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We talk about getting into Google’s good books a lot…but what happens if you get into their bad ones? Engaging in unsavoury SEO techniques could get you an official slap on the wrist that can have huge ramifications for your site’s visibility. So, what is a Google penalty, how can you get one, how can you avoid them, and how do you recover from them?

What is a Google penalty?

A Google penalty is an action taken against a website by a human at Google, who has deemed your site as one that goes against the Google Search Essentials guidelines. They may have concluded that your website is engaging in spammy, deceptive, manipulative, or harmful practices that negatively affect the user experience. The result of the penalty significantly impacts a website’s visibility in the SERPs.

Manual penalties v algorithmic changes

Both manual penalties and algorithmic changes (those adjustments made to the algorithm that Google uses to rank content) can cause setbacks for websites in the SERPs, but there are some major differences between the two that you should know. These are:


Google penalties are also known as Google manual actions, or Google manual penalties, because they’re made by a human, as opposed to a site being penalised by an algorithm, which are essentially automatic once they’ve been set by Google.


If a site has been issued a Google penalty, clear feedback will be provided to the site owner via Google Search Console, informing them of the exact way in which their sites’ pages contravened their guidelines.

However, when an algorithmic change has affected a site’s visibility, it’s up to the site owner to find out that the site’s been affected in the first place, and interrogate Google’s latest updates to work out why they’ve been affected and therefore how it can be fixed.


The changes made by an algorithm can be rolled in and out at the will of Google without targeting certain website’s specifically, and the change could be temporary, with traffic returning to normal within weeks in some cases. To get a Google penalty reversed, however, a manual review will need to be made by Google.

How will I know if I have been given a penalty?

Knowing where to look to identify penalties that may have been issued to your site is vital to recovery. There are two ways in which to keep tabs on Google penalties:

Google Search Console

This should be your first port of call, as any Google manual penalty that you have been issued will show up directly here. If you’ve received a penalty, it will display under ‘manual actions’ in the ‘security and manual actions’ tab, and the email address associated with the account should have received an email about it too. From this section of GSC, you’ll be able to see what the issue is, and what pages it’s affecting (which could be all of them).

Viewing manual actions in Google Search Console
You can view manual action in Google Search Console within the 'Security & Manual Actions' tab on the left hand side

Rank tracking software

Any sudden downturn in ranking position and traffic should wave a red flag to you to signal a manual action, so keep an eye on where your website is at using rank tracking software so that you can recognise abnormalities if they occur.

You can also do periodic checks on Google itself, by typing '' (replacing yourdomain with your actual domain name) into the search box. If your website doesn’t come up, you should investigate using your Google Search Console account, because this is a huge indication that Google has stopped showing your site to its users as a result of breaking their policies and guidelines.

What are the reasons for Google's Manual Penalties?

According to Google’s Manual Actions Report, these are some of the top reasons that a site is given a penalty. Think of them as black hat SEO techniques…

Unnatural inbound links

If your site is being bombarded with inbound links from irrelevant sources, it could flag to Google that you’re trying to manipulate your rankings.

Unnatural outbound links

The same goes for links you’ve created that make Google suspicious that they’ve been paid for, link to irrelevant content, or appear otherwise manipulative and unnatural.

Low quality content

If it’s unhelpful, irrelevant or non-existent, expect to be hearing formally from Google about your content.

User generated spam

If users of your site spam comment sections and forums, you could receive a penalty for it.

Spam hosting

Using a hosting service found to be responsible for spammy sites could paint yours in a bad light, and see you be issued with a manual action.

Cloaked images

Showing one thing to search engines and another to users is a big no-no as far as Google is concerned.

Third party spam

If user forums and comment sections are used to spam users with links to your site, this will be picked up by Google, and a penalty could be issued for it.

Structured data

Structured data, often known as schema, should tell Google about your site in its own language; if you’re found to be using it to manipulate or mislead the search engine, expect to be punished via a penalty.

Cloaked redirects

Similarly to images, you can show one thing to a search engine via a URL, and something else to a user. It’s usually to deceive search engines, which could land you in hot water with Google.

Mobile-only redirects

This is a sneaky way of directing mobile users to different content using the same link that shows something else to a desktop user. It’s not great for the entire user experience, so it’s Google penalty territory to perpetrators.

Google news and discovery violations

There are specific guidelines surrounding appearing in Google’s news and discovery sections - violating these is bad news for your site.

Keyword stuffing

Content full of keywords is obvious, jarring, and unhelpful to the user. No wonder it can get you a manual penalty!

A lot of duplicate content

Lots of the same content on your site can result in a Google penalty.

What is the impact of a Google penalty on your website?

The performance and visibility of your website can both be negatively impacted by a Google penalty, either by making your ranking plummet, or removing your site from the SERPs altogether. In turn, this reduces your traffic, which reduces your leads, which reduces your revenue. Not a great domino effect!

How to recover from Google penalties

If you do find yourself on the receiving end of manual action from Google, the steps you need to take are as follows:

Address the issue

Use Google Search Console to fully understand the issues by expanding the description box and then addressing them systematically. All problems need to be resolved if you’re to have any chance of recovering from the penalty.

Request a review from Google

In each of the issues flagged within GSC, you’ve got the opportunity to request a review, and explain what you’ve done to resolve the problem as part of the process. Google suggests that a good example of a request state and explain what the issue was, the steps you took to fix the problem, and what the outcome of your efforts is.

Receiving a response to this review request could take days or weeks. The response you receive from Google will either indicate that the work you’ve done to rectify the problems is sufficient, and therefore the penalty will be lifted, or you’ll be prompted to revisit the issues and go through the review process again.

TOP TIPS to avoid Google penalties

Prevention is better than cure, as they say, so engaging in SEO best practice and compliance with Google guidelines is the best way to keep your site out of trouble. Therefore you should:

Create high quality content

Genuinely helpful, well-researched and on-brand content is not only the best way to connect with your users, but to show Google you’re a site to be trusted, too. This extends from your page content to your blog articles and case studies. Follow helpful content and E-E-A-T guidance to help you out on this.

Build a natural backlink profile

In the spirit of creating high quality content, an approach to earning backlinks that’s centred around getting this helpful content in front of people who will find it useful is a great way to rise through the rankings and stay compliant too. Avoid and deal with unwanted backlinks if they occur.

Ensure site security without technical issues

Improve the user experience at the same time as making it easy for Google to crawl your site by improving site speed, removing duplicate content, and obtaining HTTPS for your site, which indicates that your site is encrypted and safe for users of it.

Google penalty FAQs

How long will a Google penalty last?

The penalty will last for as long as the issues flagged remain. Until you fix the problems and submit your fixes to Google using the process we mentioned above, your site will continue to suffer the penalty.

Does Google ban websites?

If the violation is serious enough, Google can de-index your site, which means removing it from the SERPs entirely, which is essentially a ban.

What is penalty recovery?

Penalty recovery means fixing the issues that prompted a manual action from Google, as well as requesting another review and submitting the required information around what you’ve done to resolve the problems.

Need help with your website?

SEO can feel like a minefield - unless you’ve got a team of experts on hand to help, that is. When you choose 427, you can be assured of an SEO strategy for your business that complies with Google’s guidelines and policies, so that you can look forward to the rise of your rankings, not a penalty plummet. Whether you’re starting a brand new site, you’ve got a good thing going and you want to make it better, or you need help with a penalty-affected site, talk to us to find out how we can help you.

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About Chris Simmons

Chris is our onpage SEO Specialist at 427 Marketing, having joined the team in early 2023. He works with our content team to cover the 4 pillars of SEO; content, onpage SEO, technical SEO and offpage SEO. Prior to joining the 427 Marketing team, Chris spent almost 10 years applying his SEO and content skills across several different industries in marketing agency and inhouse roles including tool hire, auctioneering, health care within the NHS and high end luxury retail in both B2B and B2C capacities. His passion for writing, content, UX, technical and on page SEO has expanded our content offerings, helping provide reliable advice about all things SEO to 427 Marketing.

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