Search prominence doesn’t happen by accident.

No, often it happens thanks to an SEO company working behind the scenes using carefully-crafted techniques to help that site do better in the search engine rankings. Some tactics have continued to work well over the years, some have lost their luster and a few may violate the Google guidelines and cause problems for your site if you choose to use them.

With an index reliant on quality, it’s no surprise Google has made it its mission to fight against techniques that violate its stated guidelines by making specific tweaks to its algorithm. It’s found that the most effective way to get people to stop using shady techniques is to penalize sites caught gaming the system.

Make no mistake: if Google catches your site violating its guidelines, your site will be removed from Google’s index. You will be gone.

And we’ve seen quite a bit of that lately…

The two most effective algorithm updates in recent years are Panda (content penalties) and Penguin (backlink penalties).

The Panda update showed its first signs in early 2011 and sought to lower the rank of what Google identified as “thin” or “low-quality” sites. Most often, these included sites focused more on content quantity than content quality. What was especially noteworthy about Panda was that it affected the ranking of an entire website, not just the individual page Google found to be of low quality.

The Penguin update came later and was aimed at decreasing the ranking of sites with unnatural link profiles. This included websites with links from poor quality sites, links that were off-topic or irrelevant, overly keyword-rich links, paid links and other link types that Google deemed “unnatural” or “too perfect.”

Both updates have been very successful in catching sites that are/were purchasing links or scraping quality content and we’ve seen many penalties issued and big brands being thrown right out of Google’s index.

A Lesson Learned… Now What?

So how do you come back? If you were a site that didn’t invest in true content marketing or if you tried to manually inflate your search engine optimization power, how do you make amends and get back into Google’s good graces?

Thankfully, Google can be forgiving, but it needs to see that you’ve cleaned up your act and made a commitment to staying on the straight and narrow before any penalty is removed.

If you were hit by Penguin, your first point of action is to clean up your link profile. The algorithm needs to detect that the links in question have been removed and that your site is clean. If your penalty was manually-detected you may notice site-wide and partial penalties. Check the announcements in Webmaster Tools to see what action was taken and what the reason is for the penalty.

Even after doing a link cleanup and getting the site re-included in the SERPs, you may find your site doesn’t have the same rankings that it used to. There will always be collateral damage, and there will also be trust issues since the authority the site had is now gone. Getting the trust/authority back is the first thing that you need to work on.

Here are a few things that can add value back to your site from both a search engine and user perspective.

Unique Quality Content

Panda reaffirmed that everything starts right here. Your first priority is to make sure all the content on your site is relevant, unique and adds value to the person reading it. When brainstorming content ideas, ask yourself, “Is this something that will be useful to the people who read my site? Will it add value to visitors who may find my site via search?” If the answer is no, get rid of the content. Google has made it that simple.

User Experience

When people see your site for the first time, they’re forming an immediate opinion. And they won’t stick around for long if the site looks outdated or it is hard to navigate. Keeping your site current with industry design standards is key. Keeping your site navigation simple and easy to use is also important. People should not have to (and won’t!) work hard to find what they are looking for. Lay everything out in an easy-to-follow, intuitive way to guide their interaction. All of the main sections of your website should be listed in your main navigation, including your blog. Have social networks easy to spot. Those are signs of transparency and trust, and they provide another place that users can follow you.

Having an easy-to-follow site structure will benefit you when it comes to search. Search engines are always trying to be more human, so if your site’s visitors can find everything on your site with just a few clicks, search engines will as well and all of your pages will be indexed. Always think of the user first and the search engines will follow.

One more thing! Make sure that contact information is easy to find. Consider having all of your team members listed in an easy to find place on the site (have you met our people?). This can add even more trust for users and search engines.

Link Strategy

Link Smart: Who you link to and who links to you is an important part of your content and link strategy. Linking to third-party websites is a great way to add value to your reader, while also creating relationships within your industry. So do it smartly! Don’t just link to the first site you find discussing your topic. Spending a little time finding the proper, yet trusted, site will add the most value when linking to it. Many times that you do link to a site the owner will see that you linked to them and they will mention your post in one of their own, or at the very least they’ll tweet your post for you or share it on one of their social channels. This is a great way to grab authoritative, relevant links and social signals naturally to your site.

Build Smart Links: When it comes to linkbuilding, you want to focus on building links in the proper way and adhering to the Google guidelines. If you don’t, you may find yourself with another penalty. The best way to get links to your site is by creating quality content as we discussed above. Just creating the content is not always enough, though, and that is why a content promotion strategy is extremely important to get quality and trusted backlinks. Using your social channels as well as doing some outreach via email are great ways to point the people to your content that might link to it. This will also help get more social signals going as you share it on various social platforms, and they can become even more powerful signals if people reshare. Google places a lot of weight on social signals, so when they see that a post is getting shared a lot they know that it must be offering value to people, and this is just another way to gain some of trust back that you lost.

While your site won’t immediately have the same power and authority it did before the penalty, coming back gives you the chance to start over and build anew.  And as with most things, rebuilding that relationship starts with reestablishing lost trust.