Search Engine Optimization(SEO)

A Guide to Google Penalties, The Causes & How to Recover

Google Penalties

Google Penalties” is a nightmare to webmasters. Google is the main source of organic traffic for websites in different niches. The impact of Google on website traffic is unquestionable. A survey shows 10%, 20%, or even more of your traffic can be decreased overnight if a website is hit by Google Penalties. So if you are running an e-commerce site or online business, then this number can hart your revenue very badly.

Google can penalize a website for violating its Webmaster Guidelines. There are 2 types of Google Penalties that can hit your website. One of them is algorithmic penalties and the other one is manual penalties. Generally, algorithmic penalties get most of the attention because these types of penalties affect a huge number of websites all over the world.

With so many Google updates, it’s very hard to identify the reason behind gradually lose traffic and rankings of a website. That’s why in this post I have discussed different Google Penalties, their causes and how to recover from these penalties.

What Is Google Penalty?

A Google penalty means the negative impact of Google’s search algorithm update or manual review on a website. A website can be hit by a penalty because of the core algorithm update or an intentional penalization for applying various black-hat SEO techniques.

As a result of Google Penalties, the ranking of your web pages for a specific keyword will drop. In the worse case, Google can blacklist a website and the website will never be shown in the search result page of Google.

SEO professionals or SEO Company uses Google Webmaster Tools to analyze the timing of their traffic drop with the timing of known Google updates to determine if a website is hit by Google penalty.

How to Detect a Penalty?

You will not get a warning before hit by a Google penalty. So it’s very hard to detect a penalty. Even the most experienced SEO professionals sometimes find it difficult to recognize a penalty. But the good news is there are some hints that can help you detect a penalty. They are:

  • Your “Brand Name” is not ranking high in SERP. No matter what the ranking position of your website for other keywords, your website must rank high for that specific keyword.
  • The sudden drop in position from page one to page two, three or more without any action or updates from your part.
  • PageRank of your website dropped from a respectable two or three to zero or one.
  • The entire website has been removed from Google’s cached search results.
  • Running a site search like “” provides no results.

Algorithmic Google Penalties

Google search algorithms take a huge number of metrics as their ranking factor and use complex rules and calculation to determine the ranking of a website. Google continuously update their ranking algorithm and these core updates are the reasons behind algorithmic Google penalties. There are a lot of algorithmic Google penalties; here are some of the most impactful ones:

❶ Panda                   ❷ Penguin

❸ Hummingbird    ❹ Pigeon

❺ Mobile Update   ❻ RankBrain

❼ Top Heavy           ❽ Payday

❾ Pirate


Google Panda

Google Panda was first launched February 24, 2011. This is one of the most impactful Google algorithm updates, which targets the content quality. This algorithm is used to give a content quality score to web pages and down-rank sites with low-quality, spamy content. Here are some of the reasons a website can hit by panda penalty:

  • Duplicate content
  • Plagiarism
  • Thin content
  • User-generated spam
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Poor user experience

How to Recover:

  1. Check for duplicate content (pages and titles) across your site. Remove the duplicate content or use a 301 redirect or canonical tag or no-index Meta tag.
  2. Check for plagiarism. Make sure your content is 100% unique and it is not used on other online resources.
  3. Identify the thin content on your website. Try to put more than 300 words on every page.
  4. Identify if there are any keyword stuffing issues on your web pages.

Fix all the factors as soon as you have identified the panda hit, and then wait for another panda refresh to bring your website back on track.


Google Penguin identifies black-hat link building techniques and down-rank sites with unnatural link profiles. This algorithm update first rolled out April 24, 2012. It has changed the whole link building process. You have to make sure all your links appear natural or you will find it difficult to rank your website higher in SERP. Here are some of the reasons a website can hit by penguin penalty:

  • Acquiring links from “spamy” websites
  • Gain backlinks from PBN websites
  • Backlinks coming from irrelevant websites
  • Links with overly optimized anchor text
  • Paid links

How to Recover:

  1. Analyze your backlinks for penalty risks. See if your website is getting links from spammy sites or penalized websites.
  2. Find all the poor and harmful links. Send removal request to webmasters to remove your links.
  3. Disavow all the harmful links using Google Disavow tool. This will make Google ignore the spammy links when evaluating your link profile.

It takes time to recover from a Penguin penalty. Fix all the issues and wait for the next Penguin algorithm refresh to see if it worked or not.


Google Hummingbird

Google Hummingbird is a major redesign of the search algorithm. It was first launched August 22, 2013. The purpose of this update was to focus on “exact match keyword targeting” for search queries and penalize the sites. Hummingbird adds more attention to the meaning of the query rather than individual keywords within the query. So the importance of using keyword synonyms in content or webpage has increased. These are some of the reasons a webpage can be down-ranked in SERP due to Hummingbird:

  • Exact-match keyword targeting
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Poor user experience

How to Recover:

  1. Leave the traditional “exact-match keyword targeting” behind and expand your keyword research focusing on related searches, synonyms and co-occurring terms.
  2. Use Google Related searches, Google Autocomplete, and Google Trends to get Hummingbird friendly keywords idea.
  3. Discover the language your audience uses while searching for industry terms, your brand, products etc. Use these languages on your webpage and it will step up your linguistic game for Hummingbird algorithm.
  4. Stop using robot-like language on your web pages. For example, use of unnatural phrasing in title or Meta description. It can become a great problem as nowadays search engine can process natural language.


Google Pigeon first launched on July 24, 2014. It is Google’s local search and local organic results algorithm update. The purpose of this update was to improve local search where searcher’s location plays a part in the search result. Google Pigeon ties the local algorithm with the core search algorithm. So the same SEO factors will be used to rank both local and non-local Google results. But for local result location and distance will play a key role in ranking the results. Because of this Pigeon update, the following factors can downgrade your website’s ranking in SERP:

  • Poorly optimized pages
  • Lack of quality local backlinks
  • NAP inconsistency
  • Lack of citation in local directories
  • Incorrect setup of a Google My Business page

How to Recover:

  1. First, optimize your website according to the Google ranking factors (on-page SEO). Focus on creating high-quality backlinks.
  2. Setup Google My Business page properly; because it’s the first step to include in Google’s local index. Don’t forget to verify your ownership of the listing.
  3. Make sure NAP is consistent across all your local listings. Using different addresses for your business will make Google confuse and your ranking will fall.
  4. Add your business in local directories, like Yelp, TripAdvisor etc. With the Pigeon update listing your website in these kinds of directories will likely boost the local ranking.

Mobile Update

Google launched its mobile-friendly update April 21, 2015, and officially rolls out the Mobile-First Index in March 2018. With this mobile update Google’s ranking algorithm change for mobile search and started to give a ranking boost to pages which are well optimized for mobile devices. It’s a page level update so the whole website will not affect by it. After the mobile update Google started to look at the following factors:

  • Overall mobile friendliness
  • Viewport configuration
  • Unreadable content
  • Plugin use

How to Recover:

  1. The best way to avoid this penalty is to make your website mobile friendly by following the Google’s guidelines for mobile sites.
  2. Make sure your website is responsive and can easily be browsed from any mobile devices.
  3. Use Google’s “mobile friendly test” tool to check your pages’ mobile friendliness. Remember you have to pass Google’s mobile friendliness criteria to get up-ranked in mobile SERPs.


Google RankBrain

Google’s RankBrain algorithm was first introduced to the world on October 26, 2015. RankBrain is a machine-learning artificial intelligence system that helps Google process and understands search queries so that Google can determine the most relevant results in response to those queries. Interestingly, RankBrain can summarize what a page is about and evaluate the relevancy of search results. RankBrain can hart your website if your website has these problems:

  • Lack of query-specific relevance features
  • Poor user experience

How to Recover:

  1. There is no doubt that RankBrain is helping Google provide a better search experience to users. So give focus on user experience, bounce rate, and visitor’s spending time on pages.
  2. Competitor research is a great way to identify query-specific relevance features of web pages. Use these features as signals for ranking the web pages in SERPs.

Top Heavy

Google Top Heavy algorithm was first to run in January 2012. It is a site based Google penalty. So that means all your content is penalized or none of it is. This algorithm takes direct aim at any site with pages where content is buried under tons of ads. If your website has a few top heavy pages then you don’t have to worry about this update. Your website can be penalized by Top Heavy update if your website has:

  • Too many top-heavy pages
  • Excessive use of ads in the website
  • Content is pushed below the fold

How to Recover:

  1. Reduce the number of top-heavy pages on your website because Google has stated that only websites where most pages are “top heavy” will be penalized.
  2. Stop using excessive ads on websites. It will increase the page loading speed and decrease the ranking of your website in SERPs.
  3. Make sure your content is not pushed below the fold. They’re extremely frustrating to the visitors and it will increase the bounce rate of your website resulting ranking fall in the search


The Payday algorithm was first to run on June 11, 2013. This algorithm update targeted shady industries and search queries like payday loans, gambling, and pornography. There are some lucrative but very competitive niches where some SEOs try to manipulate Google by applying blackhat SEO techniques. So if your business operates in a spammy industry then you have to be extra clean if you want to avoid being penalized by Payday.

Moreover, websites in such excessively manipulated niches tend to take a lot of work and time to get higher rank in SERPs. So it’s best to follow the white hat SEO techniques and wait for the result. By any chance, if your legitimate website hit by this Google penalty then try to fix the problems and wait for the next algorithm update to bring your website back on track.


Google Pirate

Google Pirate update is a filter introduced in August 2012. The main purpose of this update was to prevent websites with many copyright infringement reports from ranking well in SERPs. Stealing copyrighted content (Piracy) is considered unethical by many and is illegal in some countries. So Google takes action against piracy by releasing this update.

Over the years the piracy market has been on the rise and many websites start sharing music, video, software, and video games illegally. The Pirate algorithm was Google’s answer to the growing number of torrent sites which were ranking high in search results.

This algorithm works based on copyright reports. If a website has a lot of copyright violations then this update will penalize the website by lowering its rank in SERPs. So if you want to avoid this Google penalty then stop stealing content from other websites.

Manual Google Penalties

Manual Google Penalties

Google always assess a website following its quality guidelines. If Google receives a spam report indicating that your website is in violation of their quality guidelines then Google can issue a manual penalty for your website. Unlike algorithmic penalties, you will receive a notice in the Google Search Console for manual Google Penalties. Generally, a website is hit by manual penalties for these reasons:

  • Cloaking or sneaky redirects
  • Unnatural links to your website
  • Unnatural links from your website
  • User-Generated Content spam
  • Thin content with no added value
  • Hidden text or keyword stuffing
  • Spammy structured markup
  • Hacked website
  • Spammy free hosts
  • Pure spam

Cloaking or Sneaky Redirects

Cloaking means you are showing different pages to visitors than what you are showing to Google. Similarly, sneaky redirects mean you are sending your website visitors to a different webpage than shown to Google. This kind of penalty can either hit a part of your website or it can hit your whole website.

How to Recover:

  1. Fetch the affected pages in Google search console and compare them with your web pages. Resolve all the variations and make sure both Google and your visitors see the same
  2. Check all the redirects of your website. Remove all the sneaky redirects as well as conditional redirects.
  3. After fixing all the problems submit your website for reconsideration.

Unnatural Links to your Website

Backlinks play a very important role in ranking a website but gaining unnatural links (like buying links) will not help your cause. In fact, Google will penalize your website because buying links is a clear violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines.

How to Recover:

  1. Audit your full website and download all the backlinks to your website from Google search console. Find out all the unnatural links to your website.
  2. Remove or add a rel=”nofollow” attribute to spammy links. Disavow any links that you are unable to remove or no-follow.
  3. Submit your website for reconsideration once you have cleaned your backlink profile.

Unnatural Links from your Website

I have stated before that buying links are forbidden by Google and so does selling links. If Google finds out your website has unnatural, deceptive, or manipulative outbound links then it can penalize a part of your website or in the worst case scenario the whole website.

How to Recover:

  1. Find all the unnatural outbound links in your website and make sure these links don’t pass PageRank. Add a rel=”nofollow” attribute or just remove them.
  2. Once you have removed all the unnatural links from your website, submit it for reconsideration.

User-Generated Content Spam

You can find user-generated content spam in comments, guestbook pages, forums, or in the user profiles section. Sometimes visitors left comments containing promotional content and off-topic links. Google can penalize a website for this kind of user-generated spam. Webmasters can use anti-spam plugins to detect and filters out such content.

How to Recover:

  1. Inspect all the comments in your website for non-relevant links, advertisements, spammy usernames, auto-generated comments, off-topic comments, etc.
  2. Remove all these spammy and inappropriate contents and don’t allow un-moderated user-generated contents.
  3. Finally, submit your website for reassessment.

Thin Content with no Added Value

Content is the king but it can also get you in real trouble if your website has thin content with no added value. Publishing auto-generated or spun content, having thin affiliate pages, publishing scraped content from other websites or doorway pages can lead your website to this penalty. This kind of penalty can either hit a part of your website or it can hit your whole website.

How to Recover:

  1. Identify all the auto-generated or spun content and remove them.
  2. Remove thin affiliate pages or add informative and unique content on those pages.
  3. Use a plagiarism checker to detect duplicate content and remove them.
  4. Find and remove all doorway pages.
  5. Submit a reconsideration request after fixing all these issues.

Hidden Text or Keyword Stuffing

Both hidden text and keyword stuffing is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Hidden text is a computer text that is displayed in a way that it can be invisible or unreadable. On the other hand keyword, stuffing means overuse of particular keywords and phrases to trick search bots into a higher ranking. This Google Penalty can either affect portions of your site or the whole website.

How to Recover:

  1. Find out all the hidden text on your website. For that, you can use CSS styling or positioning.
  2. Remove or re-style any hidden text and make sure it’s readable to a human user.
  3. Fix or rewrite paragraphs of repeated words and remove other instances of keyword stuffing.
  4. If all the problems are fixed then submit the website for reconsideration.

Spammy Structured Markup

Including structured data on the webpage is a great way to help Google understand what the page is about. But if you don’t follow the rich snippets guidelines properly or markup irrelevant or misleading content then your website will be penalized by Google. So it’s better to leave this feature if you don’t have enough knowledge about structured data.

How to Recover:

  1. If any markup on your website violates Google’s rich snippets guidelines then update or remove that markup.
  2. Submit a reconsideration request after you’ve fixed all the errors regarding structured data markup.

Hacked website

If a hacker can exploit and compromises your website, then he will inject malicious content and links to your website. A hacked website endangers users’ security and experience. So when Google receive a notification that “This site is hacked”, Google issues a penalty and wants webmasters to take corrective action as soon as possible.

How to Recover:

  1. Contact immediately with your hosting company and build a support team.
  2. Audit your website and identify the hacking type. Google search console can be very handy.
  3. Find out if it was a spam or malware attack. Don’t forget to identify the vulnerability of your website and how your website was hacked.
  4. Clean your website and install security features to protect your website from being hacked.
  5. Submit your website for a review and ask Google to reconsider your hacked labeling.

Spammy Free Hosts

Google is very strict about spam and can penalize a website if it’s hosted in spammy free hosts. According to Google “if a significant fraction of the pages on sites hosted on a service is spammy, we may take manual action on the service as a whole.” So stop thinking about free hosts and migrate your website to a renowned hosting provider.

Pure Spam

If a website is aggressively engaged in a combination of spammy techniques like the use of automated gibberish, scraped content, cloaking, and other violations of webmaster guidelines then it is called pure spam. There was a time a spammy website can rank in SERP but now it’s totally impossible. So it’s better to get your SEO strategies together and make sure they comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

The Closure

There is a proverb “Prevention is better than cure”. So it’s better to follow all the Google’s guidelines and avoid Google Penalties then to hit by one. But if somehow your website is penalized, don’t be panic. Keep calm and try to find out what’s the reason behind the penalty. Follow the recoveries that I have shared here, fix the issue, and appeal Google to reconsider your rank by sending a reconsideration request.

I hope this article helps you understand all the particulars of Google Penalties. Feel free to share your opinion regarding this article in the comment section.

Should Read: The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Successful CPA Marketing

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  • Reply Sayed Ahmed Shakil September 24, 2018 at 6:09 am

    It’s Very Useful Guideline for anyone. So easy to learn that’s why thanks to you to explain elaborately.

  • Reply Fraction Tech November 1, 2018 at 6:05 am

    Nice Article, websites mostly suffer from Google’s penalties and filters because of low‐quality content and shady SEO techniques.

    If you want to make your website bulletproof, make sure it meets Google’s Quality Guidelines and its link profile is natural.

    Apart from that, monitor your site for hacking to remove hacked content as soon as possible and prevent user‐generated spam on your site.

    And if you can’t handle a penalty on your own, invite an expert like Fraction tech

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