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 that they can get more organic traffic and customers. Everyone is doing this to rank higher.

Some webmasters try to manipulate Google by using spamming 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 techniques.

On the other side, Google wants to provide more accurate and useful content to its users (who are searching on Google). So Google continually improves its technology and the 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 with 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 a 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 3200 updates in the last year only 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 this year (2020), Google also has released various algorithm updates including major ones like Google January Core Update, Google 4th May Core Updates, etc.

Google keeps its algorithms and changes confidential. They only announce some updates that are major-big updates. These Google Algorithm updates also impact the rankings of websites.

What is a Google Penalty?

A Google Penalty is the 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. Google penalty could be one of the reasons for that. There could be many reasons for the sudden traffic drop on a website. And we need to deep dive to know if Google penalty impacted your website’s traffic. (We’ll discuss later in this guide)

What are the different kinds of Google Penalties?

Mainly there are two types of 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 received from Google due to the violations of Google webmasters guidelines. Google has its own team of experts to analyze SERP results and websites to fight with spam. So whenever Google reviewer (Google employee) finds a site that tries to manipulate Google Search, Google takes a manual action against that site and de-rank/de-index that website.

  • 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 Algorithmic Penalties

There are many myths and fears about Google Algorithm penalties. But In reality, Google Algorithm hits are not Google Penalties. Actually algorithms are the set of rules and calculations to automatically get the desired results (output).

In actual, popular algorithms like Google Panda or Penguin, are not Google penalties. They are only algorithms that reward website that meet their standards. That’s why Google don’t notify the webmaster for an algorithmic hit.

Here are the some popular algorithmic updates that hit sites:

  • Panda
  • Penguin
  • Piracy/DMCA Takedowns
  • Pigeon
  • Hummingbird
  • Payday Loan
  • Top Heavy Layout

Penalty-Levels

There could be different level of an 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. 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 drop 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 which 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 that 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 Google Manual Action penalty:

Login to your Google Search Console account.

Google Manual Action Notification GSC

Then go to the Security and Manual Action tab and 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.

  1. You need to ensure with your analysis that an algorithmic penalty has impacted your website traffic.
  2. 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 that 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 a 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
  • Competitors

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 it’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.

  • SearchEngineLand.com
  • SERoundtable.com
  • SEMrush Sensor
  • Google Search Liaison
  • Google Blog
  • Our Facebook Group
  • Sistrix

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 told you 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 on the basis of mathematical calculations. If you score higher then you will get the top positions. So that’s why there could be many reasons that you saw traffic drop for your website such as:

  • Search Intent
  • Content Quality
  • Website Quality
  • Competitors

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 for 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 difficult 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 did an experiment to stop counting backlinks as a ranking factor. But it diluted the quality of SERP results. 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 when Google unweighted the backlink factor. So Google re-added the backlinks as a ranking factor.

But now, Google is smarter than before. It is using the latest technology like AI (artificial intelligence) that can understand things like the human brain. Google RankBrain, Google BERT are examples of AI technology that Google uses.

Now Google determines the EAT; 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 examines 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 of the penalty that will not only remove Google 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 in four parts.

Important Notes:
It requires expertise and experience to perform a successful and 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 2020)
 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.

Technical

Website Speed

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 to rank higher. And the competition can beat you. That’s why I’ve mentioned it here.

I saw 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.

Sitemap Issues

You should ensure that your website’s sitemap is live, working properly, up to date without any issues.

AMP 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

Broken Code

Un-optimized or uncleanly coded website themes can reward you with a Google Penalty. This is because some webmasters don’t care to select right themes, templates, plugins for their websites. Sometimes they have malicious code scripts that can hack your website and can offer you a Google Penalty.

If your website theme has some major coding related issues then it could also impact your website visibility too.

Structured Data Issues

Implementing structured data can help you to grow your website rankings. But implementing wrong structured data could be the cause of a Google Manual Action penalty and you can lose your website traffic due to the issue.

Here are the some structured data mistakes that can penalize you:

  • Using a wrong, inappropriate structured data type.
  • It doesn’t match with 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 structured Data Testing Tool.

Content

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

The 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 your content and the searched phrase by a user. How much they are relevant and the 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 solve their 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 in 2020” 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.

Duplicate

You need to ensure that your content is unique and that it is providing unique value to the users.

Your content needs to be original.

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.
  • To engage the audience as well.

So ensure that your content has these qualities.

Thin Content

Ensure that your website doesn’t have thin content. Thin content can penalize your website and also can remove from Google indexing.

But to remove that issue you need to know what is thin content actually. 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 is not offering 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 words 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 and even during the Google updates (including major updates like Google Medic Update or recently rolled Google May 2020 Update) because those pages have different intent. Users visit them for a specific purpose and I’m offering that there.

Not agreeing yet?

Let’s take the example of Google. You can check on Google.com how much content they have on Google.com page. Nothing!

Google com

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 Stuffing

Keyword stuffed content can penalize you but can’t help you. You should write your content naturally. Don’t think about repeating and adding keywords in 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.

Spam Content

All the content related activities with the intentions to manipulate Google search, are called spammed content. Here are the 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.

Links

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. But it is hard for the 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 the some major shady link building techniques;

Spam links

Link-building with the intentions to manipulate Google by getting too-many links in short term with shady techniques. These include getting too-many links in short-term, getting links from adult sites, directories, link-injecting, PBNs, site-wide links, and many others.

Paid Links

Google penalizes sites that are buying links with manual action penalties. If you are buying links, or getting links in exchange of 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. But SEOs try to manipulate Google rankings by using keyword-rich anchor texts.

Google knows that and that’s why it takes it seriously and penalizes sites that have over-optimized anchor texts. In my analysis of Google 3 June Update, I found that the sites with more branded anchor texts are ranking well than those that have 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.

Non-relevant links

Each link from high-quality sites with high metrics like DA-PA, DR-UR, can’t help you to rank higher on Google. If you’re just focusing on acquiring more links as much 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.

Broken Links

Ensure that there are no broken links on your website. It could be Internal 404 pages or external 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.

UI/UX

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, increase 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

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 by avoiding that as well, it’d be the best case scenario. Too many pop ups may lead the user to leave your website.

Click Baiting

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.

Mobile-Friendly:

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.

FAQs

What Is the Difference Between Google Penalty and Filter?

A Google Penalty is the Manual Action when Google review your site and penalize your site for webmaster guidelines violations. But when your website impacted by an Google algorithm or partial algorithm, is called Filter.

Can Negative SEO Attacks Leads to Manual Actions?

It could be but but could not be.
Most of time Google finds and figure 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 Google penalty and request for the reconsideration.

Can A Website get a manual action penalty without any Notification

No, You will get 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 from Google side.

How Much Time It will take to Recover from a Penalty

It depends upon the complexity of the penalty, size of the website and other factors. But an average, it takes three to six months to lift Manual action penalty.

Is a Google Penalty Impacts the Website Performance in future after removal?

It depends on how clean is your domain profile. Normally, there is no affect of Google penalty on your domain performance. But it also depends on the SEO company that you hired for 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.

Final Words

If a site will try 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 to 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 and an expert SEO company like LoudGrowth can help you to recover and boost your website traffic.

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