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What Is a Google Penalty in SEO and How Can You Prevent It?

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Google Penalty In SEO And How Can You Prevent It?

Google and other search engines use penalties to prevent users from abusing their algorithms to rank their website higher than it warrants.

The problem comes in when you unknowingly violate Google’s webmaster guidelines. Google uses manual and automatic penalties to punish violations of its guidelines and even uses its algorithm to discourage certain behaviors. These penalties tend to impact websites that unintentionally break the rules and can greatly impact your site’s Google ranking in Google’s search results.

The good news is that it’s possible to reverse a Google penalty and get back into the search engine’s good graces. It’s also worthwhile reading up on Google’s guidelines in the Search Console to avoid making the same mistakes again. Read on as our digital marketing team at Relentless Digital explains what a Google penalty is and how to avoid them.

The Difference Between an Algorithm Update and a Penalty

Many people tend to confuse Google’s algorithm updates with Google penalties because both can result in a drop in traffic.

However, while the result is the same, the purpose and effects of the two are completely different, and it’s vital to understand what a Google penalty is when considering your SEO strategy.

Google Penalties

Google uses a combination of manual and algorithmic penalties to punish sites that violate its webmaster guidelines. Once issued, a Google penalty removes the website in question from its search results entirely until the site owners file an appeal with Google.

Understanding the two main types of penalties can help you work out your next steps after receiving a Google penalty. The process can differ drastically in how you recover your site and start generating website traffic in the future.

Manual Penalties

A manual penalty is when a Google employee detects your website breaking Google’s terms of service. A manual Google penalty often results in a complete delisting of your site, meaning that no one can find it using Google. Other search engines will still show your site, and users can still manually enter your URL to find your site, but losing your Google listing is a death knell for organic traffic.

Google uses these penalties for egregious violations, such as spamming, pop-up ads, keyword stuffing, and not having a legitimate security certificate.

If your web page receives a manual penalty, it will often come with a manual action report. You can find this report on your Search Console, where it outlines the violation and steps you can take to address the issue.

Once you’ve fixed the problem, you will need to submit a reconsideration request showing the manual actions you’ve taken to address the issue. If successful, Google will reinstate your site after the reconsideration request with no further penalties to your ranking.

Algorithmic Penalties

Google’s ultimate purpose is to provide users with valuable results to a particular search query. The search engine uses a set of rules called an algorithm to decide which sites are most applicable to a query, ranking and displaying them accordingly.

Google’s ranking algorithm has become increasingly complex to ensure that users get the best experience possible. It also subtly penalizes low-quality sites by putting them much lower in the rankings. However, unlike manual penalties, these don’t completely remove the site from Google’s listing. You also don’t need to submit a reconsideration request to avoid the downsides of an algorithmic update; simply improving your SEO will do the trick.

Google releases algorithm updates regularly to encourage certain behaviors, such as switching to mobile and improving page authority. The last major core update was in November 2021. Since then, Google has issued several small patches to reward high-quality product reviews and page experience while also punishing spam more heavily than before.

Unfortunately, these algorithm updates do result in some high-performance sites dropping in search engine results due to no longer meeting all of the criteria of the new algorithm. However, these aren’t specific penalties aimed at scammers or black-hat practices. Instead, they affect every site on the internet.

It is worthwhile to use an HVAC contractor’s trusted SEO services to optimize your site after a major update. Most expert SEO companies know how to legitimately increase your search results ranking without resorting to cheap, ineffective tricks.

Common Violations That Result in Google Penalties

Google’s guidelines lay out all of the violations that result in a penalty. However, some violations are more common than others, often resulting from unwary webmasters trying to improve their Google Search results. These common violations include:

  • Hosting spyware, viruses, or adware on your site
  • Using hidden links or text
  • Displaying a different version of the webpage to Google’s robots
  • Forced redirects
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Lots of poor-quality duplicate content

Correcting a Google Penalty With the Google Search Console


Cloaking is when you show one page to Google and another to users, and doing so can affect the entire site or a single page. Cloaking is an explicit violation of Google’s terms and conditions because it provides users with a different experience than they expected.

Cloaking can take many forms, including hiding images while showing a page of HTML to the search engine or inserting keywords or text that only the search engine can see. In many cases, it’s due to a CMS plug-in or JavaScript that Google struggles to access correctly.

Correcting the Problem

The first thing you need to do is see how Google sees the affected pages of your site. You can do this via your Google Search Console > Crawl > Fetch as Google.

Once you have both versions of the web page in front of you, you can take manual actions to remove any variations, ensuring that both versions of the page are the same. If you use JavaScript or other plug-ins, try to move to a more search-engine friendly language to avoid this issue in the future.

When you’re certain you have no more cloaking issues, use Manual Actions> Request a Review to submit a reinstatement request. Once human reviewers check your site and find no problems, they will revoke their manual action.

Sneaky and Mobile Redirects

Redirects are when you send the user to a different URL than the one they initially requested. There are plenty of legitimate uses for redirects, such as:

  • Helping website visitors find your site if you’ve changed addresses or URLs
  • Merging several websites into one

Sneaky redirects force Google to index the original page without following the redirect, while users see the redirected page. Sneaky mobile redirects are similar, where a desktop user will see a certain page while mobile users will see a completely different page.

As with cloaking and doorway pages, this leads to a deceptive practice where what Google sees and what users see are two different things, making it difficult to rate the site’s ranking accurately.

Correcting the Problem

Check all of your redirects and remove any that:

  • Send users to an unexpected website
  • Only redirect users from a specific source, such as mobile or desktop

In some instances, sneaky redirects may be a sign of hacking. Check your Security Issues report and remove any third-party elements on your page. If you haven’t been hacked, identify potential scripts that may cause the redirect by disabling each script and seeing if it still redirects to an unwanted site.

No matter the reason for the sneaky redirect, let Google know through the Manual Actions > Request a Review page once you’ve addressed the problem.

AMP Content Mismatch

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is an open-source framework that optimizes pages for web browsing while keeping the process of building a website relatively simple.

However, in many cases, AMP and the original version of a webpage may not be exactly the same. While Google does give some leeway in terms of text, users need to be able to accomplish everything in the same way on the AMP and canonical pages.

In the case of an AMP content mismatch, Google will remove the AMP page from Google Search and replace it with the canonical version instead.

Correcting the Problem

You need to ensure that what Google sees and what you see are the same. Sometimes, a robots.txt file will block certain resources on one of the pages, leading to mismatches between the pages. Use the URL inspection tool on your Google Search Console to confirm both views are the same.

You’ll also need to check that your canonical and AMP versions are as close to each other as possible. You may need to take manual action to sync the two pages and then submit a request for a review.

Hidden Text

“Hidden text” refers to text that users can’t see but that Google can detect when indexing your site. Most of the time, the hidden text consists of keywords and phrases to improve your search index without spending time on developing high-quality content.

Correcting the Problem

Use your search console to crawl the noted pages and see how Google views the site. Look for any text that’s the same color as the body of the page or that’s hidden behind other CSS elements.

You can either remove the offending text or change its styling to make it visible to the user. If you’ve stuffed keywords into your <title tags> or alt text, remove those.

Structured Data Concerns

Structured data is excellent for digital marketing and SEO as it allows for Google analytics to crawl your site better, often resulting in higher search rankings and more useful search results for users.

However, incorrectly using structured data snippets or in-page markups can lead to manual action. While Google has many general guidelines on structured data, the notable ones are:

  • Avoid misleading structured data on the main page
  • Avoid marking up content that the user can’t see

Correcting the Problem

Review your existing markups and structured data for any guideline violations. While it’s tempting to spam rich text and abuse the markup system, it leads to more problems than it solves.

Thin Content

Google prioritizes high-quality content that adds value and actually answers the user’s search query. Simply having a blog with little to no content isn’t enough to comply with Google’s new search criteria.

Common offenders for thin content include:

  • Automated content
  • Affiliate pages with no original descriptions, just the OEM information
  • Low-quality guest blog posts
  • Scraped content from other sites

Correcting the Problem

Correcting thin content can be a massive challenge, especially if you’ve relied on it heavily in the past. Steps involve:

  • Removing spun or automated content
  • Rewrite affiliate pages with added value past OEM descriptions

> Identify plagiarized content and remove or rewrite it

  • Remove low-quality writing and improve overall content quality
  • Post content that’s informative and useful to the end-user

Investing in unique, exciting content is time-consuming and expensive, but it’s well worth it. Not only does it help meet Google’s search criteria, but it also establishes your brand as the industry leader while building brand awareness.

Suspicious or Unnatural Links to or From Your Site

Link building is guaranteed to give any site owner gray hairs. It’s an essential component of any SEO strategy, but it can be extremely time-consuming and expensive if you do it correctly. You need to build up a strong backlink profile, but you also need to get your outgoing links pointing to high-profile websites.

Because building a link profile is so complex, many people resort to low-quality links or even outright buying or selling links to other websites. While the algorithm handles most scammy or irrelevant links, Google will still take manual action if it suspects the use of link schemes or buying links to your site.

According to the Google penalty policy, any manipulative, deceptive, or unnatural links are subject to immediate manual action.

Correcting the Problem

Go over every one of your links with a fine-tooth comb. Identify the violating links and either remove them or add a no-follow attribute. If you can’t, disavow the link and contact Google’s review team.

Spam and User-Generated Spam

Spam comes in two main types, and both warrant manual actions from Google.

Websites that engage in spamming will often combine scraped content, cloaking, and spammy links. If enough users submit spam reports, Google will take manual action against the site.

The second type is more insidious and relies on users to post spam links, advertising comments, spammy usernames, and autogenerated comments to social media, forums, or comments sections on your page.

Correcting the Problem

Start by removing all spammy content on your site. If you suffer from user-generated spam, consider hiring a moderator to keep your social areas clean.

Once you’ve cleaned up your site, get in touch with Google via the Manual Actions > Request a Review page.

Avoid a Google Penalty in the First Place

Many website owners fail to understand Google’s guidelines and get a Google penalty for making relatively simple mistakes. While it’s possible to reverse a penalty, the downtime involved may be enough to tank your organic traffic and SEO strategy for years.

At Relentless Digital, we recommend working with professionals who understand digital marketing and SEO. Not only does our team at Relentless Digital provide comprehensive ROI reporting to all of our clients (click here to learn more about ROI reporting), but we help you avoid common errors that could have catastrophic consequences.

If you want to find out how we can help you avoid a Google penalty and improve your organic traffic, get in touch with us via our website or call us at (262) 720-5739 today!