Every business wants to achieve the highest possible listing on Google. But using questionable techniques to boost your rankings can often end up backfiring.
Violating Google’s Webmaster guidelines will result in penalties that reduce your website’s rankings or completely remove it. To avoid spending time in the Google penalty box, steer clear of the following penalties.
What We’ll Cover:
- Impact links
- Unnatural links to your site
- Unnatural outbound links
- Hacked website
- Thin or shallow content
- Pure spam
- User Generated spam
- Keyword stuffing
- Hidden text
- Spammy freehosts
- Paid links
- Sneaky redirects
- Doorway pages
- Scraped content
- Incorrect rich snippets markup
- AMP content mismatch
- Creating pages with malicious intent
- Comment spam
- Algorithmic penalties
- How to recover from a Google penalty
First of all, the only true penalty, according to Google, is what’s known as a manual action.
This means that a human reviewer has looked over your website and issued a penalty for violating some aspect of the Webmaster Quality Guidelines.
Google penalties vary from site to site and differ based on the severity of the violation. If you receive one, you’ll need to take action and submit a reconsideration request to get back in the search engine’s good graces.
It’s important to note that a loss of traffic caused by an algorithm update isn’t the same thing as a penalty, though for site owners reeling from huge hits to organic traffic, the word penalty seems to fit just fine.
That said, the key difference between an algorithmic devaluation and a penalty is that the penalty requires a reconsideration request. Coming back from an algorithmic downgrade does not require any communication with a webmaster.
How to Identify a Manual Action
Luckily, Google is pretty transparent when it comes to letting you know that there’s a manual action on your account. If you get hit with a Google penalty, you’ll receive an email notification about the issue and you’ll see it next time you log into your Google Search Console account.
If you’re wondering “how to know if google penalized my website,” there are a few ways to find out. The easiest way to check if there are any official search engine penalties on your account is to check your Manual Actions report. If you’ve noticed a drop in traffic, yet haven’t received any Manual actions, check your search traffic in Google Analytics to identify when the sudden decrease took effect.
UNNATURAL LINKS TO YOUR SITE (IMPACTS LINKS)
When Google detects unnatural links that have been artificially created by you or someone else on your website, it will penalize the unnatural links by devaluing them. In this case, Google says clean up the links if you can, but it shouldn’t hurt your website (they are a little unclear on this one unfortunately).
GOOGLE PENALTY: UNNATURAL LINKS TO YOUR SITE
These are links to your site that Google thinks you have control over. This could mean that you’ve purchased links or participated in a link scheme, or there are a lot of links coming from irrelevant directories or content that holds little authority.
In this case, they will penalize your entire website as well as the links. This is a tough one, read about it here.
UNNATURAL OUTBOUND LINKS
If you are selling links, you’re in violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
While selling links still comes with the risk of a Manual Action, the penalty doesn’t carry as much weight as it has in the past. While the search engine won’t actively punish your site for unnatural links, keep in mind that leaving low-quality links on your site may lower your EAT score, as it may undermine the authority of your content.
If Google thinks your site has been hacked, it will be penalized.
The Google penalty is applied to sites where hackers have added malicious content without the owner’s consent. While the site owner isn’t responsible for adding spam to the site, Google holds them accountable for failing to provide sufficient security, as visitors could be at risk, too.
THIN OR SHALLOW CONTENT
Increasingly, Google algorithms put a premium on quality of content.
Thin or shallow content will be considered spam and treated accordingly. So, what exactly is thin content? Well, Google defines it as content with little or no added value. Examples include content scraped from other sites, duplicate content, or affiliate posts that offer nothing but promotional links.
Their rationale here is, content should be relevant and valuable to readers, and as a result, short, throwaway blog posts that fail to answer questions or say anything of substance are getting the boot.
GOOGLE PENALTY: PURE SPAM
Google hates spam. Websites crammed with filler text, cloaked pages, scraped content or other gibberish will draw a quick penalty.
According to Google Webmasters, avoiding manual actions on web spam means following some basic principles. For example, avoid deceiving users with false information and click-bait headlines.
Avoid tricks aimed at improving rankings like link schemes or automatically generated content.
Typically applied to websites where users create the spam, such as forums, this earns the same penalty as user-generate spam.
Excessive use of keywords can also get you into trouble, particularly now that voice search has made the SEO landscape more conversational. Use too many keywords now and the Google “refs” will throw the yellow flag and penalize your site.
That said, there’s no upper limit for how many keywords you can use in your content, the idea is that it needs to sound natural. If you’re unsure, try reading your content out loud. Does it sound like something a normal person might say? If so, you’re in good shape.
GOOGLE PENALTY: HIDDEN TEXT
Search engines are like accounting auditors – they want to see everything out in the open, with nothing hidden. This is true even with text that your readers may not want or need to see. You can hide text in many different ways, such as making the font the same color as the background. Regardless of the technique, Google will consider it spam and may penalize your site accordingly.
Cloaking is a sophisticated black hat technique that attempts to show search engines a different version of the website than the one visitors see.
When Google detects spam on multiple websites hosted by the same host, they usually penalize all the websites.
Google’s rule on this one is crystal clear – no buying or selling links in a way that passes on search engine ranking credit.
Google dislikes this practice so much that they have banned companies like J.C. Penney and Overstock for months at a time. Paid links may seem like a cost-effective way to improve search rankings, but get caught doing it by Google and you’re bound to get hit with an SEO penalty. (Hint: don’t believe programs that tell you their paid links can escape Google detection.) You can report paid links here.
AUTOMATICALLY GENERATED CONTENT
Are you having a program create content on your website? Learn more.
Are you redirecting the user to a piece of content that is different than what they search for? Learn more.
Did you create a bunch of pages that provide no value, but are intended to rank for keywords? Learn more.
GOOGLE PENALTY: SCRAPED CONTENT
Are you stealing content from other websites and re-purposing it as your own? If so, stop. Scraped content includes:
- Copying or republishing content from other sites.
- Taking content from other sources and switching it up with a few synonyms or slight modifications.
- Embedding media content from other sites with no added value to the user.
INCORRECT RICH SNIPPETS MARKUP
Structured data is becoming a bigger part of the SERPs, and as a result, some website owners are aiming to game the system by abusing structured data in an effort to achieve position zero.
Because snippets are so competitive, Google takes snippet abuse pretty seriously. If you highlight the wrong structured data, your snippets will be removed from the search results. Worse, even if you take steps to right your wrongs, regaining position zero is rare.
That said, if you do get hit with a spammy markup penalty, there are some things you can do to fix it.
AMP CONTENT MISMATCH
AMP content needs to match the canonical version of that same page. While Google states that the text doesn’t necessarily need to be word for word identical, both pages should align toward the same goal.
CREATING PAGES WITH MALICIOUS BEHAVIOR
Are you installing content on someones computer, changing home pages or pushing unwanted files on a user? Learn more.
Did you use an automated program to build a bunch of comment links? Learn more.
Google also has seven major algorithmic penalties that can affect your website’s rankings.
Google prefers quality websites. When the Panda algorithm detects there are a lot of issues that the Panda algorithm looks at when deciding whether or not you’re violating any Google SEO penalties.
You can learn more about that here.
This algorithm penalizes overly aggressive link-building schemes, including any links to and from your site that are intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results. Penguin really hits sites hard that have too much anchor text for a term.
You can thank Hollywood and the recording industry for this one.
In response to pressure from these powerhouse industries (and the government), Google now penalizes sites that receive multiple requests to remove copyrighted material. If you post content on your site that might fall within this domain, it’s a good idea to regularly check your Google Webmaster Tools account for any DMCA takedown notifications.
Google has increased their spam detection for highly spammy search terms like PayDay loan, Casinos, or Viagra. Learn more about this on here.
Designed to improve local searches, this algorithm won’t directly penalize your website. However, it can potentially lower your rankings if the SERPs that it targets contain locally searched keywords that do not abide by Pigeons ranking guidelines. Read our ultimate guide here.
This algorithm focuses on the meaning behind the words in a search query. If Google determines that your content doesn’t match the meaning of the words in a search query, it can reduce your rankings. You can read more about Hummingbird here.
- Google Hummingbird Update Impacts 90% of Searches
- Is your Content Hummingbird Quality?
- Hummingbird Update: Watch a Video by John E Lincoln
- In-depth review of Hummingbird
Google understands that website visitors don’t want to have to slog through a mountain of ads in order to find the information they’re searching for. If Google’s page layout algorithm can’t identify enough useful content “above the fold,” it will lower your ranking. To maintain high rankings, don’t make your readers search for content.
What to Do if You Get Hit with a Google Penalty
Google understands that violations, especially minor ones, can be unintentional, and they’ve gotten better about alerting website owners when there’s a Manual Action on their account. Make sure you check your Google Search Console report regularly to keep an eye out for any penalties you may have missed.
To fix a manual action, Google recommends following these steps to get your site back on track:
- Expand the manual action description panel for details.
- There, you’ll see the type of issue and a short description, as well as which pages have been hit with the action.
- Fix the issue on all affected pages (don’t worry, they’ll give you a list of steps). Keep in mind, fixing only some of the pages won’t help you get back in the search results.
- Make sure Google can reach your pages. This means they cannot be blocked by a paywall, noindex directive, or robots.txt. Use the URL inspection tool to make sure the crawlers can reach all pages in question.
- Once you’ve fixed all of the issues listed in your report, you’ll need to submit a reconsideration request. In the request, you’ll need to explain why you received a Manual Action, the steps taken to amend the issue, and proof that you’ve successfully resolved the problem.
Keep in mind, reconsideration takes some time. According to Google, the process can take several days, sometimes a week. They also mention that you should not resubmit your request until the process is complete—they’ll keep you updated via email.