Google penalties can be devastating to a website’s traffic and overall online visibility.
They’re often the result of using unethical Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics or having low-quality, spammy content on the site — in some cases, a site can get hacked or unknowingly get large amounts of spammy backlinks.
However, there is hope for recovery, and with the right steps, it’s possible to get back in Google’s good graces.
What is a Google Penalty?
A Google penalty is a reduction in a website’s visibility or ranking in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). This reduction is imposed by Google when a website is found to violate the search engine’s guidelines.
Penalties can be either manual or algorithmic and can result from a wide range of factors, including the use of black hat SEO tactics, having low-quality or duplicate content, or engaging in spammy link-building practices.
The severity of the penalty can vary depending on the severity of the violation and can result in a significant decrease in traffic and visibility for the affected website. The goal of penalties is to maintain the integrity of Google’s search results and provide users with the most relevant and high-quality content possible.
How to Recover from a Google Penalty
Recovering from a Google penalty can be a time-consuming and challenging process, but with the right steps, it is possible to regain your site’s visibility and ranking in Google’s search results. Here are the steps you can follow to recover from a Google penalty:
Step 1: Identify the Type of Penalty
Before attempting to recover from a penalty, it’s important to determine what type of penalty your site received. There are two main types of penalties: manual and algorithmic. A manual penalty means that a Google employee has reviewed your site and found it to be in violation of Google’s guidelines. An algorithmic penalty is a result of Google’s automated systems flagging your site for violating guidelines.
Login to Google Search Console to check if you’ve received a manual penalty:
- Select Domain > Scroll to ‘Security & Manual Actions’ > Click ‘Manual actions’
If it says “No issues detected” next to the green check mark, you’re good to go for this step.
However, there are several types of Google penalties, including:
- Algorithmic Penalties: These are automatic penalties imposed by Google’s algorithms for violating the search engine’s guidelines, such as using black hat SEO tactics like keyword stuffing or buying backlinks. Some examples of algorithm penalties are:
- Penguin Update Penalty: This type of penalty is specific to websites that engage in spammy link-building practices, such as buying or exchanging links with other sites.
- Panda Update Penalty: This type of penalty is specific to websites that have low-quality, thin, or duplicate content.
- Manual Penalties: Imposed by a Google employee who has reviewed your website and found it to be in violation of Google’s guidelines.
- Mobile Penalty: Specific to websites that are not optimized for mobile devices, leading to a poor user experience.
- Site-wide Penalty: Affects an entire website and is typically the result of widespread violations of Google’s guidelines.
- Targeted Penalty: Specific to a specific page or group of pages on a website and is often the result of individual violations of Google’s guidelines.
It’s important to note that Google frequently updates their algorithms, and new types of penalties may be introduced over time. By following best practices for ethical SEO and creating high-quality content, you’ll minimize the risk of getting penalized.
Step 2: Review Google Search Essentials (formerly Webmaster Guidelines)
Once you’ve determined the type of penalty you have received, it’s important to review Google’s Search Essentials (Webmaster Guidelines) documentation to understand why your site was penalized. This will give you a better understanding of what changes need to be made in order to recover.
Step 3: Conduct a Thorough Site Audit
Next, conduct a thorough website audit to identify any technical or content issues that may have led to the penalty. This should at the minimum include reviewing the following:
- Backlink profile: Look for any low-quality or spammy backlinks that are pointing to your site and consider removing them.
- Content: Ensure that all content is original and of high quality.
- Technical issues: Check for any technical issues, such as crawl errors or broken links, that may have contributed to the penalty.
- Keyword rankings: Analyze keyword ranking performance to determine if pages are no longer ranking in organic search.
Step 4: Make Necessary Changes
Once you’ve identified the issues that led to the penalty, it’s time to make the necessary changes. This may involve removing low-quality content or links, fixing technical issues, and creating new, high-quality content. Be sure to make these changes in a timely manner, as Google can take several weeks to review your site after changes have been made.
You’ll need to fix each issue on all affected pages before moving to the next step.
Step 5: Request a Review in Google Search Console
Once you’ve made the necessary changes to your site, you can request a review within Google Search Console. You’ll need to make sure your site is accessible to Googlebot so it can crawl each page effectively.
This will allow Google to re-crawl your site and re-evaluate it for any penalties. It may take several weeks for Google to review your site, so be patient. They’ll update you on their evaluation progress via email. You can read more about this process here.
Step 6: Monitor Your Site’s Performance
Finally, monitor your site’s performance regularly to ensure that it is recovering from the penalty. Keep an eye on your traffic, search engine rankings, and backlink profile to ensure that your site is on the right track.
Take advantage of free Google tools like Google Analytics, Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio), Google Tag Manager, and Google Search Console to track your website’s performance.