Differences Between Manual and Algorithmic Google Penalties

Differences Between Manual and Algorithmic Google Penalties

Over the past few years there’s been nothing more terrifying to digital marketers than the dreaded Google penalty. Website owners have seen rankings jump and drop within the day as Google updates are announced, and unfortunately many sites were penalized for different reasons.

With there being different types of Google penalties out there it can be difficult determining which information is accurate. The first step to recovering from a penalty and getting back on Google includes understanding which penalty the site was hit with and how to overcome that setback. The following article will help users determine which penalty they have been hit with and how to overcome the penalty.

Manual Penalties Assessed by Google

A manual penalty happens when Google’s web spam team has determined a site does not comply with Google search guidelines and conditions. This penalty is aimed at those who try to manipulate Google’s metrics to gain big rankings in a short amount of time. This often throws up a red flag to the search engine, which results in a review, then a penalty to the site.

Typically, the penalty hits the entire site, however, in some cases only one page or area of the site may get hit. A complete de-index of the site is the most common penalty, which can be devastating to a site.

  • Hacked Site – When a site is hacked by a third party Google will send a manual penalty notification to Search Console. Often when a site is hacked a file or files will be uploaded to the site which will appear as spam to Google. The software is often hidden from plain view on the site, yet can be very bad for the site and the users. Once the malicious software is taken care of you will need to request reconsideration for the site. Monitor the progress of the reconsideration within Search Console, remember to be patient it may take time.
  • User-generated spam – When a site receives a message like this it often means there’s portions of the site that is spammy from users. This is common on forums, comment sections, and guestbook pages of a site. For instance, you may have noticed going through sites where a user by a name that talks about an item the user may sell. There’s a link to their profile and also their site. This appears spammy to Google and can result in a page being penalized. There’s multiple ways to reduce the problem, however depending on the size of the site this may take some time. Going through each page to determine where the penalty may have occurred will be time consuming, but must be done. Look into removing any spammy commenters or profiles to reduce the problem.
  • Spammy freehosts – If there are a number of pages on a site that are hosted by a spammy service, Google will enforce a penalty on the site. You’ll need to remove any spammy accounts from your service and send a reconsideration request to have the penalty removed.
  • Spammy structured markup – If the rich snippet guidelines are being violated Google will implement a manual penalty for the site. This often done by providing hidden or misleading information to users to increase site rankings. Review the rich snippet guidelines to ensure the site is meeting all the requirements. Remove any markup that could be causing the penalty and submit a reconsideration request.
  • Unnatural links to the site – This is a very common link penalty and one that can be handled if you know what to look for. If a site has been building poor quality links, buying links, or participating in link building schemes they can be hit with this penalty. This is a violation of Google’s guidelines and they have been implementing many algorithmic changes to combat these tactics. The first step is to review your link profile to determine where these links may be coming from. You’ll need to have these links removed by the webmaster of the site, if not then a disavow list will need to be created. Once the link profile has been cleaned up, submit a reconsideration request and wait for confirmation.
  • Thin content – Content plays a huge part when creating back links, increasing rankings, and adding value to a site. No poor quality content can result in a penalty to the site. What type of content can hurt your site?
    • Automatically generated content – Often this is content that is created by programs, it usually is keywords that does not form cohesive thoughts.
    • Affiliate pages – If a site is working with an affiliate they will often copy content from a page or product. New thoughts and ideas need to be added to this content.
    • Scraped content – Sites will often used ‘scraped’ content which is content taken from other sources and copied word for word. This content does not add any additional value to the web and is blatant plagiarism.
    • Doorway pages – These are pages that are created to funnel users into certain sections of a website, often not what the user was searching.
  • Cloaking or devious redirects – A site will receive this message if the site is showing Google one page, yet redirecting users to another page. This will affect the page or pages that implement the cloaking, and need to be removed to remove the penalty.
  • Cloaking : First Click Free violation – This penalty is aimed at pages that offer free content to Google’s crawlers, but when users come from Google the content is limited. Users may be required to sign up, login, or subscribe to the site to see the content.
  • Unnatural links from your site – Similar to unnatural links coming into your site, these are links that are outbound from your own site. These include artificial links, paid links, link schemes, or manipulative links. These links need to be removed or a rel=”nofollow” attribute needs to be added to the code. This will keep the link active on the site, but will not pass any page rank.
  • Pure spam – This penalty covers a number of different areas that include cloaking, automated content, etc. Remove any spam from the site, send reconsideration request, wait for the penalty to be removed.
  • Cloaked images – Similar to cloaking text, cloaking images is a black-hat approach to adding keywords to a page. The image may appear within Google image results, yet maybe be cloaked behind content or other images on the page.
  • Hidden text or keyword stuffing – Adding the same keyword over and over through a site, including meta, can result in a manual penalty being implemented to the site. This can be enforced on a specific page, however, many users will utilize this practice on multiple pages. Users will need to review their entire website and find specific pages where there may be keywords stuffed into the content. Users need to use keyword variations to remove the penalty.

How to Overcome a Manual Penalty

A common occurrence is for users to see a big drop in traffic, which results in a check of rankings, which often drop. Then finally they will review their Google Search Console, where they will find a message mentioning a penalty. There are multiple manual penalties and in most cases Google will acknowledge which penalty was enforced. The tricky part will be determining how to make those fixes. For instance, if you receive the message “Unnatural Links”, you’ll need to review your backlink profile and determine which ones to remove to get back on Google. A penalty of “Thin content with little or no added value” will require site owners to review all pages to determine which ones lack quality content.

Determining an Algorithmic Penalty from Google

These penalties come Google algorithm updates, most commonly associated with Google Penguin and Google Panda. Sites often see a big drop in rankings and organic traffic right around the release dates of the updates. Google’s algorithms will detect spammy or unnatural behavior which will result in the penalty.

Since algorithmic penalties are not as straightforward as manual penalties users must research their site to determine what effected the penalty. This will include reviewing the site’s linking profile, content, and meta information, particularly title tags. Is the site mobile friendly? This is another factor that can result in a site being penalized by Google. A simple fix, but a commonly overlooked scenario.

Finding the Penalty and Recovering

If you see a sudden drop in rankings or organic traffic the first thing you should do is review what the latest update was. Sites like Search Engine Land are great for up to date news on Google’s latest changes. You can often get an idea on what the latest update was focused on, for instance was it based on content, back links, or local listings? This is what you’ll need to determine before moving forward. Sometimes the changes to a site may not come for a few weeks or even months after the update, so some research may be necessary.

After learning what update hit your site, it’s time to make some changes to get back on Google. If you have determined you were hit by a penalty like Panda 4.0 then you have come to the conclusion your site has poor quality content. You’ll need to review your site to find which pages have low/poor quality content which is affecting your rankings. Without making changes the site will remain in its current state and risks losing more rankings over time.