven’t lost significant links from trusted sources recently then MAYBE you COULD be looking at a “Penalty”.
Manual Penalty and Algorithmic Penalty – Not The Same
There are actions you can take that violate Google Webmaster Tools so egregiously that Google takes a “Manual” action, slapping part or all of your site with a negative signal that can prevent part or all of your pages from receiving traffic. This could be getting caught building a content farm of reguritated/spun/machine processed junk content for example. You could also be hosting malware and serving it to visitors (intentionally, or due to your site being hacked).
On the other hand, if your site has technical SEO issues like not setting the viewport, having regular server outages, having tiny text on your mobile version, or otherwise being majorly mobile UN-friendly and you will get less traffic than if you “fixed” those issues. Is that a “penalty”? or is that just checking basic boxes of website optimization? Perhaps you have really “thin” content, where just 1 word is unique but everything else is the same as 100s of other pages? Is it a “penalty” for those pages not to show up, get crawled or indexed?
Mea Culpa. My Bad. I’m Sorry.
If you’ve sinned against Google. You must approach the holy sepulchur of Google Search Console and submit a holy “Re-inclusion Request”, attending the digital confession booth defining your digital sins and your attempts to atone for your excesses.
(Otherwise, if there isn’t a manual penalty, you just need to fix what’s broken and build better content to get out of the hole you’ve dug.)