Help! I Can’t Get Above Page 2!

Google Penalties & Trust Exposed

We get asked the question time and time again “My site is stuck on page 2 no matter what I do, how do I get it ranked page 1?” Now this is a good question, and whether this is a “stealth penalty” or otherwise, in our experience it is down to 4 things ultimately: –

1.    The site is affected by the Google Panda algorithm

2.    The site is affected by the Google Penguin algorithm

3.    The site is affected by one or more of the other Google algorithm’s

4.    Google doesn’t trust your site

So the reason, in most cases why a site won’t get on to page 1 is, because it is being held back by Googles algorithm – and really this is an obvious point.

Google are master coders when it comes to catching you out for breaking their rules. Actually, sometimes, it’s not even your fault, and they simply move the goal posts and your site then becomes a target for the algorithm to strike and then you see a ranking drop.

These are the biggest errors people make with their site, and these errors make up the majority of reasons why sites don’t rank:


1.    The site has a low Panda score

2.    Unnatural Off Page SEO


The phrase ‘penalty’ can be a misnomer. Let’s take a Panda ‘penalty’. The truth is, every site is under a Panda penalty, even and YouTube, Facebook etc. Now who would have thought that? The thing is, we call it a Panda penalty, but in actual fact, the Panda algorithm assesses the site and gives the site a Panda score. The site that fails to tick all the boxes will have a lower score than Wikipedia for example, which will tick all or most of the boxes, and will have a much higher Panda quality score.

What this means is that a site with a higher Panda quality score will rank better (all things being equal) than a site with a lower Panda quality score.

So really, there is no such thing as a Panda penalty, but rather, every site is assessed with a Panda quality score. The key then is to make sure your site doesn’t fall foul of the points which Panda looks at. I am not going to go in to those points here, we cover on-page optimization in detail in the SEO Breakthrough Members’ area, but you can also check with Google Quality guidelines. Basically, on this page, Google is telling you what they deem acceptable and what is not. If you do that which is not acceptable, they will be almost certainly find out, and in many cases, algorithmically. The more you get wrong, the lower Panda Quality score you will have. This will result in rank drop or will prevent your site from ranking.

Now it doesn’t necessarily mean that your site is forever damned by Google, although technically it may be if you have really messed up, but with most sites, it will simply be that your quality score within that aspect of the specific algorithm might be a low quality score.

If your site is struggling to rank, even with good on-page and off-page SEO. You should check these points out and fix anything on your site that does not comply.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is a serious one. In the past, if you used to over optimize your anchor text money phrase (i.e. you have too many money phrase or money phrase related anchor text links), Google would simply penalize you. It would be easy to identify, because where you were ranking on page 1 or 2 for example, you would then find yourself overnight on page 10 or worse for the same phrase.

Nowadays, Google are not being so nice. Instead, they simply hold you back and prevent you from ranking on page 1. We call this a stealth penalty, and this means that Google has spotted that you are building unnatural links to your money site, and they no longer trust your site and they prevent you from ranking.

If this is you, it is a tricky one to fix. You could disavow links using the Google Disavow tool. However, although Google will discount those links, by disavowing, you are giving Google permission to inspect very closely all of your links manually, and you could then find yourself in a manual penalty and be worse off than before. Either way, you will have lost Google’s trust, and once lost, it is hard to get it back.

If your anchor text is over optimized, you should change those anchor text links where you can. Also, you might even consider deleting some of your backlinks or changing them if you have control over them.

Bottom line? You should follow the anchor text guidelines in the latest SEO Breakthrough training because anchor text has changed a lot.

Other Stealth Penalty Triggers

It is not just anchor text that has changed in the Google algorithm. Google is hot on looking for other unnatural signs of forced SEO. This includes:

Unnatural link velocity, where your site gets too many links in a short period of time. Your backlinks outnumber the ratio between website visitors and number of backlinks, and/or your backlinks only point to your main money page. These things don’t happen in the real non SEO world.

The key to remain as safe as possible with SEO is to ask yourself “does this look natural, and would what I am about to do happen on people’s sites that are not carrying out forced SEO?”

Home Page Links are another example…… If you have 50 backlinks that you can see in Google Webmasters Tools or Majestic / Ahrefs etc, and 20 of those are home page links (links on the home page of other sites), what would your answer be to the question “does this look natural?”

I would say it looks very unnatural. The only people that get that many home page backlinks tend to be SEOers using PBN’s and Google is well aware of this, and can detect it. For this reason, and several others, we advocate the use of Super Link Structures that incorporate home page Restored Expired Site (RES) or PBN Mini Site links within the structure, but where the actual number of direct linking home page links are kept to a smaller ratio. The Super Link Structure makes the tier 1 direct link very powerful, meaning you need fewer direct linking links to rank, and your link profiles look far more natural.

Why a Stealth Penalty?

You might well ask, if Google doesn’t trust my site anymore because of anchor text or an unnatural backlink profile, why does it leave me on page 2 and not just deindex my site or drop it to page 10?

We don’t know, but we do suspect that Google is using it as a bit of a test.  Here’s how:

1.    SEO person builds backlinks – Google detects the link profile as possibly unnatural

2.    The link juice and on-page factors would normally rank the site on page 1, for example, but the stealth penalty leaves the site on page 2, for example.

3.    The SEO’er sees his site has moved up from nowhere to page 2 and thinks “I just need a few more links then,” and proceeds to set them up, often in a way that is un natural (too many links too quickly for example). However, a site that is not being artificially SEO’d will acquire additional links much slower (or naturally if you like).

4.    Google can now see if there is an SEO at work or not, and act accordingly.

Put another way then, the stealth penalty is a way for Google to test and see if artificial SEO is being used.

We can never prove it, but we’ve seen symptoms that support this hypothesis.  The trick is to be patient.  Follow the guidance above and wait.  What we have seen is that with patience, Google unshackles the site from Stealth Penalty and the site, released, moves quickly to the top of the rankings.

Sudden Drop in Rank?

Finally, you may have had a site that has dropped suddenly in rank. It could be that your competition has increased its trust and authority, and have displaced you if your drop is not significant. On the other hand, it could mean that Google has updated one of its algorithms or introduced a new one. The best way to determine this is to calculate a specific date where your rankings started to drop. Then, visit the MOZ algorithm update page and see if Google has updated its algorithm or introduced a new one around the date you saw a drop in rank. If you can see a match, then find out what that algorithm looked for and fix the issue on your site.


If you have done all you can to rank and you just can’t get past page 2 or 3, then there is a good chance that Google doesn’t trust your site for some reason and/or your site is under penalty. If your site is in a bad way, you may well have to consider starting your site from scratch and build a replacement – sometimes that’s quicker and easier than resuscitating a bad site.  Otherwise:

  • Step through the training in the SEO Breakthrough members area to ensure your SEO complies with what we teach, on-page and off-page
  • Check your site against the points listed in this post
  • Be patient to allow Google to relax any stealth penalty you might be under

All the best

John Pearce and Chris Cantell


  • Swanie

    Reply Reply June 23, 2017

    Ah, nice, that’s the first time I’ve heard of watching the # of home page links from the external websites versus internal pages from the linking external website sites. Definitely makes sense and yes, can definitely leave an easily detectable footprint if you’re buying links or doing PBNs. Also, I’ve experienced the same thing … a bunch of links are built, the site slams up to the top of page 2 and sits there, and then if you just wait … bam! … it busts up onto the first page with no more effort. Takes a fair amount of patience and confidence in what you’re doing for sure.

  • Zac

    Reply Reply June 22, 2017

    Hi John and Chris.
    Re links to the home page. Most local sites we compete against have (ie ‘newcastle plumber’) If you look in ahrefs, most of the top sites have, at least 70%, of their links are to their home page.

    Do you think it’s different for local?

    Interestingly, what happened around Feb this year.. Must have been an algorithm change, because overnight, all the big directory & quote style sites took all the top serp spots (like truelocal, yellowpages,localsearch etc) and the ‘real’ local businesses were all pushed down. Hope Google changes that, because it doesn’t help the user. Although perhaps it encourages the user to re-search with a more specific long-tail query.

    • Chris

      Reply Reply August 9, 2017

      For local sites Zac, it is different. Also, Google knows this, so the 50% / 50% or 60% / 40% doesn’t apply with trade sites where the home page is really the only linkable page on the site. With local sites that don’t have much content, 70% or even 80% of the links can go to the home page, but if you have posts on the site that are good quality, it will be helpful to link to those pages. Remember, Google sees links as votes of good quality service or content and that’s why they rank a site (among other factors), so it will help to have great content and link to those if you can as well, but if you have a local client that just has a basic simple site, you can get a way with these higher percentages to the home page.

  • Jeff Fisher

    Reply Reply June 21, 2017

    Hi John,
    Wow, amazing article. I am going to turn this into a check list and have my team go through our customers websites to make sure we are not violating the items listed.

    My thought – If you are stuck on page 2 or 3, isn’t the most likely scenario that the page 1 sites are just doing things more correctly than you. It is like the bear in the woods, I just need to run faster than the slowest person.

    Again, I appreciate all you guys do for us!

    • Chris

      Reply Reply June 23, 2017

      Thanks for your kind comments Jeff.

      If everyone is doing total white hat SEO, then those at the top will be doing it better than those below. If however, you are operating forced SEO, like we do, then you need to get it right as detailed in this post. If you are stuck on page 2 or 3 for example, and you have done everything right, it could mean that you need more power, but that is something you would have to assess. If you know you have done things wrong and you are stuck on page 2 or 3, then chances are, you are in what we call a stealth penalty and you have lost Googles trust

  • This is exactly what happened to me. The site got up to p1 but little later got stuck on p2 no matter what. Thanks a bunch John’n’Chris. I’m an original member and feel that you give us extreme value

    • Chris

      Reply Reply June 23, 2017

      Thanks Sakun. We really appreciate you commenting and letting us know

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