What are Google Penalties and how to avoid them
The Internet has been an influential part of society ever since its commercial release in 1993. The Web has undoubtedly changed in a dramatic fashion over the decades with many different iterations taking place.
Seeing as how we are on the verge of entering Web 3, it is an important time in our digital community to strive to always deliver the best online experience and information to users around the globe.
However, this hasn’t always been the case. In the previous iterations of the Web, search engines were easily manipulated by spammy links, directories and bad websites that used inappropriate tactics to get to the top.
And while search engines did step up their algorithms, some webmasters still utilize the aforementioned methods to outrank others in the search engine results pages (SEPRs).
Because of this, large search engines like Google have introduced appropriate measures in the form of severe penalties, which have managed to reduce the number of such spammy websites in search. However, you should also be aware of what these penalties actually are, allowing you to not inadvertently perform some of the prohibited actions and get your website suspended as well.
What are Google penalties and why do they occur?
Google penalties are restrictions and limitations imposed on websites and applications across the Web, due to said sites or apps not using appropriate optimization methods, producing shallow or fake content or stuffing their pages with a number of irrelevant keywords and phrases.
Such penalties are issued when an algorithm detects a large number of bad signals. Once these found signals have been thoroughly checked, Google determines whether the website or application should remain with limited visibility or be completely removed from the SERPs.
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How to check if your website has been penalized
If your website has been penalized, you will have a lot of different visible signals. First and foremost, your traffic will experience a very sharp drop and your visibility in Search will also become limited.
You will also immediately notice a change in sales, ad revenue and other monetization methods surrounding your website.
You can manually check whether your website has lost a number of positions or been completely removed from the index by typing in the keywords in Search. If you notice that your website or app no longer appears for the phrases that it previously did for, then it might have been penalized.
However, given that most website owners do already implement tools such as Google Search Console, you can manually check whether there have been any penalties issued towards your website or application.
To do this, simply open GSC and navigate to the ‘Manual Actions’ section. There you can find all issues, warnings and penalties that have been issued to your property.
Which algorithms issue Google penalties?
As we previously mentioned, there are a number of different algorithms that have been developed over the years by Google. Each one of them focuses on a particular issue and crawls your website or app specifically with the intention of discovering those targeted problems and inappropriate tactics.
Penalties are then issued based on the combined results of these algorithms with the 3 most popular ones being Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird.
Panda - content relevancy & quality
Imagine carrying out a very in-depth research and producing a phenomenal report on a particular topic only to get outranked by a random website with no traffic, bad design and most importantly - irrelevant content. It would not be pleasant, right?
The Panda algorithm was created and deployed with the intention of removing such low-quality, spammy, keyword stuffed content from the Web. This will in turn allow actual new and interesting content to take the leading positions as it rightfully should.
It can also detect plagiarism, phishing content, fake news and anything else that utilizes inappropriate language and content while also being capable of identifying pages with not insufficient content as well as sites with low user activity.
In order to ensure that your website doesn’t get flagged for such content, you should carefully do your research on the topics that you will be covering and avoid using such bad principles and tactics. For some more tips and information, you can also check our post on how to write a successful and optimized blog post.
Penguin - links, anchor text & other dishonest tactics
The Penguin algorithm comes in as additional support for Panda with it being regarded as its successor. It primarily aims to identify websites and applications that violate Google’s policies in any way either by producing irrelevant content, getting suspicious links and other dishonest tactics that aim to allow such resources to rank higher in Search.
This algorithm in particular is very good at detecting repeated, excessive use of unnatural language, keywords and keyphrases in any given context. Furthemore, Penguin can also find websites that contain spam, duplicate and syndicated content as well as viruses and adware.
Additionally, Penguin is also designed to scout and punish any form of inappropriate link-building. Given that links are the backbone of the Web, it is important that interlinking resources and the anchor tags on said links need to be relevant in order for the user to be capable of easily knowing where they will be taken to when they click on a given link.
Because of this, the algorithm can identify links from low quality or spam-heavy websites as well as links from repositories, satellite sites and out-of-context websites as well. Paying for links is strictly prohibited, unless the link has a ‘rel=sponsored’ attribute. Otherwise paid linking can easily get your website penalized.
If you would like to learn more about how to build links to your website the right way, you can check out our article on the history and function of link-building.
Bad user experience is also detectable by Penguin. As a matter of fact, user experience is now officially recognized as a ranking factor when it comes to Search, meaning that you should definitely look into optimizing your website in terms of performance and accessibility.
Finally, the algorithm can also find hidden internal links that lead to other websites, which is also a violation of Google’s policies. Remember to never hide content from the crawlers and always place links in a visible location. If you are using a responsive website, then make sure to also include all of the content from the desktop version into the mobile one and vice versa as crawlers might flag any missing content as a warning.
For more information on responsive websites, you can check out our tips on how to optimize your website for mobile.
Hummingbird - text relevancy, context & meaning
The final algorithm that was introduced was Hummingbird. Building on Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird can be seen as an advanced improvement when it comes to search engines displaying relevant text, information and results to a given user’s query.
As a matter of fact, search engines have evolved to the point where they can now understand the lemma - basic word forms and how language is structured. Due to this, engines can understand and differentiate between the single and plural form of nouns as well as adjectives, adverbs and grammatical structure.
Hummingbird can also detect excessive keyword usage as well, making stuffing even more punishable. Due to the fact that this algorithm makes the search engine increasingly more intuitive and intelligent, the phrase ‘write for people, not for machines’ has become a lot more prevalent over the last couple of years.
Because of this, webmasters need to be focusing on producing interesting and relevant content, that doesn’t focus on adding a plethora of different keywords.
Finally, in addition to language, Hummingbird can also detect poor user experience, meaning that creating intuitive and optimized websites and applications should also be a main goal for webmasters.
How to avoid Google penalties
In order to be completely certain that your website or app will not be penalized by Google, you need to make sure to read through the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
This is the official documentation and rules when it comes to the search engine and keeping up to date with all of the rules and new updates is something that you should definitely be looking to do.
There are a couple of larger algorithm updates every year, meaning that you should be checking the documentation at least once every couple of months to make sure that you won’t miss on anything.
Additionally, as we already mentioned, you should always strive to produce exceptional, informative content as well as providing great user experience.
Furthermore, you should never purchase external links with the intention of ranking higher in Search. Always do your link-building organically by reaching out to people and companies.
Moreover, you should also consider using a reliable and trusted hosting provider that can offer you a powerful server so that you never have to worry about traffic again. We at VSPBG even offer additional advanced DDoS protection up to 1.8Tbps that you can also use to protect your website or app.
Staying on the topic of security, it is also absolutely necessary to protect your visitors’ data privacy. Make sure that your website has an active SSL certificate so that your users’ connection and data can be encrypted. If you don’t want to spend extra on a premium certificate, you can get Let’s Encrypt as a free one.
However, these are only a handful of all of the rules that you need to follow, with the best guidelines being Google’s official documentation, which we previously discussed.
How to recover your domain reputation if penalized
While it can be extremely hard to regain your reputation if you have been issued a penalty, it is not impossible - you just need to show search engines that your website has been reformed.
Generally speaking, there are 2 types of Google penalties, which you could potentially get. The first one is a manual action, which is imposed by the Google team, whereas the second one is an algorithmic penalty. Here’s the differences between both in some more detail.
Manual actions - issued directly by the Google team
Manual actions are penalties that are manually issued by the team at Google. You can check whether your website has such penalties by navigating to your Google Search Console.
If your website has violated any of the rules and policies, you will receive a direct letter from the team, informing you why your website has been penalized. This letter will also contain information on how you can improve your domain reputation so that your website can be placed back into the Search index.
Keep in mind that such penalties need to be manually reviewed so don’t try to cut any corners and trick the system as that will only make things worse. Instead, focus on implementing the suggestions and fixing the issues that will be mentioned in the letter that you will receive if such a penalty has been issued to your website
Algorithmic penalty - content & context related issues
If you open up your Search Console and there are no manual actions present, but your website appears to have disappeared from Search or been brought down by a number of positions, then it is likely that you have been issued an algorithmic penalty.
This, however, can be quite hard to identify as sometimes search engines do make big changes in SERPs periodically. If your website disappears or drops off and the situation doesn’t get better within a couple of weeks, then you need to check whether a new update algorithm has been released. Check the official documentation and make sure that your website complies with any new changes.
Additionally, a sudden decrease of rankings can also be due to spammy backlinks or inappropriate content. Pinpoint the moment in time where you have started experiencing the decline in Search and try linking it to some content that you have recently released or backlinks that you have got.
Make sure to also focus on user experience as you might have made some changes that have for example made your website slower to load.
Overall, you should keep in mind that not being informed about a given rule or policy doesn’t mean that you won’t be penalized. Penalties are issued to websites regardless of their size, scale and reputation. Because of this, it is crucial to always keep up with the latest updates and to ensure that you are producing relevant, high-quality content. The Developer Guidelines and Google’s blog are your friends so make sure to regularly check them out so that you can implement any necessary changes as needed.