Algorithms SEO

Have your website rankings and traffic suddenly dropped? If so, you may have been hit with one or more Google penalties. Understanding why your site performs as it does is essential and has a major impact on your SEO efforts. 

If your site is performing well, then you’ll know to stick to your existing SEO strategy. But if it isn’t, or if performance suddenly drops, then some type of intervention may be at play that is suppressing your rankings. This is the dreaded Google penalty, and it can dramatically harm your rankings if you don’t take serious Google penalty removal action. 

The internet is littered with tales of companies — some very large — that lost significant revenues according to penalties received thanks to shady SEO practices. In one famous example, online retailer Overstock.com  lost 5% of its revenue in one quarter due to search rankings dropping significantly. Fortunately, they were later able to recover. 

How to know if you’ve been hit by a Google Penalty?

Are your rankings dropping because of a penalty, or for another reason? It can be hard to know, since your website may be in an extremely competitive niche, and you may be dropping in the rankings not because of any actions on your part but rather because your competitors may simply be outperforming you. 

But first, you’ll need to understand the difference between the two types of penalties: manual and algorithm-based.

Understanding the two types of Google penalties: manual vs algorithm

With over 5.6 billion searches per day, the search giant is in a constant battle to ensure it delivers only high-quality and relevant content to its users. The Google algorithm determines your website’s overall quality and relevance to search terms in microseconds and displays it accordingly in the SERPs. 

However, when Google suspects that a website is trying to either “game the system” using black-hat SEO tactics, or is of extremely low quality, then it will use a combination of the algorithm and manual review to apply penalties. It’s important to understand the difference between these manual and algorithm penalties since the fixes will be different. 

What is a Google manual penalty?

Manual Google penalties are the easiest types to identify and fix. Referred to as Manual Actions, they are applied when sites are flagged and manually reviewed by the Google spam team, and you’ll usually be notified in your Google Search Console. If you don’t see a notification in your account, then it’s unlikely you’ve received a manual penalty.

Reasons you may get a manual penalty from Google

Most manual penalties have to do with your backlink profile. If you have any experience with SEO, then you probably won’t be surprised, either, since you’ve likely gone against Google’s very specific webmaster guidelines

Other reasons for manual penalties: think or spammy content, user-generated content spam on your site, keyword stuffing, and cloaking & redirects. 

What is a Google algorithm penalty?

From time to time, Google updates its ranking algorithms to improve user experience. Each successive update can — and does — penalize millions of websites, causing panic among penalized website owners who watch in alarm as their rankings crash overnight. 

It should be noted that these “algorithm penalties” are not so much penalties as ranking decisions. Google deploys these algorithms to simply determine a website’s overall quality; if a site slips after an update, then it can be seen as a penalty even though it’s actually merely an updated ranking decision. 

Reasons you may get an algorithm penalty from Google

There are currently two main Google algorithm updates: Panda and Penguin. Each one has a specific focus, with Panda analyzing the content quality and Penguin focusing on technical aspects like backlink quality, anchor text, keywords, etc. 

If the number of unique visitors to your site suddenly drops, and you haven’t received a manual penalty notification in Search Console, then chances are you may be affected by a recent Panda or Penguin update.

Google penalty checker tools

There are several tools you can use to help determine if you’ve been affected by a Google algorithm penalty. They can provide a wealth of data about your site’s performance and let you track your link profiles, traffic, ranks, and more. You can use the data to zero in on sudden performance changes and narrow down potential problems. 

  • The Moz Google Algorithm Update History tool is a fantastic resource to track recent changes to Panda or Penguin. You can use it to cross-reference any significant changes in your traffic or rankings with the date the algorithm was updated. 
  • SEMrush Sensor analyzes your site’s SEO value and provides a wealth of data regarding any potential vulnerability you may have 
  • Fruition’s Google Penalty Checker checks recent algorithm updates and sees how they will impact your site. 
  • The Accuranker Google Grump tool picks up on pending or new algorithm updates and gives you a sense of any mass website ranking issues

5 Google penalty recovery tips for common manual & algorithm penalties

Google unnatural links penalty recovery

Backlinks have been an important SEO factor since the beginning. Unfortunately, a hallmark of black-hat SEO has been to buy or collect spammy backlinks, which today can severely penalize your site. It’s no longer a viable option to buy thousands of backlinks on sites like Fiverr or to use a public blog network (PBN) to try and boost your backlinks profile. 

Unnatural backlinks are those typically from:

  • Low-quality websites or sites with duplicate or spammy content
  • Sites that are unrelated to your particular niche
  • Public forum profile and comment links
  • Links from paid or sponsored content 
  • Links anchored by hidden anchor text
  • Links from gambling, adult, or other sketchy sites
  • Links from content that is automatically generated

An unnatural backlinks penalty means that your site has one or more backlinks pointing to it that Google has determined to be of low quality. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to fix. If the sites are within your control to remove, then you can simply delete them at the source or point them away from your site. 

However, backlinks that you didn’t request, or that you don’t control can be a little bit tricker. Unfortunately, it’s a common practice for some unscrupulous website owners to flood their competitors with thousands of spammy backlinks in an effort to penalize them. The good news is that Google anticipated this, and lets you take action. 

Search Console has a disavow links tool you can use to report backlinks that you don’t have control over yet you wish to “disown”. It can be time-consuming, especially if you have a large number of backlinks to disavow,  yet it’s a critical task to perform. Once you’ve disavowed your unnatural links, the algorithms will eventually disregard them and your rankings should recover.

Google penalty for thin and/or duplicate content

As Google’s algorithm rewards informative and relative content, so does it penalize thin or duplicate content. As a result, poor site performance may be caused by low-quality content such as:

  • Pages or blog posts that are too short for the estimated traffic volume of the keywords. In other words, any content that isn’t long enough for readers to find valuable
  • Spun or auto-generated content on your site. Google reads every word of your text, and it can tell when you try to artificially create your site content. If it doesn’t read naturally or is too semantically similar to other sites’ content, then you’ll be penalized. 
  • Duplicate content on your site. This is typically the result of poor sitemap optimization, which is why it’s important to identify the pages Google search is returning and see if it’s assigning duplicate penalties 

Keyword stuffing penalties

Once upon a time, stuffing pages with keywords or making them invisible was an easy way to rank in early Google algorithms. Today, Google will flag hidden or stuffed keywords and hit you with a manual action notification, which you can find highlighted in Search Console. 

Look through all the suspected instances of your keywords in the site text, and optimize the content so that you can ensure Google is satisfied that your content is generated by actual humans and is designed to be read by actual human readers, not by search engine crawlers. 

When you’re finished optimizing your content, request Google to re-crawl your site in Search Console. 

Cloaking and redirects

Cloaking is the act of hiding a page’s true appearance or content from how Google sees it. It’s generally a deceptive practice, as it’s seen as an attempt to hide images or content from Google that may violate webmaster guidelines. 

A redirect is when a link appearing in Google Search goes to another site or page. Again, Google will penalize redirects since they represent inaccurate or deceptive linking practices. However, it’s not always the webmaster’s fault, as some CMS plugins and .HTACCESS issues can inadvertently cause cloaks and redirects. 

When flagged with cloaking or redirect penalties, you’ll be notified in your Search Console. Google will tell you where the problem areas are, and it’s simply a matter of fixing the redirect or hidden content issues and requesting a re-crawl of your site. 

Google My Business penalty

Having a properly optimized Google My Business page is critical for local SEO. GMB gives your business a profile listing that appears prominently in search results, and the data you provide helps Google give your website rankings a boost in your local market. 

Unfortunately, GMB listings are rife with abuse. If Google determines that your listing page is fake or being manipulated by black-hat SEO strategies, it will ultimately lead to penalties on your main website and — in a worst-case scenario — suspend access to your Google services entirely.  

To ensure you don’t receive a Google My Business penalty, make sure you update and optimize your listing regularly. Posting news stories, keeping your business information up to date, and interacting with customers will show Google that your business is legitimate and it will strengthen your overall search results.

Google penalty recovery services

If your website has been hit with one or more Google penalties, your traffic and rankings will suffer unless you take steps to recover. Fortunately, most cases are relatively easy to fix, especially when you’re dealing with a manual action report that tells you exactly what the problem is and how to fix it. 

An SEO expert like Miromind will analyze your site for penalties you may have missed and will create a strategy to recover from any type of Google penalty, whether it’s a manual or algorithm-based penalty. With over 12 years helping businesses around the world improve their website rankings and traffic, our team will work with you to ensure your site’s performance is at its best. Contact us today to see what we can do for you. 

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