Received a Google Penalty? This Is the Correct Way to Proceed as a Site Operator
There are few things that website operators dread as much as a Google penalty. Because if a page is penalised by Google, that means a decline in its Google ranking and, consequently, less traffic. Sometimes, penalised pages are even completely removed from the Google index. A disaster for any business! All the more important to do things right from the very beginning! Let us give you an inside look at how it all works, what types of penalties there are and what they are issued for.
What Is a Google Penalty?
Webmasters who violate the guidelines for webmasters (Google Webmaster Guidelines) are issued with penalties. The aim of this penalty is to keep the quality of search results high and to remove pages with little added value or bad content.
What Offences Are Subject to a Google Penalty?
With its penalties, Google is taking action against so-called “Black Hat SEO”. This is a type of search engine optimisation that intentionally violates Google’s guidelines in order to achieve a better ranking. Such methods include:
- Article Spinning: Existing texts are modified with automated programs in such a way that new content is created without offering any added value.
- Link purchase: Links are bought from other websites in order to improve your own ranking (so-called “unnatural links”).
- Private Blog Network (PBN): With this method, you set up your own blog network and link back and forth between your own blogs.
While some site operators still deliberately employ such dubious SEO strategies, there are also plenty of operators who unintentionally violate Google’s guidelines and end up being punished.
What Types of Google Penalties Are There?
Penalties are divided first and foremost into categories of offence. So, we have:
- Keyword-level penalties: This means that the penalty is imposed because of one or more keywords.
- Penalties at URL or directory level: In this case, the ranking of a certain URL might be lowered. A directory, such as a subfolder, can also lose its ranking if too many URLs it contains violate regulations.
- Page-level penalties: This means that a penalty is issued against entire pages.
- Delisting: This is a worst-case scenario penalty, so to speak. That’s because “delisting” means that the entire page is removed from the Google index and is no longer visible.
A distinction is also made between algorithmic and manual penalties:
- In the case of an algorithmic penalty, the penalty is imposed because the Google search engine algorithm has “detected” misconduct on pages. That is, a program filters websites for certain violations and issues a penalty automatically. This algorithm is continuously improved through updates like the Panda or Penguin Update, meaning that something that used to be perfectly fine can suddenly be considered a violation after an update. If your page is penalised because of an algorithmic penalty, you will not receive any notification from Google. Site owners spot this penalty in that the visibility of the affected domain drops immediately and on a massive scale.
- A manual penalty is issued by a Google employee. What often happens is that the Google algorithm marks a page as suspicious but the algorithm is not sure. Then “real” Google employees then spring into action and decide whether or not a penalty needs to be issued. If a site is penalised manually, the site owner usually receives a notification through the Google Search Console.
Received a Google Penalty? What’s the Correct Way to Proceed as a Site Operator?
If you receive a Google Penalty, respond immediately! These are the steps you should follow when dealing with a penalty:
Step 1: Find out Why the Penalty Was Issued
The first step is to analyse exactly why you received a penalty. Because you can only target and fix the problem if you know the exact reason. In the event of a manual penalty, Google’s warning lists the pages where Google has identified a problem and indicates what the problem is. This could be “Unnatural Links”, “Spam Problems” or “Major Spam Problems”, for example.
If you see “Unnatural Links” it means that it’s about links from other websites. “Spam problems” are when the page contains partially irrelevant content or misleading content, or when it’s a so-called doorway page. These are pages that are specially compiled for search engines with the sole intention of generating visitors and redirecting them to other pages. “Major spam” usually means that a page is made up of automatically generated content or so-called “scraped content”, meaning content that comes from other pages.
An algorithmic penalty is not so easy to spot because, unlike a manual penalty, the site operator does not receive any sort of notification. If your site suddenly collapses in the days following a new Google update, or it loses rankings, traffic and visibility, then there’s a good chance you’ve been issued with an algorithmic penalty. There are also tools that you can use to understand the visibility of your page. If you find out that your site has been penalised because of an update, you should find out as much as you can about that update: What is its aim? Which other sites have been affected and what does yours have in common with them? In the case of large Google updates, it usually doesn’t take long for reports to appear and the first analyses of affected websites to appear. This can help you to identify and resolve your issue.
Step 2: Fix the Problem
If you know why you have received a penalty, then you need to fix the problem as soon as possible. Depending on how big the problem you’ve discovered is and how many pages it affects, you can ether fix it yourself or get help from an expert. If it’s a problem related just to your website (e.g. keyword spamming or duplicate content), then you can fix the problem yourself relatively easily. It’s best to work systematically. Make a list of all your pages and the associated problems and work through the list of errors one by one.
If the reason for the penalty is external, that is, that other parties are involved or responsible, then fixing the problem is more difficult and time-consuming. This is the case if you get bad backlinks to your site, for example. If this happens, then you end up relying on the help of other website operators. You have to write to them and ask them to remove the offending links. You can “disavow” site operators who do not respond or who refuse. This means that you, as it were, distance yourself from these backlinks on Google. During the next crawl, Google no longer counts these backlinks and they no longer have a negative effect.
If you have serious problems, or if you don’t know exactly why you were penalised, you should seek assistance from an SEO agency.
Step 3: Request a Re-evaluation
If your page has been penalised manually, i.e. by a Google employee, then once you have resolved all of the problems, you need to request Re-evaluation of page from Google. You will find a form for this in the Google Search Console. Since the application for a re-evaluation is also processed personally by a “real” Google employee, you should state exactly which problems you have solved and how. Verifiable facts, such as the number of backlinks removed, plus clear and friendly language and an assurance that you will immediately adhere to the Google Webmaster Guidelines are also a good idea.
In any case, you should refrain from threatening legal action if the re-evaluation is not resolved positively, and from re-submitting the application again and again in order to speed up the process. Once the application has been submitted, there’s nothing else left to do but wait. Processing times can vary from a few hours to several weeks. Once your application has been processed, you will also receive a notification via the Google Search Console.
You cannot request a re-evaluation for an algorithmic penalty. If your page has been penalised because of an update, fix the errors and then wait for Google to “crawl” your page again. If the reasons for the original penalty are no longer applicable, the domain is released from the penalty and the ranking losses cease to apply. You can’t accelerate this process either, and how long it will take can vary.
Quick Facts about the Google Penalty
- a total of 6 million penalties were issued
- 45 million warnings were sent to webmasters
- 90.000 pages were penalised after being reported by other users
Avoiding Google Penalties
Since Google Penalties always result in ranking losses and getting yourself released from the penalty again takes a lot of time and effort, site operators should do everything they can to avoid receiving a penalty in the first place. Therefore, website operators should definitely read the Google Webmaster Guidelines and adhere to the quality guidelines and recommendations they contain. Methods that you should absolutely avoid include:
- Automatically generated content;
- Participating in link exchange programmes or purchasing links;
- Creating pages with little or no content of your own;
- Hidden text and links;
- Pages with irrelevant keywords.
The Google Webmaster Guidelines have links to individual pages with detailed explanations of every method site operators should avoid.
The most important tip for good content, and therefore the best way to avoid a penalty is: Create content for users and not for the search engine!
Rely on Good Protection
Receiving a Google Penalty is bad business for any site operator. In addition to ranking losses, you can also suffer financial losses. Hopefully, with our tips, you are now fully equipped and won’t be receiving that dreaded Google notification.
That being said, things can get even more expensive for service companies in the media or IT sector whose actual job it is to protect customers against penalties – and whose mistakes lead to their customers being penalised. This is a real damage event that happened to an exali SEO customer. He received a claim for damages from his customer for 250.000 euros for setting up “Unnatural Links”! Fortunately, the SEO was covered for just such a damage event by exali’s Professional Indemnity Insurance. In the event of an emergency, exali takes care of clarifying the issue of guilt at its own expense (e.g. lawyers’ and experts’ fees, plus court attendance expenses) and pays out any legitimate claims for compensation.
Calculate your premium and get your professional indemnity insurance online in just a few steps here:
Who am I?
After a traineeship and a few years in corporate communications, I now work at exali as editor-in-chief of the online editorial department and am responsible for all content.
What do I enjoy?
Summer, travel, good food and football.
What do I dislike?
Travel by train, Brussels sprouts and slime.