How to Identify and Fix a Google Penalty
The competition for higher ranking on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) can persuade many website owners to engage in unacceptable behaviour like buying links and other spammy practices. Google is fully aware of the things people do in an attempt to gain advantage and so if they do not catch you immediately, they will get you sooner than later.
Some of these techniques are deliberately used in an attempt to game the system and get an advantage. For instance, some people create a news website and use that to get links for their websites. All of these practices worked before. Today, the search engines especially Google have become smarter and it will only be a matter of time for them to catch you. So if you engage in spammy and sharp practices to get some advantage over competitors in ranking, better retrace because a penalty is on the way.
But being penalized is not the end of the road. There is an opportunity to fix the problem and build the quality of your website. When you follow the Google guidelines in quality building, Google will reward you with better ranks and you will not lose the rankings.
If you have experienced a drop in your website rank, there are basic checks you will need to conduct. Basically, search rankings could drop in the following situations:
– your primary keyword’s search volume has reduced;
– Some of your backlinks have been removed;
– Google has launched another update.
– You have redesigned your website.
If none of these issues are at play here and your website ranking drops suddenly, then it’s plausible to speculate that Google has penalized your site. But you must be sure that it is a penalty before you act.
In this post, you will identify a Google penalty on your domain and why you had the penalty. Understanding why the penalty occurred will help you to fix the problems.
What is a Google Penalty?
A Google penalty could be said to have occurred when you observe that your website has either been partially or entirely removed from the Google index. A Google penalty could be algorithmic or manual. When your website is penalized automatically, it is algorithmic. On the other hand, there could also be a manual penalty in which case, a staff of Google has detected a spam action and manually penalized your website.
When a manual penalty occurs, you will certainly get a notification in your Google Search Console account. It is important to have a Search Console account.
A website is penalized automatically by Google’s webspam filtering algorithms like Penguin.
When a Google Penalty occurs, you will experience a drop in your website rankings and it will most likely affect the entire site. Sometimes, it can affect just some pages on the website if they are found to be manipulative or have some other issues lie not being mobile friendly. The same happens with spammy keywords as well. A site’s falling rankings affect its online visibility and thereby the credibility and conversions.
How to Identify a Google Penalty
There are a few checks that can help you identify a Google penalty. We discuss the majors and most effective ways:
Google Search Console(GSC)
The easiest way to identify a Google Penalty is with the help of Google Search Console. You need to sign into your GSC account, click on ‘Manual Actions’ from the side bar.
Google will either display a message stating “No Issues Detected” indicating that your website is safe from any algorithmic or manual penalty or it will show the type of penalty applied along with proper instructions as to how you can get rid of the applied penalty.
Another way to find out about the penalty is through Google Analytics. You need to note down the date when your organic traffic deteriorated and check whether any Google update, like Penguin or Panda, was launched around that date or not. If you find that an update has occurred, then your site was affected by the update. You will then need to dissect the nature of the update to ensure that your website complies with the update.
Just to alert you, most Google major updates are not sudden. So when Google announces an upcoming update, you need to check and ensure that your website is complying because failure to do so will come with a penalty.
Search for your brand on Google
You can also determine a penalty by performing a search for your domain name on Google and checking whether your site ranks in the first page for that query or not.
For example, if your domain name is “example.com” and your site is not ranking in the top 10 results for the query “example” then you can sniff a penalty.
Apart from this, you can enter the title tag text of your site and see if it ranks (You can also use double quotes for exact matching of title tag text if the text is composed of common words only). And if you are still not able to detect your domain, then it is likely that your site has been penalized.
11 Manual Actions’ Most Reported in GSC
1. User-generated spam
A lot of websites generate spam content through comments. When you see this message, it means Google has detected user-generated spam on your site. This can hurt the ranking of a particular page or pages and can also affect your entire website.
This happens because some or most of the pages on your site have spam comments from visitors. Google notifies you on GSC when this happens. Other user-generated spam includes spammy accounts on web hosts, spammy posts on forums threads, etc.
Check the pages on your site with low-quality content. You might have allowed users free registration and free posting of content through forum profile, blogs or forum posts; this has generated a lot of user spam. Identify such pages, remove the spam accounts, comments, or posts, or whole pages (based on your discretion).
2. Spammy free host
Spammy free host suggests that a there is a huge content on your free hosting service or account that is spammy. Google hates free hosting and has warned against it. Your entire site can get affected by this action.
You will need to check the spammy content on your website and get them removed. You can set comments to undergo a review and be approved by an admin so that spammy content is not automatically posted to your website.
3. Structured Data Issue
This penalty comes with attempts to use the rich snippet markup on your pages to manipulate Google. This penalty is directly connected to failure to follow the official structured data guidelines.
Structured data issues can surface in two situations:
1. When your rich snippets have irrelevant or misleading content.
2. The marked up content is hidden from the users.
Follow the snippet guidelines mentioned by Google and implement changes as suggested by Google.
4. Use Disavow Tool – Unnatural links/ Bad Links to your site
This penalty suggests that Google has detected a pattern of artificial, unnatural, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site. This penalty can affect your entire site and can cause a major drop in the ranking of your pages.
Links are a major ranking factor and one major quality link can do a lot for your site. Google is interested in quality links and will penalize your website if you buy links or engage in practices that try to manipulate its system.
As much as you can, remove the toxic links. Then you have to stop purchasing links immediately and follow Google’s guidelines on link building. The best way to build links is to generate quality content that people love and will want to link to. It is more rewarding to build quality content and get natural and related links than buying links to get undue advantage.
5. Unnatural links from your site
This happens when you link to spammy sites. Just as Google hates unnatural links from other websites directed to your website, so it hates a website that links to spammy sites. So when writing content, it is important to be sure of the quality of websites you link to.
If you promote poor quality websites, Google also punishes you.
Links that fall under this are link exchanges, site-wide links, footer links, author bio links, resource pages links, link exchange pages links, paid editorial links, optimized paid anchor text links, etc.
Scan your site to identify any links that violate the Google webmaster tool’s linking guidelines, such as excessive link exchanges or paid links and remove them immediately.
You can also consider adding a rel=”nofollow” attribute to them so that they no longer pass PageRank. You can also use robots.txt to disallow crawling of URL/URL’s containing the links.
6. Thin content with little or no added value
Thin content simply means low quality content with little value. Content that does not deal with the subject matter in detail all fall under low quality content.
For example,, if you provide the solution to how to remove the Powered by WordPress link from your site, that can be addressed in one paragraph. But doing that will mean building thin content. Google requires you to look at sub categories lie
- What is powered by WordPress
- Why the link appears on your site
- Benefits of removing the powered by WordPress link
- How to remove the powered by WordPress link
- Does removing the powered by WordPress link affect SEO
Providing answers in this format gives the reader some more detailed understanding on the implications of the action and will help them decide on whether to remove the link or not to. Google likes detailed content that educates the reader and helps them make better decisions.
7. Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects
Website cloaking occurs when the website displays a different content of the same page to search engines and users. The intention is usually to take advantage of the search engines, smart blackhat SEO will hide content from humans but that content will be visible to search engines. They will usually do this by loading keywords in white text so human users do not see them buy the search engines do. Sometimes, they will redirect users to a separate page than what Google has indexed. Cloaking is a Black Hat SEO technique and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Similar to content cloaking, cloaking can also be applied to images. This manual action occurs when Google detects that some or most of the images on your site are displayed differently in the SERPs than what users see when they visit your site.
We can say the right thing is to undo the trick. If you were not responsible, then identify the affected areas on your site and use any Google test tool like the GSC URL Inspection Tool or any redirect test tool to compare the pages as seen by you and as seen by Google. Remember, Google must see the exact page/content as seen by an average user.
8. Pure spam
This tells you that Google has detected the presence of automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content on your websites. This will likely cause a delisting of your website or a big drop in rankings. Google counts auto-generated content, scraped content and cloaking under aggressive spam techniques which are not acceptable practices.
Conduct a content quality audit and endeavour to build unique quality content in line with Google webmaster guidelines.
9. Hidden text and/or keyword stuffing
This is related to cloaking discussed above but more specifically, relates to an unfair use of keywords. It means that a significant amount of your pages contain hidden text or are stuffed with keywords. Usually, webmasters will stuff the page with keywords by hiding the keyword in white color so that users do not see them but the search engines do.
We suggest you rewrite the content for the affected page. Highlight the entire page and copy it to notepad so the content can all be visible and completely rewrite the page to match its real intent and match the expected quality standards.
10. AMP Content Mismatch
This Google Manual Action means that the content of the AMP version is different from its canonical web page.
You will get this notification when the content of certain pages in your website AMP versions is different from their canonical web page. Google states that the ‘content need not be identical, but the topic should be the same, and users should be able to accomplish the same tasks on both the AMP and the canonical page.’
11. Sneaky Mobile Redirects
This occurs when some pages on your site mobile version redirect to pages that are not available to the search engine crawlers. This violates the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Generally, such pages are created by site owners intentionally. However, Google has stated that sometimes this happens due to three other reasons:
- Adding code that creates redirection rules for mobile users.
- Using a script or element to display ads and monetize content that redirect mobile users.
- A script or element added by hackers that redirects your mobile users to malicious sites.
If you have done the redirect intentionally, then you need to fix them immediately. However, if the redirects were unintentional, then you need to make sure that your site isn’t hacked. You can check this by accessing the Security Issues Report in Google Search Console (under Manual Actions).
If the report states that your site wasn’t hacked, you need to start auditing the third party scripts or elements on your site one after the other and fix all such issues.
The best way to work with Google is to build content for quality and to impress human users. Quality is the key to ranking high in Google. Desperate techniques to rank high can create problems and are not advisable. If anything happens in the course of your normal content development, it will be easy to detect and fix because it will likely be unintentional.