How to Remove a Google Penalty

SUSO 15 November 2022

We take a look at the different Google penalties and how to remove them. If your site has been hit by a manual action, read on to learn how to fix it.

Author: Steve Cooper, Senior Content Writer

Steve Cooper

If you’ve been hit by a Google penalty, it can feel like the end of the world. Your traffic plummets, your rankings tank, and you suddenly find yourself at the bottom of the search results. 

But take heart. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and with a little effort, you can get your site back on track in most cases. In this article, we will show you how to remove a Google penalty.

First, let’s take a look at what the dreaded Google penalty is. Then we’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to get rid of them.

What is A Google Penalty?

what is google penalty

In short, a Google penalty is a consequence that can befall your website if it violates Google Search Essentials (formerly known as Google Webmaster Guidelines). If your site is impacted by a Google penalty, it will usually result in a significant drop in traffic.

However, in some rare but severe cases, a penalty can cause your website to disappear from the search results altogether.

There are two types of Google penalties: manual and algorithmic. To be pedantic, while most SEOs and web admins describe them as penalties, Google themselves don’t actually use this terminology. Instead, they refer to manual actions and algorithmic actions.

Manual Penalty

Manual penalties are applied by human reviewers at Google who evaluate your site based on  Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines. If they believe your site is in violation of Google’s guidelines, they can manually issue a penalty.

If you’ve received a manual penalty, you’ll receive a notification in Google Search Console.

A manual penalty will be partial or site-wide. 

A partial manual action is where the penalty affects only some of your site’s pages. 

A site-wide manual penalty is where your entire website is impacted.

Algorithmic Penalty

algorithmic penalty

Algorithmic penalties are a little trickier, as Google won’t notify you if your site has been penalised. Algorithmic updates are changes to Google’s search algorithms that are rolled out periodically.

Two of the biggest algorithmic penalties are Penguin and Panda. Penguin is an algorithm that targets black-hat SEO practices, such as link spamming and keyword stuffing whereas Panda penalises sites with thin or low-quality content.

While Google doesn’t always announce these updates beforehand, they often provide guidance afterwards on what they were meant to achieve.

It should also be noted that a drop in rankings after an algorithmic update isn’t necessarily because of a penalty. Google’s algorithms are constantly changing, and it might be that your competition has been reaping the benefits of the latest update while your site has slipped.

traffic drop from algorithm update

That’s why it’s essential to keep up to date with the latest SEO news and changes so that you can make the necessary adjustments to your site to keep up with Google’s standards.

To remove an algorithmic penalty, you need to identify which algorithm is affecting your site and make the necessary changes so that it complies with Google’s guidelines. Once you’ve made the changes, Google will eventually re-crawl your site, and if everything looks good, they will lift the penalty.

A great way to check this is via Ahrefs’ new Overview 2.0 report. Type your domain into their Site Explorer tool and scroll down to the “Organic keywords by top position” graph.

site explorer google algorithm update

Hover over one of the Google logos at the bottom of the graph and it’ll tell you about a Google algorithm update. So, if you see that your website’s keyword visibility saw a sharp decline just after one of these icons, it’s likely that your site was impacted by that Google update.

It can take some time for an algorithmic action to be lifted, so it’s essential to be patient and not make any rash decisions. Stay calm, and don’t make too many changes to your site too quickly, which can actually do more harm than good. In most cases, it is best to wait for the dust to settle after an update and then look at your site by focusing on one component at a time i.e. links, content, technical SEO.

How to Remove the Most Common Google Manual Penalties

While neither being hit with an algorithm update nor a manual penalty is fun, the latter is usually much easier to fix as more clarity is provided on what needs to be done.

A notification in Google Search Console will tell you what the issue is and what you need to do to fix it. You’ll need to make the necessary changes to your site and resubmit it for review using the ‘Reconsideration Request’ tool. But don’t submit a reconsideration request until you’re confident that you’ve fixed all the issues.

Once Google has reviewed your site and is satisfied that the issues have been addressed, they will remove the manual action.

Below are the common manual penalties that can be issued and how to remove them.

Unnatural Links

Unnatural links are those that are placed on a website with the intent of manipulating search engine rankings. These could be links you purchased, links placed as part of a link scheme, or links gained through deception. It might not even be your fault – if someone else has linked to your site from bad neighbourhoods, you could still be penalised.

Though it can be an arduous and time-consuming task, it is possible to clean up your link profile. 

  1. You’ll need to go through your links one by one and determine whether they are natural or unnatural (here’s a guide on how to analyse your backlinks).
  2. Once you have a list of all the unnatural links, you need to contact the site owners and ask them to remove the links. 
  3. If you can’t get in touch with them or if they refuse, which is often the case with links from spammy sites, you can use the disavow link tool.
  4. Once you’ve gone as far as you can manually, it’s time to use Google’s disavow tool. First, compile a list of all the links you want to disavow. You can do this by using a variety of tools, including Google Search Console and Ahrefs.
  5. Once you have your list, create a text file with one URL per line. 
  6. Next, go to the disavow links page in Google Search Console and select your website.
  7. Then click ‘Disavow Links’ and upload your text file. If you have formatted everything correctly, Google will disavow the links in your file.

google disavow tool

It can take days to weeks for the manual action to be lifted, but it should eventually happen if you’ve done everything you can to clean up your link profile.

If for whatever reason your Reconsideration Request is not approved the first time, you can repeat the steps outlined above, but this time go through your backlinks with a finer comb.

Thin Content

If you have a significant amount of low-quality or duplicate content on your site, this can result in a thin content penalty. This is because Google doesn’t want its users to waste their time with pages that provide little value.

Examples of thin content include scraped content, auto-generated content, low-quality affiliate pages, and doorway pages.

Once you’ve identified the thin content pages on your site, you need to delete or optimise them by adding more high-quality content. Google recommends improving rather than deleting thin content pages.

So ideally, you should ensure that all the content on your site is as high-quality and original as possible. The more value you provide, the less likely you will get hit with another thin content penalty. 

As well as ensuring the text on your pages is high quality, adding images, videos, tables, and charts can also help to beef up the content and make it more engaging.

Once you’ve updated your thin content pages to a satisfactory level, you can submit a reconsideration request and wait for Google to decide if the changes are good enough to lift the manual action.

To avoid a thin content penalty altogether, check out this article.

Hidden Text & Keyword Stuffing

There’s nothing more evident to Google that you are trying to manipulate your way to the top of the SERPs than hidden text and keyword stuffing. This used to be a common practice, but now it’s a surefire way to get penalised, and most intelligent web admins know better than to try it.

Hidden text refers to:

  • text that is the same colour as the background
  • otherwise hidden from view
  • somehow manipulated with code so that it is not visible to the user

This can be done using HTML and CSS code to trick Google into thinking the text isn’t there or using tiny font sizes.

Keyword stuffing is the practice of cramming as many keywords into your content as possible in an attempt to rank higher for those terms. This is something that Google hit hard with the Panda update, and it’s now a definite no-no.

The solution to this penalty is to remove the hidden text or keyword-stuffed content and submit a reconsideration request.

Cloaking & Deceptive Redirects

Web admins often use redirects to send users from one URL to another. This can be done for a number of reasons, such as when you change the structure of your website or want to redirect users from an old page to a new one.

However, deceptive redirects go against Google’s guidelines as they take the user to a completely different page than what was shown in the search results. This is often done in an attempt to generate revenue through affiliate links or ads.

Cloaking is a similar practice whereby the content presented to the user differs from what is shown to Google’s crawlers.

Cloaking uses IP addresses or user-agent information to determine whether to show the user the real content on the page or something else entirely. This is clearly against Google’s guidelines and can result in a manual action being taken against your site.

Probably the most famous example of cloaking was BMW’s German website. In 2006, they were caught cloaking their site and were subsequently banned from Google for some time.

While you shouldn’t have been indulging in the unethical practice of cloaking or redirecting users in the first place, you can remove the offending content and submit a reconsideration request.

Hacked Site

hacked website

If your site gets hacked, you won’t only get penalised after a manual review; when it shows up in the SERPS, it will display a message saying, “This site may be hacked.” A hacked site is a risk not only to you but also to your users, as the hackers could be using your site to distribute malware or phishing scams.

To clean up your site, you might need to enlist the help of a professional if you don’t have the technical know-how. They’ll identify the backdoor files that the hackers left behind and help you to secure your site so that it doesn’t happen again.

FAQs About Google Penalties

How Can I Check If I’ve Been Penalised?

You can confirm that you might have received a Google manual action by checking your Google Search Console Account. If you scroll down the left-hand side, you’ll see a section called Security & Manual Actions. 

Click on this and then on the Manual Actions tab. Here, Google will list any manual actions that have been placed on your site. 

The notification will state which guideline has been violated and ask provide instructions on how you can take action to fix the issue.

mobile usability issues

Why Do Google Penalties Exist?

Just as with a game or sport, rules and regulations must be implemented to ensure that everyone is playing fairly. The same can be said of Google penalties. These exist to ensure that websites adhere to Google’s guidelines and are not trying to manipulate the SERPs.

Google’s goal is to provide its users with safe and helpful search results. If a website is trying to game the system, it jeopardises not only the user experience but also Google’s reputation. This is why they take a hard stance against any website that violates their guidelines.

While most spam is detected at the crawling stage and never makes it into the index, some will always get through. Google’s human reviewers are there to catch these and take action accordingly.

What Manual Actions Can A Website Get?

If your site has been hit with a manual action, it’s likely because of one of the following reasons: 

  • thin content
  • pure spam
  • cloaked redirects
  • hidden text or keyword stuffing
  • unnatural links to (and from) your site
  • hacked site
  • scraped content
  • user-generated spam

So, as long as you aren’t doing any of the above, you won’t need to worry about getting a manual penalty from Google!

The Bottom Line

It might seem like the end of the world when you get hit with a Google penalty, but it doesn’t have to be. As long as you take the necessary steps to fix the issue and adhere to Google’s guidelines, you can get your site back up and running.

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure; if you keep on Google’s good side, it’s a win-win for everyone. Producing quality content and an SEO strategy that upholds Google’s guidelines should ensure no issues arise down the line.

If your SEO performance has been impacted by a Google penalty or algorithm update, don’t hesitate to reach out to us – our team will help get your site back on track to dominating the SERPs!

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