How would you react if you woke up to a website of yours with zero traffic that used to get 100k users per month? You’d be scared, right?
We know how tough it is to go from > 100 to #1 on SERPs. 📈
But modern-day websites are keen on using shortcuts, which tend to disrupt Google’s controlled and protected ecosystem.
But Google doesn’t like shortcuts.
Just like traffic police, it stops you when you don’t abide by the rule book and levies a heavy penalty. You’re restricted from the web if you don’t sweep or rectify the violations.
But for most site owners, Google penalties are still a mystery.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the functioning of Google penalties, what practices cause penalties, and how to recover from them.
What Are Google Penalties?
Simply put, Google penalties are like punishments imposed on a website for not adhering to Webmaster Guidelines.
Just like in Football, referees impose penalties for unethical behavior. Similarly, Google has a webspam team and specific AI-driven tools to monitor websites across the platform and penalize websites if they do something wrong or don’t comply with Google’s guidelines.
When your website is penalized by Google, its rating on the search engine results page (SERP) plummets. Even worse, your website may become unsearchable on Google.
This means once you’re on Google penalties radar, all you will see is your traffic reaching zero in no time.
Why Do Google Penalties Occur?
Simply put, Google penalties help Google fight spam. Any website manipulating or abusing its ranking factors or quality guidelines is a spammer for Google and gets penalized.
You see, Google is built on two core ideologies:
Protect its customers from spammers
Present quality answers to its users
Sticking to its core, Google has AI-driven systems that can detect spam at the ‘crawling’ stage.
As per Google, these systems help them with 99% protection against spam. Moreover, the systems are well-versed with a set of quality guidelines that explains what Google expects from websites.
As of December 2022, Google launched another AI-based spam prevention system, SpamBrain, that will help detect both: Sites buying links and sites used to pass outgoing links.
Although there can be many reasons why Google penalties occur, the following triggers often result in a penalty:
The effect of Google penalties on SEO varies depending on the magnitude of the violation. Here are some penalties that will affect your website SEO directly or indirectly.
#1. Keyword Penalty
When you receive a keyword penalty, it means Google has red-flagged one or some of your website’s ranking keywords. A penalty like this generally results in the punished domain losing its ranking position in SERP for that specific keyword.
However, this penalty is limited to only penalized keywords, and all other keywords are unaffected. So yes, you can still rank at #1🥇 for keywords that aren’t penalized.
#2. URL or Directory Penalty
A penalty on a URL or directory level will affect all ranking positions for the penalized URL or directory.
Every keyword in and around that particular URL will take a nosedive in terms of ranking. For the most part, URL penalties often result from the following:
Creating multiple websites with slight variations or tweaks to the URL
Having multiple subdomains targeted at specific regions to funnel users to a pillar page
#3. Delisting or Deindexing
If Google punishes a website with a so-called Delisting, it will remove the entire domain from the Google Index. You will see it nowhere!
Even if you run a Google search with the exact domain, this is what you’ll see👇🏻
#4. Domain-Wide Penalty
You are subject to a domain-wide penalty if a significant amount of keywords for your domain have been flagged by Google. When it happens, your ranking shatters like a pane of glass with no ‘immediate’ way to recover from it.
Check Websites for Google Penalty
One of the most obvious signs of a Google penalty is a substantial fall in organic traffic or SERP ranking.
Although normal fluctuations in SERP ranking are common, if the drop seems to be dramatic, you might have been penalized by Google.
Go to Security & Manual Actions > Manual Actions and look for error(s), if any.
In the same tab, you can also submit a request to review the penalty if you feel there’s been a mistake. However, if you see ‘No issue detected,’ you’re in the clear sky.
Algorithmic penalties, on the other hand, are harder to diagnose because you won’t receive any updates regarding that from Google. Not even in the Google Search Console.
Because of this lack of information, detecting algorithmic penalties becomes complex.
A sure sign of algorithmic penalty is a noticeable decrease in website traffic and ranking as soon as a new algorithm update is rolled out.
In fact, a better way to figure this out is to research a competitor’s SERP ranking as soon as you assume you’re penalized. You may ask why?
If your competitors are losing rank as quickly as you and in the same time interval, there’s quite a possibility that the new algorithm update has flagged a common keyword in the industry.
Types of Google Penalties
Generally, Google penalizes via two methods – Manual Penalty and Algorithm Penalty.
A manual penalty occurs when an authorized employee of Google manually reviews your domain and suspects it of violating Google’s Webmaster guidelines. In this case, the employee can actively take action against your domain.
Here’re some possible reasons why a manual penalty is inflicted on your website:
Buying links (to and from your site)
Other than this, a Google penalty might occur due to algorithm updates, such as in the case of the Google Panda Update or the Google Penguin Update.
Recover From Google Penalties
Google penalties could result in a drastic loss of traffic and revenue for the business. And, if your business is entirely online, it’s wise to find and fix issues ASAP.
While most penalties result from bad SEO practices, some penalties occur due to Google errors, and you can fix them by communicating the same with Google’s core team.
However, if the penalty is not an error, here’s a quick checklist you can follow to recover from a Google penalty.
#1. Check If You’re Not Mistaking Poor SEO for a Google Penalty
Are you sure your website is behaving abnormally due to the Google penalty? Or is it your SEO team?
To ensure you’re heading in the right direction, use the Website Penalty Indicator. The tool will help you identify why, where, and how your site has been affected.
#2. Investigate Recent Algorithm Updates
Algorithm penalties are hard to identify and take longer to resolve, and there’s no record of when Google actually levied the penalty. So, to make sure you’re dealing with algorithmic penalties, switch to your Google Analytics dashboard.
GA dashboard can help you compare your website’s traffic to any known Google algorithm changes.
With GA4, you can see a report consisting of the number of visits your site receives from Google searches.
Select a date range, preferably a year, to notice any dramatic traffic drop. If you’re unaware of any algorithm updates causing the drop, here’s a list of Google algorithm updates in the last 2 years.
Once you know which algorithm penalized your site, deeply research the update to find which rules you violated. For example, if the Penguin update penalizes your site, you must improve your backlinks and anchor text distribution.
Likewise, if the Panda update penalizes you, it may be a question of content quality or poor UX/UI design. Typically, the recovery time depends on your research and how quickly you can spot algorithm guidelines that don’t align with your site.
#3. Run a Full-Fledged SEO Audit
SEO practices are a major reason behind Google penalties.
Although regular SEO audits should be an integral part of your marketing strategy, a technical SEO audit can help diagnose any traffic drop and work through the issue.
A full-fledged SEO audit can help you identify common SEO issues, like:
Bad or spammy backlinks
You can use our Website Audit tool for running a tech audit and finding the problems in your website.
But if your site is still back-performing after resolving all the SEO-related errors, your penalty might be due to content-related violations.
#4. Perform Content Audit
A content audit involves collecting and analyzing content on your websites, such as landing pages or blog posts.
Basically, performing a content audit is like keeping an inventory of our website. Its primary focus is to provide insight into which content to create, update, re-write, or delete.
A content audit is necessary because search engines determine the value of your website through your content. Therefore, any form of duplicate, outdated, or spammy content can lead to penalties or low ranking on SERPs.
For example, suppose you have a website related to travel, but the content included resembles something else. Though it might be a mistake, search engines work on algorithms, and they might feel this as an intention to fool them.
Thus, you may end up with a Google penalty.
To get started with content auditing, use content inventory tools from Semrush, Screaming Frog, or HubSpot.
Once you have resolved all issues, submit a request for reconsideration of the penalty with a brief of the issue and resolution.
#5. Analyze User-Generated Content
After analyzing your content, you must take notice of all user-generated content on your website (if any).
Yes, content created by others on your website can also lead to Google penalties. It’s usually found in forums, comments, and user profiles.
To recover from such penalties, do the following:
Firstly, identify pages where users can leave comments.
You can find spam comments in your WP dashboard’s comment section, they might look something like this:
#6. Unnatural Link To / From Your Website
Link building is crucial for your website’s SEO. However, Buying links and /or participating in link schemes to boost organic SERPs is a clear violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Although it can be overwhelming to check each link manually, specific tools like Majestic SEO can help you with the process.
Furthermore, you can use Google Search Console to identify bad incoming and outgoing links. Once you have rectified the issue, go for a reconsideration request.
Time Taken to Recover From Google Penalties
According to Google, there’s no determined time period to get your site back on SERP once it’s penalized.
However, in the case of manual penalties, the recovery time can be anywhere from 10-30 days, depending on how quickly you fix the problem, explain the origin and resolution of the problem in a reconsideration request, submit it and have your request accepted.
A lengthy process, isn’t it? 😪
For algorithm penalties, the reporting time can be significantly longer. But, again, it depends on how quickly you can resolve existing issues.
Considering past cases, some websites report damage up to two years later, while most sites can expect a six-month recovery.
Learn Courses: SEO and Penalties
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Google penalties can have a serious impact on your business. It is important to be aware of the different types of penalties and the steps you need to take to recover from them.
While some penalties can be difficult to recover from, it is possible to do so with the right knowledge and tools.
Remember this; shortcuts in gaining website traffic might work short-term, but if you want to play the long game, the right SEO with quality content is the key.
Google Knowledge Panel are the boxes that appear on Google when you search for specific entities such as people, organizations, or places. They are meant to give you a quick understanding through boxes about the information you are looking for.
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