If there is one thing I can think of that’s a nightmare for every website owner out there, it would definitely be Google penalties.😬
Your site will most likely get penalized and will not rank as high in search results if it contains one or more violations against the Google Webmaster Guidelines. This leads to a significant dip in traffic. It also takes a long time to lift them, depending on the nature and severity of the violation.
The best way to get rid of pesky penalties is to avoid them in the first place. But sometimes, website owners get hit without any warning, even if they weren’t intentionally violating any guidelines.
That’s why today we’re gonna look at what Google penalties are, how they work, how to avoid receiving them, and if you end up receiving one, how to complete a successful Google penalty removal process.✔️
What is a Google Penalty?
Google penalties are essentially punishments your website will receive for not following Google’s specific webmaster guidelines. They’re designed to detect and stop black-hat SEO tactics that raise search engine rankings through questionable means.
When you get penalised the site’s rankings can easily be lowered or it can completely go missing from the SERPs. As you probably know, low search engine ranking leads to a decrease in organic traffic which leads to a decrease in potential sales.
This means that you need to keep up with the algorithm updates and take immediate action if your website gets penalized.
Your site can be penalized automatically by one of Google’s algorithm updates or through manual webmaster reviews.
Google will identify a problem during its crawl when faced with an algorithm update, therefore penalising the site.
One sneaky thing about them is that you don’t receive any messages or alerts when penalised through algorithmic filtering. 👀
To figure out the type of algorithm penalty your website’s got, you’ll first need to identify the time period when you experienced a traffic loss and see if it correlates with any algorithm updates. A way to do this is to check the good old Internet for Google Algorithm History.
Google occasionally releases updates to their algorithms to improve search for better user experience. These are called Core Updates. Google also may or may not announce these updates, so being up-to-date in the SEO game is crucial.
Panda and Penguin
The two most common updates that can cause algorithm penalties are Panda and Penguin.
The Panda update scans an entire website for its content quality and relevancy and the flow of the user experience. This was the first update that had webmasters going crazy, at least those who had an outdated website with poorly-written content.
Its main purpose is to identify websites that provide a bad user experience, including thin, low-quality content, outdated design and the use of too many ads.
The Penguin update, also known as the Webspam update scans websites with link-building issues and spammy behaviour. It also provides a chance to recover the web domain if it’s a victim of a bad link-building process, rather than intentionally using SEO methods that violate Google’s guidelines.
It’s used to identify sites that use keyword stuffing, bad link-building, poor anchor text distribution, cloaking or anything that’s considered a black-hat SEO method.
A manual penalty is given to a website by an actual human from the Google team, rather than an algorithm. If the reviewer decides that your site doesn’t meet Googles guidelines, you are hit with a manual penalty.
Manual penalties are put in place to discourage spammy and deceptive behaviour. There are a number of reasons why your site can get manually penalised.
The most common are content with little to no value, unnatural links, toxic links to and from your site, data issues, user-generated spam, bad redirects, cloaking, etc.
If you get this type of penalty, take it seriously as they are harder to recover from than algorithm penalties.
Webmasters will be identified if they’re struck by a manual penalty. For this, you can check in Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console) for any kind of notifications on manual actions taken on your website.
Why is Google punishing your site?
By now you can probably tell that Google Penalties are no joke and there are many reasons why your site can be punished by the Google police if you break the rules. 🚨
The challenge with Google was and still is to rank your website as high as you can.
Because of it, people in the earlier days used all means necessary to achieve this. They bought links, created linking directories, used keywords until the site was stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey, sneaky redirects and hidden texts to deceive Google and users, and so on.
Because Google believes that the user experience should always come in first place, they created new algorithm updates and gathered teams of people to manually review suspicious behaviour.
So if you do anything that would make the user experience unpleasant or deceiving, you will be punished.
Now let’s talk about the most common issues that would cause penalization. Whatever type of penalty you get struck by, most likely it would be caused by link-building issues, content issues or UX issues.
Link-building Issues 🔗
The most common type of black-hat SEO tactic that gets penalised, whether algorithmic or manual, comes from unnatural, low-quality, bad backlinks.
If your website has backlinks from:
- untrustworthy general directories;
- websites with paid, autogenerated or spammy links;
- websites with unnatural links and toxic links
- websites active in link schemes;
- press releases specifically created for backlinks;
- spam forums and comments;
- pages with unnatural anchor texts;
- sites with an excessive amount of links;
- sites not relevant to your niche in any way;
- sites of poor quality in every way;
- hacked, adult or gambling websites;
Then expect to be hit with a link penalty. There are many types of backlinks you need to know and check for SEO, especially the ones you want to avoid, so make sure you do your research before asking a webmaster for a backlink.
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Content Issues 📝
Google aims to provide users with the most relevant, high-quality content to answer their search queries. So your site will get a content penalty if it has:
- thin content (content that lacks depth and value);
- scraped content (illegal content copying from other websites);
- duplicate content;
- auto-generated content;
- keyword stuffing;
- content cloaking (showing different content to users from the one crawled by search engines);
- sneaky redirects.
Although, some pages like product or contact pages have thin content, which is OK in that context. As long as the content is original, high-quality and provides value you should be fine.
UX Issues 👦
Google rewards websites that provide their users with a pleasant user experience. It’s considered as one of the priorities for ranking so if your website doesn’t provide that it will be penalised.
Sites with UX issues and generally hit with an algorithm penalty. It’s still harmful though and you should consider a couple of factors to make your sites’ UX better:
- mobile-friendliness (54% of all web traffic comes from mobile so this is a MUST when optimizing your website);
- load speed (1-3 seconds is considered a good load speed for a page. One additional second to the loading time increases the bounce rate by 90%);
- excessive use of ads;
- poor user flow and serviceability.
How to know if your site is penalized by Google
If you get a manual penalty, you will be notified of the reason in Search Console. It will also let you know if your penalty is sitewide or partial.
For algorithm penalties, it will usually show itself as a sudden drop in traffic. To figure out which update has caused the penalty cross-reference the drop in traffic with the time of the release of the update.
You can also check what actions have been taken before the penalty took place. For example, a new backlink. If there are multiple reasons for the penalty and you want to go into full detail, the best thing to do is to run a full website audit.
How to recover from a penalty: the Google Penalty Removal process
We’ve talked about what Google penalties are, the different types, how they can harm your website and why you should avoid them altogether. You can tell by now that being penalised is overwhelming and a lot goes into fixing what cause it in the first place.
It’s finally time to get into the heart ❤️ of the topic and start the Google penalty removal process. I mentioned how you can determine what type of penalty you’ve been hit with in the previous section. Now I’ll break it down into 7 steps.
#1 Run a sitewide SEO Audit
A comprehensive site audit will provide in-depth information on multiple areas that could be the cause of a penalty.
You’ll get an in-depth insight into your backlink profile and the quality of those backlinks, anchor texts, site errors, redirects, URL structure and site map.
Content-wise it will show you which content you should keep, which to delete, which to update and optimize. It will also show any content gaps you need to fill with more content. If you want to focus solely on content issues you can run a separate content audit.
Not only that, but it will provide guidance for where you need to make changes to improve the user experience, like your site speed, site design, its usability both for mobile and desktop, etc.
For conducting a website audit, tools like Google Analytics, Search Console and Ahrefs are your best friends. We at Backlinker.io run to Ahrefs for anything regarding SEO so I’ll be referencing them a lot.
With Ahrefs, you can go to Site Audit and add your website as a project for the auditing process.
This is how a completed site audit will look like. It will give you tons of information on indexability, links, content, top issues, etc. Once you gather and organize your findings proceed to the next step.
#2 Remove links from and to your site
As I mentioned before, the most common types of penalties are link-based usually caused by black-hat link-building tactics. They could either be hit with a manual action or by the Penguin update.
In Site Audit, you will find Links in the Report bar which will be very useful when analyzing your backlink profile. It will provide information on both internal and external links, whether they’re dofollow or nofollow, incoming links, their anchor texts and so on.
You can also export full lists of your linking efforts through Bulk Export.
As you identify harmful links, remove them from your website immediately. Contact webmasters to remove backlinks that link to your website. Some webmasters don’t mean any harm intentionally so find their contact info and send them an email.
#3 Disavow links
If the bad link-building tactics were intentional from the webmaster’s side or you can’t reach them, feel free to disavow their links. Disavowing allows you to notify Google that bad links are pointing to your site and that you don’t want to have any relation to them in the future.
First, go to Ahrefs and select the links you want to disavow.
Then go to Dashboard > Disavowed links > Export to download the list with the selected links.
After that, head over to Search Console. Once you upload your link list you’re done!
#4 Remove duplicate, scraped and thin content
One of Google’s strengths is that it allows the original content piece to be recognized instead of its duplicate. So websites that contain mostly duplicated content are more likely to receive a manual action or get slapped ✋ by the Panda update.
Scraped content is equally damaging as duplicate. This also includes plagiarism and auto-generated content.
As for thin content, it has the least potential to be penalised because as I mentioned, some pages like product or contact pages don’t require in-depth content. Just make sure that those pages have at least 300 words of original content that provides value.
#5 Update existing content
Now that you’ve identified your content issues it’s time to update it. Remove duplicate, scraped and auto-generated content, rewrite your thin content pages or merge some together, etc.
Optimize your pages for your target keywords but pay attention to how many times you mention them in your content, keyword stuffing can be a potential cause for penalties.
Hidden text is also a big no-no.⛔ I’ve already explained what happens when websites try to use deceptive tactics to trick both Google and users.
#6 Update your website’s UX
Everything you’ve done so far in the previous steps helps in improving the user experience of your website but it’s definitely not enough. By now you should have enough information to know that there are some vital things you shouldn’t overlook.
Excessive use of ads can be annoying as hell.😤 If your site uses ads make sure you don’t have more than 2-3 per page. More than that and you might have unsatisfied users and you guessed it, a penalty.
One thing that’s very important in enhancing the UX is your site speed. Run your site through PageSpeed Insights to see your load time for both desktop and mobile and get recommendations on how you can improve them.
Last, but definitely not least, optimize your site for mobile. It’s evident that mobile usage is increasing and is not slowing down any time soon. You could experience a significant drop in traffic and increased bounce rates if your site is not properly optimized. Make sure you don’t skip this step.
#7 Submit a Reconsideration Request
We’ve arrived at the final step of this long, tear-jerking penalty removal process.😭 Now it’s time to write and submit your reconsideration request.
When writing your request make sure to explain:
- The issues you’ve had on your website;
- All the steps you took to deal with those issues;
- How you’ve completed the process;
- If you’ve had any setbacks while dealing with those issues, things that were out of your control, people that weren’t cooperating, etc.
After you submit your request you should get a notification from the Google team that they’ve received it. You should hear back from them in a couple of days-6 weeks. If 6 weeks have passed and you don’t hear from them you can try submitting another reconsideration request and mention that you haven’t heard anything back from the first one.
There are 3 scenarios for this.
You can either receive info that your reconsideration request has been approved (yay!), your reconsideration request has been rejected or that your request has been processed. This means that they acknowledge your efforts to fix the issues but there are other things you need to deal with to complete the process.
For this reason, make sure that you don’t skip any steps when fixing your website, be thorough, investigate and do everything you can to have your website up and running again.
So let’s do a recap.
The most important thing to know about Google penalties is how to avoid them, but if you do end up getting one, knowing how to remove it is a must.
✔️ The two types of penalties you can get slapped with are manual or algorithmic penalties. For algorithm penalties, check for any Google updates and actions taken to your site that correlate with the occurrence of the penalty. For manual penalties, you will be informed if you’ve got one.
Whichever one you get, check for any link-building, content or UX issues that may have caused this.
✔️ Run a website audit, remove or disavow bad, toxic links to and from your site, remove duplicate and scrapped content, update and optimize your existing content, rewrite your thin content pieces and improve your user experience.
✔️ Lastly, submit your carefully written reconsideration request to complete the Google penalty removal process.
If anything, I hope the one thing you learn from this article is to never try to cheat your way to the top of SERPs. It’s a good thing that Google works the way it does. It should. Because websites should be optimized for readers as well, and not just for search engines.
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