Mikhail Khorev

Digital Marketing and SEO Expert

How to Identify and Fix a Google Penalty

By Mikhail Khorev | November 1, 2015 | 0 Comment

If you’ve recently noticed a significant drop in your search engine rankings, you might be dealing with a lot of emotions. You’re probably confused and frustrated, and you could even be dealing with financial stress if you’re missing out on leads and profits from your website. It’s true that the future of your company — and its income — can be in serious danger if you don’t make a move quickly, and you could be especially concerned about the situation if you don’t know what’s wrong and don’t know how to fix the problem.

Luckily, your Google penalty can be easier to figure out than you think. Once you determine the source of the problem, you can start taking steps to get your rankings — and your traffic and profits — back to normal.

First of all, you should know that the majority of Google penalties can be separated into one of two categories, algorithmic or manual.


What is a Manual Action?

A manual penalty, which is referred to by Google as a manual action, is an instance in which your website has been flagged manually by Google’s “web spam team.” This happens when your website is considered to be in violation of Google’s guidelines for one reason or another, which can result in your site being de-indexed on Google or being banned and significantly lowered in  search engine results.

The only good thing about a manual action is the fact that it is very easy to identify. Google will send you a notification, which you can access through your Google Webmaster Tools. If you have not already claimed your site on Webmaster Tools, you will need to do so before you can access this notification. Once you are logged in, you’ll need to click on the drop-down menu for “Search Traffic.” Then, you can click on “Manual Actions.” This will allow you to view Google’s reason for taking a manual action against your website.

What are the Causes of Manual Action?

  • Unnatural links (this is probably the most common cause of manual actions)
  • Thin content
  • Hacked website
  • Pure spam or user-generated spam
  • Cloaking or sneaky redirects
  • Hidden text or keyword stuffing
  • Spammy structured markups

In some cases, manual actions are only considered “partial” actions, which means that they are only taken against one part of your website. Other manual actions are site-wide, which means that they will apply to your entire domain. If you would like to see all of the many reasons why Google can take a manual action against you, you can find this information on Google’s support page. Then, you can read a better explanation of why a manual action might have been taken against your website.


How to Fix a Manual Action Penalty

Even though a manual action penalty can be frustrating, it can be relatively easy to fix. This is because Google will tell you exactly what the problem is, so you can focus on fixing the problem and can then move on to step two.

1. Fix the Problem
Manual Action: “Unnatural links”
If your site has unnatural links, you will need to audit all of your incoming links. Then, you should ask any spammy or otherwise nonreputable sites to remove your link. If you are unable to clean up all of your links, you can submit a disavow of links that lists the links that you could not have removed.

Manual Action: “Thin content”
This action can come from not having enough high-quality content on your site. To fix it, you should add new blog posts and other content.

Manual Action: “Hacked website”
You’ll need to discover which parts of your sites were hacked and will need to remove the hacked parts so that your site is once again considered safe.

Manual Action: “Spam”
If your site has had a manual action taken against it because of spam, you’ll need to remove any spam that you or anyone else might have posted on your site.

Manual Action: “Cloaking”
If you use the “Fetch as Google” tool that is available through Google’s Webmaster Tools, you can ensure that both Google and your users are being presented with the same content on your site. This can help you remove any redirects that might be seen as spammy.

Manual Action: “Hidden text or keyword stuffing”
Make sure that your site is not filled with too many keywords, either that are visible or that aren’t. You can check your content for keyword stuffing and can remove keywords as necessary. You can then check your website’s source code and its CSS to find any hidden keywords that might be seen as being abused.

Manual Action: “Spammy structured markup”
You can use Google’s rich text snipping tool to find and remove markups that could be considered spammy.

2. Send a Reconsideration Request to Google
Once you have fixed any problems that might have caused your manual action, you can submit a reconsideration request to Google. Basically, this request is designed so that you can inform Google of the changes that you have made and so that you can ask for Google’s team to reconsider adding your site to the search engine rankings.


These are a few things that you should remember when you are writing your reconsideration request:

  1. Put the Blame Where it Belongs: If you are responsible for the issues on your site, be honest and admit to it. If an SEO company or employee caused these mistakes, admit that, too.
  2. Provide Proof: You’ll want to show proof of the steps that you have taken to remedy the problem. Document all of the changes that you have made, and save this document as a Google Doc. Then, attach the Google Doc to your request to provide proof.
  3. Show That You Understand: Make sure that you mention that you understand why an action was taken against your website and that you are knowlegeable and fully willing to make a change in the future.
  4. Provide Your Information: Make sure that you provide your own information rather than submitting your request anonymously. This will help ensure that the Google spam team members will take your request seriously.

When you are ready to submit your reconsideration request, you can submit it by going through the Webmaster Tools menu, clicking on “Manual Actions” and then navigating to “Request a Review.” It will take a few weeks for Google to get back with you, but you will receive an email letting you know about Google’s decision.

There is a chance that your first request will be denied; this is not uncommon. If this happens, you will need to go back through your site to see if any additional changes need to be made. If you go ahead and do a good, thorough job with fixing your website the first time, however, you can help get your site back on the search engine results more quickly.


What is an Algorithmic Penalty?

Although it is often referred to as such, an algorithmic penalty is not technically a penalty. However, it can still have the same effects as a penalty and can prevent your website from ranking. This problem is caused when Google makes an algorithm change that significantly and negatively affects your search engine rankings. It can cause your website to show up several pages back on the search engine results pages, which can cause a dramatic reduction in the number of hits that your site receives. Many of these “penalties” are caused by Google Panda and Google Penguin, and even though they are not technically penalties, they can be harmful because they are tough to identify and fix. This is because Google will not send you any type of notification after this happens.


How to Fix an Algorithmic Penalty

If you are facing an algorithmic penalty, you should know that it will be trickier to fix. This is because you won’t have information from Google about why your site was penalized. Identifying the problem might be challenging, so you may need to hire a professional SEO consultant to assist you. However, you should know that the problem was probably caused by one of these two Google algorithms:

To help you get started with narrowing down the source of the problem, you will need to take a look at the list of Google’s big algorithm changes. Then, you can look at the dates of the algorithms and can see if there is a correlation with your reduction in traffic. You can check out Moz to see a list of Google algorithm updates, and you can use Google Analytics or SEMrush to compare the dates that your numbers started going down. Comparing the two can help you determine which algorithm change affected your website.


How to Fix a Google Penguin Algorithm Penalty

If you have realized that Google Penguin is to blame for your reduction in traffic, you’ll have to start checking and cleaning up your link profile, such as getting rid of any spammy backlinks that an old SEO company might have set up. Just remember that all of this didn’t happen at once, so the problem won’t be fixed right away, either. Once you have gotten rid of all of these spammy links, you’ll have to give Google time to re-crawl your links and determine that your site has been fixed. It could take months or even an entire year for this to happen, and it will probably take about 15 months before your site will be fully back to normal. This means that you should get started now if you want to get your site back on the search engine rankings as soon as possible.


How to Fix a Google Panda Algorithm Penalty

If you think that your penalty was caused by a Google Panda algorithm update, you’ll need to carefully go over each part of your site to look for useless or spammy content. These are some of the things that you’ll need to look for:

  • Plagiarized content
  • Thin content
  • Duplicate content that appears on multiple pages
  • Badly crafted header tags (multiple h1s on a page)
  • Duplicate page titles across multiple pages
  • Duplicate meta descriptions
  • Excess or unnecessary HTML or CSS in your code
  • Spammy or over-optimized URL slugs
  • Poorly built website or theme that doesn’t easily allow Google bots to crawl your site
  • Robots.txt file that is blocking crucial website resources
  • Extra pages that are indexed but not findable to users through navigation
  • Too many ads (especially above the fold)

There are a lot of different things that can trigger a Panda algorithm penalty, so you’ll need to be both thorough and patient. Get to know Google’s guidelines while you’re going over your site.

Unfortunately, coming back from a Google penalty can be tough, particularly if you don’t know much about search engine optimization. Getting back in good with Google is tough, but following these tips and staying patient will help you get things back under control in no time.

Mikhail Khorev

With over 8 years of experience in web design, digital marketing and SEO for small and medium-sized businesses I have gained extensive, hands-on experience across organic SEO, SEM, PPC, social media, usability, branding, reputation management, conversion optimization and content marketing.


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