Working on Google Webmaster Help Forums I occasionally come across reports of tools which claim to be Google penalty checkers. Usually it’s either stand alone software or web based tools, promising to show webmasters and site owners whether their sites have been tackled by Google due to potential Webmaster Guidelines violations. Some of these tools are free, other require you to pay a fee or to make a donation. Seeing people of good intentions fall for these scams upsets me. Unfortunately I have seen webmasters taking on whatever advice they’ve got as a result of using such tools, applying it to their sites and in most cases implementing essentially useless updates at best and harmful updates at worst.
Let’s be clear on one point: The only way to check if your quality site has been in violation with Google Webmaster Guidelines and — in consequence — has been tackled by the web spam team is to check the message center of your Google Webmaster Tools. Given your site is one that provides compelling information and/or useful tools to your users, chances are good that you will be notified if certain spam signals are discovered. For example, you perform a CSS update which goes wrong and accidentally hides significant amounts of your content off screen canvas. If your website is a quality site (I have to stress that!) you are likely to receive a temporary removal warning typically including both an example URL and a snippet of content hidden from users’ view. The message is also likely to include instructions on how to successfully apply for reconsideration as well as further information resources on the topic. This is just one of the many example warnings in the Google Webmaster Tools to address a variety of spam or security issues aimed at helping webmasters.
That said, there are also great tools on the World Wide Web (not from Google) that can potentially help you analyze your websites and improve the design, functionality and crawlability. Using some of these great tools can help building a loyal community around your site. However that is a topic for a different post. Just remember that when it comes to checking for potential penalties that none of the available third party tools can actually access Google’s internal resources. So none of the third party tools are capable of providing you with the real insight and accurate information that Google Webmaster Tools can provide in this regard.