Best Practices for Google Penalty Recovery & Avoidance

If there’s one thing we know about Google, it’s that they keep tweaking their search methods to give users the best experience possible. And if you happen to go against their ever changing rules, your website could face penalties.

Whether it’s through a manual action or a change in the algorithm, getting a Google Penalty can knock your website down in search rankings, costing you visitors and money.

Losing your hard-earned spot on the SERPs sounds like a nightmare but all is not lost! With some effort and changes, it’s possible to bounce back and reclaim your rankings. 

In this guide, we’ll highlight some best practices to recover from and prevent penalties, so you can build a penalty-free future for your website. 

Let’s get started!

Understanding Google Penalties

Before jumping into the recovery process, it’s important to understand what a Google penalty implies. 

Simply put, it’s when your website gets punished by Google for breaking their rules. This can either happen explicitly, due to a manual action, or indirectly, through an algorithm update.

So, if you suddenly see your website’s organic rankings and traffic take a nosedive for no apparent reason, you could be facing one of two situations:

Algorithmic Actions – The changes from a Google algorithm update made it slide down in the rankings. 

Algorithmic action is automatic and is triggered by Google’s search algorithm after its major updates like the Panda and Penguin update. Google doesn’t call this a “penalty” per say, but the effects can be the same.

Manual Actions – Your website was manually reviewed by Google’s Web Spam team, and they decided to take action against it.

A manual penalty is often handed down for engaging in black hat SEO practices such as unnatural links, spammy content, cloaked redirects etc. 

Google will notify you about manual actions against your site through Google Search Console.

Once you’ve fixed all the issues mentioned in your manual action report, you can apply for reconsideration to reverse the penalty.

Did you Know? – Google’s Quality Raters

Ever wondered how Google decides which search results are the best? 

Apart from their many automated systems, Google also has a dedicated team of quality raters from all over the world.

Their job is simple: they compare different search results to see which ones are more helpful to users using Google’s search quality rater guidelines. 

Note that the feedback from quality raters doesn’t directly impact rankings. Instead, it helps Google refine its algorithms to better understand and deliver high-quality search results.

5 Handy Tools for Penalty Recovery

Now that you know more about what Google penalties are, it’s time to get down to business. 

You need two things for a successful recovery: the right tools and the right strategies.

Let’s take a quick look at some helpful tools that make Google penalty recovery a lot easier:

1) Google Webmaster Tools – Search Console Tool

Google Webmaster Tools provide insights into how Google perceives your site. It notifies you of any manual penalties imposed by Google and offers recommendations for addressing issues such as duplicate content and broken links. 

2) Fetch as Google – URL Inspection

This feature in Google Webmaster Tools allows you to simulate Google’s crawling or rendering process for a URL on your website. It offers insights into common errors like redirects or robots.txt issues, helping you grasp the difference between how Google perceives your page and how it appears in browsers.

3) Ahrefs – Backlink Analysis

Ahrefs is a comprehensive tool suite for analyzing backlinks. It offers detailed reports on backlink quality and identifies spammy or unnatural links. You can utilize it to assess and clean up your backlink profile in case of a penalty.

4) Majestic SEO – Link Intelligence 

Majestic SEO is a powerful link intelligence tool that helps analyze your site’s link profile. It identifies issues with backlinks, provides reports on anchor text optimization, and helps improve your site’s trust rating by cleaning up problematic links.

5) Screaming Frog SEO Spider – Web Crawler

With the ability to crawl through large sites efficiently, Screaming Frog can help you identify common issues like dead ends and internal redirects that may be causing a penalty.

The Google Penalty Removal Action Plan

So, you’ve been hit with a penalty, and now you’re feeling lost. Just take a deep breath and let’s tackle this step by step.

Before you create a recovery plan, it’s important to know which penalty you’re dealing with.

The first thing you should do is head over to Google Search Console and check for any manual penalties against your website. 

Look under “Security & Manual Actions” and then “Manual Actions” for error messages. If you have an error message here, you’ve been hit by a manual penalty from Google’s Web Spam team.

However, if your GSC shows no manual actions, then you might be facing an algorithmic penalty. 

For that, you need to look up Google’s latest algorithm updates (Tip: use Google update checker by Ahrefs.) Also take a look at any performance drops on your Google Analytics dashboard.

If you notice a correlation between an update and a drop in performance, investigate what the update targeted and form your recovery strategy accordingly.

Now that you’ve narrowed down the penalty, it’s time to devise a plan. 

As each penalty may stem from different issues, they require a different strategy. 

For instance, Google’s Penguin update targeted sites with spammy or low-quality backlinks. Meanwhile, the Page Experience update focused on UX signals like loading speed, layout and interactivity.

Here are some recovery strategies for frequently encountered Google penalties:

  1. Clean up your Backlink Profile

One common cause of Google penalties is a poor backlink profile. Bad backlinks can result in both manual and algorithmic penalties.

Removing these unnatural links is the only way to bounce back from these penalties. 

You can use Google Search Console and Moz to conduct a backlink audit and weed out all the unnatural links. 

But your work isn’t done yet. You also have to reach out to website owners for link removal. In case site owners don’t respond, you can request Google to ignore certain links using Google’s Disavow Tool.

  1. Conduct an SEO Audit

Keeping a check on your website’s health and performance is key to bouncing back from Google’s penalties. You can do that by conducting a technical SEO Audit. 

Some common errors to watch out for include keyword stuffing, sitemap errors, and slow loading speeds. Following an SEO audit checklist can help you fix these errors to overcome Google penalties. 

If you’ve addressed SEO errors and your site is still underperforming, your content might be the real culprit.

  1. Refresh your Content

Google keeps raising the bar for content quality, especially with its latest E-E-A-T guidelines. The Panda update, for instance, cracked down on low-quality content that failed to offer any real value to users.

Take a moment to review your website’s content. Are there any outdated or duplicate pieces lurking around?

To streamline this process, consider using content auditing tools like DynoMapper. These tools can help uncover content gaps, missing data, and outdated materials that may be dragging down your site’s performance.

Best Practices to Recover from a Manual Penalty

We’ve discussed how Google issues manual actions to web pages that break its web spam rules. These penalties often happen when sites try to trick their way to the top of search results. 

Things like stuffing pages with too many keywords or trying to manipulate links can get you in trouble. 

Here are some best practices to combat common manual actions:

Scan your website for user-generated content that violates Google’s rules, like ads or irrelevant links. Delete such content to lessen the penalty’s impact.

Use CAPTCHA or moderation tools to stop spam submissions. Set clear abuse policies and monitor user content regularly.

Identify any unnatural or manipulative links that may be contributing to the penalty using tools such as Ahrefs or Majestic SEO.

Then reach out to website owners to request the removal of unnatural links and utilize Google’s disavow tool for links that cannot be removed manually.

Don’t participate in link schemes and stay away from black hat tactics such as link buying. Also conduct routine backlink audits to keep your link profile in top shape.

Follow Google’s E-E-A-T guidelines to refresh existing content and ensure that it meets the quality standards. Look for duplicate pages, heavily AI-generated content or scraped content. 

Always focus on creating unique and helpful content. Don’t just copy-paste stuff from elsewhere. Be original and provide real value to your audience.

Sometimes, websites use redirects in shady ways. This could be sending users to unexpected places or showing different content to Google than to users.

Find and remove any sneaky redirects on your site. Check your code and plugins for anything fishy.

Use redirects responsibly. Make sure they lead users where they expect to go and that Google sees the same content as your users.

Check out Google’s full list of manual actions and recommended recovery options.

How to Recover from Algorithmic Actions

Unlike manual penalties, algorithmic actions cannot be fixed through reconsideration requests. 

Plus, they’re also tricky to catch and recover from. That’s because Google doesn’t necessarily consider the effects of its core updates to be a penalty.

Gary Illyes (@methode) via X

But every SEO on the planet has seen the impact made by Panda and Penguin updates. So, Google might not consider these algo changes a penalty, but they sure do feel like one when you’re not prepared for them.

Here are some of Google’s most notorious (and latest) updates and how to bounce back from them:

This update cracks down on low-quality content. So, if your site has weak, copied, or useless content, it might be hit.

Focus on creating quality content that’s actually helpful. Trash or beef up any low-value pages, and make sure your site offers something unique and worthwhile.

Penguin targets shady backlinks. If your site has fishy or spammy links, you might be at risk.

Scour your backlinks and toss out any that seem sketchy. Aim to build solid, natural links from trustworthy sources.

The latest March 2024 Core update hit the SEO world hard and fast, completely deindexing websites and causing a major uproar in the community. 

This update is a continuation of Google’s effort to show the most helpful results by getting rid of low quality, unoriginal and click-baity content. Google has dubbed it an “evolution in how we identify the helpfulness of content.”

The core update is accompanied by spam policies targeting expired domain abuse, scaled content abuse and site reputation abuse.

So far, the update has targeted sites violating Google’s guidelines or employing questionable SEO tactics. Websites with outdated or error-filled content are particularly at risk, along with AI content sites, as Google aims to eliminate useless, repetitive content. 

Think you’ve been hit by the latest update? Google your website to check if it’s indexed and identify any dips on performance in March 2024.

To recover from this penalty, website owners have to pay close attention to what Google has been highlighting for a while now: 

As of March 2024, this core update is still in the process of rolling out. SEOs suggest not to make any significant changes to your website until the update is complete.

Google launches a core update every few months and the only way to avoid getting hit by them is to come well prepared. 

Here are some tips to avoid these penalties and stay safe when a core update hits:

  • Regularly check your site for any issues with content quality, links, or user experience. Fix any issues promptly to maintain site quality and performance.
  • Adhere to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and best practices to avoid penalties. Avoid black hat SEO tactics, such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, or buying links.
  • Showcase Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-A-T): Demonstrate expertise in your field, establish authoritativeness through credible sources and credentials, and build trust with transparent and accurate information.

Stay clued in on Google’s newest updates and rules through Search Console Help and Community.

Moving Forward

Dealing with Google’s search penalties can feel like trying to keep up with a game where the rules keep changing. 

But penalties are just setbacks for you to bounce back stronger than before. The only way forward is to keep learning and adapting your strategies. 

Remember, Google has only one goal: to improve its search experience. 

So just keep it simple – make quality content, offer a great user experience, and provide real value. Follow these principles, and you’re on the path to long-term success!

Article by

7+ years in the SEO industry, I’m an off-page optimization specialist with a track record of helping clients climb the search engine ladder. My focus? Building long-term client relationships founded on great results and customer satisfaction.Off the clock? You’ll find me behind the lens, capturing the world through photography, or catching NBA games (minus any recent All-Star debates) – or maybe even experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen! Let’s chat about SEO, strategy, or maybe even your favorite classic basketball moments.

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