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SEO 30 min read

How to Avoid or Fix Google Penalties

How to Avoid or Fix Google Penalties
How to Avoid or Fix Google Penalties
Almost every business wants to get organic traffic from Google because it is the highest-quality one that comes without any cost. That's why the goal of any company is to rank higher on Google SERPs to get more organic traffic by means of SEO.

But getting organic traffic from Google is not as easy as it looks. It takes lots of effort, time, and patience. Because of that, many users try to push the limits and use shady techniques to manipulate Google. As a result, instead of higher rankings, they get a penalty from Google as they violate Google Webmaster's Guidelines.

But if your website has been penalized, or you want to ensure that your website will remain safe from Google Penalties, then this guide is for you! We'll discuss a few useful tips to avoid and fix any Google penalty. But let's first take a closer look at the concept.
In addition to today's article, we will feature the comments of the following experts from our Twitter Chat:
Fili Wiese
SEO expert, ex-Google engineer & ex-Google Search Quality
Founder of Fili.com and OnlineMarketing
Joseph S. Kahn
President of Hum JAM
Joey Trend
Co-Founder of Hum JAM
Yıldırım Sertbaş
Founder & Owner of Yıldırım Sertbaş
Amal Ghosh
SEO Expert
Taylor Murchison
SEO at Tipalti

1. What Is a Google Penalty?

Google penalty is the negative hit to a website that violates Google's Webmaster guidelines.

If a website doesn't follow webmasters' best practices, then Google negatively hits that website and drops its rankings due to the unusual activities.

A website's rankings drop suddenly when Google hits a penalty on the website. Sometimes Google deindexes a website and stops to list in Google results too.

2. Types of Google Penalties

Typically, you'll come across two types of Google penalties, namely: manual action penalty and algorithmic penalty.

2.1 Manual Action Penalty

As the name suggests, a manual action penalty is issued by Google's reviewers.

Google employees regularly monitor your website to find out whether you're using any black hat SEO tactics. Your website receives a manual penalty if they detect a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. You will receive a notification in your Google Search Console dashboard and guidelines to rectify it.

Here are a few manipulative practices that attract manual action penalties:

2.2 Algorithmic Penalty

An algorithmic penalty occurs when a Google algorithm update negatively impacts your website. For instance, Google released the Penguin update in 2012 to eliminate low-quality websites. Thus, any website that indulged in link schemes or attracted unnatural backlinks suffered a hit in search engine ranking.

Likewise, Google rolled out the Hummingbird update in 2013 to deliver an improved user experience by prioritizing search intent. Consequently, websites that didn't satisfy the search intent behind a keyword witnessed a drop in their rankings and traffic. In addition to major updates, Google regularly rolls out minor changes to improve its search algorithm. That's why you must watch out for algorithmic penalties.

Moreover, such penalties are often more challenging to diagnose and fix. This is because Google doesn't send any notifications or guidelines. It's up to you to discover whether an update was recently released and learn more about it. Additionally, you need to find out the underlying problem that has triggered the penalty.
If your website has dropped in Google, you are being penalized for something that has changed in the algorithm. The best thing you can do is check the timeline and the update to see if there are clues. Most penalties you aren't formally aware of.
Joseph S. Kahn
Joseph S. Kahn
President of Hum JAM

2.3 Different Levels of Google Penalties

Google penalties are issued at the following levels:
Keyword. A keyword-level penalty only impacts your website's ranking for a specific keyword. While web pages targeting the keyword get affected, the rest of your website doesn't suffer any consequences.
URL or directory. Such a penalty affects a particular URL or directory. Web pages belonging to the directory experience a drop in traffic and ranking.
Sitewide. A sitewide penalty affects all the web pages belonging to your domain.
Deindexing. In the worst-case scenario, Google delists your website from its search results and removes your web pages from its index.
You can't fix a Google penalty, manual or algorithmic, unless you know your website has been affected. Let's take a look at the techniques to identify Google penalties.

3. How to Check if Your Website Is Penalized by Google?

The most apparent indication of a Google penalty is that you will see a drop in your website rankings. It could be a sudden or gradual drop and can impact the whole website or some part of it.

Here are some sure-shot situations to know that your website has been penalized:

  • Your brand is unable to rank on your brand name;
  • Your top ranking keywords dropped their positions and slipped to the lower pages of SERP or have been lost;
  • Google has deindexed the whole website. You are getting no results while using the site: search operator.
Note: Make sure that you haven't made any changes to your website recently. Sometimes these kinds of activities impact website rankings instead of Google Penalty:

  • website migration;
  • changing website theme;
  • updating website content;
  • changing web hosting.
I'd recommend you follow these simple steps:

  • check Google Search Console for any manual spam actions;
  • if a penalty was applied, Google Search Console also says which penalty was applied, why, and links to resources on how to fix the issue;
  • if you are unsure how to fix a Google penalty, ask in the Google Webmaster Forums or an SEO expert.
Fili Wiese
Fili Wiese
SEO expert, ex-Google engineer & ex-Google Search Quality. Founder of Fili.com
You should also check whether a competitor has recently outranked your website for specific keywords. Run a quick Google search for one of your target keywords and check the search result listings. If a competitor's website suddenly rises to the top, it will likely steal your traffic.

If you've ruled out the above factors, run a Google search for your brand name. Alternatively, you can run a Google search using the site operator site: (site:yourdomain.com). If your website doesn't appear in these results, it's time to get alarmed.

Next, head to the "Security and Manual Actions" section of your Google Search Console dashboard and click on the "Manual Actions" tab.

You'll see a notification if a manual penalty hits your website. Otherwise, it displays a green tick with the message "No issues detected."
google search console panel
Inside of Google Webmaster console, you would get a red flag message at the top of your screen when you log in saying you have an infraction.
Joey Trend
Joey Trend
Co-Founder at Hum JAM
Then probably your website has lost its traffic because of Google Algorithmic hit. So to confirm that, first, you need to know if Google recently rolled out a new algorithmic update. Here are some platforms that can help you:


Once you confirm that, you must figure out why the traffic drop, so you can fix the issues and recover your website traffic.
  • There are a lot of reasons why a website is dropping in Google rankings. Like, algorithmic updates.
  • Another reason can be technical SEO signals. For example, Googlebot encounters increased network and/or 500 errors on your website.
  • Other factors can be outside your control. For example, competitors change their websites and/or change user behavior/search intent.

We need to keep working on the website to keep websites relevant and useful for our audience, and indirectly search engines.
Fili Wiese
Fili Wiese
SEO expert, ex-Google engineer & ex-Google Search Quality. Founder of Fili.com
Penalty is often misunderstood. I would go for a deep analysis of search console and analytics data, check SERP, check what has changed in SERP, and check if your competitors have updated their pages and got rewarded by G.
Amal Ghosh
Amal Ghosh
SEO Expert
Having highlighted the topic in great detail, we wondered whether Google holds a grudge against a website or domain forever if it has been penalized in the past.

Let's see what our experts can tell about it:
I can say that Google is not vengeful against websites or domains that used to be in violation of their Webmaster Guidelines.

Once a website has successfully been reconsidered and avoids SEO practices violating the Google Webmaster Guidelines, the website has an equal chance of ranking as any other website.

You can check the documentation if you are unsure if your website is violating the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Fili Wiese
Fili Wiese
SEO expert, ex-Google engineer & ex-Google Search Quality. Founder of Fili.com
I have seen that dozens of sites that receive traffic with bots and are subject to manual penalties, turn to Google's basic approaches and make their traffic stable and increasing.

So I don't think Google will hold grudges forever.
Yıldırım Sertbaş
Yıldırım Sertbaş
Founder & Owner at Yıldırım Sertbaş

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We conduct them every Thursday at 2 pm ET | 11 am PT on our Twitter channel by hashtag #serpstat_chat.

4. How to Recover From Google Penalties?

Fixing Google penalties depends on whether you face a manual or algorithmic penalty. Irrespective of the type of penalty, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and rectify it.

4.1 Steps to Fix Manual Actions Penalties

The best thing about Google's manual actions is that Google explains the reason for the penalty. That makes it easier to understand, figure out, and fix the penalty.
  • Diagnosing a Manual Penalty
If you receive a manual penalty, Google sends a notification on your Google Search Console dashboard. It mentions the reasons for the penalty and provides helpful guidelines to fix the problem.

Open your Google Search Console account and click on the "Manual Actions" tab under the "Security and Manual Actions" section in the left sidebar.
Google Search Console manual actions
But If the section displays a green tick with the message "no issues detected, " your website doesn't have any manual penalties right now.
  • Understanding and Fixing a Manual Penalty
When you receive a manual penalty, Google explains the reason behind the penalty. This makes it easy to fix the problem. So, firstly, you must understand the meaning of the manual action type that Google indicated. Once you know your website's penalty, you should solve those issues.

For instance, you can remove the respective pages or improve the content if it's due to thin content. Likewise, you can disavow those links if it's due to suspicious backlinks. Google also provides links to guidelines that can help you fix more complicated issues.

Next, head to your Google Search Console account and submit a "Reconsideration Request" to Google. Ensure you include extensive details of all the steps you've taken to resolve the issue. Google authorities might ask for more information and documentation before approving your request. Even if denied the first time, you can resubmit your request after solving all the issues. Google can take a few weeks to months to review your request, so keep patience.
Note: Submit a Reconsideration Request only when you are sure that you have solved all the issues.
What would I recommend? Ensure that the content you're publishing is in-line with user/search intent in SERPs.
Taylor Murchison
Taylor Murchison
SEO at Tipalti
Put your website on a fast server, make it secure, have relevant and quality content based on a subject people want to learn about, target good keywords, and constantly grow your authority.
Joey Trend
Joey Trend
Co-Founder at Hum JAM

4.2 Steps to Fix Algorithmic Penalties

  • Diagnosing an Algorithmic Penalty
Identifying an algorithmic penalty is trickier because Google doesn't notify you before updating its algorithm. That's why you should closely monitor your website traffic and rankings. You should use Google Analytics and Google Search Console to track your website performance and rankings. You need to check your Google Webmaster performance report to see the rankings drop. If you find a sharp ranking drop, then chances are that an algorithm update has negatively impacted your website.

To confirm that, you should search those dropped keywords on Google and find your site. If you don't see your website in its real position, then you should check all SERPs until you don't find your site or till reach the last list of SERP pages.

Next, check useful SEO resources on the internet to find out whether Google rolled out an algorithm update during that period. If there's been an algorithm change, you should read more about it to identify the issue. Understand how the update works and how it may have affected your website's ranking.

Google algorithms are just a set of rules that work to provide the desired outcome. So they don't hit any site specifically. That's why algorithm penalties are not penalties. But an algorithmic penalty can impact your website in many ways, directly or indirectly. For example, an algorithm update can reward your competitors. Maybe that's why you have lost your rankings. So, your website has no issues in this case, but competitors are the best option to rank there.
  • Understanding and Fixing an Algorithmic Penalty
The best way to understand a Google penalty is to be familiar with how Google works and how an Algorithm update impacts websites.

For most webmasters, it is almost impossible to analyze an algorithmic update properly, especially Google Broad Core Updates. Even most SEO gurus don't know how to do that. Just finding similarities between top rewarded sites is not enough. There is a lot more. But it doesn't mean that you can't fix it!
A lot of websites fluctuate in Google SERPs. This can be due to changing users' demand and/or seasonal trends and/or technical SEO signals. Google algorithms use the SEO signals you give them.

  • Check which SEO signals are sent into the algorithms. You may need to dive deep into the different aspects of SEO to uncover the likely cause, e.g. an in-depth on- and off-page SEO audit can help to figure out what & why is happening. What SEO signals we give search engines is our responsibility as website owners. Change the input (SEO signals) and you change the output (rankings).
  • Read the Google Webmaster Guidelines thoroughly and then reread them.
  • Add your website to both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools (the latter may give you some insights as well, like free backlink samples).
  • When still unsure, conduct a full technical and Google Webmaster Guidelines compliance SEO audit. Do this both for on-page and off-page SEO signals.

Google uses both on- and off-page signals for its ranking algorithms, and a partial audit may leave issues unidentified: "Knowing where the trap is — that's the first step in evading it."
Fili Wiese
Fili Wiese
SEO expert, ex-Google engineer & ex-Google Search Quality. Founder of Fili.com

How to Boost On-Page SEO Like a Pro

Mainly, algorithm updates will impact your website if there are issues on your site. It can be related to the content, links, UI-UX, technical, or others. To figure out things correctly, you should perform a professional SEO Audit. It is the easiest and fastest method to recover from an Algorithm penalty.

An SEO audit will help you figure out all your website's issues. And once you figure out all the issues, you need to solve them one by one. And keep a record of everything.

Then wait to see what happens next. Whenever Google reevaluates data, you will get a boost if you have solved all the issues.

But precautions are better than cures! So, you should always try to keep your website safe from Google Penalties.
Technical SEO audit is the process of checking a site for internal technical issues and compliance with the requirements of search engines.

Carrying out an audit is correct if you receive a Google penalty. An SEO auditing allows you to find and fix errors and return to normal.

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You can test this tool by yourself :)


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5. How to Avoid SEO Penalties

Google penalties can be scary and devastating. However, if you follow SEO best practices and properly manage your website, you can keep your website safe from Google penalties.
  • Prioritize High-Quality Content
Search engines strive to deliver the best search experience to their users. That's why they have a penchant for websites that publish original, informative, relevant, and insightful content. Creating top-notch content reinforces your website's authority, credibility, and reputation. It also positions your website as a trusted source of valuable information.

Moreover, when you publish valuable content, other websites and bloggers will likely use it as a reference in their content. This, in turn, helps you earn genuine and high-quality backlinks. It won't be wrong to say that superb content is your website's lifeblood and SEO strategy. This is also a great way to minimize the devastating consequence of algorithm updates.

Moreover, your content must be well-structured and free of plagiarism and grammatical and spelling errors. It should fulfill the reader's search intent, address their pain points, and resolve their queries. It's also recommended that you create evergreen content that remains relevant years after it was first published.

But if you are still unsure what high-quality content is, here are some essential questions to ask yourself. If your answer for all is yes, then without any doubt, you are publishing high-quality content.
It's equally crucial to update your content and replace old statistics, data, and examples with the latest ones. Use images, graphics, and videos to make your content more engaging. Apart from blog posts, you should also focus on other content formats like e-books, whitepapers, checklists, etc. Lastly, you should optimize your content using relevant and popular keywords.
I always say to my team, "be honest with Google"! DO NOT TRY TO HIDE ANYTHING.

In code, in CSS, in anything ... Stop trying to be sneaky and just do the right thing: create the most optimized content for the search intent.

Done. That will work!
Joseph S. Kahn
Joseph S. Kahn
President of Hum JAM
  • Avoid Keyword Stuffing
There was a time when you could rank high on Google by stuffing your content with a target keyword. However, indulging in this practice today can get your website penalized. Google has significantly improved its algorithm to prioritize keyword relevance and prominence over keyword density. Now Google can rank pages for those terms that the webpage doesn't have in its content. So don't focus on repeating keywords in the content.

You can add keywords in the title tag, meta description, image alt tags, and subheadings. Additionally, you should include the target keyword and its variations a few times in the main content where they need and fit naturally. Make sure you don't add keywords in your content forcefully. The key is to create meaningful and valuable content for real-life human users.
  • Monitor Your Backlinks
A solid inbound link profile is one of your SEO strategy's most important supporting pillars. In the early days of SEO, many webmasters got away with purchasing backlinks and adding spammy links. However, the scenario has completely changed.

It'll likely face a manual penalty if your website has many unnatural backlinks from low-authority websites. Therefore, you should ensure that all your backlinks are from credible, reputed, and high-authority websites. Additionally, these websites should be relevant to your niche.

You can check and monitor your Backlink profile using Google Search Console and tools like Serpstat. Serpstat Backlink Analysis Tool is a platform where you can check the following info:
the referring domains;
quality of the backlinks (DA Score);
no-follow/do-follow links;
unique referring IP addresses;
malicious sites;
countries and locations.
Use different Serpstat reports to find low-quality backlinks that can lead to search engine penalties, identify high-quality backlinks of your competitors, and analyze backlink donors.
Look at each linking website and check its domain authority (DA) score. Moreover, you should analyze its content and determine whether it's related or relevant to your niche.

If there are any backlinks from irrelevant, suspicious, or low-quality websites, you should disavow them. You can use Google's Disavow Links tool for this purpose. It informs Google's crawlers to ignore specific backlinks while evaluating your website. You can also contact the owners/admins of the respective websites and ask them to remove the backlinks.
Google Search Console manual actions
And needless to say, you should avoid buying backlinks from anyone. Instead, you should focus on publishing unique content that others would want to link to. This, in turn, will strengthen your reputation as a trusted powerhouse of information and keep you on Google's best friends list.

But if you want to get powerful links for your site, you should hire a professional SEO link-building company to help you get links. But buying links from platforms like Fiverr, Facebook Groups, etc., can harm your site.
  • Don't Over-Optimize Your Anchor Text
Anchor text, the clickable text of a hyperlink, plays a crucial role in SEO. Judiciously using target keywords as anchor text can boost a web page's search engine ranking.

However, using the same keyword for multiple anchor texts on the same page can reward you with a penalty rather than a ranking boost. That's why you should use natural and branded anchor texts.
  • Effectively Maintain Your Website
Your website should be clean and of high quality. Always use high-quality SEO-friendly themes for your website from reputable sources. A premium theme helps you manage your website correctly and assure you that your website is clean-coded and light-weighted.

Also, ensure that your users get a rich website experience. And for that:

  • improve the page loading time;
  • provide easier navigation structure;
  • use high-quality images;
  • be mobile-friendly;
  • regularly post fresh and updated content;
  • have a user-friendly website design.
Does Google penalize websites for having poor Core Web Vitals signals? Our main speaker Fili Wiese shared his point of view in our Twitter chat:
  • Be sure to optimize your website for Core Web Vitals and #webperf.
  • Minimize JavaScript and CSS. Avoid loading unnecessary assets/third-party resources. Improve load time.
  • Avoid shifts. Check your CLS scores. See also the CLS debugger.

You can also see how your website compares to your competitor's using the CrUX API or the Web Vitals Scorecard. And most importantly, don't forget to optimize your website's backend.

For example, I recently improved the server response time of a website from 7 sec to 50ms by only optimizing the backend! Pages now load instantly and are often fully loaded within 1 sec.
Fili Wiese
Fili Wiese
SEO expert, ex-Google engineer & ex-Google Search Quality. Founder of Fili.com
  • Be Careful About Guest Posting
Guest posting continues to be a powerful way of attracting natural and high-quality backlinks. However, this strategy only works when you publish guest posts on authoritative blogs and websites relevant to your niche. Otherwise, you could face a Google penalty.
Recently, Google said guest posting is not an excellent link-building option. It can harm your website.

But guest posting is not a bad option if you know the real purpose of it. If you know this, then guest posting is a blessing. Don't write for any random publication. Only write for top publications so that they can boost your credibility and help you to grow your business.
  • Choose Premium Web Hosting
Choosing good web hosting is also crucial for every business. Using low-quality hosting can impact your website performance and SEO rankings and can be a reason to hack your website. Sometimes server-side issues could be the reason for a Google penalty. That's why you should choose the best web hosting for your website.

Good web hosting keeps your website safe from hackers and spammers. Also, it helps your website load fast and rank higher on Google.

How to Improve Your Google Rankings Without Getting Penalized

6. Conclusion

Getting a Google penalty is not the end of the world. You can recover your website from any Google penalty.

Yes, it may take some time to recover fully, so you should work on creating a user-friendly and valuable website for your audience to avoid the risk of getting penalized by Google. Follow the steps mentioned above to keep your website safe or to recover from any Google penalty.

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Have you ever recovered from a Google penalty? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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