How to Recover from a Google Penalty (Manual and Algorithmic)

It can happen to anyone whether you run a relatively discreet business blog or a successful e-commerce website. You push the limits too far with your link building or you knowingly or unknowingly associate with some low quality directories or forums. It worked for a while so you got comfortable with employing some SEO tactics that are neither white nor black but lie somewhere in the grey color palette.

Then one day it happens!


You get a not-so-pleasant message in your Google Webmaster Tools account that your site has violated their quality guidelines and that manual action has been taken.

Or, equally possible, you find yourself on the bad end of a new Google algorithm update. Google makes hundreds of changes to their search algorithms each year and these algorithms, in turn, employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages, any number of which can affect how your site ranks without a manual action by the Google webspam team.

The Common Reasons Why Google Penalizes Websites

1. Over-optimized anchor text

Too many people linking to you using the same anchor text can raise a red flag and cause your website to get penalized for an unnatural link profile.

2. Spammy links

Spammy links from irrelevant websites might have worked in the past to boost your website rankings up the SERPs but this hasn’t been the case for a very long time now.

3. Building too many links too quickly

Have you noticed that when you build too many links in a relatively short period of time, you tend to lose your rankings in the SERPs, which may or may not come back?

4. Junk content

It’s not about creating a large volume of content anymore! It’s about creating high quality content.

The Dreaded Google Penalty

So you think you’ve been hit! You suspect a Google penalty because your web traffic is plummeting. What next?

Well, for one, you need to determine the cause of the penalty. Then, of course, you need to take steps to recover.

1. Is the Penalty Manual or Algorithmic?

Google penalties fall under two broad categories: Manual penalties and Algorithmic penalties. In the face of plummeting web traffic, the first thing you need to do is determine which category of penalty you are dealing with.

– Manual penalties

Manual penalties are easier to identify than algorithmic penalties. Most often, you’ll find a note in Google Webmaster Tools, the dreaded “unnatural links to your site” warning. The penalty can be against individual pages or it can apply to every page on your domain. When dealing with a manual penalty, what you need to do is respond to the penalty via a reconsideration request that you send to the Google webspam team and which Google needs to approve for the penalty to be revoked.

– Algorithmic penalties

This type of penalty is automatic and can happen in the wake of a new Google algorithm update. Any change or series of change to any one of the Google search algorithms can cause your website rankings to drop on the SERPs if you find yourself on the bad end of an update. Algorithmic penalties are harder to detect and the website owner is not usually notified as it happens in manual penalties. You just see your organic search traffic drop!

If you have an algorithmic penalty, you will need to determine whether Google Panda or Penguin is causing it.

2. Find the Correct Fix

Once you’ve correctly identified the type of penalty you’re dealing with, the next step is to fix the problem.

Like we discussed before, manual penalties will include a note in Google Webmaster Tools so you will know exactly what action has been taken and why. Often though, manual penalties are a result of manipulative link building. If that’s the case, you need to remove as many links as possible. This will most probably require you to audit your entire inbound link profile.

Once you’re done, you need to file a well-written reconsideration request.

With algorithmic penalties, fixing the problem can be a little trickier. You will need some detective skills. Like mentioned before, first off, you need to determine whether the penalty was Panda-related or Penguin-related. Once that’s done, you can take appropriate action.

If it’s Panda, then your site has usability issues whereas Penguin penalties usually require link audits, removals, and disavows.

3. Getting your Act Together

When it comes to Google, avoiding a penalty is always better than recovering from one. So if you’ve been hit, once you recover from the penalty, you need to rethink your whole online marketing strategy.

Google algorithms change and so does the web. To avoid constant fluctuations in your website rankings, it’s a smart choice to just play by the rules. Old tactics that worked years ago are no longer viable. The key to successful online marketing is a smart content strategy. It takes care of many aspects of SEO by itself.

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