Google penalty

What is a Google Penalty and How to Recover From One?

One of the best-known facts about SEO is that if your website is on the second page of Google for a particular keyword, you won’t get much organic traffic. That’s because over 90% of organic search traffic goes to the first few search results after the advertisements. 

Unfortunately, staying on the first page of Google is sometimes as hard as getting there in the first place. Not only must we create good content, but we must avoid getting a Google penalty.

What’s a Google penalty?

Technically, these penalties are called “manual actions” by Google. This means that a human content reviewer has looked at your website and found some violations of Google’s Terms of Service or content standards. For that reason, Google has removed your page from its ranking or dramatically reduced your search engine position.

If you receive a manual action, Google sends you a notification in your developer account, and you can review the reasons in the Search Console. They will also send you a letter outlining the rules which you have broken. 

What are the different Google penalty types?

As stated above, you will get a manual action or Google penalty if human reviewers find that there is a problem with your content. This can include both the message and how it’s written and also technical SEO elements. Fortunately, most problem content and websites get penalized at the web crawler or indexing stage. This means that many of the most obvious errors are caught before humans identify them manually.

This graphic reflects how Google weeds out bad content and terms of service violations:

Google penalty
Image Source: Google Search Central

Each blue band represents a “filter” in the process.

The balance of adverse actions by Google is what they call algorithmic actions. In other words, they are what happens before a human reviewer ever looks at your website. 

Reasons why you might get a manual action from Google

While there are many ways to get a Google penalty, some are more common than others. In addition, we can divide the reasons behind a manual action into categories. Let’s take a quick look at why you may get a Google penalty.

Bad links

One of the easiest ways to get a Google penalty is with bad links. There are a few different types of links that fall under this category. They include ordinary broken links, malicious links, and poor-quality links, which are used to try and game the system or prickly algorithm into giving you a better rank. We have an entire blog post about how to identify and combat these Google penalty sources.

Black hat SEO techniques

Briefly, black hat SEO tries to get an unfair advantage over the algorithm. While many of these are automatically penalized by Google’s software, other techniques require human input for discovery. 

Black hat techniques that frequently generate a Google penalty include:

  • Cloaking, which tries to mislead Google about the contents of the website. For instance, you might have one set of text written in visible font, with another set of text added in the background color. Humans can’t see that second set of text, but Google can.
  • Spam that wasn’t picked up originally by the algorithm. This can be user-generated content added to your website, the result of hacking, or other inappropriate content. 
  • Mobile web violations. These include showing mobile users a completely different and often irrelevant page, not minor changes between page types to accommodate smaller screens.
  • Policy violations. Sometimes site owners will try and get away with violating Google’s rules, such as attempting to get adult content on the Discover page.

Structural site issues. 

Sometimes, your website needs maintenance. For instance, your webpage might have trouble loading, or you might be using a hosting service with lots of spam websites. Similarly, you might have a widget or other tool that’s accidentally generating Google penalty red flags.

How to recover from Google penalty

Strictly speaking, the only way to recover from a Google penalty is by fixing the problem. And Any time that Google issues a manual action, they will tell you what the problem is. For link-related problems, try using a broken link checker. You can also leverage your SEO software to find spam links and other junk that needs to be cleared out.

Similarly, if your site uses cloaking or other black-hat techniques, you’ll need to root them out. This means presenting the same basic material on both versions of your website, and having the same content available to people and machines. Typically, a content audit will help you find those trouble spots.

Finally, structural site issues are often easy to find from your website’s backend. Your IT department or website developer can quickly find and eradicate these issues.

File for a reconsideration

Once you’ve fixed the problems that Google mentions in its notice of action, you’ll need to file for a reconsideration. You’ll find the link for this in your Search Console account. As you fill out the form, be certain to mention what changes you have made and why. Then, click submit. It may take several weeks for Google to review your website again, so be patient.

Avoiding a Google penalty

While it’s hard to avoid some Google penalty triggers, others are completely preventable. One of the easiest ways to lessen the chance you will need to recover from a Google penalty is by using a reputable SEO content agency. For instance, at WriterArmy, we train our writers to only use proper SEO techniques. This means we avoid cloaked content, keyword stuffing, and junk links. While you must still maintain your website to proper standards, you won’t need to worry about poor writing techniques if you work with us.

Call today for a free consultation.

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