Top 8 Traffic-Crushing Google Penalties and How to Prevent Them
What are Google Penalties?
Penalties are imposed when Google detects that a site violates its webmaster guidelines. There are two different types of penalties, but they both have the same ranking and traffic drop consequences.
Every year, Google makes changes to its algorithm to continue to provide the best results for its searchers. Some notable Google updates are Panda, Penguin, Pigeon, and Hummingbird.
Some algorithm updates aim to lower the ranking of pages that violate the guidelines, such as Panda (keyword stuffing, grammatical errors, and low-quality content) and Penguin (black hat link strategy), while others aim to support ranking factors with new priorities. Pages such as Pigeon (stable local signal) and Hummingbird (mobile responsiveness).
Speaking of which, do you know page experience and mobile-first indexing updates?
After an algorithm update, a site may notice a drop in rankings, either because it violates guidelines, or because other sites are better aligned with certain ranking factors. Here is an example of website traffic data after BERT updates.
How to Fix the Algorithmic Google Penalty
Algorithmic penalties are not explicitly stated anywhere, so you can’t check for them. The best thing you can do is see if your traffic drop coincides with the release of an algorithm update and learn as much as you can about it so you can identify any tweaks you need to make or any fixes you need to make now Made with content.
Depending on the update and how inconsistent your site is with it, your fix may or may not result in a recovery in rankings and traffic.
While algorithm updates happen frequently, they all help reward a website for EAT and optimal technical performance, so these should be your constant focus
Actual Googlers manually penalize pages that may have unintentional issues such as content quality and security, or pages that use black hat SEO to deliberately manipulate Google’s algorithms. Unlike algorithmic penalties, manual penalties are easy to identify and fix.
How to Fix Manual Google Penalties
There are several Google Penalty Checker tools available, but you can also just use Google Search Console.
Find the Security and Manual Actions tab in the Dashboard and click Manual Actions.
There you can see which policies you violated, which pages were affected, and how to fix them.
Once fixed, you can submit it for review. Google’s staff will review and (if properly fixed) approve the request and re-index your page.
What are the consequences of Google’s penalties?
The result of any penalty is a drop in ranking, but the severity of the drop depends on the type of penalty issued.
Keyword-level penalty: The ranking for a particular keyword will drop.
URL or directory level penalties: The ranking of a particular URL will drop.
Domain-wide or site-wide penalties: Multiple URLs and keywords on your site will lose their rankings.
Deletion or de-indexing: This is the highest level of penalty imposed by Google, and they remove your domain from Google’s index. Therefore, none of your site’s content will appear on Google.
How long will the Google penalty last?
Google penalties last until you fix them. If the penalty has not been resolved after some time, the alert will disappear from your Search Console, but the consequences of the penalty will remain in effect. In other words, you’ve lost the chance to correct the problem with Google.
But once the penalty is lifted, your site may or may not regain its traffic and rankings. For more information, check out this article on the Google fines recovery timeline.
Top 7 Reasons Google Penalizes and How to Prevent It
Every business strives to get on the first page of Google so they can increase traffic to their website and ultimately win more customers.
The way to achieve this (through SEO) is a long process that requires effort and patience. This is why many people – especially those who are just starting with blogs or websites – want to use shortcuts to improve their rankings. But these tactics only backfire in the form of Google penalties.
Here, you’ll find the seven most common penalties and what you can do to prevent and/or address them.
Condensed content and portal
This is when website owners focus on quantity rather than quality SEO content, thinking that more content means more traffic. They may use content generation tools, publish short articles, or scrape content from other sources.
Not only can Google detect these bad SEO practices, but low-quality content can also have a bad impact on your business.
The goal of the 2016 Panda 4.0 algorithm update was to reduce the visibility of low-quality content and doorway pages in search results. That’s why eBay lost 80% of its organic rankings!
How to prevent thin content penalties:
Don’t outsource completely or try to mass-produce your content. Mass-produced content is never quality and outsourcing results in content that is off-brand and uncohesive.
If you need help scaling your quality content, hire freelancers who can work closely with you and specialize in your industry to produce pages that bring value to your readers.
Do proper keyword research to ensure you identify the right keywords to target and that your content matches the intent of the query.
Create pillar pages or cornerstone content instead of doorway pages.
Combine short pages optimized for similar keywords into one long page with more information about one keyword.
Hidden text and links
It is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to hide any text or links for SEO rather than user purposes. Text and links can be hidden in several ways, such as:
- set font size to 0
- Use white text or links in the background
- hide text behind an image
- Put text offscreen with CSS
- Link the same color as the background
How to prevent hidden content penalties
First, never do this on purpose. If you have to hide something, it probably shouldn’t be on your page.
If you didn’t do this on purpose, go to the URL Inspection tab of Search Console, enter the affected page in the search box, and “View crawled pages.” There you can check for any hidden links or CSS.
User Generated Spam
If you run a forum, allow guest posting, or enable comments on your blog, it can be inundated with spam bots or bad actors. Spam links may link to poor quality or inappropriate pages, which damages the T in EAT.
Or, actual people will comment on your blog with one or more unrelated links just to get backlinks from your site to increase their domain authority.
How to Prevent User-Generated Spam Penalties
Here are a few ways to prevent users from spamming your site and forums.
Comment moderation tool
We use Disqus to filter, delete and ban spam comments. You can also moderate approved comments before they become public on your site. If you can’t keep up with moderation, even with plugins or tools, disable comments entirely
Spammers use automated scripts to flood your comment section. Integrate Google reCAPTCHA with your website to prevent comment spam.
Nofollow and UGC properties
If a guest poster or commenter has posted an appropriate link, but you don’t want to be associated with it, you can add a tag to make it an unfollow link. This will prevent Google from following these links on your page and passing link juice from your site to the linked site.
These include the rel=”nofollow” and rel=” UGC” attributes. E.g:
Original link: <a href=”http://www.website.com/”>My website</a>
Do Not Follow Versions: <a href=”http://www.website.com/” rel=”nofollow”>My Site</a>
UGC version: <a href=”http://www.website.com/” rel=”UGC”>My Site</a>
no index meta tag
If you allow users to post articles on your site, you can add the noindex meta tag to those pages. This way, the page will be accessible through your website, but will not show up in search results or be considered in Google’s ranking algorithm.
Add <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”> after the <head> tag
Unnatural or bad links to your site
Google’s 2016 Penguin algorithm update was designed to detect unnatural link building.
Backlink building is an efficient SEO strategy that can help boost your page authority—but only if they come from high-quality sites.
How to Prevent Unnatural Link Penalties
Of course, use a proper link-building strategy that doesn’t include:
- buy or sell link
- Link exchange (link my site and I’ll link to you)
- Forum Profile/Signature Link
- Blog Comment Link
- Article directory link
- Building too many links in a short period
- PBN link
Perform regular backlink audits
You may also inadvertently get spammy links to your site. Use Google Analytics, Search Console, or SEO tools like SEMrush or ahrefs to analyze your backlink profile and reject toxic links.
Here is an example of part of a backlink profile from the ahrefs backlinks report.
On-page SEO, such as adding keywords to the title, title, body, meta description, and alt text, helps Googlebot understand what your page is about. However, intentional keyword stuffing is a black hat SEO tactic that results in penalties from Google.
By now you know what keyword stuffing in the body looks like, but you can also be penalized for keyword stuffing in the alt text
How to Prevent Keyword Stuffing Penalties
Incorporate keywords naturally into your content as if you were explaining it yourself.
Instead of focusing on just one keyword, use long-tail or LSI keywords. You can use keyword research tools for help.
If hackers gain access to your website, they can not only breach confidentiality, but also inject malicious code, add irrelevant content, or redirect your website to harmful or spammy pages.
Your site’s ranking for all search queries will drop significantly, and Google may remove your entire site from search results in response to this penalty.
How to prevent fines from hacked sites
There are several ways to strengthen the security of your website:
- Update your content management system
- Use strong passwords and change them regularly
- Implement an SSL certificate
- Invest in Premium Custody
- Detect hacking with malware scanning tools
- Back up your website regularly
- Hide login URLs and limit login attempts to prevent brute force attacks
Abusing structured data markup
Structured data markup is code that helps Google display your website more attractively in Google search results, such as showing star ratings and the number of reviews.
For example, here is the event pattern markup:
Event Pattern Marker Example
…here’s the recipe mode markup:
Recipe mode markup example
However, if Google detects that you are using structured data that is irrelevant to content and users, you may receive manual penalties.
How to prevent structured data penalties
This is another penalty for dealing with black hat SEO. What this does:
- Don’t add fake reviews to increase CTR. Follow these proper ways to get real Google reviews.
- Use only structured data that makes sense for what you’re marking up.
- Make sure your markup content is visible to readers.
- Do not add any architectural tags related to illegal activity, violence, or any prohibited content.
- Stay on top of Google penalties to avoid ranking drops
Whether algorithmically or manually, Google penalties can hurt your rankings and traffic. You can implement fixes to remove penalties, but you may or may not recover your traffic and rankings. That’s why it’s so important to do everything you can to prevent them in the first place. In this article, we cover seven Google penalties you can prevent:
- User Generated Spam
- thin content
- keyword stuffing
- hidden text
- Unnatural links to your site
- hacked site
- Structured Data Abuse
By stopping any black hat SEO practices, implementing security and moderation tools on your site, and focusing on truly quality content, you can avoid Google penalties, improve your rankings and traffic, and protect your site from hackers.