Google Penalties: What Are They?

Google penalties: How to identify them and how to solve them. Have you ever been penalized by Google? Do you think you have been penalized but you are not sure?

In this article, you will find some useful tips and information, especially if you have noticed a  decrease in traffic or changes in the positioning of your content on Google.

After the introduction to SEO, with a guide, I published some time ago (if you haven’t already read it click on SEO Guide ), today I want to deepen the topic of Google penalties,  to help those who want to understand if they have been penalized for identify penalties and, above all, get out of a bad situation!

Google penalties

The main penalties that Google decides to adopt against blogs and websites can cause a reduction in traffic, a negative change in positioning, or even (as happened, among others, to me) exclusion of the site from the Google index.

A penalty is a way Google uses to penalize, and therefore punish, sites that are contrary to Google’s guidelines (for Google’s guidelines click on / SEO-starter-guide? hl = it ).

Manual penalties and algorithmic penalties

What is a penalty?

Google has established rules within which the so-called illegal practices are identified that can lead to a penalty or the complete removal of a site from the search results index.

The first distinction that must be made, when it comes to penalties, is that between manual and algorithmic penalties.

If Google understands that a site has carried out actions that are contrary to its guidelines, it intervenes with a specific penalty, which varies according to the type of “incorrect action was taken”.

How to understand if my site is penalized?

Using tools such as  SEOZoom or  SEMRush it is always possible to check if, in correspondence with updates to the Google algorithm, traffic drops are noticed: this is a first alarm bell that should help us understand if the site has suffered a penalty.

In the case of manual penalization, Google itself sends a message through the  Search Console 

Main Google Algorithmic Updates

Google Panda

One of the updates to Google’s algorithm that made the web tremble the most was Panda. First launched in 2011, it hit sites that contained low-quality content and articles.

Those affected by this penalty should usually take into consideration:

  • The quality and length of the content
  • The presence of  duplicate content
  • The usefulness (or rather the uselessness) of the published contents

To avoid this penalty it is good to periodically review the contents 

Panda’s goal:

Poor quality results. Sites that have a lot of poor quality content and try to rank well are penalized. Particularly:

  • pages that are created only to increase traffic,
  • content that is over-optimized with keywords and/or duplicates,
  • content not related to your website.

Remedies:  Analyze the content of your site and eliminate the bad/duplicate ones. Check if you can also spell and grammar and the metadata of your articles: what is the structure of the URLs? Are there Alt tags in the images? Are you using flash? Create content that is useful for the audience.

Google Penguin

This is the update that evaluates a website‘s link profile. Penguin is responsible for analyzing the backlinks or incoming links of a website and the related anchor text ( anchor texts) used.

Launched for the first time in 2012, this too was one of the updates that created the most panic on the web and in those involved in  SEO (so much so that people began to think, erroneously – IMHO – that ” link building was the bad to avoid absolutely “).

If previously positioning a site was “easier” thanks to  unnatural and/or ad hoc link profiles, today it is more difficult and you have to be cautious 

Among the factors taken into consideration by this algorithmic update are:

  • The quality of the inbound links
  • The rate of growth of the links (i.e. the rate of acquisition)
  • The variety of links obtained

This type of penalty can also affect individual pages (and for this reason, it is sometimes more difficult to identify by those who are not experts in the sector).

Penguin Goal:

Poor quality sites positioned well in SERPs thanks to spam links and “Black hat” practices (read: Keyword stuffing, link schemes, unrelated pages, aggressive guest blogging, duplicate content, comment spam, over-optimized anchor text, …).

Remedies: Check incoming links via Google Webmaster or other tools (Majestic SEO, Screaming Frog, Ahrefs, Link-Assistant, SEMRush, …), if they all have the same anchor text or if you participate in link schemes/link building systems paid works to remove these links. For links that you cannot remove, you can use Google’s, Disavow Tool.

Google Pigeon

Pigeon’s goal: To improve local search results.

Remedies:  Check your business address, use of localized keywords, and membership in local directories, as well as Google Places. Use rich snippets and check the reviews received.

Google Fred

The algorithmic update focuses heavily on the contents of the site and the advertising present within the site: in essence, if you have thematic sites with quality content and non-invasive advertising, the results have had improvements (even quite interesting) If, on the other hand, the site has content of little value, or relating to sensitive topics written to generate more traffic (see hoaxes, general scientific or medical information, …) there has been a sort of penalty/decrease in traffic.

It is also very likely that Google is also aiming to give less visibility to those sites that have recently been exaggerating with on-page advertising, practically completely covering or blocking the display of content due to excessive use of banner ads and above all extremely invasive advertising formats.

According to some news sites, the most affected were, in reality, in my opinion, from what I have noticed, Google, with this update, has shed light on the quality of the search results, going to act in a precise manner:

  • Tackle all sites that reported poor quality news and information
  • Clarify the ideas to those who, with their thematic site, once they have built a certain authority, have begun to broaden their range of action more and more, inserting content belonging to any category (therefore to those who have moved from a single-issue site and has broadened its area of ​​expertise too far)
  • Punish those who try to imitate the most famous sites by creating similar content but of lower quality or with incorrect/dubious content

Google Penalty Unnatural Outbound Links – Inbound

On March 10, 2014, Matt Cutts launched a tweet on his Twitter account: ” And here’s a reminder about unnatural / paid links for Italian”: the link leads to a page of Google Webmaster Central entitled “Unnatural links in Italy and requests for reconsideration”.

The page tells how several times google has intervened on the sites and networks of Italian publishers who often aggressively violated the guidelines: once again, google recalled that these link schemes are penalized  “we will continue to take the necessary measures in cases of artificial linking “.

The published post, which you can read in its full version, aims to take stock of the situation on what are the links that Google considers harmful to the reputation and positioning of a website, as well as to recommend what operations to perform once received an email that a manual action has been taken. First of all, google explains that  “… our position on links pointing to your site has not changed: participating in link schemes and buying links that pass PageRank to influence search engine results is against the guidelines”.

In the same article there is a link to a video, published on March 3, 2014, which explains what the “paid links” are for Google, which you can see below:

In the same article, it is well explained that, often, in Italy, paid links are purchased through article marketing or guest blogging initiatives. It is also interesting how in the example shown, some of the keywords (and sector categories) most used to buy links in are reported:

  • Online poker
  • cheap flight
  • Spain
  • luxury shoes
  • insurance
  • comparator
  • offer
  • coupon

At this point we refer to another short video by Matt Cutts published on January 29, 2014: “Is it possible to build links through article directories?”

Matt Cutts’ answer is clear: what google has seen is that often, behind the article directories sites there is a lot of spam-like content and generally low quality of these sites. Matt’s recommendation is therefore not to use article directories sites for link building.

Unnatural links coming out of your website

At this point, Google writes that all the links sold within your site to “influence PageRank in some way” are considered violations of Google’s guidelines, and it is not difficult to find Italian blogs and sites that host optimized links that point to third-party sites (both through guest blogging and through the implementation of widgets with links):  google is aware that these links can be hosted without bad intentions, however, these links aim to manipulate the positioning of a website.

Google sends several communications for unnatural links!

And also the site of one of our customers was “penalized” by receiving a manual action: On March 17th an email arrives that says:

You have received the following important messages in your account on sites submitted by Webmaster Tools. To maintain the integrity of your site, review these messages regularly and resolve any issues:

: unnatural outbound links

Google has detected an artificial or unnatural link pattern on the site. Selling links or participating in link schemes with the intent to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Following detection of unnatural links from your site, Google has applied a manual anti-spam action to xxxxxxxx.xx /. Other actions may apply to the site or parts of it.

Recommended action:

  • Identify paid or inorganic links using  rel = “nofollow”  or direct to an intermediate page blocked by the robots.txt file
  • Remove problematic links from your site
  • After making sure your site complies with google’s webmaster guidelines submit a reconsideration request.
  • For an up-to-date list of manual actions currently applied to your site, visit the Manual Actions page. If no manual action is listed, you no longer need to submit a reconsideration request.

If we determine that your site no longer violates our instructions, we will revoke the manual action.

What we have done:

We contacted the site owner asking if he had received any requests to sell links. Fortunately, he had kept a series of emails showing links sold with links. We have removed all links older than 12 months and added a rel = “nofollow” on the new ones.

We also checked for “unnatural” inbound links or from penalized websites and removed those links.

The Manual Penalties

When you receive this type of penalty you should get on the alert and quickly run for cover: it means that Google wants to remove your site manually from its indexes or is adopting “extreme” solutions.

There is a real team of specialists who take care of analyzing websites (have you ever heard of Google‘s  Quality Rater Team ?), Fortunately, it is possible to understand if your site has undergone a  manual action through the Search Console.

Usually, these manual actions are implemented if the site:

  • It was punctured/compromised
  • It presents SPAM generated by users or by someone who has pierced the site and injected outbound links
  • Contains Spam in the systems used for  Structured Data Markup
  • Receives  unnatural links  
  • Contains very poor quality content, duplicated or copied from other websites
  • Please  Cloaking or command  redirection not allowed by Google TOS
  • Contains  hidden text, malicious scripts, or excessive use of keywords to manipulate search data

For each of these cases, it is Google itself who explains how it is possible to get out of the penalty by correcting errors and subsequent requests for reconsideration (or revision): it is good to provide detailed information on the operations carried out to put the site back in order!

Google Top Heavy

This is an update from Google launched in 2012 which aims to scan web pages and analyze the layout of the site: if this has an excessive number of banner ads, or if it is difficult for users to identify the content (or it is difficult to reach/read) the site could suffer a penalty.

This update is quite tolerant of many websites, let’s say that it is more in the good sense of the blog or portal owner to place advertisements and advertisements well to make navigation pleasant for the user.

This is a  basic guide to penalties, if you found it useful or liked it please like it, share it on Facebook, or if you want to add something, leave a comment below.

Good work and good money online,