Google has continuously held a monopoly over the search market throughout the years. Up until today, it’s still the biggest search engine with over one billion monthly active users.

That huge success made business owners realize the importance of earning a spot on the first page for important keywords that drive leads. But while some businesses apply legitimate strategies to get to the top, others are blinded by greed and revert to shady tactics.

And that caused a huge problem for Google…

To maintain the quality of its search results, the search engine giant had to find solutions. Which is why it has been fighting black hat SEO techniques with Google penalties.

So, what are Google penalties? What causes them? And how can you fix your website to recover from them?

We’ll answer all these questions and more in the rest of this article.

So, keep reading…

What Is a Google Penalty?

A Google penalty is a punishment applied to websites that don’t comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Penalties have different causes and may come at various degrees. But the end result for penalized sites is often the same — which is lower rankings and a huge drop in organic traffic.

What Are The Most Common Reasons for Google Penalties?

Throughout the years, Google has grown less tolerant of low-quality content and black hat techniques. Strategies that were okay decades ago are no longer acceptable today and may put an end to your growth if applied.

Before we get to the most common causes for Google penalties, let us understand why they exist in the first place.

After all…

Shouldn’t Google be helping more webmasters claim higher rankings so they can continue creating quality content?

Here’s the thing:

Penalties can have a positive impact on search results. This is because it allow the best content to rise to the top while limiting black hat SEO techniques and lower quality content.

Avoid Google Penalties

As we get to our list, you’ll realize that most of these illegal practices enable those who use them to gain an unfair advantage. For example, a business owner publishing duplicate content shouldn’t get #1 ranking spots instead of you because they don’t deserve it.

Also:

Most black hat SEO techniques depend on thin, uninformative content while promising outstanding results. Which is discouraging to hard-working webmasters creating original content.

So… Yes!

Google engineers are doing their best to help you succeed.

Anti-spam algorithms are continuously developed to limit plagiarizing, scraped content, and cloaking. New updates are also rolled out regularly to improve the user experience and enhance usability.

So, what black hat SEO practices should you avoid at all costs?

  • Low-quality backlinks
  • Private blog networks (PBNs)
  • Paid link building
  • Duplicate content
  • Keywords stuffing
  • Irrelevant keywords
  • Spammy content
  • Hidden texts

You can read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to learn more about these practices and why you should avoid them.

What Are the Different Types of Google Penalties?

As we mentioned earlier, penalties often cause your web pages to disappear from the top of the search. And because of that, you may notice a significant drop in organic traffic for your website.

But are all Google penalties the same? If not, how do they differ?

There are two types of penalties that could hit your website:

Google Penalty Types

While they both may result in lower rankings, the difference lies in how they’re applied and what you can do to recover from them.

1- Algorithm Update Penalties

Google rolls out thousands of small updates each year, most of which may not have an impact on your SEO rankings in any way. However, a major update may come out every once in a while (Core update) and affect many websites at once.

For example, the Google Panda update put an end to low-quality content and keyword stuffing. The Penguin update also had a major effect on search as it penalized websites relying heavily on spammy links and anchor text over-optimization.

2- Manual Action Penalties

A manual action is a penalty applied only to a single website after it’s exposed by Google algorithms. For example, a business that buys backlinks or utilizes PBNs could lose all its rankings overnight due to a manual penalty.

This type of penalty usually comes with a notification informing the webmaster about the reason for it. Therefore, solving a Google penalty requires fixing the issues and sending a reconsideration request.

How Long Does Google Penalty Last?

It’s important to know exactly how long the penalty will last as it will impact traffic and sales that are generated from your website.

But the truth is… There is no final answer to how long a penalty will impact your website.

Gaining back your keyword rankings could take days, weeks, or even months after you resolve the problem. The reason being is that penalties are often unique to each site and gaining trust back can take a long time.

For example:

Larger websites may recover from algorithmic updates more quickly if they fix their problems faster. However, a small business in a competitive niche could take months to regain its’ organic traffic.

It’s also important to note that some sites never fully recover from manual penalties. Especially when the penalty is caused by paid links or private blog networks.

The good news is:

According to Google, no algorithmic or manual penalty will last forever after solving the problem. No matter what caused it or how long it lasts, you can always get back your rankings and continue to grow your company.

How to Know if Your Website Is Penalized by Google?

A misconception we often see webmasters believe is that if you lose rankings, it’s certainly a Google penalty. Yet, that couldn’t be more wrong.

There are many reasons why a website could see a huge drop in organic visitors.

For instance:

You may lose the top spot on a few primary keywords driving the majority of your organic traffic. Or maybe you’re looking at direct and paid traffic instead of only focusing on SEO visitors. Or maybe there was a alogithm update that shuffled keyword rankings.

In many cases, your website wasn’t penalized. And there’s nothing for you to fix.

If you’re still convinced your website got a Google penalty, here’s how to find out more about that:

Algorithm Updates

Google often announces major updates a few days before their rollout. So there’s a lot of talk online in the SEO community about them and how they’ve affected different sites.

You can search on Google News, Twitter, YouTube, or Reddit for any recent threads talking about the new algorithm changes. That allows you to gather more information and see how others in your industry are dealing with the update.

Better yet:

You can review changes in your keyword rankings as they happen on Google Search Console and Google Analytics. Your organic traffic may drop or increase based on how the update treats your website.

Manual Penalties

Manual action penalties are much more straightforward. You’ll get a notification in your Google Search Console account as well as an email informing you about the penalty.

To check these notifications, go to Manual Actions under Security & Manual Actions.

Manual Google Penalty

If you find anything there, then you might have some work to do.

It also helps to check if your website still appears in Google’s index using a simple search parameter.

Go to Google and enter: site:”yourwebsite.com”

Fixed Google Errors

If all your web pages appear in the SERPs, then you’re good to go.

How to Fix a Google Penalty

Throughout this guide, we’ve been talking about how fixing the problem can get your website back to the top. So now, it’s time to show you the necessary steps you must take to recover from any Google penalty.

For algorithmic updates:

All you need to do is update your website to match Google’s guidelines. For example, if you’re cloaking pages or publishing lots of thin content, simply removing the shady tactics could be enough to end the penalty.

However…

Manual actions are taken specifically against your website. So, they’ll require a different approach to solve.

You must read carefully through the notification to identify the reason behind the penalty. Then work with your team on cleaning your site to adhere to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

For example, you must:

  • Delete all unnatural links (paid links, low-quality backlinks, PBNs)
  • Remove any thin, duplicate content
  • Avoid keyword stuffing and hidden texts on your web pages
  • Fix all vulnerabilities to keep your site secure from hackers
  • Avoid cloaking or any sneaky redirects

Once you’ve done all of that, it’s time to send a reconsideration request!

You’ll request a review of your website to ask Google to lift the penalty from your Google Search Console dashboard.

To do that, go to Manual Actions, then click “Request a Review”.

The reconsideration request must explain thoroughly the steps you’ve taken to clean up your website depending on the cause. It must also detail how you plan to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.

After that, you’ll receive a new announcement notifying you that the penalty has been removed. Congratulations!

Bottom Line

Algorithmic and manual penalties are Google’s way of maintaining quality content at the top of the SERPs. You should do everything you can to avoid them if you want to maintain the growth of your website.

To be honest…

No brand is ever fully safe from being penalized by Google. You may accidentally build a few low-quality backlinks. Or maybe it’s a team member who will publish thin, repetitive content to keep the website fresh.

If you happen to get a Google penalty, don’t worry. There are solutions and quick fixes you can apply to save your business. All you have to do is resolve the problem and you’ll claim back the top rankings you deserve.

Need help transforming your business with SEO?

We’re here for your help! Don’t hesitate to contact us or give us a call at 773-789-8636.

About the Author: Bill Dolan

Bill is an award winning designer with more than 25 years in graphic and professional website design. He has experience in almost every area of creating art from his early days as a keyline paste-up artist to POS design to GRAMMY nominated album art.