How to identify and fix Google penalties

If your site disappears from the Google rankings or slips down dramatically in the natural search results then you may have been hit by a Google penalty. Google applies spam actions to websites that go against their Webmaster Guidelines and this can have devastating results on your search visibility . This guide will show you how to fix Google penalties.

Google uses Google Search Console to communicate with webmasters regarding any website issues that will negatively impact their site’s visibility. Some of these issues are regarded as Black Hat techniques – spotted by the Google Search Quality team but some of them can be less minor.

Here are the categories of Google penalties and how to fix them:

Major spam

The major spam penalty is given for aggressive spam techniques such as automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content from other websites and large scale violations of Google’s guidelines. To reinstate a site into the Google rankings that has this penalty, the website owner must significantly change their content to adhere to the webmaster guidelines. After this has been done, a website reconsideration request needs to be submitted.

Spam problems

This penalty is a toned down version of the major spam penalty outlined above. It is issued for thin content (which is generally considered to be spammy) and for doorway pages (used to redirect visitors to another location). Google sees these types of pages as having no value to the site visitor.

To remove this manual penalty, a total site review is required. This will need to focus on content quality. Thin content will need to be expanded on or excluded from Google’s index by using no index tags and doorway pages will need to be removed.

User generated spam

This penalty generally applies to sites that allow comments on blogs or forums from users. Obviously these kind of systems can be open to abuse if not set up correctly. Here, Google is essentially asking the site owner to get their house in order.

For user generated spam, Google will notify the site owner of the particular URLs that have triggered the penalty, It is common that only the pages that have been affected will be removed from the search results and the rest of the site will not be affected.

Steps to take to fix user generated spam include:

  • making sure the software is up to date and spam protection is in place.
  • moderating existing and new user generated content.
  • limiting user’s ability to link out from your site.
  • closing comments after a reasonable time period.

Once these steps have been accomplished, the site owner should submit a reconsideration request to Google through Search Console.

Hacked Content

If Google finds that your site has been hacked then it will issue a hacked content alert:

fix google penalty

Google hacked content penalty notice

This usually happens when a user injects malicious and/or irrelevant content without the site owner’s consent.

Unlike the other penalties, a notice is issued in the search results for your site:

If your site is hacked then the underlying vulnerability needs to be identified and patched. The malicious content should then be removed and, as in all previous cases, submitting a reconsideration request is the way to have this penalty reassessed.

Rich snippet issues

If you receive an incorrect structure data notice then your rich snippets will no longer appear in the Google search results.

The recovery and reconsideration process is similar to what you would do to fix Google penalties above.

Unnatural outbound links

Google issues the penalty because they believe that you are trying to artificially boost another site’s rankings by linking out to them. Although you will receive a notification if you have unnatural outbound links on your site, this penalty doesn’t necessarily cause a drop in rankings. Google will, however, discount the trust in links from your site.

unnatural outbound links

Unnatural outbound links

As you can see, the steps are to remove links that were added in exchange for some type of compensation or to use <nofollow> tags to identify them as low value.

Unnatural inbound links

If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate ranking positions is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

The consequent loss in visibility in Google ranges anywhere from barely noticeable to a steady decline over time to a dramatic total loss of visibility overnight.

To fix this issue, it is vital to conduct a full inbound link audit. Google recommends that you download the inbound links as a spreadsheet from search console and identify any artificial links. The next thing to do would be to contact the webmasters that are linking to you to ask them to remove the links. Following this, these links should be disavowed. You can use online tools for this purpose or have your local freelance SEO consultant do this for you.

When this process is complete, you can submit a reconsideration request.

Notification of attempt to fix Google penalties

Once you’ve worked to fix Google penalties and submitted a reconsideration request, you may receive a notification from Google explaining the outcome of your reconsideration request.