People, associated with SEO, are quite familiar with the term penalty. The SEO professionals use this term quite often when a website faces a downturn in traffic and visibility. This downturn might be due to manually applied action or algorithmically. However, the uses of this term, in this case, is not right.
Since people are still confused with Google penalty, they assume what it might be. We found different queries in quora and some other websites that people ask frequently. Perhaps they get confused if the downturn of ranking is not a penalty, then what it is. We have tried our best to sum up all the queries and find out the truth behind their assumption.
In regards to SEO, the term ‘penalty’ has a distinct and definitive meaning. Let’s learn what it is!
What is a Penalty in SEO?
We can say that SEO penalty is the manual action from Google.
Now, what is manual action? When a human reviewer by Google notices, your website is violating the webmaster guidelines in some or other ways, s/he dampens your visibility in the SERPs. This is the actual Google penalty.
When a Google reviewer can penalize your site?
If Google finds, you follow some techniques that are not approved by the Webmaster quality guidelines like
- Generating content automatically
- Creating webpages with duplicate content
- Participating in link schemes
- Hidden links or texts
- Sneaky redirects
- Doorway pages
- Taking part in an affiliate program without adding enough value
- Using irrelevant keywords in your pages
- Scraped content
- Sending automated queries to Google
- Abusing rich snippets markup
- Developing webpages with malicious behavior like phishing, installing trojans or viruses
You can get penalized for many other reasons. However, most businesses get penalized for practicing the above techniques.
When a website loses its ranking, it does not mean that the site has got penalized. It might be due to algorithmic devaluation. Google constantly upgrades its algorithm, which impacts the websites positively or negatively.
So, now you might get confused with a penalty and an algorithmic devaluation. They are distinctively different.
What is the difference between a penalty and an algorithmic devaluation?
If you are associated with SEO for at least a month, you would have heard about the dreaded manual action.
As the name suggests, manual actions are applied by Google’s human reviewer while the algorithm is an automated way.
We have already discussed, when a human reviewer, at Google, observes you have violated the Webmaster Guideline, they give you a slap on the wrist or a full slap, known as a penalty, depending on the severity of the violation.
On the other hand, if you experience a downturn in your ranking for a variety of multiple keywords, then it might be due to algorithmic devaluation. Google algorithms depend on a set of rules and calculations. If a website meets the “quality standards” by maintaining the algorithm updates and their rules, it ranks higher, otherwise, experiences a downturn in the ranking.
How to understand that you are experiencing a manual action or penalty:
When Google applies a penalty to your site, they inform you through Google Search Console message center. This is the reason you should set up search console for your site.
The fundamental difference between algorithm issues and manual actions is – you can review the manual actions on Google’s support page and understand and fix the issues but with algorithm changes, there is nothing in your hand to fix.
Google might apply the following manual actions to your site –
- Spammy free host
- User-created spam
- Structured data issue
- Unnatural links to and from your site
- Content with no added value or irrelevant content
- Sneaky or cloaking redirects
- Cloaked images
- AMP content mismatch
- Pure spam
- Sneaky mobile redirects
- Keyword stuffing or hidden text
For every drop-down, Google gives the solution on how to fix them so that when you review these items, you can fix them.
After identifying the penalty and fixing the issues, you can submit your website again for a reconsideration and request Google to remove the penalty or manually applied action.
Another difference between a penalty and algorithmic devaluation is, the ability to submit a reconsideration request to Google.
Unlike the manual action, you can never remove or solve the algorithmic devaluation. For algorithm issues, you need to wait till another update of the algorithm comes.
For manual actions, if Google is satisfied that you have fixed your site as per the guidelines, and won’t violate the Webmaster guidelines again, they will withdraw your manual actions or penalty.
How to fix Google Penalty?
1. Cloaking/sneaky redirects:
- To fix the issue, navigate Google Search Console ≥ Crawl ≥ Fetch as Google and find the pages from the affected portion of your site.
- Compare the content fetched by Google with the content on your website.
- Find out the variations and make the necessary changes to make the two similar.
- Check the redirects and remove those that
- Redirect conditionally
- Are sneaky
- Send users to an unexpected destination
- After fixing all the issues, submit a reconsideration request
2. Cloaked image:
- Show the same image to Google that you are showing to the users of your site
- After fixing, submit a reconsideration request
3. Hacked site:
- Connect with your web host and build a support team
- Identify the hacking type by using search console
- Find out how the hacker got in by recognizing the vulnerability
- Close the vulnerability by cleaning your site
- Evaluate the damage if it is spam or malware
- Submit reconsideration request to Google
4. Keyword stuffing or hidden text:
- To fix the issue, navigate Google Search Console ≥ Crawl ≥ Fetch as Google and then find out the affected pages of your website.
- Find out the texts that are developed in a similar color as the body of your web page.
- Use CSS styling or positioning to find out the hidden text.
- Remove the hidden text or restyle the text so that anyone can find it.
- Fix or remove the paragraphs stuffed with keywords.
- Fix the title tags that contain repeated words.
- Make sure there is no keyword stuffing text hidden on your site.
- Submit a reconsideration request.
5. Pure Spam:
- If this is the only offense you made, then get your act together and follow Google Webmaster Guidelines.
- Fix the issue and submit a reconsideration request.
6. Spammy free hosts:
- Submit a reconsideration request after migrating to the ‘name brand’ shared hosting.
7. Spammy structured markup:
- Remove or update the markup that might violate the guidelines of Google’s rich snippets, and submit a reconsideration request to Google.
8. Content with no added value:
- Find out and remove the spun or auto-generated content.
- Recognize the affiliate pages, that do not have any added value, and eliminate them.
- Identify the thin content and, if possible, make it bigger and informative or remove it.
- Find out and remove the doorway pages
- Submit a reconsideration request after everything is fixed.
9. Unnatural links to your site:
- Download the links from Google Search Console
- Audit and identify which links are violating the guidelines.
- Remove the links or add a rel= “nofollow” attribute.
- If you are unable to remove or nofollow a link, disavow it.
- After cleaning up your link profile, submit a reconsideration request.
10. Unnatural links from your site:
- Remove the links or modify them by adding a rel= “nofollow” attribute. A nofollow link will no longer pass the Page Rank.
- After fixing the links or removing them, submit the reconsideration request.
Algorithm devaluation is similar to manual actions to some extent, so, why aren’t they considered as penalties?
This is quite simple. The algorithm has some rules and guidelines. If a site is unable to meet those, Google algorithm devaluates the site. When algorithms devaluate a site, it loses its ranking and visibility. However, Google algorithms can also give your site broader visibility if you maintain the rules and guidelines religiously.
Since the algorithm can increase or decrease the visibility and traffic of your site and make it go up or down, a devaluation cannot be considered as a penalty. When penalized, your site only goes down, there is no positive impact.
The fun fact is, the SEO professionals will always use the term ‘penalty”. It is much easier to make the clients understand that they are losing their visibility and traffic due to a penalty. Making the non-SEO people (especially clients!!) understand about Google algorithm is almost possible.
Did you ever use the colloquial version of the term ‘penalty’ when you knew it is nothing but algorithmic devaluation? Do you have any other query about Google penalty and algorithmic devaluation? Share with us in the comment section!