Google is considered the world’s most popular search engine. It’s now part of our daily lives, with more than 90% of people searching for something online. If your website isn’t ranking well on Google, you will not get the traffic you need to succeed. That’s why avoiding penalties and keeping your site ranking well on Google is crucial.
This guide will expound on what you need to know about Google penalties and how to identify and fix them if they occur on your website.
What is a Google Penalty?
A Google penalty is a punishment given to websites by Google. It’s an algorithmic action that affects your website’s rankings. The Google algorithm is a set of rules determining how to rank websites and penalties that may result from low-quality content, bad links, or other factors. You can get rid of the penalty if you fix the issue that caused it in the first place.
Why do sites get Google Penalties?
There are different reasons why a site might be penalised by Google. For example, your site may be penalised if you use “black hat” SEO practices, like cloaking, keyword stuffing, or hidden text.You could also get a penalty if your site violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. For example, if you have too many ads on your site or use insecure content delivery methods that put users at risk of malware and phishing attacks.
- Duplicate content
- Spamming the search engines with low-quality content that is not relevant to the user’s query
- Using hidden text or links tricks users into clicking on something you don’t want them to click.
Another reason is that they violate copyright laws. This includes using copyrighted content without permission or building a site around someone else’s work without attribution.
Review Google Algorithm Updates
Here are some of the algorithms and updates you need to review if you think Google is penalising your content.
Panda is a Google algorithm that focuses on content quality. It was first introduced in February 2011 and designed to filter out low-quality content from search results.
Google announced they would be rollout a new Panda update focused on content farms and thin sites (sites with little substance or value).
The Secure algorithmic update is a new set of algorithms that will change how Google treats content. These are designed to identify and penalise pages that are not secure. To be clear, this means that pages that are not secure have a greater chance of being punished if they have any security issues.
Google has been working on these algorithms for months, but no implementation yet. The reason is that Google wants to ensure that it will be effective enough at detecting insecure content before it rolls out these new algorithms for everyone to use.
Mobilegeddon is a Google update designed to improve mobile users’ search results.
Google’s algorithm has always favoured sites optimised for mobile devices, but in 2015, Google made an update to its algorithm that would penalise sites that were not mobile-friendly. The update came into effect on April 21, 2015.
Mobilegeddon is a significant reason to optimise your site for mobile devices. However, it’s not the only reason or the most important one! Mobilegeddon is just one of many Google algorithms that affect rankings and can help you achieve better search rankings.
Penguin is an algorithm update Google released in 2012 to target websites manipulating their ranking through black hat SEO. It is part of Google’s effort to prevent spammy sites from ranking well.
Penguin targets sites with bad links pointing at them, which can be either paid links or natural links from low-quality sources. Sites affected by Penguin will see a drop in their rankings for keywords they were previously ranking for.
Intrusive Interstitial Penalty
A Google algorithm that penalises websites for having intrusive or disruptive interstitials.
Intrusive interstitials are pop-ups, overlays, and other elements that request permission to display before the user can continue using the site. These elements are considered a bad user experience and can lead to penalties if found on your website.
Can we identify penalties?
Google uses various factors to determine a website’s ranking, but the most important one is still the content on your page.
If your page isn’t optimised for search engines, Google will penalise you. There are different reasons why this might happen and these include the following:
- Too many unnatural links to and from your website
- Thin content that has little or no value at all
The best way to check if your site is suffering from penalties is to use the Google Search Console (GSC). The Search Console is an online tool that allows you to see how well your site performs in Google search results and provides tips on improving its performance.
Fix Google Penalties – Algorithmic and Manual
If Google penalises you, your business is hit with a penalty that will last for a specific time. A penalty can be either algorithmic or manual.
Manual penalties are less common than algorithmic penalties and occur when Google manually finds something wrong with your website and manually applies a penalty to your site.
What is an Algorithmic Penalty?
If you’re running your business, you need to know that Google often updates their algorithm and the said algorithm is then distributed to sites that fail to comply with Google’s guidelines.
To identify the type of penalty you’re facing, you have to track when your ranking first declined and match it with Google’s date of update rollout. The best way to pinpoint an algorithmic action is to check Google’s organic traffic and identify if you have a ranking drop that coincides with a specific algorithm update.
An algorithmic penalty is a ranking change that happens because of an algorithm. When hit with an algorithmic penalty, your site will be ranked lower than it should be for specific keywords.
These are usually the result of some manual action by Google. The most common cause is duplicate content, but other reasons include link schemes and unnatural keyword stuffing.
These penalties can be split into two types: Penguin is for sites with unnatural link profiles, and Panda is for sites with poor content quality. Penguin focuses more on low-quality backlinks. On the other hand, Panda focuses on content quality. The latter identifies thin and duplicate contents.
What is a Manual Penalty?
Manual action is always visible under Google Search Console’s Security and Manual actions. This will result in web pages being omitted or ranked lower in the search results. Manual review penalties happen for various reasons, any time but a vast majority of them start by triggering an algorithmic penalty.
The search quality or webspam team is responsible for identifying and fixing penalties applied to a website in Google’s search results. The team consists of engineers, analysts, and other specialists who work together to identify problems with a website’s content, design, and structure. They also ensure webmasters can access the tools they need to resolve these issues.
Once the team identifies a problem on a website, they will notify the webmaster through email. The message will provide information about how to fix the problem and explain how long it will take for the site’s ranking in Google’s search results to return to normal.
Structured Data Issue
Building structured data seem like good news. However, the wrong implementation of the same can cause Google to impose a manual action. One of the main penalties that might be imposed is a loss in ranking. Here are the most common structured data mistakes you should stay away from:
- Use of improper structured data
- Structured data is not the same as on-page content
- Structured data violates Google’s specific data or general guidelines
- Manipulative behaviour like shortcuts
Structured data issues are typically caused by incorrect or duplicate structured data on your website, which could attribute to a lack of knowledge on the proper implementation of schema markup or mistakes made when implementing it.
Cloaking is the practice of hiding content from search engines. It’s typically done by creating two versions of a page—one for human visitors and one for search engine spiders. The version intended for search engine spiders will have no links, no navigation elements, and no content that would help a user find what they’re looking for. The version intended for human visitors will have all of these things.
If you’re running a site with many pages only intended to be seen by search engines, then you risk getting penalised by Google. This is because Google wants to show users what they want to see when they search, not just some random page optimised for search engines.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of placing a keyword or phrase on a web page or blog post in an attempt to manipulate the search engine rankings. The problem with keyword stuffing is that it can be penalised by Google and other search engines, which means that your site won’t rank as highly as it should if you have been penalised.
User-generated spam is content posted to a website by users without permission from the website owner. This can include posts on social media sites, comments on blogs or forums, and messages on message boards or newsgroups.
The most common type of user-generated spam is forum spam—the creation of multiple threads on a forum with the same title and theme. The purpose of this is to drive traffic to another website or to advertise another product. However, other types of user-generated spam exist as well, such as:
- Comments on blogs or news articles that are irrelevant to the topic being discussed
- Messages posted on message boards or newsgroups that advertise products or services unrelated to the topic at hand
Google penalties are not limited to websites that have been penalised due to low-quality content; they also apply to websites that have been penalised due to violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. These guidelines include rules regarding ways to prevent comment spam.
Spammy Free Host
If a significant number of websites you host through your hosting service are spammy, there is a high chance that Google will take manual action on the entire service.
Unnatural links to your site
Unnatural links are links to your site made by people and sites with no relationship to your business or niche. Suppose you have a pet store, and someone buys an ad on your site that leads to their pet shop. This is an unnatural link.
The problem is, only a small percentage of the time do these links help improve your rankings. Most times, they harm your rankings because Google considers them spammy.
Here’s what happens: when Google finds unnatural links to your site, it can penalise you for that behaviour by reducing your search engine rankings or even removing you from their index entirely.
Unnatural links from your site
Unnatural links from your site are links that you, or someone else, have added to your site that Google has not approved. This includes links from spammy websites, paid links, or links from websites that are not related to your business.
Google wants to know that the content on your site is the best possible for users so that it will penalise sites with unnatural links.
Hidden text is spam that you may not see, but Google does. Hidden text is a form of spam that can appear in the source code of your website. It’s hidden to make it difficult for Google to find and index, but it’s easy for humans to see.
When Google finds hidden text on your site, it will usually give you a manual penalty or algorithmically penalise your site. Your rankings will be reduced until the hidden text is removed from your site.
Thin content is content with little to no value to your users. It doesn’t help them solve problems, and it doesn’t teach them anything they didn’t already know.
If your website has thin content, Google will be less likely to rank it highly in search results because it doesn’t provide the value that Google’s algorithm looks for.
Several things can cause these types of pages:
- Duplicate content: This is when multiple pages have similar or identical content, diluting their effectiveness as a page.
- Spam content: Is often used to get higher rankings in search engines, but it’s not something you want to do because it’s against Google’s policies and can result in your site being penalised or even removed from the index entirely.
Should we inspect the backlink profile?
Yes, we should inspect the backlink profile in a variety of ways, such as:
Backlinks are vital to your website’s ranking and authority, so knowing how many links you have and where they’re coming from is essential.
That’s because Google uses a variety of different factors to determine whether or not a link is spammy or not. One of those factors is the source of your backlinks—if you get backlinks from sites that are similar in topic and content, it’s more likely that Google will view them favourably. If you get backlinks from unrelated sites or sites with a poor reputation (like ones with lots of spammy comments), then it’s likely that Google will penalise you for having those links appear on your site.
It is essential to check the anchor text and referring domains because they help you check if your website is affected by a Google penalty.
If you have been affected by a manual penalty, you may notice that your anchor text and referring domains have changed. This change can indicate that Google has manually penalised your site for violating its guidelines.
If you have been affected by an algorithmic penalty, Google may have changed how they evaluate links on your site. This change could mean they will no longer count some of your links as valuable, leading to decreased rankings.
Keeping track of what’s going on with SEO can be challenging with so many updates. Avoiding the penalties of Google may seem like a daunting task since there are updates that you have to keep track of. Your goal here is to focus on trustworthiness and relevance. Continue providing your website with quality and original content and Google won’t have any reason to penalize you.
You can check for yourself using Google penalty checker tools or hire an expert to do this analysis. The sooner you act on any problems identified through these tools and ensure there aren’t any manual actions against your site, the better off you’ll be.