Google penalties are some of the most frightening—yet most poorly understood—elements of search engine optimization (SEO). With the power to dramatically reduce your site’s rankings and visibility in search engines, Google penalties are a real threat, but at times, the legends surrounding them venture into “boogeyman” territory.
Every webmaster should work to learn more about Google penalties—both to avoid them from applying to your site and to learn to take appropriate action if and when a penalty ever emerges. But the topic is so overrun with misinformation and fearmongering, it’s hard to get a straight answer on how penalties work.
That’s why we’ve created this all-in-one guide to Google penalties, so you can learn how to avoid them, how to assess them, and most importantly, how to recover.
Let’s start with a discussion on what actually constitutes a “Google penalty.”
Google has the power to take a manual action against a site that shows signs of violating Google’s terms of service. In this situation, a human being reviews the site in question and issues a manual penalty against the site. After the penalty is issued, some or all of your web pages will either suffer a massive ranking penalty or be omitted from search results entirely, depending on a number of factors (including the type and severity of the offense). There’s no clear visual indication that the pages are lower in rank, but their visibility will plummet. In all cases of a Google manual penalty, you will be specifically notified of its issuance.
This is the only type of formal penalty that exists. However, your web pages may decline in rank for other reasons; these ranking declines are often referred to as “penalties” even though there is no human, manual action involved.
Usually, if you notice a sudden decline in your search rankings, it’s because Google has issued a change in its algorithm. Google does this periodically as a way to improve the quality and accuracy of its search results; as a byproduct, it reevaluates the pages in its index, and some pages may fall in rank while others increase. Typically, these algorithm changes focus on refining Google’s quality standards; though the specific details aren’t published, it often means tightening restrictions on how Google “sees” your content and external links.
Either way, there are strategies you can use to recover from your ranking decline. In the event of a manual Google penalty, you’ll need to make specific changes to your site and request a manual review from Google directly. In the case of search engine ranking page (SERP) volatility due to an algorithm change, tweaking your current efforts may be enough to bring your rank up over time.
You may notice your pages sharply decline in rankings, or disappear from search rankings altogether, at some point in the future. If this happens, your first step is determining what type of “penalty” you’re facing.
Your ranking decline is likely attributable to one of these three root causes. The only exception is if a sudden influx of high-authority competition has challenged your previous domination over the keyword cluster.
Now, let’s dig into the motivations for a Google manual action. The vast majority of websites will never have to worry about getting a manual penalty, since they’re typically reserved for sites that are intentionally and grievously offending Google’s terms of service. Few webmasters are taken wholly by surprise when they discover their site has been targeted with a penalty.
These are some of the top reasons for “true” Google penalties (aka, manual actions):
If Google has sent you a message notifying you of a manual action, there are some steps you can take to resolve the issue. After you’ve been able to fully resolve the issue, your rankings should be restored to their former glory as soon as the index updates.
Hopefully, Google will review your request in a timely manner and approve of the changes you made. If it rejects your appeal, you’ll receive a detailed explanation as to why, and what steps you can take to resolve the problem.
If your site’s pages fell in rank due to an algorithm change, you can take the following steps:
If you feel your site has been penalized, fairly or unfairly, but the preceding steps weren’t enough to resolve the issue, you may need additional help to restore your site’s rankings. SEO is our specialty, and our mission is to help clients not only recover from existing penalties, but instate the long-term strategies necessary to avoid penalties in the future.
Contact us for a free consultation, and learn how we can help your site earn the rank it deserves.