SEO Glossary / Google Penalty

Google Penalty

What is a Google Penalty?

A Google penalty is a punishment a website can receive for violating Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. Listed in Google’s documentation as “manual actions,” Google penalties may result in pages or sites being ranked lower or even removed completely from search results.

While negative impacts on your website can result from Google algorithm updates, these are not the same as Google penalties. Google penalties are manual actions taken by human reviewers on Google’s webspam team, not by their AI-aided algorithm.

Google’s machine learning models detect about 99% of spam content, which amounts to about 40 billion spam pages per day. The remaining 1% of spam sites are handled by manual actions, which are reserved as the “final filter” in Google’s war against spam.

Why are Google Penalties Important?

Google penalties negatively affect rankings and visibility of websites that attempt to manipulate search rankings. When your site isn’t showing up in search results, you will of course lose traffic, conversions, and credibility. That’s why it’s important to understand what causes manual actions, what punishment looks like, and how to recover.

Many companies outsource SEO to freelancers or agencies. When vetting your SEO provider, it’s important to make sure that they’re also aware of Google penalties so they can avoid them. Consider confirming with your SEO that they use white-hat SEO strategies when optimizing your site.

How to Avoid Google Penalties? Best Practices

Backlinks, or links to your site from another site, are used as a ranking signal for Google’s algorithm. Because of this, there are tons of services that offer links for a fee. But artificially increasing the number of links to your site is considered a black-hat SEO tactic, and is penalized accordingly by Google.

Similarly, you may be offered by potential advertisers to add links to their content. If you include excessive links to low-quality sites Google may penalize you for attempting to manipulate search results.

Of course, not all link building is punished by Google. The best way to gain backlinks to your site is to build relationships with credible sources and put out high-quality content. By becoming an authority in your industry, you’ll begin to invite backlinks from other sites and signal your credibility to Google with no risk of punishment.

If you decide to link out to an external resource but you hesitate about its quality, you may want to add a rel="nofollow" attribute to the link. This would add the link to your site without passing any PageRank to the site, helping to prevent Google from seeing it as a manipulation of their algorithm.

2. Avoid Auto-Generated Content and Article Spinning

Producing high volumes of content can be beneficial for SEO. But if the content is low quality, it can actually harm your rankings and put you at risk of getting penalized.

A couple of low-quality content writing tactics are auto-generated content and article spinning.

Auto-generated content is a copy that’s been automatically generated with some software. While AI-powered language generation tools are programmed to create human-like text, upon closer look it’s easy to tell when a piece of content has been written by a robot.

Article spinning, on the other hand, takes one piece of content and spins it into one or more variations by using synonyms or changing up the sentence structure.

Auto-generated content and article spinning make it possible to put out hundreds of pieces of content at a low cost. But these tactics produce low-quality, often unreadable content that provides little to no value. Because of this, Google’s algorithm has been specifically updated to spot low-quality content and penalize sites for it.

3. Focus on Quality from the Long-Term Perspective

While Google’s AI-assisted system and webspam team have gotten very good at catching black-hat SEO tactics, some spammy sites still inevitably slip through. But the gains from search engine manipulations are usually short-lived. Google will eventually catch onto and penalize sites that violate their quality guidelines, rendering useless any black-hat tactics and the money that went into them.

The best way to avoid Google penalties is to focus on quality content and quality link-building. If you’re looking for tools that make it easier to create rankable content, consider using Ranktracker's suite of SEO tools. These tools make it easy to identify opportunities to create great content, such as competitor insights and broken link-building opportunities.

Even though white-hat SEO takes more time and effort, it’s the best way to attract long-term traffic to your site. By creating content that makes humans and algorithms happy, you’ll be much more likely to stay penalty-free and keep showing up in search results.


What Causes Most Penalties Today?

While Google lists about a dozen manual actions that can be applied, the most common violations are:

  • Unnatural links to your site: These are defined as “a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site.” Paid links or link schemes are highly likely to get on Google’s radar and result in a manual action.
  • Unnatural links from your site: Just as Google discourages artificial inbound links, they also penalize sites for spammy outbound links.
  • Thin content with little or no added value: Auto-generated and spun content fall into this category, but you should also watch out for duplicate and thin content with excessive affiliate links.

How Do I Know If My Website Has Been Penalized?

Depending on your Google Search Console settings, you’ll be notified if your site is penalized by email. You can also check manually by going to the Security & Manual Actions section of Google Search Console.

How to Lift a Penalty

If you receive a manual action, Google gives you the opportunity to fix the issue and request a review. In Google Search Console, go to Security & Manual Actions and expand the manual action description panel. See which pages are affected, what issue was flagged, and the steps to fix the issue. After you follow the steps to fix the issue, select Request Review and describe your fixes in detail.

For more SEO tips and guides, visit Ranktracker SEO Guide.