When it comes to ranking high in search results, having high-quality links pointing to your website is essential. But as we’ve mentioned many times, not all links are created equal. Low-quality links can harm your site and destroy your online credibility. If you’re not careful, your site could receive harsh consequences from Google. Keep reading to find out what a Google Penalty is and what to do if you get hit with one.
According to HubSpot, a Google penalty is a punishment against a website whose content conflicts with the marketing practices enforced by Google. Penalties can come as a result of an update to Google's ranking algorithm, or a manual review that suggests a web page used "black hat" SEO tactics.
The consequences of receiving a penalty can be devastating. They typically result in your rankings dropping in the SERPS, significantly less web traffic, or, in extreme cases, being completely de-indexed.
There are two general categories of penalties: Manual and Algorithmic. Within each category, there are a number of reasons why your site may have been penalized. We’ve included some of the most common ones below.
A manual penalty (or manual action) typically occurs when Google’s spam team flags your website. This usually means they believe your website is breaking one or more of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Manual penalties are most often due to your backlink profile. The three most common types of manual penalties are:
To see if you’ve been manually penalized, log in to your Google Search Console and check to see if you have any new messages. If you don’t see any warnings or messages, it’s unlikely that there’s a manual penalty on your site.
If you find that you have been penalized, there are a few ways you can address this issue. The best place to start is by removing any unnatural or spammy links pointing to your website.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which links you’re received a penalty for. If you’ve knowingly engaged in link buying, link trading, or some other Black Hat link building tactic, those are probably the links Google has flagged.
If you’re still not sure which links Google is deeming “unnatural,” you’ll need to do a bit more research. We recommend testing out SEMrush’s Backlink Audit tool. This will help you better understand your backlink profile and will identify any toxic or potentially harmful links that are associated with your site.
After you’ve identified the low-quality links, you’ll want to begin reaching out to the webmasters of the origin sites and ask for a link removal. If that doesn’t work, meaning, you don’t receive a response, or it’s taking too long, you can disavow these links yourself.
Algorithmic penalties occur automatically when one of Google’s search algorithms flags your website. This typically happens as a result of a new algorithm update or “data refreshes” from a previous algorithm update.
Similar to a Manual Penalty, any violation against the Google Webmaster Guidelines will help you earn an Algorithmic Penalty. Google uses a few filters to automatically detect if a website violates said guidelines. The most well-known and most common are the Panda Update and the Penguin Update. Google has also pushed two “mobile-friendliness” algorithm updates with the intention of only ranking websites that are more mobile-friendly in mobile search results.
Algorithmic penalties are often harder to detect than manual penalties because you won’t receive a Search Console message letting you know that your site has been penalized. Instead, you’re likely to see a massive drop in traffic with no explanation. So, if you notice an abnormal dip in your traffic, see if it lines up with any confirmed algorithm changes.
The best way to protect yourself from algorithmic penalties is to stay informed on all Google algorithm updates. There are many resources available to help you keep track of algorithm updates. We often refer to Google SearchLiaison’s Twitter to remain updated.
If you happen to receive an algorithmic penalty, the best way to regain your rankings is to fix the issue as soon as possible and wait for Google to recognize your efforts. Google only runs data refreshes on these algorithms once every few months. If you’ve been penalized, your site won’t recover until a data refresh determines that your site no longer deserves a penalty. No one necessarily knows when the next data refresh of an algorithm takes place so it’s important to identify and fix any algorithmic penalties as soon as possible.
In order to be successful in SEO, it is important to do whatever you can to avoid search engine penalties. SEO can be a lengthy process, but staying within the White Hat lines is a sure way to rank.
Looking to improve your SEO strategy? At SMA, we specialize in White Hat SEO strategies guaranteed to help your ranking improve. Check out our On-Page SEO Guide where we detail ethical and effective SEO best practices. Click below to download our FREE On-Page SEO Guide!
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