Google Penalties and Solutions
Manual penalties are applied by Google Webmaster. From that moment onward all ongoing site development and release plans are on-hold, since any improvement introduced while under penalty is likely a wasted effort Without exception, manual penalties are applied to sites that are identified to be in violation with Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Reason for Penalties
Penalties could happen due to a coordinated effort as part of a risky business strategy or it is merely a slip-up of oversight, does not matter. When a “Manual Action” message pops-up in Google Search Console (GSC), the decision has already been taken. The only priority must be to identify the cause of the penalty, address it and to successfully apply for reconsideration. A process that depending on the scale of the problem and saviness of the SEO team available may take anywhere between days and months.
Step 1. Understand the problem
Google is upfront in messaging their reasons for penalizing a website. In the GSC warning message they highlight the problem which in the majority of cases comes down to either an on-page or an off-page violation.
Unnatural backlinks penalties often causes a steep drop in Google Search visibility.
When it comes to on-page content violations, which Google refers to either by calling out “Spam Problems” or “Major Spam Problems” (occasionally referred to as Pure Spam) there’s a distinction which depends on the gravity of the spam issue. Sites flagged as major spam usually consist of scraped or auto generated content, are often hosted on free hosts and / or on throw-away domains. Which means site is in irredeemable situation.
Major or pure spam penalties trigger a complete removal from Google Search
Contrary to these – in Google’s view truly bad sites – the penalty associated with mere “Spam Problems” indicates some level of decent content, possibly a real brand site which, however, also include bits and pieces that are either very content lean pages or doorways. In this case, an in-depth SEO audit which includes analyzing technical and content signals alike precludes a cleanup operation ridding the site of the content ballast.
Content spam penalties cause continuous decline in Google Search visibility
Content spam issues causing a manual penalty may however stem from other reasons entirely. So happens whenever either “Hacked Content” or “User Generated Spam” are detected. The former usually does not cause a drop in Google Search visibility at first. Shortly after that realization, the site’s rankings are certain to decline steeply, based on the premise that the site fails to live up to user expectations. If neglected, that situation, while recoverable, may require a long time regain both users’ and Google’s trust again.
Compromised websites are labeled with a user warning.
Yet another frequently applied penalty does not have any impact on rankings at all. Instead, wherever Google highlights detecting “Spammy structured markup”, the SERP real-estate previously enjoyed with rich snippets is lost for the foreseeable future. Structured data implementation may be flawed, failing to live up to Google Standards or downright deceptive, aiming at window dressing snippets with false claims. In consequence, no more stars, reviews etc. are being displayed in Google search results.
Manual Penalties cannot be ignored
Few manual penalties used by Google seem to impact a site’s rankings as lightly -often imperceptibly- as violating Webmaster Guidelines by selling PageRank passing links. No manual Google penalty shall be ignored and left to linger around just because it hasn’t had any impact on the core business yet. After all, penalties can last for a very long time and can be renewed even when they timeout.
Step 2. Fix the problem
Resolving a Google manual penalty almost always requires two steps:
1. complete focus on the problem highlighted in Google’s Search Console message and
2. gathering sufficient data to fix the issue.
Penalties for Link Building are painful
Penalties applied for link building in the millions are more painful, because it takes longer to collect a critical volume of backlink data for risk level assessment. Server and or CMS security vulnerabilities, which leave the site exposed, are likely to be an easy fix, while a thorough clean up of a compromised website also requires a complete removal of all unauthorised spam content.
Penalties issued for content quality issues, including user generated spam content, can be equally swiftly resolved but here again, there is no way around an audition the website, including crawling an at least representative portion thereof. Lastly, it is possible for a site to be afflicted with two or more manual penalties, issued to cover different parts of the site for several Google Webmaster Guideline violations. In that case every penalty needs to be looked after individually.
It is possible that one website can be affected by multiple manual penalties.
Step 3. Apply for reconsideration
Almost every manual penalty can be lifted within one or two attempts. Beside cleaning up outlined before, the rationale which must be submitted to Google via the Reconsideration Request form is the last crucial step. It is important to be aware of the fact that the process on Google’s end is a manual one. Experienced Google employees read, review and investigate the information provided. Thus following simple guidelines, such as using cordial, brief language is well advised. Providing verifiable facts e.g. the volume of backlinks disavowed or the number of doorway pages removed helps the person sitting on the other end to make their judgment call swiftly. Lastly, committing to following Google Webmaster Guidelines going forward – and actually doing so – can be an advantage in borderline cases.
Justifications are NOT accepted
Any other information or communication, touching on unrelated topics such as considering legal action in case of a rejection or pleading for turning a blind eye are NOT useful for getting a reconsideration request approved. Once the reconsideration request has been submitted, there is nothing that can be done to expedite the process. Re-submitting the request does not have any effect. Google does not officially commit to a turnaround time. Past experience indicates that anytime between several hours and a few weeks is what it can take.
- The site dropped in rankings. Does Google Search Console indicate a manual spam action (aka Google penalty)? If yes, read the message before investigating further. If not the cause is likely not related to a penalty.
- Focus on the problem outlined in Google Search Console and collect relevant data.
- Document steps taken in the process for post mortem and in preparation for a reconsideration request.
- Resolve the problem highlighted by Google completely and permanently
- Apply for reconsideration with a short, to the point rationale. Provide verifiable numbers.
- Wait for a Google response after the reconsideration request submission.
- If the first reconsideration request was rejected, seek the assistance of an expert.