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How-to 11 min read September 10, 2019

How to detect manual action penalties in Google Search Console and lift them

Apart from penalizing sites with algorithms, the search system may impose sanctions manually. Manual actions are imposed for regular violations of Google policy. Unless your site is suspended, SEO-promotion may become a struggle that brings unstable results.

What are Google manual actions

Sanctions are restrictive measures that are imposed on web resources by search systems in case site promotion rules are grossly violated.

There are two types of penalties:

  • algorithmic;
  • manual.

The first type is imposed automatically when the system detects actions that conflict with the existing rules. Algorithm discloses regular violations and imposes sanctions to the whole site or its several pages.

Manual penalties are semi-automatic; they are used in case algorithm fails to act. The algorithm requires some time to dismiss faulty pages from the index. It takes the system from 6 to 9 months to clean out search results. Google users will come across these low-quality pages on the web until they are eliminated. This is a significant period, especially speaking about fraud cases.
Complaints about intruder websites are lodged directly through spam reports, by partner organizations and internal monitoring tools.
Manual sanctions may result in dramatic consequences that continue influencing the site even after all the implied restrictions are cancelled. For example, there is no guarantee that the site regains its traffic after lifting procedure. Google explains sanctions as compulsory means used to redeem search system from low-quality content.

Violations that Google traces semi-automatically:

  • hacked web-resources;
  • user-generated spam;
  • freehost spam;
  • structured markup spam;
  • unnatural links to a website;
  • thin content with little or no added value;
  • cloaking or sneaky redirects;
  • unnatural links from a site;
  • pure spam;
  • cloaked images;
  • hidden text and keyword stuffing.

What may the consequence be like? Google may react to committed breaches by dismissing pages from indexing or deteriorating site positions that lead to traffic decrease. Considering that manual action penalties are imposed for extreme violations, Google mostly deletes intruding pages. In case of light violations rating decrease is most likely to be implied.

Types of manual actions imposed by Google

"Site-wide matches" - entire site undergoes sanctions.
Site-wide matches in the Google Search Console
"Partial matches" - a penalty is imposed on several pages of a resource.
Partial matches in the Google Search Console

How to identify penalties using Google Search Console

Entering "Manual actions" section in Google Search Console, you can check if any penalties have been imposed on your website. You can find this section on the menu:
Manual action in the Google Search Console
"No webspam manual actions found" message means that no sanctions have been imposed and traffic decrease can be foreclosed.

Hacked web resource

A "Hacked web resource" matter is reported in "Manual actions" or "Safety problems" section. It may be the result of a hacker attack that caused file edits or replacements identified as spam. Generally, such content is veiled under "Cloaking".
Hacked site in Google Search Console
Once you get such a message, you should urgently react to regain control over your site. Watch this video overview that briefly explains the following matters:

  • probable reasons for hacking;
  • web resource recovery procedure and removing notifications from the console;
  • relation between damage level, possessed skill and required recovery time;
  • troubleshooting: managing problems yourself or involving specialists.

Then you should follow the chain of actions:
Hacking site actions
Detailed information is available in "Webmasters help for hacked sites". Having accomplished all the enlisted actions, you should submit a review request to Google. Click the button located under the dropdown message:
Reconsideration request in the Google Search Console

User-generated spam

This is a common matter for blogs and forums that provide users an opportunity to generate content. Generally, spam is created in comments and personal profiles not to mention other areas.
User-generated spam in Google Search Console
To lift the sanctions imposed for user-generated spam, you should do the following:
Find profiles containing fake names and comments that include links.
Detect the pages allowing users to generate content.
Remove spammy content: advertising profiles and messages, comments that include irrelevant links, fake users and their records, etc.
To detect all spammy content on the site and ensure successful clean-out, you can use "site" operator for Google. In a new browser window, write in « [search query]». Fill in the search query use key phrases that were often detected while removing spam. Make sure that nothing is missed.
Integrate preventive methods that help to avoid spam in comments. Check-out Google recommendations.
Launch the website's check in "Manual actions" section of Google Console.

Freehost spam

If free web hosters include many spam pages, the site will be excluded from the search results. Start with implying preventive measures that help to keep away spammers:

  • inform users that spamming is prohibited;
  • forbid automatic registration;
  • regularly monitor violations;
  • delete spammy accounts.

Proceed with removing spammy accounts and request a reconsideration review in the console.
Spam Free Hosting Services

Structured markup spam

Sanctions are imposed for detected hidden content that is intended to be used by search crawlers and cannot be seen by site visitors. Using such content is considered to be search results manipulation.
Correct identified mistakes and fix up the markup. Follow Google recommendations.
Request a reconsideration review.

"Unnatural" links to your site

This message means that external links to your site are purchased or of a low quality. This kind of promotion is penalized by filter implementation. In this case, steps to recovery are as follows:
Form a list of internal links found on the website. It can be easily exported from Search Console as shown on the screenshot:
Export external links to the Google Search Console
Check the links and detect irrelevant ones: they may be out of topic, contain prohibited content, etc.
Attempt to delete maximum low-quality links yourself.
Decline the bad and low-quality hyperlinks using Disavow Tools.
Request a reconsideration review.

Thin content with little or no added value

Sanctions are imposed for the use of pages with little or no added value or non-unique content. Such pages are of no use for site visitors; therefore, they are removed from indexing.
Uninformative content in the Google Search Console
If you get this message, react with the following actions:
Ensure unique content on your web resource. Check it for duplications that may occur in SERP.
Analyze the informativity of existing pages. Pay special attention to web pages that contain links.
Inspect the site for doorways and self-generated pages.
Strive to imply mostly unique content.
Having corrected all the detected mistakes, repeat the reconsideration request.

Cloaking or sneaky redirects

This message means that users and Google bots access different pages. It can also happen in case users open a page that automatically transfers them to another address which is not allowed for crawling. What you should do is add structured data about paid access or define subscription conditions:
Paid Content Access in the Google Search Console
Check web pages with Google Scanner.
Compare content variations available for users and bots.
Delete dissimilarities.
Analyze URL-addresses to detect redirections. Check if they function under certain conditions.
Remove redirections.
Request a reconsideration review.

"Unnatural" links from your website

The message states that the resource contains external hyperlinks that are implied for monetization purposes. In other words, this penalty is for link trading.

Find mentioned URL-addresses and limit access with "nofollow" metatag to avoid link mass transfer. Another way is to simply delete these type of links. Having cleared out the website, request a reconsideration review.

Pure spam

This message means that you grossly and regularly violate Google guidelines. Such violations include automatically generated shallow content, use of non-unique text, teasers, etc. Recovery procedure includes profound site clean-up, fully cancelling the monetization and checking up the site.
Aggressive spam in the Google Search Console

Cloaked images

This message appears if your website contains any images that do not correlate with the pictures seen by Google.
Disguised images in the Google Search Console
Manage your web resource to ensure that bots and visitors access the same images. Opt-out of inline linking in case you need to close some pictures from indexing or use a recommended chain of steps:
Disabling hotlinking in the Google Search Console
Request a reconsideration review.

Hidden text and keyword spamming

Hidden text that can be found on a number of pages and excessive implementation of key phrases inevitably lead to overspam.
Define the pages that caused sanction imposition with the help of Google Scanner. Check if the content looks the same to robots and visitors.
Inspect the site to make sure that background and text color do not coincide. If found - manage these matters.
Analyse the site for any text hidden with the help of styles.
Manage the content to ensure that bots and users access pages identically.
Use any external service to detect overspam. Make sure that page titles do not contain word repetitions and look natural.
Remove excessive key phrases.
Request a reconsideration review.


Google uses manual action penalties to react to fraud, spam, and other violations committed by webmasters quickly. Check "Manual actions" section in Google Search Console to learn if your website has been penalized.

To lift the imposed sanctions ensure profound clean-up of your site from any mistakes and submit a reconsideration request inside the same report. Upon the suspension, SEO-promotion will regain its effectiveness; however, some negative consequences may keep on affecting the site for quite a long time.

This article is a part of Serpstat's Checklist tool
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