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How to Protect Your Site from 11 Google Penalties

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Google penalties can be a costly problem. Being removed from search results can cause you to lose traffic, search visibility, and revenue. To help protect your site from a sudden and prolonged dip in performance, use this guide to understand what Google penalties exist, the quickest way to run a penalty check, and how to recover from any penalties you find.

What Is a Google Penalty?

A Google penalty is an action Google takes against a website when it determines that pages on the site go against webmaster quality guidelines. If a site receives a Google penalty, some or all of that site’s pages will not appear in Google search results.

Google penalties are referred to as manual actions by Google, although many marketers incorrectly refer to algorithm updates as a type of search penalty.

Manual actions are given to a site when a human reviewer at Google determines that one or more pages on the site are not compliant with Google guidelines. They are true search penalties designed to fight against attempts to manipulate Google’s search algorithm using black hat SEO tactics.

Algorithm updates change the way Google ranks content, which can cause a website to drop in search rankings. This most notably happened during updates. While sites may lose search visibility during these changes, algorithm updates are not site penalties. They merely impact search visibility as ranking factors change.

This post will focus on manual action Google penalties that can be identified and resolved.

Is My Site Penalized?

Google Search Console acts as penalty checker. To see if you have any Google penalties, view the Manual Actions page in your Google Console account. If you have penalties, they will be listed along with the pages that are affected. If you have no Google penalties, you will see a green checkmark.

google penalties check

How Long Do Google Penalties Last?

A Google manual action penalty may last until you resolve it. You can remove it by finding the issue, fixing it, and then submitting a Review Request using Google’s URL Inspection Tool. Once Google confirms that the issue is fixed, they will notify you of the resolution.

A Google manual action penalty may last until you resolve it. Be aware of these 11 penalties and how you can find, fix, and prevent them. Click To Tweet

11 Google Penalties to Avoid

If a penalty check reports that there are problems on your site, Google has found one of the following issues.

1. Unnatural Links to Your Site

Google found a pattern of “unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative” links pointing to your site. This Google backlink penalty is often given to sites that buy links or participate in link schemes. Make sure you understand the types of backlinks that exist, including which will help your site and which can hurt (or lead to a Google penalty). 

Learn how to build quality links with our guide: How to Get High-Quality Backlinks: 21 Strategies That Still Work.

2. Unnatural Links from Your Site

Google found “unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative” outbound links on your site. The links don’t appear to be added for editorial purposes. Instead, they appear to be added for the sole purpose of manipulating search rankings. As mentioned above, proper internal and external linking techniques are critical for building authority and strong SEO. But if links provide no value or attempt to game search engines, your site will likely be penalized.

Learn proper on-site linking and other on-page SEO best practices using our On-Page SEO Checklist.

3. Thin Content with Little or No Added Value

Google found pages on your site that are low quality or shallow. The pages appear to include automatically generated or scraped content, or they appear to be low-quality guest posts, doorway pages, or thin affiliate pages. Google’s mission is to provide the most valuable, relevant content to searchers. If your content provides no unique value, the content is duplicated, or is full of keywords and no real information, you may be at risk for this penalty.

Learn how to create high-quality content with our guide: SEO Content: How to Plan It, Write It, and Get It to Rank No. 1.

4. Keyword Stuffing

Google found pages on your site that appear to use keyword stuffing. Pages that use keyword stuffing unnaturally repeat the same target keyword numerous times in an attempt to rank for the term. The keyword is used unnaturally, out of context, and unnecessarily throughout the page.

Learn how to avoid keyword stuffing penalties and properly optimize your content for valuable search terms in our guide: The Essential Keyword Optimization Cheat Sheet for Better SEO

5. Hidden Text and Links

Google found deceptive text and links on your site. This includes using white text on a white background, hiding text behind an image, setting the font size to zero, or using CSS to position text off screen.

6. Cloaking and Sneaky Redirects

Google found that your site is presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines. Sneaky redirects send users to a page that is different from the page showing to Google. Content that uses cloaking presents different copy and images to human users than to search engines.

7. Sneaky Mobile Redirects

Google found misleading mobile redirects. Mobile redirects should lead users to a mobile-friendly page that is similar to the original page. Sneaky mobile redirects lead users to a page with content that is unrelated to the original.

8. AMP Content Mismatch

Google found AMP pages that don’t match the original content. In general, AMP pages should follow standard search guidelines. Additional guidelines state that visitors should be able to experience the same content and complete the same or similar actions on AMP pages as the original page. On mismatched AMP pages, the content is different from the original. The goal of enforcing content consistency between AMP and canonical URLs is to provide a seamless and valuable user experience, without interruption or unnecessary steps.

9. Structured Data Issue

Google found structured data, or schema markup, that is misleading or manipulative. The structured data may have content that is irrelevant or invisible to users or otherwise goes against structured data guidelines. Below are a few specific examples of structured data issues. See Google’s support page for the full list and descriptions.

  • Content on the page is different from structured data
  • Structured data was found on hidden content
  • Specific data types violate Google guidelines; they are incorrect or misleading

Learn how to do structured data the right way. Read our guide: Schema Markup 101: How to Create Rich Search Results and Boost SEO.

10. User-Generated Spam

Google found spam on your site that has been submitted by users. User spam may include comments and links in forums and comment sections. It may also include full pages of content on sites that allow users to create new pages.

11. Pure Spam

Google found your site to have repeated or egregious violations of their quality guidelines. The site may have multiple pages of scraped, automatically generated, or shallow content or engage in malicious behavior (such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware).

The first step in preventing Google penalties is to be aware of what causes them. Click To Tweet

Google Penalty Recovery: How to Fix and Prevent Search Penalties

Follow these three steps to find and fix Google penalties on your site:

  1. Use Google Console as a penalty checker to identify problem pages and their specific penalties.
  2. Engage in Google penalty recovery by following the recommended actions in Google’s Manual Action report and the tips above.
  3. Submit a Review Request using Google’s URL Inspection Tool.

The first step in preventing Google penalties is to be aware of what causes them. 

Only engage in white hat SEO techniques and use an on-page SEO checker to confirm that your content follows SEO best practices.

Alexa’s SEO tools can help you regularly perform an SEO analysis to make sure your site is optimized in a way that will help, not hurt, your SEO. Sign up for a free trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan to receive monthly reports on the health and status of your site’s on-page, off-page, and technical SEO.

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How to Protect Your Site from 11 Google Penalties