What Are Google Penalties And How Can Your Website Avoid Them?

hand on a laptop using google

What Are Google Penalties And How Can Your Website Avoid Them?

The importance of Google search rankings has never been higher. Winning and keeping a good search ranking can be the difference between your business’s success and failure. That’s why it is more important than ever to avoid your website being penalised by Google. A Google penalty that lowers your search ranks can significantly reduce your organic traffic and negatively impact your business for months or even years to come. 

Google’s search algorithm is incredibly complicated. As with any complex system, there is room for people to try and rig the system. As Google regularly updates its algorithm, it makes adjustments which target websites it believes are acting dishonestly or are not providing a good user experience. It does this to maintain the quality of the search results it displays to users. 

While having original, high-quality content is the best way to increase your search rankings, it’s also important to avoid having anything on your site that could result in a penalty.  

Through our SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) services, we can improve your website’s ranking through genuine, approved SEO tactics which do not result in penalties. We have also helped websites recover from their past Google penalties and regain their search rankings. 

To understand how this works, let’s look at how Google’s penalty system works and how to avoid being penalised. 
 
What Happens If Your Site Is Penalised? 
Some search rankings will change every time Google makes an algorithm update. This means that some websites benefit from better rankings, while others suffer traffic losses because of their search ranking being decreased. Some penalised sites may lose all their traffic entirely. 


Why Does Google Penalise Websites? 
The exact details of each algorithm update are not released. However, Google gives general guidelines about what behaviour or content can lead to a penalty. The following are some of the reasons websites have received penalties in the past. 

  • Keyword Stuffing 
    If you are attempting to rank for a specific keyword, it can be tempting to cram as many mentions of that keyword as possible on a single page. However, this is viewed by Google as an attempt to subvert their algorithms. You should write about your website and service in a naturalistic way. The accepted best practice is that mentions of your keyword should not account for more than 2% of the text on a page. 
     
  • Duplicate Or Stolen Content 
    Copying content from other websites is a major red flag. Even if you are a large business copying content from a smaller site, Google knows which content was posted first and will penalise your site accordingly. Ensure that all the content on your site is original. Similarly, do not use copyrighted material without permission (yes that includes images you found on Google search!). 
     
  • Unsecure or Infected Sites 
    Google’s algorithm prefers sites which are secure, and they will actively punish sites which have malware on them. Make sure that your website has an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate and that your website host regularly scans your site for malware. 
     
  • Having Too Many Inbound Links From Low Quality Sites 
    Backlinks (links from other sites to yours) are a crucial factor which Google uses to determine how trusted your website is. However, not every link is equal. You should try to obtain links from other high-quality sites. If you find that you have backlinks from low quality, spammy or irrelevant sites, you should actively disavow them using the Disavow Links Tool in Google Search Console. 


How To Tell If Your Website Has Been Penalised 
There are two forms of penalty, manual penalties and algorithmic penalties. 

  • Manual Penalty – Manual penalties are ones which have been given by Google’s quality team. The easiest way to tell if your website has been manually penalised is to use Google Search Console. If you haven’t set up Google Search Console yet, it’s very quick and simple to do so. All you need is a Gmail account and access to your website hosting. 
     
    In the Google Search Console menu, you should see a section titled Security & Manual Actions. In this section you’ll see a tab called Manual Actions.  
     
    If there are manual penalties applied to your website, Google will provide you with a description of the problem as well as a list of steps you need to take to resolve the issue. After you’ve made the necessary modifications to your website, you can submit a request to have it reviewed. Google will then let you know in the following days whether the penalty has been lifted. 
     
    If this tab displays “no issues detected” your website has no manual penalties. 
     
  • Algorithmic Penalties 
    Algorithmic penalties are the outcome of Google’s constant search algorithm changes. 
     
    This is the most common type of penalty, and it is applied without the intervention of a human. You cannot appeal algorithmic penalties and they are not displayed in Google Search Console. The only method to tell if you’ve been struck with an automatic penalty is to study your website traffic. 
     
    Log into your Google Analytics and look at your Google organic traffic. Compare the dates when you notice a significant decline in traffic to the dates when an update was deployed. If you see a decline in traffic around the time Google made an algorithmic update, you were most likely hit by a penalty. 
     

What Should You Do If You Receive A Google Penalty? 
If you have received a manual penalty and have made the changes suggested by Google’s quality control team, you can appeal the penalty. Google’s team will then review your site and determine whether the penalty will be lifted. 

After reviewing your traffic, if you suspect you have received an algorithmic penalty, you should investigate which changes were made to the Google algorithm which may be affecting your site. For example, if your web pages are slow to load and you can see that the latest Google search update targeted site speed, you should work to increase your site’s speed. 

Unfortunately, you will often have to wait until the next Google algorithm update to see if the changes you have made have reversed the penalty. These are fairly frequent, (there were 14 major updates in 2021). But to avoid having to wait, it is better to avoid a penalty in the first place. 

We hope this has been a useful explainer on what Google’s penalties are, how you can avoid them and what to do if your website gets one. Attempting to improve your websites ranking through ‘quick fixes’ or ‘hacks’ will almost certainly result in penalties. Professional SEO services are a far safer and more effective method to increase your search rankings. 

If you would like more advice on how to improve the ranking of your site on Google, speak to our SEO team today.

Dave King

Dave King is the Co-Founder and Director of Carden Digital and the wider Carden IT Group. Dave’s background is in IT services, but he has experience across the online space. His love of all things digital lead him to create a digital marketing branch of the business, with a focus on paid advertising, SEO, web development, social media, graphic design and content writing.