Why has My Website Been Penalized!? All You Need to Know About Google Penalties

Your website suddenly disappeared from search results or the traffic to the website shows a sharp decline? Here we'll try to explain how to determine the problem and how to approach it.

It's important todistinguish between two big reasons why a website dropped in results: an algorithm update and manual penalties.

While the reasons for the drop are different, the end result is the same or very similar. While a drop caused by an algorithm update is for a hidden reason only known to Google, a manual penalty is the result of a manual review of your website by one of Google's Quality Raters).

Manual penalties

If a website received a manual penalty, it's easy to find out the precise reasons for the penalty and act accordingly in order to remove the penalty. All manual penalties are communicated by Google through the Search Console under "manual actions". If there is any message here, your website is under a manual penalty.

The messages Google sends fall under one of the following categories:

- Spam

Depending on the problems the website has with spam, one of the following messages will be present:

  1. User-generated spam – For spam created by website users, e.g. unmoderated forum posts or comments
  2. Pure spam – The content you published is spammy
  3. Spammy free host – The hosting company you're using is hosting other spammy websites
  4. Spammy structured markup – The method with which structured dana is implemented on the website is wrong, in other words structured markup contains spam

- Security problems

Depending on security problems, the following message will be present:

  1. Hacked site – Google can recognize if your website was hacks and will remove it from search results until you resolve the problem

- Link problems

Depending on link problems, one of the following messages will be present:

  1. Unnatural links to your site – There is a large volume of unnatural, poor quality links that have been built pointing toward the website (also known as negative SEO)
  2. Unnatural links from your site – There is a large volume of unnatural links from your website, including paid links

- Problems with content quality

Depending on problems with content quality, one of the following messages will be present:

  1. Thin content with little or no added value – Pages that don't contain content or the content on them is very short, also pages with no original content
  2. AMP content mismatch – The AMP mobile content for the page is too much different from the desktop version of content

- Attempts of cheating Google

There are certain methods of trying to fool Google into thinking that the content of a page is different than it really is. Depending on these problems, one of the following messages could be present:

  1. Cloaking – The actual content on the page is different from the one shown to Google
  2. Hidden text/keywords stuffing – The actual content on the page is different from the one shown to visitors

More details on these problems are available on Google's official Help Center.

What should I do if Search Console shows one of these messages?

The problem that caused the penalty should be fixed as soon as possible. E.g. if the website was hacked, you should fix security problems and remove potential changes from your pages, autogenerated pages, etc.

When the problem is fixed it's possible to send Google a "reconsideration request". This is one of the rare opportunities where you're communicating directly with Google. A reconsideration request is essentially a plea to Google to re-index your website and make sure you're no longer breaking their guidelines.

Google will need between a couple of days and a couple of weeks to process the reconsideration request.

What if there's no message in Search Console, but the website is showing signs of a penalty?

If your website has suddenly dropped in rankings, traffic and other metrics you're tracking and there is no message in Search Console, the main reason why you're penalized is most likely an algorithm update.

check to see of there was a recent update to Google's algorithm. One quality resource on the chronology of updates is Moz's historical overview of algorithm changes.

The situation here is more complicated than with a manual penalty. Google's algorithm is secret and you won't be able to find one definitive reason why your website dropped in rankings. Google will sometimes give public information about its algorithm, but this is more of an exception than a rule.

In this case hiring an SEO expert would be useful. The expert will be able to detect the most probable reasons for the drop and give advice on the priority of work that should be done to fix the problem and have the website back up and ranking.


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