In the latest Google Webmaster Help video, Matt Cutts attempted to answer the question: “How can you tell if your site is suffering from an algorithmic penalty, or you are simply being outgunned by better content?”
Cutts has some bad news and good news for webmasters who may be asking themselves this question. The bad news is that it’s “tough” to determine if your website’s been hit by a specific algorithm. Cutts says, “It’s kind of tricky because we have a large amount of algorithms that all interact, and whether you’d call something a penalty, or ranking change…or, you know, any of those things can be really hard to draw a fine distinction between those different points.”
It may simple enough to see how a major, announced update that has a “jolting” effect on rankings could have affected your website, but with some algorithms (like Panda) fully integrated into indexing and undergoing unannounced rolling updates, things get a little trickier.
The good news is that since ranking is still algorithmic, Google can recrawl, rescore, and re-rank your website based on any changes and improvements you implement.
What Can You Do When Your Rankings are Going Down?
In the first part of Cutts’ video, he talks about manual penalties and the importance of checking Google Webmaster Tools (GWT). When the manual webspam team penalizes your website, you will be notified, and the specific reason for the penalty will be listed in GWT. This makes identifying and fixing the problem a simple, straightforward process.
Even without a manual penalty, Cutts says it’s still important to check GWT. Checking GWT for such errors allows you to find possible problems with your website that could be affecting your rankings, such as crawl errors.