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In its simplest form, a Google penalty refers to a restriction placed upon a website which causes it to rank less well – or, in serious cases, removes the site from the index entirely. Penalties usually occur when a website has breached Google’s webmaster guidance by using manipulative ‘black-hat’ SEO strategies.

Google is continually trying to improve search results in order to provide users with high quality, valuable answers to their search queries (advertising on high quality SERPs is what makes them a considerable portion of their money, after all). Penalties of one kind or another help the search engine giant to ensure that spammy, irrelevant sites do not occupy the prominent positions on results pages.

Although penalties became much better known with the various Panda and Penguin iterations, looking for unnatural SEO practices such as keyword-stuffed content and irrelevant backlinks, the team at Google continually stamp out spam by issuing what are referred to as ‘manual action’ penalties to pages and websites that violate guidelines.

Over the years, we’ve received a number of enquiries from concerned site owners seeking assistance in recovering from Google-imposed penalties, most of which are for unnatural linking methods. We understand the detrimental impact that Google’s manual and algorithmic penalties have on your business, and the amount of work required to overcome them – and have achieved a 100% record of penalty removal. Due to the intensive work that is often involved in reversing a penalty, we have a dedicated team of experts who will analyse, optimise, repair and recover your website while you continue to focus on running your business. If there is no manual action listed in your Google Search Console account and you are certain the account is properly organised, then it may be that you have no penalty, but have instead fallen foul of a recent core update – by examining your site’s performance in conjunction with analysis of a number of industry leading tools and our expert knowledge of algorithm updates, we may still be able to help by determining which update impacted your site. Our Google penalty recovery process includes the following steps:

For link-based penalties

Link auditing
We gather a comprehensive list of your website’s backlinks and analyse their quality to determine are natural and which are unnatural.

Link removal
We remove or disavow the backlinks identified as unnatural (a disavow file asks Google to disregard external links from certain sites when its spiders next crawl your site’s backlink profile).

Once you have a clean backlink profile, we can begin building organic backlinks for your website, using natural link building methods (such as Digital PR) in line with Google’s algorithms.

For other penalties

Most other penalty types will come with a Google Search Console message outlining the problem with your site as they see it, it is then down to you, or whoever is briefed to tackle the penalty, to address that problem before submitting a request for review which details the following:

  • The exact quality issue on your site.

  • The steps you’ve taken to fix the issue.

  • The outcome of your efforts.

Recovery from a penalty will go a long way to reversing the negative impact on your brand that the penalty brought with it, but investigation of the problem can also reveal a host of other issues that may have caused your site problems. As a result, a thorough audit of your site to begin the process of recovery may leave you with a better understanding that can help you build your roadmap for growth following recovery.

The content marketing team hard at work at their desks

Our team of SEO experts bring digital experience totalling decades and award-winning excellence to the process of helping brands recover from Google penalties. They know that there is no generic approach, and instead apply unique strategies to each new case in order to overcome the problems they discover.

Organic search, commonly referred to as search engine optimisation (SEO), employs a combination of creative and technical skills to improve the visibility of a website for commercially important key terms. In doing so, the aim is to increase the number of consumers exposed to a brand at vital points in the consumer journey, to increase traffic to the website and, therefore, increase consumer awareness and the number of commercial actions (purchases, downloads, contact form submissions etc).

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Google Penalty FAQ

While specific penalties are rarer than they were a decade ago, it is possible that brands may still encounter older algorithmic penalty on purchased older domains, while manual actions can and are regularly taken against websites that breach webmaster quality guidelines – but they can be removed! Here we’re going to look at some of the most common queries on and around Google penalties.

What is a manual action penalty?


Manual action penalties are applied by a Google employee at either a page or sitewide level and are the result of a website breaching webmaster quality guidelines (whether purposefully or not), including low quality, thin or spammy content, manipulated link profiles, suspicious outbound linking, and more. Webmasters are notified of these penalties through messages in Google Search Console.

How would I know if my site has suffered a manual action penalty?


If your site has received a manual action penalty, you will receive a message in your Google Search Console notices which will not only indicate that you have received a penalty, but also the reason for the penalty – making it easier (though not easy) to produce a plan of action.

What reasons are there for a manual action penalty?


There is a full list of and descriptions of each of the reasons for a manual action penalty on the Google support pages, but – in short – these are just some of the reasons you may have received a manual action penalty.

  • User generated spam – spammy content added by users (generally on forums or in comment sections).
  • Spammy, free host – your site is served by a particularly poor-quality host platform.
  • Structured data issues – your site employs structured data in incorrect, or misleading ways.
  • Unnatural links to your site – your site has been understood to have implemented manipulative link building methods.
  • Unnatural links from your site – your site may have been linking out in a manipulative or deceitful manner.
  • Thin content – the content on your site offers little of value, and is possibly scraped or (badly) automatically generated.

Can a manual action penalty be removed?


Upon being given a manual action penalty, you should receive a message in Google Search Console which outlines the problem with your site as they see it. It is then down to you, or whoever is briefed to tackle the penalty, to address that problem before submitting a request for review (also known as a reconsideration request) which details the following:

  • The exact quality issue on your site.
  • The steps you’ve taken to fix the issue.
  • The outcome of your efforts.

Once the reconsideration request has been reviewed, you will be informed as to whether the penalty will be removed. While the process is not simple and may require multiple submissions, it is achievable.

What is Google Penguin?


A Google algorithm launched in April 2012, Penguin aimed to penalise sites considered to have unethical backlink profiles. The result of which was a decline in Google visibility.

Penguin’s core focus was to analyse the link profiles of the websites indexed in Google and ascertain whether they are natural, relevant and, ultimately, whether linking is being used in a way that makes Google a valuable and user friendly source of information.

What could be considered a poor quality link profile?


Google Penguin cracks down on link schemes – or ‘spamdexing’ – and seeks to penalise sites that breach Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using manipulative link building techniques to achieve rankings and grow traffic.

Any site that was deemed to be engaging in ‘black hat’ linking techniques, be that via directories, link farming, paid or rented links etc, can receive a penalty that affects their ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs).

The objective is not to make your links appear natural; the objective is that your links are natural.

What could have caused a Penguin penalty?


Bad neighbourhoods
A bad neighbourhood refers to a collection of interlinked websites or link directories that have been penalised in the past. Sharing your server with a large neighbourhood of websites that have a penalty history could put your site in jeopardy of being demoted, no matter how ethical your links are.

Similarly, backlinks that point to your website from a bad neighbourhood can harm your site’s authority.

Bought links
Buying links to manipulate your site’s position in SERPs includes exchanging goods or services for links and trading money for links. Such actions are classed as a defilement of Google’s Guidelines, which is likely to result in a penalty.

Link networks
The phrase ‘link networks’ refers to multiple websites that operate with the sole intention of increasing the ranking of websites in SERPs. The content found on link networks is rarely high quality as, by their very nature, most link networks are built purposely to dupe Google.

Over-optimised anchor text
Google Penguin has underscored how imperative it is to avoid over-optimising anchor text, ie, by using too many, or irrelevant, keywords (‘keyword stuffing’). This indicates to Google that you are attempting to manipulate your place in search rankings.

How will I know if I’ve been hit by a link-related penalty?


If your link profile is deemed by Google to be negative, your site may have received a penalty and you’ll see visibility fall.

Therefore, if your site’s analytics report displays a sudden and severe drop in traffic and SERPs rankings, it’s likely that you’ve been issued with a penalty or fallen foul of a recent update.

The severity of the decrease depends upon the form of penalty that has affected your site, as well as the variation of digital marketing tactics you have in place.

For example, if you rely solely on organic search to drive traffic to your website, the dip in visitors is likely to be more noticeable compared to sites that have multiple sources of traffic.

Regardless of the form of penalty your website has received, though, even a small dip in traffic can be bad news for companies operating within a competitive space.

What is Google Panda?


In an effort to improve user experience, Google continually modifies and updates the core algorithm it uses to determine the order in which search results are returned.

Google Panda is part of this core algorithm, and measures the quality of a site’s content, cracking down on those with thin content, high ad-to-content ratios and other content quality issues, and adjusts the ranking of site’s and pages accordingly.

What type of content may result in a content-related penalty?


Google Panda cracks down on:

  • over-optimisation (keyword stuffing and repetitive content)
  • copied (scraped) content
  • thin or low quality content
  • replicated or otherwise unnatural content

How will I know if I’ve got a content-related penalty?


Your first clue will be a dramatic drop in traffic. If you have been impacted, your visibility will not improve and traffic will not return until you fix the issue on your website that caused it.

How can I avoid a content-related penalty?

  • Don’t stuff your content full of keywords – they should appear naturally within the text.
  • Make sure your site has a low ad-to-content ratio.
  • Establish yourself as an industry thought leader.

What’s the difference between an algorithmic penalty and a manual penalty?


Applied automatically by one or other of Google’s algorithms, an algorithmic penalty will likely have a fairly straightforward cause – poor quality content, or unnatural links.

Alternatively, a manual penalty is issued by a Google employee; it places restrictions upon individual websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you’ve been issued with this form of penalty, you may notice that one or more of your website’s pages have stopped appearing in SERPs. The severity of a manual penalty depends upon how badly your website was breaking the guidelines.

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