It’s a widely-accepted fact that Google controls a vast portion of the digital landscape. This means that most webmasters know that they must do everything in their power to avoid a Google content penalty.
When you are hit by a manual content penalty by Google, the impact can be far reaching. Firstly, you will lose organic search visibility. This will lead to a loss of traffic and, consequently, revenue. Have you been hit with a penalty from Google? What are the possible ways to ensure recovery? In this guide, we will take a look at the most common types of Google penalty and how you can recover from them.
To get started, we need to draw a distinction between an algorithm change and a penalty. Some of the biggest algorithmic changes from Google, like Panda and Penguin, are erroneously regarded as penalties by most people but this isn’t true. The algorithms rely on certain sets of rules to deliver results. The idea of these changes is to increase relevance and quality in the results delivered to people running searches on Google on a daily basis.
Apart from the algorithms, Google also employs a large number of human reviewers to manually review and rate websites that have escaped the attention of the algorithms but still fall foul of Google’s quality standards. When you are hit by an algorithm change, the end result is generally the same, as you will lose organic traffic.
However, it is important that you understand the distinction between getting hit by a manual penalty and being hit by an algorithmic change. This is what will determine how you proceed with your recovery.
The major difference in dealing with a penalty vs. dealing with an algorithmic change is that, with the former, you have to interact with Google directly. If your website has been penalised by Google, you will get a manual action report through the Google Search Console. If you fix the violation, you can explain the situation to Google and how you have resolved it by submitting a “Reconsideration Request”.
With an algorithmic change, however, you won’t need to submit the reconsideration request. The first part of this guide looks at how to recover from the 13 Google manual penalties and what you can do to recover.
Cloaking is when you are showing a different page to users than what has been presented in the search engines. With sneaky redirects, the users are sent to a different page from the one they clicked in Google. These two actions will land any one of these two penalties:
This is a penalty that is levied against websites which show full content to Google but people who click through end up unable to view all or part of the content. Google operates a First Click Free Policy which means that any content in the search pages should be free to the user. So if your content requires users to register, subscribe or log in before they can view the full content, you will be penalised in any one of the two ways:
Some people fall into the problem of cloaking images as well, by providing:
Hackers spend a lot of time looking for weaknesses in WordPress and other content management systems which they use to inject malicious content and links. The activities are cloaked and hard to fix. When Google notices this, a notification that says “This site is hacked” is inserted into the search result for the pages affected and your website will be demoted in organic search results.
Google knows when you are hiding text or when you have stuffed pages with keywords and they will place a penalty once they have noticed it. This is another penalty that comes in the same two forms:
tags and alt text that may contain strings of repeated words
It is easy to feign ignorance with all other penalties but, if you get this penalty, in many cases, you fully deserve it. It is only meant for websites that aggressively engage in use of spam. Scraped content, cloaking, automated content that is barely readable to humans, and other forms of violations in this mould will put you in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines. Again, the penalties come in two forms:
Regardless of what the marketing gimmicks you come across daily say, “free hosting” simply doesn’t exist. Whatever they don’t charge in terms of fees will be recouped in one way or another and, in many cases, it could lead to you spending more money to remedy the situation you might find yourself in. Apart from shoddy services, free hosting often translates to spammy and irrelevant ads getting thrown around indiscriminately on your pages without any input from you. This is why Google can go to the extent of closing down every single site on a free hosting service.
You will be penalised if you aren’t following rich snippets guidelines or have your mark-up content invisible or misleading. Again the penalty can be either:
There are various low-quality or shallow pages that can lead to this type of penalty. They include the following:
This penalty can also affect part or all of your website.
Today, this is the most common penalty amongst webmasters. The main cause is buying links or being a part of link schemes targeted at boosting organic SERPs. This is firmly against Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Google generally pays special attention to webmasters guilty of selling links. In fact, if you publish links with the mindset of manipulating search rankings, you will most certainly trigger a manual penalty. As is the case with others like it, this penalty can affect all or part of your website.
This refers to the spammy behaviour seen in forums, comments, user profiles etc. They are usually used by black hat SEOs to game the Google system. However, this almost always leads to a penalty. It can lead to partial matches that affect portions of your site or site-wide matches.
Job postings generally appear in Google when they are posted using structured data. With such structure, the search engines take the data, aggregate it and then display it at the top of the search results page. You can get this result in a couple of ways: the first one is to use job posting structured data on your own, or to use a third-party job site that uses structured data mark-up.
When you choose to post on your own site directly, there is the danger of exposing yourself to a potential penalty if you do not remove expired job postings. So, you must keep things current to avoid a penalty.
If you have already been hit with the penalty, some of things you can do include:
Now that we have looked at how to deal with Google manual penalties, the next part of this guide looks at how you can recover from Google algorithm penalties.