What Is a Google Penalty? Algorithm Hurdles to Manual Actions

Adam Steele
Jan 16, 2024
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Google penalties”—a term shrouded in myths, misconceptions, and, let’s face it, a whole bunch of BS.

To dispel the myths and shed light on the truth, by the end of this guide, you’ll be savvy to

  1. the answer to the question, “What is a Google Penalty?”
  2. what tactics are likely to attract a Google manual action,
  3. and how you can recover from an “algorithmic penalty.”

What Is a Google Penalty?

So, what is a Google Penalty in SEO?

When people use the term “Google penalty,” they are typically referring to two instances:

  1. getting on the “bad” side of one or more of Google’s suite of algorithms
  2. or getting slapped with a Google manual penalty, referred formally to as a manual action.

Here’s our first point of confusion. Some webmasters confuse these two scenarios as the same thing. Sure, they can occur concurrently, but it’s important to understand that misalignment with the preferences of Google’s algorithms is very different from receiving a manual action.

An “algorithmic penalty,” or, more accurately, a misalignment with Google’s recommended best practices, includes “disciplinary actions” carried out automatically by Google’s algorithms, while Google’s spam team hand down a manual action for violating the company’s spam policy.

It’s also important to understand that one should be considered more serious than the other—one’s a headache, the other’s a migraine.

While an algorithmic penalty can spell disaster for a site’s traffic, organic visibility, and visits will, in most cases, recover once the problem is identified and resolved. Depending on the severity, this can be no small feat, but, unlike a manual action, it’s not a serious infringement.

A manual action means you’ve (allegedly) screwed up royally. Possible infringements are first identified and then flagged by one of Google’s algorithms, like Google Panda or Google Penguin. Then, a human reviewer at Google will assess the situation and hand down any manual actions if necessary.

Typically, manual actions come into play when you’re suspected of dabbling in black hat SEO tactics to manipulate search engine rankings. Tut-tut.

Of course, you may be innocent of any wrongdoing. If you feel you’re on the receiving end of an unfairly implemented manual action, you can appeal it through the manual action report on the Google Search Console platform.

Learn more: Interested in broadening your SEO knowledge even further? Check out our SEO glossary, where we’ve explained over 250+ terms.

Causes of Google Penalties

Here’s our second point of confusion: it’s hard to define what Google’s suite of algorithms and its team of human reviewers will consider misalignment or manual action-worthy. However, Google has made it explicitly clear what they consider a breach of their spam policy.

In their words: “We detect policy-violating content and behaviors both through automated systems and, as needed, human review that can result in a manual action. Sites that violate our policies may rank lower in results or not appear in results at all.”

So, using the spam policy as a guide, we will focus on what we know: what Google considers spam or black hat SEO practices. To do this, we’ll list the tactics Google isn’t a fan of, show you a fix, and do our best to define how severe Google considers the tactic to be.

Cloaking

  • Explanation: Deliberately showing different content to search engines than to users.
  • Fix: Ensure all users see the same content.
  • Severity: High. Can result in a manual action for deceptive practices.

Doorways

  • Explanation: Low-value pages that are created to rank well for specific keywords and funnel users to a single destination.
  • Fix: Remove doorway pages and focus on creating genuine pages.
  • Severity: High. Can result in a manual action for using manipulative tactics.

Hacked Content

  • Explanation: Unauthorized content or links added to a website without the owner’s knowledge.
  • Fix: Regularly monitor and secure your website. Remove any unauthorized content.
  • Severity: Very high. Can result in a manual action for security breaches.

Hidden Text and Links

  • Explanation: Placing text or links on a page in a way that’s invisible to users but visible to search engines.
  • Fix: Remove all hidden text and links.
  • Severity: Low to medium. Likely to result in an algorithmic penalty.

Keyword Stuffing

  • Explanation: Loading a web page with out-of-context, unnatural keyword use.
  • Fix: Remove excessive or irrelevant keywords.
  • Severity: Low to medium. Likely to result in an algorithmic penalty for keyword stuffing.

Link Spam

  • Explanation: Tactics designed to manipulate a site’s link profile artificially.
  • Fix: Remove or disavow unnatural links and focus on earning genuine backlinks.
  • Severity: Medium to high. Can result in a manual action for unnatural links.

Machine-Generated Traffic

  • Explanation: Using software to send automated queries to Google.
  • Fix: Avoid using automated tools that query Google directly.
  • Severity: Medium. Can result in a manual action for sending automated queries.

Malware and Malicious Behaviors

  • Explanation: Web pages that install malware or other malicious software on a visitor’s device.
  • Fix: Ensure your website is secure and free from malware.
  • Severity: Very high. Can result in a manual action for harmful behavior.

Misleading Functionality

  • Explanation: Web pages that deceive users into doing something they didn’t intend to.
  • Fix: Ensure all functionalities on your site are transparent and user-friendly.
  • Severity: High. Can result in a manual action for deceptive practices.

Scraped Content

  • Explanation: Content taken from other websites and republished without added value.
  • Fix: Remove scraped content and focus on creating original content.
  • Severity: Medium. Likely to result in an algorithmic penalty for duplicate content.

Sneaky Redirects

  • Explanation: Redirecting users to a different page than expected.
  • Fix: Remove any deceptive redirects.
  • Severity: High. Can result in a manual action for misleading users.

Spammy Automatically-Generated Content

  • Explanation: Content produced by algorithms or scripts, rather than human-written content.
  • Fix: Remove all auto-generated content and replace it with original, high-quality content.
  • Severity: Low to medium. Likely to result in an algorithmic penalty due to low-quality content.

Thin Affiliate Pages

  • Explanation: Creating pages replicating affiliate program content without adding original content.
  • Fix: Add unique content to affiliate pages.
  • Severity: Low to medium. Likely to result in an algorithmic penalty for thin content.

User-Generated Spam

  • Explanation: Spammy content or links added to a site by its users, often seen in comments or forums.
  • Fix: Monitor and moderate user-generated content. Implement anti-spam measures.
  • Severity: Medium. Likely to result in an algorithmic penalty for user-generated spam.

Google Penalty FAQs

Q1: How Many Different Penalties Does Google Have?

Answer: Google doesn’t have a fixed number of “penalties.” Instead, it has a set of guidelines that websites should adhere to. Violations of these guidelines can result in manual actions or algorithmic demotions. The term “Google penalty” in SEO often refers to these actions or demotions.

Q2: How to Check Google Penalized Site?

Answer: To determine if your site has been penalized by Google, check the Google Search Console. If there’s a manual action against your site, you’ll find a notification in the “Manual Actions” section. For algorithmic issues, monitor your site’s traffic and rankings. Sudden drops might indicate an algorithmic demotion.

Q3: How Do I Remove a Penalty From Google?

Answer: If you’ve received a Google manual penalty, the first step is to address the violation specified in the Google Search Console. Once rectified, submit a reconsideration request detailing the issue and the steps taken to resolve it. For algorithmic demotions, analyze and improve the areas of your site that might be causing the drop, such as content quality or backlink profile.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Whether it’s avoiding black hat tactics or understanding the difference between manual actions and algorithmic adjustments, knowledge is your best defense against potential pitfalls.

But why tread these waters alone?

At Loganix, we’ve spent years diving deep into the world of SEO, ensuring our clients not only steer clear of penalties but also achieve the online visibility they deserve.

🚀 Ready to elevate your SEO game? Check out Loganix’s suite of SEO services! 🚀

Written by Adam Steele on January 16, 2024

COO and Product Director at Loganix. Recovering SEO, now focused on the understanding how Loganix can make the work-lives of SEO and agency folks more enjoyable, and profitable. Writing from beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia.