A website owner trying to identify and fix Google penalties by analyzing a sudden change in website traffic on his computer.

How to identify and fix Google penalties

Websites, in general, use a variety of SEO techniques to improve their ranking positions on Google. At the same time, Google is constantly improving its search engine for better efficiency and experience for its users. Sometimes, for different reasons, these changes collide with optimization, issuing different types of penalties for websites. And the most notable changes happen if websites go against Google’s specific guidelines. As a result, it causes a sudden drop in rankings for many. In that case, websites need to place a lot of effort to identify and fix Google penalties and do everything necessary to prevent them in the future.

Detect, identify, and fix Google penalties

In general, Google practices implementing different regulations and algorithms to filter out everyone who is breaking the rules. They clearly state that anyone who doesn’t follow their guidelines and tries to manipulate their search engine and users will eventually face a penalty. Consequently, we have seen numerous changes happen over the years, each with its own impact on the state of the search engine result environment.

How is the evolution of Google search affecting websites?

With constant improvements from Google, it can be hard to follow all the evolutionary changes. Sometimes, websites are penalized for using bad practices. But, sometimes, it can happen even to the most sincere website owners. Regardless of the cause, losing the hard-earned ranking positions can be devastating, especially for small local businesses whose whole existence depends on their website’s SEO ranking and traffic. In essence, being aware of the tactics you shouldn’t use is, by far, the best way to avoid this situation. And closely following the Google webmaster guidelines is an essential precaution for those who are just starting out.

Major types of Google penalties

If your website is experiencing a considerable decline in traffic and suddenly loses its SERP position, you might have been penalized by Google. Usually, the first step is to identify if that is the case. For the most part, fluctuations in ranking positions are regular and quite often. But, more drastic ones certainly point to something more serious at work.

Altogether, there are two major types of Google penalties:

  • Manual issued penalties
  • Automatic algorithmic penalties

Depending on what you are dealing with, fixing will require different approaches.

Manual penalties

As you can assume, manual penalties are actions taken by Google’s human auditors. When they receive reports that your website is in direct violation of their rules, they will closely evaluate your website. If the circumstances require disciplinary actions, they can manually flag your website for a penalty. Some of the most common reasons for manual penalties are:

  • Too many unnaturally acquired links
  • Spammy links, content, or structured markups
  • Irrelevant, abusive, deceptive, or thin content
  • Misleading, hidden, or cloaked redirections
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Hidden text
  • Hacked pages
  • and many others

Fortunately, manual actions are easy to identify since Google will send a notification to webmasters.

An auditor in a suite pointing toward the “Audit” button.
When it comes to breaking their guidelines, Google can be very strict.

 

Algorithmic Penalties

In essence, algorithmic penalties are not actual penalties. It’s “only” that you are facing the consequences of the changes in Google search engine algorithms. Depending on the way websites are built and optimized, this can lead from minor all the way to massive changes. If a website is using strictly forbidden “Black Hat techniques“, it can even be banned from Google altogether. Also, they can affect only specific pages or entire domains. They are much harder to identify since you are not getting a notification from Google. You will have to cross-reference different information to get to the bottom of the problem.

Probably the most infamous algorithm changes everyone in the web world has been hearing about are:

  • Panda update
  • Penguin update

The Panda Update

In 2011, a major update by the name of Panda shook the web world. With the goal to filter out websites with low-quality content, it surprised many website owners. For some, it took years to recover their websites from such an impact. On the other hand, websites without generic, plagiarized, and thin content experienced the pinnacle of their rankings at the time.

A panda chewing its food.
The Panda major update was nowhere near cute as the real one.

The Penguin Update

Another major player in the algorithmic game is the Penguin update. Its goal is to analyze link profiles across the web and eliminate and correct pages with irrelevant, artificial, and suspicious links. From the second quarter of 2012, it caused a lot of disturbance and reshaped the digital marketing approach in general. The main message Google was starting to send is that backlinks should be acquired naturally to benefit visitors and users. Not for search engines, crawlers, and mere ranking manipulation.

How to fix Google penalties?

Fixing the situation with penalties requires identifying the core of the problems and decent resources, time, and knowledge. Those without a good in-house marketing team should consider hiring SEO professionals for this. When it comes to manual penalties, Google will send you a notice, along with the reasons. For algorithmic issues, it might be a bit harder to identify all the elements you need to work on. In most cases, you will have to use SEO tools to find and analyze the causes for the negative performance of your website. And then, cross-reference all the information from reports with algorithm update dates.

Scribbling the “Assess” word from wooden tiles.
You have to closely assess the situation and identify the causes.

Some of the most popular tools for dealing with penalties are:

  • SEMRush
  • Rank Ranger
  • The Panguin Tool
  • FE International
  • and others

Dealing with the Manual penalty

Once you receive the notice from Google, it will be pretty clear about what you need to do. Among many actions, the most common are:

  • Cleaning your backlink profile
  • Adding more relevant content
  • Improving the overall user experience (UX)
  • Cleaning the suspicious scripts and code
  • Repairing the consequences of hacking
  • Lowering the number of redirects
  • and similar

The best course of action here is to completely audit your website. Just in case you, and even Google, overlook something that might cause you problems in the future. Finally, after all the work is complete, you will have to submit a request to Google to reconsider lifting the penalty.

Fixing the Panda penalty

Since the content is the main issue here, a lot of work awaits. Basically, it’s necessary to reevaluate every page to find what requires your attention. It can be plagiarized, duplicate, or information-thin content. There might be problems with formatting and user-friendliness, or it can be some problem with your markup (HTML) or styling (CSS) code. Anything that causes conflict with Google Guidelines has to be fixed.

Fixing the Penguin penalty

For “the Penguin”, you will need to primarily focus on your links. Your backlink profile has to be flawless, now more than ever, in order to lift Google’s punishing flags. This is a tremendous job that requires you to analyze every backlink and conduct a thorough cleaning. On websites with a decent amount of backlinks, this will be nearly impossible without advanced tools. So, use Majestic SEO, Ahrefs, Link Research, and Webmaster Tools to complete your research. The next step is to contact webmasters to remove undesirable links. If they don’t comply or answer back, you will have to disavow those links through Google.

Finally, you will have to keep a close eye on rising SEO trends and constantly monitor the changes. Both in the best practices and Google updates. To avoid having to identify and fix Google penalties again, it’s best to follow Google webmaster guidelines closely. This way, your website will set long-term goals and implement safe techniques without having to worry about the penalties in the future.