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For webmasters and online businesses, organic traffic from search engines is very important because of the quality of the traffic. That’s why every business or webmaster wants to rank higher on Google so they can get more organic traffic and customers. Everyone is trying hard to rank higher.
Some webmasters try to manipulate Google by using spamming SEO techniques. For example, some of them have developed bots (code scripts) that are commenting on other websites automatically without any human involvement. All because they want to rank their sites on Google with the help of these spamming SEO techniques.
On the other side, Google wants to provide more accurate and useful content to its users (who are searching on Google). In 2020, Google found & removed more than 20 billion spam pages per day. So Google continually improves its technology and algorithms to provide more useful and genuine content to users as well as to prevent low-quality and spammy sites from ranking higher on Google.
If spammy sites rank higher then ultimately they will negatively affect Google. Google’s users will stop using it to search for something & move to its competitors like Bing and Yahoo. That’s why fighting spam and providing more quality to its users is the main focus of Google.
“An ideal (perfect) search engine shows only one result.“
But don’t worry, there is no ideal search engine because it is almost impossible to build a perfect search engine that shows only one result for the given query.
Google continually changes its algorithms to provide genuine and correct information to users. These days Google is rolling out more updates than before. According to Google, they have released more than 3500 updates in the last year while in 2012 Google released only 655 updates only.
Now, Google releases an average of 9 updates each day. This is the reason for the fluctuations in your rankings that you may have noticed for your keywords.
In 2022, Google also released various algorithm updates including major ones like Google Core Updates, Google Helpful Content Update, etc.
Google keeps its algorithms and changes confidential. They only announce some updates that are major updates. These Google Algorithm updates also impact the rankings of websites.
What is a Google Penalty?
A Google Penalty is a negative hit to a website’s ranking because of not following the best practices of Webmaster Guidelines.
When a website notices a sudden drop in website rankings then SEOs call it a Google Penalty. This means Google penalized that website for unusual activities.
But in reality, a sudden drop in a website’s traffic and visibility is not a Google penalty (We’ll talk later about it in this guide). A Google penalty could be one of the reasons for that. There could be many reasons for the sudden traffic drop on a website. We need to deep dive to know if the Google penalty has impacted your website’s traffic. (We’ll discuss this later in this guide)
What are the different kinds of Google Penalties?
Mainly there are two types of Google penalties:
- Manual action penalty
- Algorithmic penalty
These penalties can be categorized further according to the nature of the penalty. And they also can be categorized according to the different levels of penalties. Let’s deep dive into these.
Manual Action Penalties
Manual Action is the real penalty that a website receives from Google due to violations of Google webmasters’ guidelines. Google has its own team of experts to analyze SERP results and websites to fight spam. So whenever a Google reviewer (Google employee) finds a site that tries to manipulate Google Search, Google takes manual action against that site and de-rank/de-indexes that website.
Here is a list of manual actions that can be applied by Google;
- User-Generated Spam
- Spammy Free Host
- Structured Data Issue
- Unnatural Links to Your Site
- Unnatural Links from Your Site
- Thin Content Providing Little to No Value
- Cloaking and/or Sneaky Redirects
- Pure Spam
- Cloaked Images
- Hidden Text and or Keyword Stuffing
- AMP Content Mismatch
- Sneaky Mobile Redirects
- Hacked Site
- Google Discover and News Violation
User-generated spam refers to spammy content created by users on a website. If Google detects spam content on a website, it can result in a manual action penalty. To avoid user-generated spam, websites should follow Google’s guidelines.
Free web hosting can also result in a manual action penalty. Using a free web host attracts spammers and scammers and can be easily hacked. That’s why search engines and internet service providers blacklist the website. It is important to choose a reputable web host to ensure that your website is not associated with spammy or malicious content.
Structured Data Issue
Structured data is a code snippet that helps search engines understand a web page better. If the structured data is incorrect, incomplete, or misleading, it can result in a manual action penalty from Google.
Unnatural Links to Your Site
Unnatural links are backlinks to your website created to manipulate search engine rankings. If Google detects unnatural links pointing to a website, it can hit the website with a manual action penalty.
Unnatural Links from Your Site
if your website links to many low-quality or spammy websites then your website is at risk of a Google manual action penalty.
Thin Content Providing Little to No Value:
Content is called thin content if it has little or no value to the user. Google takes thin content very seriously and hits with the Google manual action penalty.
Cloaking and/or Sneaky Redirects:
Cloaking and sneaky redirects mean showing different content to users and search engines. If Google detects cloaking or sneaky redirects on a website, it may result in a Google manual action penalty.
A website or content that is created just to spam users and search engines, is called pure spam. Google hits a website with pure spam manual action penalty if it finds a website doing such spam activities.
Cloaked images are hidden from users or search engines. Google hits the website with cloaked images manual action if it finds cloaked images on a website.
Hidden Text and/or Keyword Stuffing:
Hidden text and keyword stuffing are spamming techniques used to manipulate search engine rankings by hiding text or stuffing keywords into web pages. These techniques are against Google’s guidelines and can be the cause of Google’s Manual action penalty.
AMP Content Mismatch:
AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) is a technology that allows web pages to load quickly on mobile devices. AMP content mismatch happens if the content on the AMP version is different than the non-AMP version. AMP content mismatch can hit you with manual action from Google.
Sneaky Mobile Redirects:
Sneaky mobile redirects are used to redirect users to different content on mobile devices. Google hits the website having sneaky mobile redirects with the manual action penalty.
A hacked website is a website that has been affected by a third party with malicious intent. Google is very serious about user safety and hit hacked websites with manual action and removed them from Google’s index.
Google Discover and News Violation:
Google Discover and News are services that provide personalized news and content recommendations to users. Violations of Google Discover and News guidelines can result in removal from the service or a manual action penalty.
Google Algorithmic Penalties
There are many myths and fears about Google Algorithm penalties. But In reality, Google Algorithm hits are not Google Penalties. Algorithms are a set of rules and calculations to automatically get the desired results (output).
In actuality, popular algorithms like Google Panda or Penguin, are not Google penalties. They are only algorithms that reward websites that meet their standards. That’s why Google doesn’t notify the webmaster for an algorithmic hit.
Here are some popular algorithmic updates that hit sites:
- Piracy/DMCA Takedowns
- Payday Loan
- Top Heavy Layout
- Google Core Update
- Google helpful content update
- Google link spam update
There could be different levels of a penalty that how it affects a website. A Google penalty can affect a single URL or the whole site. Here are the main penalty levels:
- Keyword-level: Keyword-level penalty impacts only a specific or few keywords of a domain and the rest of the site remains unaffected. For example, during the Google medic update, A website saw a massive drop for the Keyword: “Godaddy Promo Code” But the rest of the site was not affected.
- URL-Level or Directory-Level: In that case, the website gets dropped for all ranking keywords for a specific URL.
- Sitewide: This is the case when a Google penalty impacts the whole domain.
- De-Indexing: If Google wants to de-index a website for the violation of guidelines then Google removes that website from the indexing. You’ll get nothing (no result for that domain) even if you search for the domain name or use the site: operator.
How to Know if You’ve Been Hit by a Google Penalty?
If Google doesn’t like your website for any reason, then the result will be the same. You’ll lose your website rankings and traffic.
Your website traffic will drop if you have been hit by a Google penalty. The drop could be sudden or regular and can impact your whole site traffic or some part. Here are some sure-shot situations that can tell you that Google has penalized you:
- Your brand is not ranking well even for your brand name
- Your top ranking keyword/s slipped from top positions to 2nd, 3rd, or lower pages or have been lost.
- The whole site has been indexed and removed suddenly from Google cached search results. You should also check if you’re getting anything while searching site:yourdomain.com.
You have to check your Google Search Console and Google Analytics to know whether Google has penalized your website or not.
If there is a “Manual Action” against your website that has impacted your website then you will get an alert message in Google Search Console.
Follow these steps to check the Google Manual Action penalty:
Step 1: Log in to your Google Search Console account.
Step 2: Go to the Security and Manual Actions tab
Step 3: click on the Manual Actions tab option.
If you are finding “no issues detected” then your website has not been hit with any Manual action penalty. Then chances are that a Google algorithm change has impacted your website.
How to Figure Out A Google Algorithmic Penalty?
There are two things to check while analyzing an algorithmic penalty.
- You need to ensure with your analysis that an algorithmic penalty has impacted your website traffic.
- You have to find the reason for the penalty.
You’ll not get any alert or notification from Google that your website has been penalized by an algorithm penalty. As I told you before being impacted by an algorithm is not a Google penalty. It is just a calculation of various factors. That’s why Google doesn’t update you about algorithm hits.
You need to figure out everything yourself for this. But remember that analyzing an algorithm penalty is complex work. If you don’t have any experience then you can’t get the right answer.
Really A Google Algorithm Has Impacted Your Traffic?
If your website traffic has dropped suddenly then it doesn’t mean that you’ve been penalized. There could be many other reasons for your traffic drop such as:
- Website Migration
- Theme/Design Change
- Technical Issues
- Backlinks Drop
and many others.
So it could be a penalty or any other issue that is impacting your website rankings.
When you notice that your website traffic has dropped, first of all, make a quick search on Google for some of your keywords that got hit or for your important keywords.
If your keywords are at their old positions or change a bit then you don’t need to worry. Because it could be the mistake of your keyword position tracking tool that couldn’t track your keyword. But to ensure that this’s the case, you should check on various devices and browsers including private windows.
Also, check if Google has rolled out a new update (cross-check the time when your traffic dropped). If yes, then probably that Google Algorithm update could be the reason for the dying traffic of your website. Here are some ways to know about the latest Google Update.
- SEMrush Sensor
- Google Search Liaison (Twitter)
- Google Blog
Why Have You Been Penalized?
The short answer is that you are not following the Google Webmaster Guidelines directly or indirectly. If you got a Google Manual Action penalty then it means you are doing something shady.
Once again, as I said before, the real penalty is a Manual Action. Google Algorithm update hit is not a Google penalty.
But if your website rankings are impacted by an algorithmic update then there could be many reasons. Because algorithms are programming scripts that work based on mathematical calculations. If you score higher then you will get the top positions. That’s why there could be many reasons that you saw traffic drop for your website such as:
- Search Intent
- Content Quality
- Website Quality
But the best thing about these algorithms is you can recover your dropped website traffic or boost your rankings if you improve your website for the users. When Google algorithms re-calculate and re-score the sites then you can improve your website score.
How to Recover From a Google Penalty?
Google doesn’t penalize a site for a single bad backlink or a duplicate/thin content page. It penalizes a website when a website tries to manipulate Google search by using black-hat spamming techniques to rank higher in a short time.
Google uses some complex ranking factors like backlinks and some easier ones like keywords in title tags. But spammers always find new ways to manipulate Google. They buy links, repeat keywords many times, etc. Google finds and penalizes them.
Some years ago, Google experimented to stop counting backlinks as a ranking factor. However, it diluted the quality of SERP results. When Google unweighted the backlink factor, most of the SERP results were spam, low-quality sites that just want to rank higher on Google and don’t care about the user and the value. So Google re-added the backlinks as a ranking factor.
But now, Google is smarter than before and uses the latest technology like AI (artificial intelligence) that can understand things like the human brain. Google RankBrain and Google BERT are examples of AI technology that Google uses.
Now Google determines the EEAT; Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trust before ranking a site along with many other factors. Also, Google has its own team of humans along with robots that regularly examine SERP results and review sites manually.
Google always advises webmasters that they should care about their users and not about ranking factors. These days, Google is releasing more broad core Updates than other targeted updates. This means Google is improving itself more than hitting sites.
So you can’t remove a penalty & recover your website traffic just by disavowing a few backlinks. But if you want a permanent solution to the penalty that will not only remove Google’s Penalty but boost your website growth then you need to analyze your website.
You need to perform a deep-detailed audit of your website to find issues that are impacting your website. I have divided this SEO Audit into four parts.
* It requires expertise and experience to perform a successful & professional SEO audit of a website. So, you can hire a professional SEO company that can help you.
* First of all, Create a list of all the issues.
* Don’t make too many changes at once. After fixing an issue, give it a few days to see what happens. Many changes at once can increase your trouble and efforts.
* Note down everything. You need to keep a record of everything like:
– What changes have you made? (For example, improved website speed)
– When have you made the changes to your site? (22 July 2024, updated the [URL] post)
– Where have you made changes? (mention if there is a specific URL)
– And anything else that you need to note down.
* Always start with small changes. You should start with small changes first that you can easily solve.
The website’s loading time is a ranking factor on Google. But it is not a major factor. and there is almost no or very rare chance that Google can penalize your website because of the higher load time.
But there is another thing, an un-optimized website can have difficulties ranking higher and the competition can beat it easily. That’s why I’ve mentioned it here.
I have seen many times that optimizing a website properly can boost the rankings without much effort. Some of our clients’ websites got a huge regular boost in rankings due to it.
unfortunately, many SEOs don’t know how to optimize a webpage/ website; Either they don’t optimize properly or do overly. Because they blindly follow the checklists like; Add the keyword X times here and Y times there.
And They forgot the bigger picture.
You should ensure that your website’s sitemap is live, working properly, and up to date without any issues.
AMP pages are accelerated pages designed for mobile devices. AMP pages load much faster than a normal web page. But AMP pages could be the reason for a Google Penalty.
If your website pages have some serious issues then your website can be penalized. Here are some main reasons:
- Partial Teaser Content on AMP Pages
- Mismatched Content
- Un-specified Canonical Links
- Too Many Ads on AMP Pages
Un-optimized or uncleanly coded website themes can reward you with a Google Penalty. Some webmasters don’t care to select the right themes, templates, and plugins for their websites. Sometimes these products have malicious code scripts that can hack your website and offer you a Google Penalty.
If your website theme has some major coding-related issues then it could impact your website visibility too.
Structured Data Issues
Implementing structured data can help you to grow your website rankings. However implementing wrong-structured data could cause a Google Manual Action penalty and you can lose your website traffic due to the issue.
Here are some structured data mistakes that can penalize you:
- Using a wrong, inappropriate structured data type.
- It doesn’t match the page content.
- It is not following Google’s Guidelines for a specific data type.
- Not following Google’s general guidelines for structured data.
- Using structured data with manipulative behavior, to manipulate Google search.
If your website has any of the above-mentioned or other issues related to Structured data then you must fix them. You can find Structured data issues in your Google Search Console. Or can check on a structured Data Testing Tool.
Issues related to content have a huge impact on website rankings. That’s why you need to analyze your content very carefully. Here are some main issues related to content.
Intent is one of the biggest factors to rank higher on Google and for a longer period. If your content is not satisfying the intent then you will not rank on Google. If you do rank too, then it will be for a short time or temporary.
There is no penalty for the wrong intent, but when Google chooses other pages having the right intent then you’ll definitely drop. It could look to you as a penalty drop.
The simple meaning of intent is “Intention” or “Purpose.”
In SEO, intent means the intention of content and the searched phrase by a user. How much they are relevant and same to each other, the more they have the same intent the higher you will rank.
You need to understand the intent of a keyword before targeting it. If a user is looking for a solution to a problem, but you are providing something else then it means you haven’t understood the search intent of that keyword and that is what the user wants to get by searching that phrase on Google.
Let me give you an example of it.
If someone searches for “Best Sedan Budget-Friendly Sedan Cars” but you are talking about “How to drive a Sedan Car?” then it means you didn’t understand the purpose of the user to search that keyword.
The user wants to buy a sedan car and is looking for suggestions. But you are teaching how to drive a car. You need to create a list of Sedan Cars that are budget-friendly and could be useful for the searcher. Then you will satisfy the intent.
You need to ensure that your content is original and provides unique value to the users.
Your content should provide unique value to your users. You should know why your content is better than others, so users will read that.
As if you are writing the same thing as others then why do they read your content to read the same stuff again? You should have something unique and valuable to share with your audience. It could be anything like your mistake, a case study, research, and experience.
Your content must be infortaining (Informative + Entertaining). A rich piece of content has two qualities:
- It solves the problem or shares something.
- engage the audience as well.
So ensure that your content has these qualities.
Ensure that your website doesn’t have thin content. Thin content can penalize your website and also can be removed from Google indexing.
But to remove that issue you need to know what is thin content.
You will have found many SEOs and gurus to say that you should write longer content. According to them if your webpage has little content then that is thin content that could harm you.
But in reality, word count has no relation with thin content. Thin content is content that does not offer any value to your audience. Even if there are no words on a page, it could still be a high-quality page. Or a 10,000-word content could be the thin content.
There are no specific rules that describe a page having thin content. Thin content depends on the intent of the page. Is your content valuable? Does it provide any value? If not, then it will be thin content.
On my own blogs and sites, many pages have little content but they are still ranking higher even during the Google updates (including major updates like Google Medic Update or recently rolled Google core updates) because those pages fulfill the intent.
Not agreeing yet?
Let’s take the example of Google. You can check on Google.com how much content they have on the Google.com page. Nothing!
Google just put a search box there so you can find something by searching there. There is no other content. Google understands the intent of that page and what users want to do by visiting Google.com so they provide that.
Keyword-stuffed content can penalize but can’t help. You should write your content naturally. Don’t much focus on repeating and adding keywords to your content forcefully.
Forget what your SEO gurus have taught you about how to add keywords in your content because Google will penalize your website, not your gurus.
Repeating a keyword, again and again, can boost your rankings for a few days but then you will drop and can’t rank until you don’t solve the issues.
All content-related activities with the intention of manipulating Google searches are called spammed content. Here are some of them;
- Scraped content
- Hidden Content
- Spun content
- Hacked content
Ensure that your website doesn’t have any kind of spam content. There should only be well-written high-quality content.
There are various penalties related to links. Link penalties are one of the major reasons for Google Manual Action penalties. Links are a major ranking factor in Google Search. However, it is hard for webmasters to earn high-quality links. Also, there are many shady techniques to build links that can give you a Google penalty at the end rather than higher rankings.
For low-quality links, Google can penalize you in both ways; with a Manual Action Penalty or an Algorithmic hit like Google Penguin. Here are some major shady link-building techniques;
Link-building with the intention to manipulate Google by getting too many links in the short term with shady techniques. This includes getting too many links in the short term, getting links from adult sites, directories, link-injecting, PBNs, site-wide links, and many others.
Google penalizes sites that are buying links. If you are buying links, or getting links in exchange for links or other goods then you need to stop it.
Rich Anchor Texts
Anchor texts also impact the rankings of a site. Google uses anchor text as a signal to know more about the linked page. However, SEOs try to manipulate Google rankings by using keyword-rich anchor texts.
Google takes it seriously and penalizes sites that have over-optimized anchor texts. In my analysis of recent Google Core Updates, I found that the sites with more branded anchor texts are ranking better than those that have a higher percentage of keyword-rich anchor texts.
You should also take care of anchor texts on your websites. Branded anchor texts are safer and one of the best ways. But I recommend you shouldn’t care much about the anchor texts. Use natural terms or a mix-up of each type of anchor text.
Each link from high-quality sites with high metrics like DA-PA, and DR-UR, can’t help you to rank higher on Google. If you’re just focusing on acquiring more links as many links as you can then you are inviting Google to penalize you.
Yes, you need backlinks from high-quality sites but from relevant sites rather than any site. A backlink from a high-quality adult site could be good for an adult site/blog. But it is not the right link to acquire if you don’t have an adult niche-related site or blog.
If you are running a website in the health niche then you need to acquire links from your relevant sites that have the same or related stuff to your website niche.
Ensure that there are no broken links on your website. It could be Internal 404 pages or externally linked pages that are no longer active now. If you find any broken 404 links on your site then remove or replace them with fresh and genuine links.
Too Many Ads
Using an ad network like Google Adsense to make money from your website or blog, can put you in trouble if you’re placing more ads than content.
Google and users don’t like to see too many ads on a page. If you have more ads than the content on your site pages then definitely, you need to reduce the number of ads on your site. Google can penalize you for placing too many ads on your site without having enough content.
Also, using more ads on your site increases the website load time, which is also not good for SEO.
To solve this issue you need to find the right places on your website to place ads, so you can optimize your earnings.
Pop-ups can be frustrating for your users to browse your website. While they might help you drop your offers or get them to sign up for your email list, they can interrupt their browsing experience. Hence, you should ensure that you keep pop-ups to a minimum.
Ideally, you shouldn’t use more than 1 pop-up for your website and if you can do it by avoiding that as well, it’d be the best-case scenario. Too many pop-ups may lead the user to leave your website.
Yet another horrible tactic that can spoil user experience is click-baiting. In this, you add an interesting link but when the users click on it, they reach something totally different.
Thus, the user’s intent isn’t satisfied. You’ve brought them to a page where they won’t find anything useful. As a result, they may bounce away from your website and this can negatively affect your SEO.
Your website also needs to be mobile-friendly to improve the user experience. If you use the desktop version of your website on mobile, it may make it difficult for your users to browse through it.
That’s why you should try hard to develop a powerful website that’s mobile-friendly and ensure that it opens quickly and helps your users browse through mobile with ease.
What Is the Difference Between Google Penalty and Filter?
A Google Penalty is the Manual Action when Google reviews your site and penalizes your site for webmaster guidelines violations. But when your website is impacted by a Google algorithm or partial algorithm, is called a Filter.
Can Negative SEO Attacks Lead to Manual Actions?
It could be but could not be.
Most of the time, Google finds and figures out the negative SEO attacks. There are rare chances that Negative SEO leads to Manual action penalties.
Are Google Penalties For Lifetime?
No, Google will lift the penalty once you solve the issues that lead to a Google penalty and request for reconsideration.
Can A Website get a manual action penalty without any Notification
No, You will get a notification in your GSC for the Google Manual Action. There are very rare cases when a site looks unable to rank without any issues. It seems the issue is from the Google side.
How Much Time It will take to Recover from a Penalty
It depends upon the complexity of the penalty, the size of the website, and other factors. But on average, it takes three to six months to lift the Manual action penalty.
Is a Google Penalty Impact the Website Performance in the future after removal?
It depends on how clean is your domain profile. Normally, there is no effect of the Google penalty on your domain performance. But it also depends on the SEO company that you hired to lift a penalty.
But if your domain profile is not clean then it could affect your website performance in the future too. In that case, using a new domain is the best option.
Is Google Penalty the Black-listing of My Domain?
No, Google doesn’t black-list any domain. So don’t worry about that.
If a site tries to manipulate Google Search then Google will definitely penalize that site. But you can be safe from all the Google penalties by preferring your users over search engines and following Google webmaster guidelines.
Try to build a brand for your business. and keep your website clean and user-friendly. Also, I recommend you perform a professional SEO audit for your website after every six months.
But if your website rankings have dropped during the recent Google Updates or decreasing continuously then you should contact an expert SEO company that can help you to figure out and solve the issues and boost your website traffic. Because there could be many reasons for traffic drops an expert SEO company like LoudGrowth can help you to recover and boost your website traffic.