Every website owner wants to achieve higher search engine rankings and witness greater online visibility to attract more visitors.
However, using unauthentic techniques and spammy practices may work the other way round, which, in turn, creates havoc for your website.
Yes, Google reserves the right to apply penalties to websites when the bots detect any violation of webmaster guidelines.
These penalties range from reducing the search engine ranking of the corresponding website to removing it from the search engine results pages based on the manual spam actions detected.
This is why receiving Google penalties is the worst nightmare for every webmaster.
Google has been communicating with webmasters via the Google Search Console since 2012. Through this tool, Google notifies website issues that are likely to impact its search visibility negatively.
Google calls these notifications “warnings” and prompts webmasters to interpret and respond to them at the earliest.
So, what do you have to do about it as a website owner?
The answer is simple. You need to get a bigger picture of Google penalties.
Yes, only when you know where and how the problem occurs, you will be able to avoid it. Or, in the worst-case scenario, understand what you can do to fix Google penalties when your website ends up getting one.
Types of Google Penalties
Google penalties fall into two broad categories, including algorithmic penalties and manual penalties. Now, let us decode them one by one.
Google algorithms are a complex system that strives to fetch relevant information from its search index and provide the user with the best results in order to address the given query.
Google updates its algorithms from time to time to boost search results quality and thereby enhance user experience. What adds to the complexity for website owners and digital marketers is that Google’s algorithm updates are unpredictable.
As and when there is an algorithm update, the websites or individual landing pages that fall short of the parameters specified in the newest algorithmic tweak often fall prey to algorithmic penalties.
An algorithmic penalty is not really a penalty, but a change made in Google’s algorithms that affects the rankings of websites that Google thinks are not up to its standards.
So, is an algorithmic penalty permanent? Certainly not.
If your website has had negative impacts after an algorithm update, it doesn’t mean you can’t recover from it.
If you can take relative measures from your part, identify and fix the issues that caused the negative impact, and revamp your website with high-quality, user-engaging content while avoiding black hat practices, you can level up your website’s search engine rankings once again.
Since the advent of search engines, people have been trying different ways to hoodwink them and level up their search engine rankings.
This affects the search because relevant search queries get buried under a host of irrelevant results.
This is why Google has been trying since its early days to fight spammers in order to offer a better search experience to users.
Google webspam team checks if websites are adhering to Google webmaster quality guidelines from time to time. In case of violations, the webspam team can manually ban specific websites, and this manual action is communicated to the website owner via the Google search console.
Simply put, a manual penalty is when a Google employee looks into your website and flags it to be delisted from Google because the specific guidelines are not met.
So, how do you know if your website gets hit by a manual penalty?
Team Google sends you an email notification about the issue and you will also see it when you log into Google Console. At the top of the report, you will see a message with a green tick mark informing you about it.
Once you fix the problem on your part, you can file a reconsideration request.
The Google webspam team will carefully review your reconsideration request. Once they ensure you have taken the right steps to comply with Google webmaster quality guidelines, the ban on your website will be lifted.
It can take a week or two for your reconsideration request to be reviewed. You will be informed via email when Google receives your request and also when the review is done.
There are many types of manual actions taken by Google, and this post will try to explain each of them in detail. We will also share the ways to recover from these penalties here.
The Complete List of Google Penalties and How to Recover
Cloaking and/or Sneaky Redirects
Cloaking is the process of showing different pages to the search engine and the user on a given query. This is a violation of the webmaster guidelines, which, in turn, leads to a manual penalty.
This penalty has two forms. One, partial matches that can affect selected parts of your website, for instance, individual landing pages. Two, site-wide matches that can take a toll on the entire website.
How to Fix?
Go to Google Search Console > Crawl > Fetch as Google. This way, you can identify your website landing pages with affected portions.
Compare this content fetched by Google with the unaffected parts of content on your website.
Identify the difference and rework the affected areas until it is in line with the unaffected content.
Neither Google nor the user likes getting redirected to a page that is irrelevant to the query. So, check for existing redirects and remove those that send users to a different page.
Once you think all the necessary changes are made, you can file a reconsideration request.
Cloaking: First Click Free Violation
A website compelling users to register, log in, or subscribe to access its content is violating Google’s First Click Free policy.
This is also a type of cloaking that can land your website on Google penalties.
Like the previous penalty, this one also has two different forms: partial matches affecting certain areas of the website and site-wide matches affecting the whole website.
How to Fix?
To lift this penalty off your website, you need to make sure that the content displayed to Google and the users coming from Google services are the same.
You can submit a reconsideration request to Google once you fix the issues concerned.
Do you think cloaking applies only to your website’s content? If yes, you are misled.
Cloaking applies to images as well.
Google considers an image cloaked when another image overshadows it or when the users are redirected to other irrelevant pages away from the corresponding image.
How to Fix?
To avoid this penalty, you have to make sure that you display the same image to Google and the visitors.
Once you remove all the possibly cloaked images from your website or replace them with the right ones, you can raise a reconsideration request.
Hacking is no wonder in the digital space. Hackers may hijack your website and inject malicious content or links into your content management system without your knowledge. It is difficult to spot these fraudulent links because they often come cloaked.
When Google identifies such websites, it puts up a “the site is hacked” sign on relevant pages that show up on a Google search. This can drive visitors away from your website and lead to a decrease in its search engine ranking.
How to Fix?
Once you know your website is hacked, the first best step you can take is to make plans to prevent any more damage to it. To execute this, get in touch with your web host to isolate your website and claim support.
Identify the extent of damage done by the malware using Google Search Console.
Now, to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again, you need to get to its roots. Yes, run a complete analysis of your website to identify its vulnerable spots through which the hackers broke into your webspace.
Modify your website based on your findings to strengthen it and prevent similar attacks in the future. Make it a point to have a backup of your website’s data and bolster it with advanced security features at this phase.
Time and again, request a review from Google to take the “hacked” label off your site.
Hidden Text / Keyword Stuffing
Content quality is one of the chief Google ranking factors. Stuffing keywords in your website’s content to improve visibility and achieve higher search engine rankings only ends up in backfiring.
Yes, Google reserves the right to penalize your website if hidden text or stuffed keywords are found in the content.
This penalty can be of partial matches impacting parts of the website or site-wide matches influencing the entire website in a negative way.
How to Fix?
Go to Google Search Console > Crawl > Fetch as Google to identify your website landing pages with affected portions.
Find out similar text and Identify hidden content using CSS positioning. Once you find out the hidden content, either remove it or restyle it so that it is easily visible for your visitors.
Similarly, identify stuffed keywords and remove unwanted or irrelevant occurrences of them anywhere in the content.
Next, remove repetitive content in title tags and alt texts.
Once all these are done, request for reconsideration from Google.
The pure spam penalty falls upon a website that indulges in spammy techniques and activities in order to boost its search engine rankings.
Pure spam includes black hat practices like cloaking, content scraping, and others that are done without adherence to Google Webmaster Guidelines.
This penalty can either be of partial matches or site-wide matches based on the intensity of the spam in place.
How to Fix?
To get away from the pure spam penalty, you need to get rid of all the spammy activities related to your website, maintain authenticity and then submit a reconsideration request.
Spammy Free Hosts
Did you come across free hosting? It should be spam. Practically, nothing of high quality comes free of cost.
The free spammy hosts only end up bombarding the visitors to your website with irrelevant ads.
This means the Google webspam team will take manual actions against these free spammy hosting services once they deduct them.
How to Fix
The quickest and easiest way to fix this problem is to switch to a trusted and authentic web hosting service.
You can request Google to re-evaluate your website to lift the penalty once you opt for a reliable hosting service.
Spammy Structured Markup
Structured markup or schema markup is a set of codes you use to organize your website’s content, thereby making it easier for Google to crawl it and index it quickly.
On the contrary, the presence of spammy structured markup can redirect to irrelevant or misleading content. Such manipulative actions often backfire and the negative impact will dawn upon your website.
Yes, since this isn’t a fair practice, Google will penalize your website if it finds out a spammy schema markup in it.
How to Fix?
You can fix this problem by updating your schema markup and removing the spammy ones.
Once you implement the changes required, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google.
This penalty falls upon your website when it contains content that adds little or no value to the user.
Thin content includes content taken from other sites, spun content, low-quality guest posts, auto-generated content, and much more.
While Google advocates fetching the best possible result for every query, it is no wonder that the search engine penalizes web pages that cannot cater to it.
This penalty occurs in both partial matches or site-wide content depending on the quantity of thin content published on your website.
How to Fix?
Weed out spun or auto-generated content from your website. Similarly, have a keen eye for duplicate content and revamp it to make it more engaging.
Identify affiliate pages and remove them from your website. If you still want these affiliate pages on your website, make sure they have enough weight to add more value to your visitors.
Doorway pages in your website can increase the probability of duplicate content on your website. So, make it a point to eliminate them.
Send a reconsideration request to Google once you fix these issues.
Building backlinks to your website is one of the best ways to improve its Google ranking. But, the consequences are going to be serious if you do link building in the wrong way.
When you create links that aren’t natural from or to your website, your website will end up on a Google penalty. It is because these links manipulate search engine rankings and Google doesn’t like this behavior.
How to Fix?
You can download all the backlinks to your website from Google Console.
Now, cross-check on them to see if any of them do not adhere to the guidelines from Google. If yes, you can either remove them or convert them into no-follow attributes. This is not just for unnatural links to your site. You can apply this procedure for unnatural links from your website to others as well.
Finding it difficult to switch them to no-follow? Don’t panic. It happens in some cases. You can still disclaim those links to lift the ban over your website.
Once you set right these issues, you can send a reconsideration request to Google.
If you are putting up posts or ads regarding job vacancies on your website, make sure you remove them as and when they expire.
This is because displaying expired jobs lead to poor user experience, which Google doesn’t approve of. On the contrary, the search engine wants to direct users to places where they get what they want.
So, expired job postings can land your website upon a manual penalty from Google.
How to Fix?
The first step is to remove the job posting schema markup from your site. This way, the user gets redirected to the 404 code, denoting the non-existence of the job posting.
Second, add a no-index meta tag to the page signaling the search engine not to index the particular page when it crawls your website.
Now, Submit a reconsideration request to Google.
Google always wants to provide users with the best experience by directing them to the most relevant pages, thereby getting every query answered.
Despite the frequency of updates in Google’s algorithms and manual actions, the common point in every version is enhanced user experience.
Given the scenario, you can dodge penalties and low search engine rankings by crafting everything about your website on a user-centric approach.
If users like your website, then Google does too!
If you can remember this every step of the way while knowing how to fix unintentional penalties, your website will be trouble-free!