How to Tell If Your Website Is Penalized by Google? [Updated]

April 8, 2023 | Advanced SEO

Have your site’s SERP rankings dropped abruptly? And did your domain authority experienced a sudden fall?
Several reasons are responsible for this unforeseen situation:
– Maybe your primary keyword’s search volume has reduced;
– Some of your backlinks may have been removed;
Google launched another update to improve search performance.
– Or, you must’ve redesigned your website.
If none of these issues is at play here, then it’s plausible to speculate that Google has penalized your site. And this is every webmasters’ worst nightmare. But one has to be sure about whether his/her domain received Google’s penalty.
In this post, I’ll tell you EXACTLY how you can find out whether your domain got penalized or not. And also, why did you receive the penalty?

What is a Google Penalty?

When a site is removed from the Google index either partially or entirely, this means that the concerned website has been hit by Google penalty.
A website is penalized automatically by Google’s webspam filtering algorithms like Penguin or else, it is done manually by the webspam team.

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. The same happens with spammy keywords as well. A site’s falling rankings affect its online visibility and thereby the credibility and conversions.

How to Identify a Google Penalty?

You can check whether your site is penalized by Google or not through these methods:

  • Google Search Console

The easiest way to identify a Google Penalty is with the help of Google Search Console. You need to sign into your GSC account, click on ‘Search Traffic’ and choose ‘Manual Actions’ from the side bar.

Google will either display a message stating “No Issues Detected” indicating that your website is safe from any algorithmic or manual penalty or it will show the type of penalty (see types of manual actions below) applied along with proper instructions as to how you can get rid of the applied penalty.

  • Google Analytics

Another way to find out about the penalty is through Google Analytics. You need to note down the date when your organic traffic deteriorated and check whether any Google update, like Penguin or Panda, was launched around that date or not. (Please refer to the below screenshot highlighting organic loss in traffic from the Penguin update). If yes, then surely your site was affected by the update.

  • Search for your brand on Google

You can also determine a penalty by performing a search for your domain name on Google and checking whether your site ranks in the first page for that query or not.

For example, if your domain name is “” and your site is not ranking in the top 10 results for the query “example” then you can sniff a penalty.
RankWatch dominates the top 10 results on the #1 SERP for the keyword ‘RankWatch’; important pages like About Us and YouTube tutorial videos are ranked. This means, RankWatch has not been penalized by Google.

Apart from this, you can 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). And if you are still not able to detect your domain, then it is plausible that your site has been penalized.

The 12 types of ‘Manual Actions’ displayed in GSC

1. User-generated spam


What does this mean?

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

Why this happened?

This happened 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 forums threads, etc.

Suggested Action

Check the pages on your site with low-quality content. You might have allowed users free registration and free posting of content through forum profile, blogs or forum posts; this has generated a lot of user spam. Identify such pages, remove the spammy accounts, comments, or posts, or whole pages (based on your discretion). Then submit a reconsideration request.

2. Spammy free host


Free Hosting Spam


What does this mean?

Spammy free host signifies that a majority of sites hosted on your free hosting service are spammy. Your entire site can get affected by this action.

Why this happened?

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

Suggested Action

Get rid of all the spammy user accounts and remove all the low-quality content from your site. This is a lengthy task and will require much effort before you can get rid of the entire user-generated spam present on your website.
Once, you are sure, all the pages in your site are unique and add value to the end-user, you can go ahead and submit a reconsideration request. Also, you should contact your hosting service and inform them about the manual action, so they can act upon it and handle spammy websites.

3. Structured Data Issue


Structured Data Issue

What does this mean?

Google has detected that some of the rich snippet markup on your pages are using manipulative techniques and don’t follow the official structured data guidelines.

Why this happened?

Structured data issue can surface in two situations:
1. When your rich snippets have irrelevant or misleading content.
2. The marked up content is hidden from the users.

Suggested Action

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. The tool highlights any inappropriate mark-ups in red, and accordingly, you can resolve errors. After making the final changes, and being sure of it that the rich snippets are accurate and follow Google’s guidelines, you should submit a reconsideration request.

4. Use Disavow Tool – Unnatural links/ Bad Links to your site


What does this mean?

Google has detected a pattern of artificial, unnatural, deceptive, or manipulative links pointing to your site.

Why did this happen?

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

Suggested Action

Firstly, you have to stop purchasing links immediately and follow Google’s guidelines on linking. And secondly, you should conduct a backlink analysis and remove every artificial, unnatural, and deceptive link. After doing that, you should go ahead and submit a reconsideration request.

5. Unnatural links from your site


What does this mean?

Google has detected a pattern of unnatural, artificial, deceptive, or manipulative links outbound from your site. This action can affect your entire site or some pages of your site.

Why did this happen?

This happened because Google detected a significant amount of unnatural links pointing from your site to domains that are both related or unrelated to your niche. These links can either 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 pages links, link exchange pages links, paid editorial links, optimized paid anchor text links, etc.

Suggested Action

Scan your site and identify any links that violate the Google webmaster tool’s linking guidelines, such as excessive link exchanges or paid links.
Once you have identified those, add a rel=”nofollow” attribute to them so that they no longer pass PageRank. You can also use robots.txt to disallow crawling of URL/URL’s containing the links.

6. Thin content with little or no added value


What does this mean?

Google has detected 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.

Why this happened?

Several pages on your site have low-quality content which serves little to no value to the users. And to improve the quality of search results, Google takes actions on websites that generate low-quality content that is incapable of resolving the user’s query.

Suggested Action

Conduct a content quality review of your entire website. Check for the presence of thin content or doorway pages on your site. Also, find out if there are similar content pages that add little purpose and prepare a plan of action. You can remove them, redirect them, and edit them as well, so they do not create a negative user experience. You can also get some help by reading this guide to building high-quality sites.

7. Cloaking and/or sneaky redirects


What does this mean?

This means that your site is showing different variations of a single page to both the users and Google bots for indexing and ranking purposes. Or, you are redirecting users to a separate page than what Google has indexed.

Why did this happen?

Cloaking happens when you redirect users and search engine bots to different pages. It is the practice of presenting different content or URLs 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.

Suggested Action

Identify the affected areas on your site and use the fetch as Google tool in Google Search Console to compare the pages as seen by you and as seen by Google. Remember, Google must see the exact page/content as seen by an average user. Also, fix the URLs on your site which redirect users to a different page than they expected.

8. Pure spam


What does this mean?

This message means that Google has detected the presence of automatically generated gibberish, cloaking, scraping content from other websites. In simpler words, your site has violated the Google Webmasters Guidelines.

Why did this happen?

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

Suggested Action

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

9. Cloaked Images


What does this mean?

You are notified about this manual action when Google 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. This is called cloaking.

Why did this happen?

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 technique as this is an act of deceiving your online audience and providing them with different results than they expected.

Suggested Action

You should analyze every image on your website and ensure that the same image that displayed to Google for indexing purposes is displayed to the user as well. When cloaking has been removed entirely from your domain, you should submit it for reconsideration.

10. Hidden text and/or keyword stuffing


What does this mean?

This action states it clearly that a significant amount of your pages contain hidden text or are stuffed with keywords.

Why did this happen?

Google has detected some or most of the pages on your site suffer from keyword stuffing. This makes it apparent to the search engine that you created the content for the sole purpose of tanking higher in the SERPs. Also, some or most of the pages on your site might be having text that is invisible to the user but visible to the search engines to manipulate the Google ranking algorithm.

Suggested Action

Identify the affected areas on your site and use the fetch as Google tool in Google Search Console to compare the pages that are visible to Google’s crawler but not to the user. Check for text having the same colour as the page background or hidden CSS styling or keyword-stuffed alt tags. You need to fix these issues immediately and then, request a reconsideration.

11. AMP Content Mismatch


What does this mean?

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

Why did this happen?

You have been notified about this action is because the content is of certain pages in your website provide 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.’

Suggested Action

You should ensure that the AMP versions of web pages are referencing to the correct canonical web page. Also, make sure that the content on the AMP version and the canonical page are identical. You should use the URL Inspection Tool and inspect both the AMP and canonical pages.

12. Sneaky Mobile Redirects


What does this mean?

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

Why did this happen?

Generally, such pages are created by site owners intentionally. However, Google has stated that sometimes this happens due to three other reasons:

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

Suggested Action

If you have done the redirect intentionally, then you need to fix them immediately. However, if the redirects were unintentional, then you need to make sure that you site isn’t hacked. You can check this by accessing the Security Issues Report in Google Search Console (under Manual Actions).
If the report states that your site wasn’t hacked, you need to start auditing the third party scripts or elements on your site. This will take time because you have to remove them one by one. And after you are done removing, use the Chrome Mobile Emulator to find out if the redirection stopped.

Major Reasons Why Google Penalizes a Website

Google might penalize websites who 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 any website:

  • Entire site or some of its pages are found to be deceptive – showing different content to the user than to the search engines.
  • ‘n’ number of low-quality pages are found on the site. These pages have thin content (Panda might hit sites having thin content in them) and are created solely for the search engines in order to get ranked on a number of keywords.
  • Deceiving users by creating doorway pages/bridge pages/gateway pages. These pages are created just 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. Google does not allow such pages to spam their index.
  • Site has automatically generated content or scraped content. As a best practice, not more than 5-10% of any page should be copied from other resources.
  • Participating in link schemes to build low-quality unnatural backlinks for a website to manipulate the Google’s ranking algorithm. (See link spams below)
  • Having pages with little or no original content or engaging in black hat (banned) practices like Sneaky redirects or Hidden text or links.
  • Creating pages stuffed with keywords that are irrelevant or manipulative.

  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value.
  • Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other malware.
  • Abusing the rich snippets markup.


  • Sending automated queries to Google.
  • Displaying lots of ads on the site and not following an appropriate ad to content ratio.

Major Google Algorithm Updates That Causes Penalty

Google has a special set of algorithms to detect spam automatically. These algorithms act as a filter or are integrated with the main ranking algo to get rid of spam from the search results. Let’s discuss the major updates that may cause a Google penalty:

  • Google Panda Update

Launched in Feb, 2011, this update was aimed to lower the rank of websites having low-quality/thin content or a lot of advertising in them. This update was also known by the name “Farmer” because it targeted content farms having a lot of low-quality and spammy content. This update affected the entire site or some of the pages that followed such techniques rigorously.
When a site gets affected by the Panda update, the first step is to check the top landing pages on the site before and after the hit. Reviewing the content quality in the top landing pages of the site prior to the hit will give you sufficient reasons to why the site got penalized. Also, keep in check the mobile search quality issues on your site.

  • Google Penguin Update

Launched on 24th April 2012, this update lowered the rankings of websites that used Black Hat SEO techniques and unnatural linking patterns to manipulate their search rankings. When your site gets affected by this update, conduct a link audit and check that your linked domain’s backlink profile is not following any link schemes.
More information: Another step to reward high-quality sites

  • Payday Loan Update

Released in June 2013, this update was designed to combat specific search queries that tend to have a high number of extremely spammy results. Google’s Webspam head, Matt Cutts had indicated that this change affected queries such as “payday loans” on and other pornographic and spammy queries like “casinos”,” Viagra”, and “debt consolidation”.
If your site is affected from this update, you should conduct a link audit and content quality audit of your site. If you don’t want come under Google’s radar for using unethical ranking techniques, it’s crucial to fix the identified issues at the earliest.
More information: Google Spam Algorithm For Spammy Queries: Pay Day Loans+

  • Pirate Update

This update decreased the rankings of sites having high number of valid copyright removal notices. If your site gets hit by this update, then check for copyright-related issues and fix them at the earliest.
More information: An update to our search algorithms

  • EMD Update

It stands for Exact Match Domain update. It was launched in September, 2012. This update was aimed to lower the rankings of low-quality exact match domains. For example, if you have exact match keywords like “bakerylosangeles” in your domain name that provides a strong signal to Google that you are using such words in your domain to rank for the query “bakery los angeles” so Google might take action on such spammy domains.
The best way you can reverse this penalty is to improve the overall quality of your site in terms of content, backlinks and user experience.

More information: The EMD Update: Google Issues “Weather Report” Of Crack Down On Low Quality Exact Match Domains

Link Schemes – Forms of Link Spams to Avoid

  • Buying links or exchanging goods or services in return for links that pass PageRank.
  • Participating in two-way, three-way or any other form of link exchanges.
  • Unnatural links generated by bulk article submissions or guest posting campaigns using exact match keywords targeting the promoted pages again and again.
  • Using link building software to create a number of low-quality links within a short period of time.
  • Engaging in any form of unnatural link creation like the ones mentioned below:
    • Text advertisements that pass PageRank
    • Editorial links received after paying money. (A form of link buying)
  • Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases:
    (Ex —To have a hassle free relocation, you need to find out the best relocation services in Canada. It is important for you to choose the finest Canadian relocation service. —-)
  • Directory or bookmark site links coming from spammy websites or from sites that serve no purpose other than selling links.
  • Site wide or non site wide links generated via widgets.
  • Site wide links generated from footers or templates of various sites.
  • Forum signature or post links having optimized anchor text or naked URL.
    Ex- “I agree to this information
    Best web design company | web design services company | best web development company” — (Adding links under signature using exact or phrase match anchor text)
  • Links from blog comments using optimized anchor text or naked URL

Beware! 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.
The best approach is to create content based on giving the best possible information to your prospective client/customer and abide by Google’s guidelines. Suffering from a penalty is bad for your business and its credibility. The below resources will help you to create a website that will be loved by Google.

Must Read Useful Links to Have a Google Friendly Site

Hope this information proved to be useful for your business presence on Google. Do you have any suggestions for any new features that the RankWatch team must implement in order to identify and easily deal with Google penalties? Please share your comments with us, we truly value and love the feedback of our customers.

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