Google Algorithm

Google Penalty

Glossary  |  2 mins

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A Google penalty refers to a loss in a site’s rankings due to an action by Google.

Google penalties can be caused either by Google implementing a manual penalty due to a site going against its guidelines (manual actions), or an algorithm update which devalues a website due to its content and practices (algorithmic actions).

Incurring a Google penalty can be very challenging to get the site’s rankings back to where they were previously.

Why Google Penalties Happen

Google’s purpose as a product is to serve up the most relevant and useful search results for any search query it receives. When content that doesn’t serve a searcher’s best interests has a high ranking on Google’s SERPs, it devalues the search engine in the eyes of the users.

Google uses a highly sophisticated search algorithm to ensure that pages which provide real value to its users are placed at the top of its SERPs, and that content which detracts from the experience has a relatively small share in its results. Google penalties help to ensure that poor quality or toxic content doesn’t harm the search engine’s user experience and undermine its value as a product.

Common Causes of Google Penalties

For the most part, if your SEO work aligns with Google’s guidelines and doesn’t stray into black hat tactics, then your risk of incurring a Google penalty will be fairly low. Having said that, many changes to a site or backlink profile that are made with good intentions can put your site at risk of a penalty.

Some of these causes commonly include maintaining content which doesn’t keep up with changing standards in quality, not addressing poor quality links that point to your site, and creating outbound links that lack context or relevance.

Though not all ranking drops are the cause of a Google penalty, if you’re afraid that your site has been hit by one, the first best thing to do is audit your backlink profile for spammy or unnatural links, followed by auditing your site content for any thin or poor quality pages and check within Search Console as to whether there are any manual actions.

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Google Penalty FAQs

What is a Google penalty?

A Google penalty is an action taken by Google that lowers the rankings of a given site. This can take the form of an algorithmic penalty, where routine algorithm updates cause a drop in rankings, or manual penalties, when a Google employee manually flags a site for practices that are contrary to its guidelines.

How do I know if my website has a Google penalty?

To check for manual penalties, webmasters can simply log into Google search console and check the “Manual actions” section of the tool under “Security & Manual Actions”. To check for algorithmic penalties, use your chosen SEO tool and Google analytics to check for ranking and traffic drops, then research any recent algorithm changes being talked about in the SEO community and check your site for elements that may have been deranked.

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