How to Tell If Your Website Is Penalised by Google?

September 1, 2023 | Advanced SEO

Have your site’s SERP rankings dropped abruptly? 

Did your domain authority experience a sudden fall?

Of course, that must make you super worried as a website owner.

Worried GIF

Several reasons may be responsible for this unforeseen situation:

  1. Maybe your primary keyword’s search volume has reduced.
  2. Some of your backlinks may have been removed.
  3. Google launched another update to improve search performance.
  4. You must’ve redesigned your website.

If none of these issues are at play here, then it’s time to ask yourself, “Is my site penalized by Google?”

And this is every webmaster’s worst nightmare!

But first, you need to check for a Google penalty.

In this post, we will discuss the following three essentials about Google Penalty,

  1. How do you tell if your site has a Google penalty?
  2. Why did you receive the penalty?
  3. What are the best solutions suggested?

But before that,

What Is A Google Penalty?

Google Penalty is the punishment imposed by Google on a website for violating quality guidelines provided by Google’s Webmaster.

As a result, Google removes the website from the Google index either partially or entirely.

Google penalty is automatically implemented by Google’s webspam filtering algorithms like Penguin or else; it is done manually by the webspam team.

Google penalty

Google Penalty leads to a drop in the rankings of the entire site or just some pages on the website if they are found to be manipulative. 

A site’s falling rankings affect its online visibility, credibility, and conversions.

How To Check Google Penalized Sites?

You can check the website for Google penalty by any of the following methods:

Using Google Search Console

The easiest way to identify Google Penalties is with the help of Google Search Console. 

You must sign into your GSC account, click ‘Search Traffic’ and choose ‘Manual Actions’ from the sidebar.

Manual Actions in GSC

Google will either display a message stating “No Issues Detected” indicating that your website is safe from any algorithmic or manual penalty.

Otherwise, it will show the type of penalty applied along with proper instructions on how to get rid of it.

Let us dive deeper into that.

Types of Manual Actions Displayed by GSC

Google Search Console displays the following 12 major types of manual actions.

User-Generated Spam

This manual action states that Google has detected user-generated spam on your site. That can affect the rankings and indexing of the entire site or some of its pages.

User-generated spam

This penalty occurs because some or most of the pages on your site have spammy comments from visitors.

Google notifies you on GSC when this happens. Other user-generated spam includes spammy accounts on web hosts, spammy posts on forum threads, etc.

Solution: 

  1. You might have allowed users free registration and free posting of content through forum profiles, blogs, or forum posts; this has generated a lot of user spam.
  2. Identify such pages, and remove the spammy accounts, comments, posts, or whole pages (based on your discretion). 
  3. Then submit a reconsideration request.
Spammy Free Host

This manual action states that most sites hosted on your free hosting service are spammy. Your entire site can get affected by this action.

Free hosting spam

That might have happened because your free hosting site has generated a lot of user-generated content that is mostly spam and serves no real user purpose.

Solution: 

  1. First, you should contact your hosting service and inform them about the manual action, so they can act upon it and handle spammy websites.
  2. The next step is to eliminate all the spammy user accounts and remove all the low-quality content from your site. That is a lengthy task and will require much effort.
  3. Once you are sure all the pages on your site are unique and add value to the end user, you can submit a reconsideration request
Structured Data Issue

Google implements this penalty when some of the rich snippet markups on your pages use manipulative techniques and don’t follow the official structured data guidelines.

Structured Data Issue

That might have happened because of any of the following reasons,

  1. When your rich snippets have irrelevant or misleading content.
  2. The marked-up content is hidden from the users.

Solution: 

  1. Follow the snippet guidelines mentioned by Google. And after you’ve made the necessary edits, use the Structure Data Testing Tool to check for more errors. 
  2. The tool highlights any inappropriate mark-ups in red; accordingly, you can resolve errors. 
  3. After making the final changes and ensuring the rich snippets are accurate and follow Google’s guidelines, you should submit a reconsideration request.
Disavow Toxic Links

GSC displays this manual action when Google has detected a pattern of artificial, unnatural, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site.

Disavow spammy links

The reason behind this penalty is Search Engine bot has detected that your site has engaged in excessive link schemes, like buying links, to manipulate its page rank.

Solution: 

  1. Firstly, you have to stop purchasing links immediately and follow Google’s guidelines on linking
  2. Next, you should conduct a backlink analysis using a reliable backlink checker and remove every artificial, unnatural, and deceptive link. 
  3. Once done, you should submit a reconsideration request.
Manage Unnatural Outbound Links

Google implements a penalty when it detects a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links outbound from your site to domains that are both related or unrelated to your niche. This action can affect your entire site or some pages of your site.

Unnatural link penalty

These links can be paid or exchanged between the two parties for other rewards.

Some major types of links that come under this action include site-wide links, footer links, author bio links, resource page links, link exchange page links, paid editorial links, optimized paid anchor text links, etc.

Solution: 

  1. Scan your site and identify links that violate the Google webmaster tool’s linking guidelines, such as excessive link exchanges or paid links.
  2. Once you have identified those links, add a rel=”nofollow” attribute to them so that they no longer pass PageRank. 
  3. Implement robots.txt to disallow the crawling of URLs containing those links.
Remove or Edit Thin Content

This penalty occurs when Google detects low-quality or shallow pages on your site. Pages having thin content, auto-generated content, scraped content, low-quality guest posts, and low-quality user-generated content come under this category.

Thin content

That happens if several pages on your site have low-quality content that serves little to no user value.

Google takes action on websites that generate low-quality content incapable of resolving the user’s query to improve the quality of search results.

Solution: 

  1. Conduct a content quality review and identify thin content or doorway pages on your website. 
  2. Next, identify similar content pages that add little purpose. You can remove, redirect, or edit them so they do not create a negative user experience. 
  3. You can also get some help by reading this guide to building high-quality sites.
Cloaking And/Or Sneaky Redirects

That means your website shows different content to searchers and search engine bots for the same URL for indexing and ranking purposes. Or, you redirect users to a separate page from what Google has indexed.

Cloaking

Cloaking happens when the same URL presents different content to human users and search engines.

It is counted as a Black Hat SEO technique and is considered a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Solution: 

  1. Identify the affected areas on your site and use the fetch as a Google tool in Google Search Console to compare the pages as seen by you and as seen by Google. 
  2. You must ensure that Google sees the exact page/content as seen by an average user. 
  3. Fix the URLs on your site, redirecting users to a different page than expected.
Pure Spam

This penalty means that Google has detected the presence of automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, and scraping content from other websites.

In simpler words, your site has violated the Google Webmasters Guidelines.

Pure spam

Google counts auto-generated content, scraped content, and cloaking under aggressive spam techniques and takes action on sites that use them.

Solution: 

  1. Conduct a comprehensive content quality analysis of your entire site to ensure it does not use excessive copied/scraped content. 
  2. You must ensure that every page serves a specific user purpose and is not created to help as bait for search engines to run ads and earn revenue.
Cloaked Images

Google notifies you about this manual action when it detects that some or most of the images on your site are displayed differently in the SERPs than what users see when they visit your site.

Image cloaking

Your site suffered from this because you have used cloaking to drive traffic to your website and rank higher in the SERPs.

You will get notified by Google for using such a technique as this is deceiving your online audience and providing them with different results than expected.

Solution: 

  1. You should analyze every image on your website and ensure that the same image displayed to Google for indexing purposes is also displayed to the user. 
  2. When cloaking has been removed entirely from your domain, you should submit it to Google for reconsideration.
Hidden Text And/Or Keyword Stuffing

This manual action clearly states that many of your web pages contain hidden text or are stuffed with keywords.

Hidden text

That makes it apparent to the search engine that you created the content for the sole purpose of ranking higher in the SERPs. 

In addition, some or most of the web pages on your site might have text that is invisible to the user but visible to the search engines to manipulate the Google ranking algorithm.

Solution: 

  1. Identify the affected areas on your site and use the fetch as a Google tool in Google Search Console to compare the pages visible to Google’s crawler but not to the user. You need to fix them immediately.
  2. Check for text having the same colour as the page background or hidden CSS styling or keyword-stuffed alt tags and fix all of them.
  3. Once you have fixed all these issues, you can request a reconsideration.
AMP Content Mismatch

This Google Manual Action means that the content of the AMP version is different from its canonical web page.

AMP content

Google notifies you about this action because the content of specific web pages on your website provides different content on their AMP versions than their canonical web page.

Google states that the ‘content need not be identical, but the topic should be the same, and users should be able to accomplish the same tasks on both the AMP and the canonical page.’

Solution: 

  1. You should ensure that the AMP versions of web pages are pointing towards the correct canonical web page. 
  2. You must ensure that the AMP version and canonical page content are identical. 
  3. You should use a URL Inspection Tool to inspect the AMP and canonical pages.
Sneaky Mobile Redirects

That means that some pages on your website are redirecting mobile device users to pages that are not available to the search engine crawlers. This sneaky way is considered a direct violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Sneaky mobile redirects

Generally, site owners create such pages intentionally.

However, Google has stated that sometimes this happens due to three other reasons as well,

  1. Adding code that creates redirection rules for mobile users.
  2. Using a script or element to display ads and monetize content redirecting mobile users.
  3. A script or element added by hackers that redirects your mobile users to malicious sites.

Solution: 

  1. If you have done the redirect intentionally, you must fix them immediately. 
  2. If the redirects were unintentional, you need to ensure your site isn’t hacked. You can check this by accessing the Security Issues Report in Google Search Console (under Manual Actions).
  3. If the Security Issues Report states that your site wasn’t hacked, you need to start auditing the third-party scripts or elements on your site and remove them one by one. 
  4. When you are done with removing all of those elements, use the Chrome Mobile Emulator to find out if the redirection has stopped.

Using Google Analytics

Another way to find out about the Google penalty is through Google Analytics. 

You need to note when your organic traffic started to deteriorate.

Next, you need to check whether any Google update, like Penguin or Panda, was launched around that date.

Google penalty imposed by Google’s Penguin update

If yes, then undoubtedly, your site was affected by the update.

Search Your Domain on Google Search

You can check a Google penalty by searching for your domain name on Google and checking whether your site ranks on the first page for that query. 

If you can’t find your site, then Google may have penalized your website.

For example, RankWatch dominates the top 10 results on the #1 SERP for the keyword ‘RankWatch’; essential pages like About Us and the website SEO analysis tool are ranked.

SERP results for RankWatch

That means, RankWatch has not been penalized by Google.

Next, you need to enter the title tag text of your site and see if it ranks (You can also use double quotes for exact matching of title tag text if the text is composed of common words only). 

If you are still unable to detect your domain, then be assured that your site has been penalized by Google.

Major Reasons Why Google Penalizes A Website

Google might penalize websites that do not pay close attention to the quality guidelines suggested by Google and are found to be engaged in illicit practices, particularly Black Hat SEO techniques.

In other words, this is what is known as Webspam. As per Google, “Webspam refers to pages that try to trick Google into ranking them highly.”

Here are some reasons why Google might penalize a website:

  1. The entire website or some of its web pages are found to be deceptive, showing different content to the user and the search engines.
  2. Low-quality pages with thin content are found on the site, created solely for search engines to get ranked on several keywords.
  3. Deceiving users by creating doorway pages, bridge pages or gateway pages for spamdexing. Clicking on such a page from the search results takes the user to another page with the help of a fast meta-refresh command.
  4. The site has automatically generated content or scraped content on several web pages.
  5. The site is participating in link schemes to build low-quality unnatural backlinks for a website to manipulate Google’s ranking algorithm.
  6. The site engages in black hat practices like sneaky redirects, hidden text, or links.
  7. It is creating web pages stuffed with keywords that are irrelevant or manipulative.
  8. The site is participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value.
  9. Creating pages with malicious behaviour, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other malwares.
  10. The site is abusing the rich snippets markup.
  11. The site sends automated queries to Google.
  12. The web pages display many ads on the site and do not follow an appropriate ad-to-content ratio.

Major Google Algorithm Updates Causing Penalties

Google has a unique set of algorithms to detect spam automatically. 

These algorithms act as filters or are integrated with the main ranking algo to eliminate spam from the search results.

Let’s discuss the major Google algorithm updates that may cause a Google penalty,

Google Panda Update

Launched in Feb 2011, the Google Panda update was aimed at lowering the rank of websites with low-quality thin content or a lot of advertising.

Google Panda Update

This update was also known as “Farmer” because it targeted content farms with a lot of low-quality and spammy content. 

The update affected the entire site or some pages that followed such techniques rigorously.

Solution: 

  1. If your website gets affected by the Panda update, the first step is to check the top landing pages of your site before and after the hit. 
  2. Reviewing the content quality in the top landing pages of the site prior to the hit will give you sufficient reasons why the site got penalized. 
  3. Keep in check the mobile search quality issues on your site.

Google Penguin Update

Launched on 24th April 2012, the Google Penguin update lowered the rankings of websites that used Black Hat SEO techniques and unnatural linking patterns to manipulate search rankings.

Google Penguin Update

Solution: 

  1. If your website gets affected by the Panda update, you must perform a detailed backlink analysis of your website using an authentic backlink checker tool.
  2. You should ensure that your backlink profile is not following any link schemes.

Google Payday Loan Update

Released in June 2013, the Google Payday Loan update was designed to combat specific search queries with many extremely spammy results.

Google Payday Loan Update

Google’s Webspam head, Matt Cutts, had indicated that this change affected queries such as “payday loans” on Google.co.uk and other pornographic and spammy queries like “casinos,” “Viagra,” and “debt consolidation.”

Solution: 

  1. If your website gets affected by the Payday update, you must conduct an in-depth link audit to ensure your backlink profile is free of spammy links.
  2. Auditing the quality of your content and editing the web pages having low-quality content is essential. RankWatch’s SEO IQ feature can make this task a breeze.

Google’s Pirate Update

Released in October 2014, Google’s Pirate Update decreased the rankings of sites with many valid copyright removal notices.

Google Pirate Update

Solution: 

  1. If your website gets affected by the Pirate update, check for copyright-related issues and fix them as soon as possible.

Google’s EMD Update

It stands for Exact Match Domain update. It was launched in September 2012. Google’s EMD update aimed to lower the rankings of low-quality exact-match domains.

Google EMD Update

For example, if you have exact match keywords like “bakerylosangeles” in your domain name, that provides a solid signal to Google that you are using such words in your domain to rank for the query “bakery los angeles.”

Google might take action on such spammy domains.

Solution:

  1. If your website gets affected by the Pirate update, then it is essential to improve the overall quality of your site in terms of content, backlinks, and user experience.

Link Schemes – Forms of Link Spams To Avoid

Following are the typical spammy link schemes that your website must avoid,

Link Schemes

  1. Buying links or exchanging goods or services in return for links that pass PageRank.
  2. Participating in two-way, three-way, or any other form of link exchanges.
  3. Unnatural links generated by bulk article submissions or guest posting campaigns using exact match keywords targeting the promoted pages again and again.
  4. Using link-building software to create many low-quality links within a short period.
  5. Engaging in any form of unnatural link creation like text advertisements that pass PageRank, editorial links received after paying money, or links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases.
  6. The directory or bookmark site links come from spammy websites or sites that serve no purpose other than selling links.
  7. Site-wide or non-site-wide links are generated via widgets.
  8. Site-wide links are generated from footers or templates of various sites.
  9. Forum signature or post links having optimized anchor text or naked URL.
  10. Links from blog comments using optimized anchor text or naked URL.

Google Requests Users To File A Spam Report

You should never trick Google because if you do, anyone can file a Webspam report against your website. 

The below screenshot displays the page where users can easily file a spam report against any domain that does not follow Google’s quality guidelines.

Reporting spam, phishing, or malware

The best approach is to create content based on giving the best possible information to your prospective client or customer and abide by Google’s guidelines. 

Suffering from a penalty is bad for your business and its credibility.

The resources below will help you create a website that Google will love.

Must Read Useful Links To Have A Google-Friendly Site

The Webmasters Guidelines – Complete technical, quality, and content guidelines on how to structure your entire website.

SEO Starter Guide from Google – Useful guide for webmasters who wish to improve their site’s presence on Google.

Guide to Creating Mobile-Friendly Websites – Complete guide on how to make your site look great on mobile devices.

Website Analyzer – To find every hidden issue on your website before Google and fix them on priority.

Mobile-friendly Test – Check whether your site is mobile-friendly or not.

Backlink Checker – Use this tool to analyze the complete backlink profile of your website.

Guide to the new Google Search Console – GSC has been updated, and this step-by-step guide will provide you with every detail you need.

Conclusion

I hope this information is helpful for your business presence on Google. 

Do you have any suggestions for any new features that the RankWatch team must implement to identify and quickly deal with Google penalties? 

Please share your comments with us; we truly value and love the feedback from our customers.

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