The scariest thing that an SEO or a Webmaster fears about. This is that one element of the whole IM journey that keeps a webmaster awake at night. Google penalty is a vast topic to talk about. There is no end to it.
In fact, while I am writing this article (March 2017), there are discussions about a new update from Google coming in called “Fred Update”).
We will talk about that one too in this article. The goal is to list and discuss every single penalty that you can get from Google and how to recover from them.
Let’s first list out all the Google Penalties that we know about so far!
- Thin Content Penalty
- Spam Penalty
- Unnatural Link Penalty
- Mobile Friendliness Penalty
- Hack Penalty
- User Generate Spam
- Hidden Text & Link Penalty
- DMCA Takedowns
- Top-Heavy Penalty
- Unnatural Links
- Anchor Text Penalty
- Page Only Penalty
- Google Fred Penalty
Now that we are done with the list, it is time to get into details. I will not only be telling you about the penalties, I will also tell you how to recover from them. Let’s get started.
1. Thin Content Penalty
Before we get into the details, this is how a Thin Content penalty looks like:
The idea is simple. If the content on your website is not offering any value or offering little value, your website might get the Thin Content penalty. Remember, having unique content is not enough. Your content has to be fresh and it has to add extra value for your readers. That’s when you are safe from this penalty.
Obviously, if you are using plagiarized content tor using automatic garbage or even spun content, you might face Thin Content penalty.
Also, if you have an affiliate site and the only goal is to sell your products then you might end up with thin content penalty. Even if you have an affiliate site, make sure that you are offering enough informative content so that you can stay away from the risk of getting this penalty.
Matt Cutts clearly explained what is Thin Content Penalty & How to Avoid it here in this video:
How To Recover From Thin Content Penalty?
If you understood the problem, you know how to solve it by now! Have a quick audit of your website. Do you have information that is irrelevant? Do you have pages on your site that target different variants of one keyword? Do you have affiliate pages or posts on the site that add no value?
Now try to improve your content. Add more information here and there and try to add videos and images wherever possible. Make the page/post an authority on that topic.
After you are done doing that, simply click that submit a request button and tell Google how you have improved your website. Tell them what are the changes that you made and how your site is now an improved one. Someone from Google Spam team will read your message and if things go well, they will remove your penalty. Otherwise, you will get a reply from them saying that the improvements are still not enough.
2. Spam Penalty
Pure Spam Penalty is the one that shook the black hat SEO world a few years ago. To some degree, it is a lot like the thin content penalty with some added actions.
You will get a spam penalty if your website is filled with scraped content or plagiarized content. Also, you might face spam penalty if you cloak links and deceive your visitors.
There are many reasons why you might end up with a spam penalty. The good news is that if you do things right, you will get rid of this penalty as soon as you fix things. The terrible news, however, is that if you are affected by Spam penalty, the whole site will be deindexed from Google so you will come down to 0 visitors from Google without any notice.
How to Recover From Spam Penalty
The process is very similar to the Thin Content one. You start by removing all the toxic materials from your website. Check all the pages and posts. Make sure that you do not have any spam anywhere on the website. Check the footer and widget texts too.
When you are confident enough, click that review button and write a detailed message to Google. Don’t try to argue with them which is the first thing to remember. You can’t win denying or arguing. Simply explain how you changed the website. If you think that the website was fine then tell that!
Sometimes, Google might penalize you because of the history of that particular domain which you have nothing to do with. So if you want, you can also check whether there was a site before on that domain using Archive.
3. Unnatural Link Penalty
This mostly happens when you don’t know what you are doing SEO wise and/or you are using bad services or people for your website. The penalty was first introduced early 2016 and lots of websites received this message on their Google Webmaster:
If you see this message on the Manual Actions page, it means that Google has detected a pattern of unnatural artificial, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links. Buying links or participating in link schemes in order to manipulate PageRank is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
As a result, Google has applied a manual spam action to the affected portions of your site. Actions that affect your whole site are listed under Site-wide matches. Actions that affect only part of your site and/or some incoming links to your site are listed under Partial matches.
What are unnatural links? Unnatural links are links that do not come from authentic sources. There is an easy way to understand this. Whenever one website links back to another website where there is no logical reason behind, that’s an unnatural link.
For example, if we link out to a dog food website from this article, that will be an unnatural link for that site and if they get a lot of those links, they might face the unnatural link penalty.
Now, this is not a very common penalty as Google probably has to manually check some factors! Also, it is not an easy task to get out of this penalty, unlike the previous ones.
How to Recover From Unnatural Link Penalty
This is a tough task.
Firstly, make sure that you don’t buy links. Especially, don’t buy links from cheap sources like Fiverr or even from Upwork freelancers if you are not sure about it.
Secondly, when you are buying SEO services, try to ask for full reports. That might not be enough, though, but that still helps. You at least know where things are going wrong.
Now, when you already got the penalty, simply head towards your Webmaster Tool and look at all the links that you have on your website. Visit each of the links and try to figure out whether the link is relevant to your website or not.
If it is not, contact the webmaster of that site and ask them to take down your link. In many cases, the webmasters will listen and remove your links.
In other cases, they won’t!
The only option left then is to use the Disavow Tool from the Google Webmaster. Use that tool to disavow the links that you don’t want.
Now it is the waiting period. Wait for at least two weeks and you will see that links are slowly disappearing from your Webmaster.
When you are confident that all the bad links are gone, go for the revision request. Hopefully, things will be fine again.
4. Mobile Friendliness Penalty
If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, you can get hit by this penalty. It is that simple!
Earlier last year, Google cleared their intention that they want everyone to have mobile friendly websites. As people are more and more getting into cellphone searches, it was an obvious decision. Around 70% web purchases are now made from cellphones in USA. That tells us something about the trend.
Google has created a tool for you to check whether your site is mobile friendly or not. If it is not, make sure that you make it ASAP.
How to Recover from Mobile Friendliness Penalty
Not too difficult to understand, right?
Fix your website and make it a mobile friendly one. Then simply ask Google to review the site. Make sure that you check it yourself first using the Google checker tool.
Also, avoid using pop-ups and weird ads or subscription pop up boxes on cell phone. They hamper user experience and you can get a mobile friendliness penalty for those too!
Panda is a pretty popular penalty that took the SEO world by storm. I have seen SEO companies and agencies went to bankruptcy due to the Panda Update. So yes, it is a scary one.
What is the Google Panda Penalty?
It started in 2011-2012. Google came up with an update and it was called Panda.
The goal of this update was to make sure that no weak website (low authority) gets ranked on search results. Obviously, this might sound repetitive because Panda update targeted websites that had low-value content (content penalty), overflow of affiliate content, scraped content or spun garbage.
The scarier part of Panda update was that Google tells tell you that you are hit by a penalty. You will just see a sudden drop on your visitors in Google Webmasters. If you are not carefully monitoring your visitor number, you might never come to know about it at all.
See the image?
That’s exactly what happens with the Panda update!
How to Recover From Panda
Now, how can we recover from the Panda update? It is not that difficult as it sounds. Yes, Google doesn’t tell you that you are hit by an update and there is no option to appeal to Google either but that doesn’t mean you cannot do something about it.
The first task is to go to Google.com and type site:teddyseo.com (put your domain name there without www or http/s)
Now, Google will tell you how many pages are indexed. As you can see, it shows 4 results for this site (This is just the second article I am writing for Teddy SEO)
It is time for you to note down all the pages that are there on Google Search but you don’t need them! If you think a page is offering little to no value, note that down. You will have to remove these pages/posts.
Obviously, if you are a small local company and if you have 1000 pages listed on Google, that might give a wrong impression and Google can end up giving you the Panda touch.
There’s another trick that you can apply. If you do not want to delete those pages, you can also use the no index/no follow tag on that particular page/post so that Google doesn’t count that content the next time it comes to index your website.
Now, it is time to wait.
As there is no method to apply to Google, you will have to wait till Google refreshes their search machine. Once the refresh is done, you should have your pages back in good rankings once again.
It was a fine morning in April, 2012. Everything was going fine. Suddenly, a Penguin ruined everything!
Penguin was probably the toughest update that SEO professionals had to face! Panda was tough but Panda didn’t target your backlink profile. Penguin did exactly that and every PBN along with websites that had bad link profiles got slammed.
It was really difficult for most SEOs who used black hat techniques to keep their websites on the top. Millions of websites dropped overnight and it was a cleaner Google!
We loved it!
If you are new to the Internet Marketing world, you wouldn’t know this.
Before 2012, there were a lot of link firms and networks from which you could buy spammy links and get your websites ranked. Everything got shattered with the power of Penguin.
Now, not every site got hit with Penguin. Even today, there are webmasters who use PBNs to rank their sites and some of them get away with it even today. It would be better not to take that chance though!
How to Recover From Penguin
It is extremely difficult (near to impossible) to recover from a Penguin penalty. All you have to do is to make sure that you never face one. How can you make that happen?
The best idea is not to go for bad backlinks. If you are buying backlinks, make sure that you are buying it from a trusted source. Never go for a PBN and do not take backlinks from pages that are not related to yours. Always monitor your links using Google Webmaster.
If you really want to stay safe, my suggestion would be checking your Google Webmaster once every week to make sure that there is no unwanted backlink.
Also, do not talk about your website in SEO communities. Everything looks fine until things start to go wrong. Negative SEO is very difficult to deal with.
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7. Hack Penalty
Typically, a hack penalty looks like this!
The idea is simple. When Google assumes that your website has been hacked, Google as a rescuer comes and de-indexes all of your pages/posts from Google.
Now often this will happen when your site is actually hacked. When your website is hacked and Google finds that out, this happens and that’s logical. Google wants to make sure that nothing weird is presented to the audience.
That’s not the problem.
The problem is that even if you fix your website, the penalty will take time to get revoked.
What you should do is immediately get your website fixed. Make sure that you have backups of your website and actively check your website every now and then to make sure things are fine.
I am not sure whether Google will notify you via email of the situation. They sometimes do and also, they don’t! If you are lucky, you will receive an email. But I wouldn’t tell you to count on that.
How to Recover From Hack Penalty
Prevention is better than cure!
Make sure that you do not get hacked. If you are using WordPress, use good security plugins like Wordfence to stay safe from unwanted bot based login attempts. Also, using a good hosting company is important.
At the end of the day, always have a strong password with a mix of numbers, letters, capital and small ones. These are basic which you should already be doing I believe! But if you are not, there’s still time.
8. User Generate Spam
I will let Matt Cutts do the talking for you!
So basically, if someone gets the opportunity to spam on your website via comments, threads (on forums) or via other methods, you are more likely to get the User Generate Spam penalty. The name is self-explaining but then again, Teddy SEO is always there to the rescue!
How to Recover From User-Generated Spam
Use good plugins to distinguish between a spam comment and a real one. Do not be super happy seeing those positive generic comments because those are made only to get backlinks.
If you are running a forum, make sure that you are monitoring the submissions perfectly. If you are running a regular website with comments on, make sure that you are monitoring comments for spam!
One good idea is to include a Captcha or one of those math tests! That reduces spam for sure.
9. Hidden Text & Link Penalty
Google doesn’t want you to deceive him. He is a big guy and he wants everything to be white.
Hidden text & link penalty occur when you are trying to hide texts or links from Google. There are different ways to do that. Some people make their texts white and hope that the website will pass manual review as the texts would be invisible. At the same time, the website will be text-heavy and they will get benefit in the Search engine.
The idea is simple. I already told you in our SEO guide that Google likes big content. Suppose, you do not have the budget to write a big piece of content. What can you do? You can write a 500 word content and then write 2000 word garbage. Now simply mark that garbage white from your WordPress dashboard.
People will only see those 500 words but according to Google’s eyes, you now have 500+2000 = 2500 words on your website. Cool, right?
People do similar things with links too. They only link to one alphabet and hope that Google won’t be able to catch them.
I know right? Stupidity!
Avoid these things and you will be fine from the Hidden Text & Link Penalty.
How to Recover From Hidden Text & Link Penalty
You know what to do! Do an audit of your website and get rid of all those “bad things” you did previously. Now if you received a manual penalty then ask Google politely to review it. If you have received an automated penalty, wait for Google to crawl your site again.
Cloaking penalty is also known as a redirection penalty. This occurs when you try not to be honest with your audience about the links on your website.
I am sure you have faced this.
Suppose I will send you to Amazon for example from my website. Instead of directly linking to Amazon, I will use the URL: www.teddyseo.com/Amazon and then will redirect that URL to Amazon.
This is what link cloaking is!
I am cloaking my link so that you don’t know where you are going!
Google doesn’t like it (though there are controversies)!
How to Recover From Cloaking Penalty
Yes, you guessed it right (you are really talented)!
Fix those cloaking issues. Make the links natural again.
Yes, there is nothing much to tell you here. That will be enough!
11. DMCA Takedowns
DMCA stands for Digital Millennium Copyright Act and this act was established in 1998 according to LegalBeagle. Let’s not get into that law stuff. I will keep things simple for you.
If you copy another website’s property and if that website complaint against you, Google can give you a DMCA penalty and your site will get removed from a search engine in no time. This is similar to the approach of YouTube violation.
Remember, “content” is everything! It can be an image, it can be the words, it can also be a podcast or a video. Before you publish anything on your website from other sources, make sure that you either mention them or take permission to stay safe.
There is no point in talking about how to recover from DMCA takedown. You can hire a lawyer may be! It is a complex route.
Ah I feel tired talking about all the Google Penalty!
Google Pigeon is more of an update than a penalty. It was super effective for the local businesses. What did it do?
It reduced the number of businesses in the local pack. In case if you don’t know what a local pack is, it looks something like this:
So basically, when people do a local search, they find this list of businesses that are near them. Previously, Google used to list around 7-10 businesses in this local pack. This has been reduced to 3-4. It heavily affected the local industry because you have to do SEO now to stay in top 3 of the local pack. Local pack works exactly the same way like regular SEO. You need all those points to be considered in the local pack that you would require being on the first page anyway!
How to Recover From Pigeon Penalty?
Alright so this is not a Google Penalty so obviously, there is no way to recover from this! What you can do is to try to be in the top 3/4 of that local pack so that your business is found. There are different ways to do that. We do it for our local SEO clients regularly and I can tell you from experience that it is not as difficult as it sounds.
I don’t want to make this an SEO guide type article so I will not go into details. The best ways to make that happen is via building authority to your website.
Again, this is not a Google Penalty but an algorithm update. According to Google, they named this update as “Hummingbird” because they think this update is precise and fast! (I didn’t make it up, it’s true)
Hummingbird was first released in 2013 and since then, it has been there as a primary algorithm for Google.
You might say that there were Panda, Penguin and all sorts of stuff before which is true! But Hummingbird is more of a complete update to the Google Search engine. This is the core of Google search now!
The best part about Hummingbird is that it can now understand a complete phrase rather than understanding words. That had a heavy impact on SEO. Previously, if you searched for “best dog food” on Google, you would find sites that had those 3 words in them. Now Google understands what the whole phrase mean and therefore, Google will now show you results that don’t only represent those words but actually carry the information that you were looking for.
If you are an SEO, you know the importance of long tail keywords and the importance actually was understood after the Hummingbird update. Long tail keyword is going to be the game for a few more years (My shameless prediction)!
I haven’t seen many people faced issues with Hummingbird update. So I will not talk about the recovery part. There is nothing much to recover from. This is a core algorithm update. I know we are talking about Google Penalty but I had to include this one as I didn’t want to miss anything.
14. Top-Heavy Penalty
I am a very very knowledgeable person (lol) but I wouldn’t try to teach you UI/UX. Let’s just know that there are two basic parts of a web page. There is above the fold and then there is below the fold. Generally, above the fold are parts that are on the top area of your website. So for example, your menu bar, social icons or banners would be considered as above the fold items.
On the other hand, below the fold items would be contact information, blog, services and etc.
The Top Heavy Penalty penalizes websites that have too many ads above the fold. That means that if you have too many advertisements and flashy items on the top area of your website, there is a chance that you might get penalized. This is also known as the Page layout penalty but more people call it as the Top Heavy Penalty.
This is what Google said:
We understand that placing ads above-the-fold is quite common for many websites; these ads often perform well and help publishers monetize online content. This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.
How to Recover From Top Heavy Penalty?
Make sure that you do not have more than enough advertisements on the top area of your website. Try not to have pop-ups either as that hampers traffic satisfaction which Google hates! That’s it. If you do that, you would not face problems with this penalty. This is a rear penalty anyways so there’s nothing much to think or worry, to be honest.
15. Unnatural Links
I wouldn’t want to tell the same thing again & again. Unnatural Link penalty is a sub-penalty of Penguin. Where Penguin covers a lot of things, this penalty only takes care of unnatural links. As backlink is one of the core methods of Google to decide which website will go up and which would not, unnatural links are vital!
Therefore, Google introduced a special penalty which they call (rather we call) unnatural links penalty.
How to Recover From Unnatural Links?
The instructions are exactly like the Penguin one! I do not want to repeat the same thing again. 🙂
16. Anchor Text Penalty
This is a good one!
Google never really announced a penalty called Anchor Text Penalty. However, we all know that it exists.
Search Engine Watch told us that the sites that were getting penalized with Penguin had one thing in common! They all had high amount of anchor text based links pointing back to the site.
We already discussed what is an anchor text in our SEO guide. An anchor text is the text that you use to link to another page or website. So for example, in the previous paragraph, Search Engine Watch was an anchor text.
Now, Google loves things natural. So if you want to rank for the keyword “dog food” and almost 80% of the links pointing back to your site has this as an anchor text, that tells Google that you are doing something shady.
As you can see from the graph, around 37% of sites that had 90% anchor text based backlinks got penalized. That gives you an idea.
How to Recover From Anchor Text Penalty
According to my research, you should keep your exact match anchor text within 20%. If you want to be extra safe, you can keep it within 10%. So if you want to rank for the keyword: “dog food” and if you build 100 backlinks, not more than 10 of them should have dog food anchor texts. Simple, right?
17. Page Only Penalty
Page only penalty is an interesting one! The idea is that Google will not target your whole website with this penalty. Rather, it will target the specific page and once things get resolved, the page will get back to the position once again.
There is an issue though. What if the page that Google bans is your homepage? Yeah, it can be a problem them.
There are many reasons that why Google can go for a page only penalty. Here are some common ones:
- Your page has big ads
- Your page has too many affiliate links
- Your page has scraped content and/or too many broken links
- Everything else that you read on this Google Penalty Guide
Literally, a page only penalty can be for anything from the other updates or penalties. The only difference is that it will be applicable to one page!
How to Recover From Page only Penalty?
There are different ways. One is obviously to find the problem and fix it. That is tough as Google might not tell you what’s the exact problem. If your page does not have many backlinks pointed to it, the easiest option is to go for a new page with the same content. Simply duplicate your old page and create a new one with a different URL. You will immediately be out of the penalty.
However, if you have backlinks pointing to your old page or if that is a ranking asset, you wouldn’t want to create a new one. The option then is to start fixing things one by one. Try to figure out the problem on your own with the help of this page. The chance is 99% that your problem is mentioned in this guide.
Sandbox is not a Google Penalty. It is a controversial theory. According to many (I have faced it too), often when a new website is launched, Google temporarily holds back giving it the deserved ranking to see what it turn out to become. This holding period can last from 4-8 months (6 on average). That’s Google Sandbox for you.
There’s no way to predict which site will face Google Sandbox and which would not. Also, there is no way to recover from it apart from being patient. That’s the key.
19. Google Fred Penalty
Google Fred Penalty is the newest one in the lot. We don’t know much about Google Penalty as of now (March 2017) as Google introduced this penalty only two weeks ago. I am assuming that this penalty will have a lot to do with websites that are weak in terms of authority.
As far as I am seeing the scene, it looks like sites that had low volumes of content or heavily monetized content was hit by the penalty. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm anything as of now.
Let’s wait 1 more month and I will update you guys.
We are done with this massive Google Penalty article. I hope that this was of at least some help. If you have liked the article, make sure that you comment. I would love to talk to you.