News & Insights


How to Recover from a Google Penalty

pwd staff OLIVER WOOD
Oliver Wood

|31st August 2018

To help more people find your website online, you need to be in the good books of Google. But sometimes, things can go wrong, and you may find that your website has been penalised. Getting a Google penalty will crush your organic traffic and cause your website’s SERP ranking to plummet. If your website has suffered from a Google search penalty, it’s essential to act fast and implement recovery strategies as quickly as possible. The good news is that there are some handy Google penalty recovery methods to help you get back on track. In this blog, we’ll take a deep dive into some valuable strategies you can employ.

What is a Google Penalty?

A Google penalty is a punishment imposed by the search engine on a website that violates its guidelines and rules. These SEO penalties can cause a significant decrease in search engine rankings, resulting in a loss of organic traffic and potential revenue for the affected website.

Thousands of websites receive Google penalties daily, and while many of these penalties may be warranted, some are innocent victims of algorithm updates and changes. In most cases, website owners are unaware that they have been penalised unless they notice a sudden drop in their search traffic and decide to investigate.

Why Does Google Penalise Websites?

Google’s main goal is to provide the best and most relevant search results for its users. To achieve this, it has strict guidelines that all websites must follow to rank well in search results. When a website violates these guidelines, Google penalises them to maintain the quality and credibility of their search engine. They want people to find valuable, useful, and relevant information rather than spammy or low-quality content.

Google also doesn’t like websites that try to “game the system”, so using shady techniques to cheat your way to the top of search results could land you one of their black hat SEO penalties. These techniques may work in the short term, but eventually, Google will catch on and penalise these websites for trying to manipulate their algorithm.

What Can Trigger a Google Penalty?

There are many reasons why a website can be penalised by Google. Some common triggers include:

  • Unnatural links. Links are an important factor for ranking in search results. When websites use unnatural or manipulative methods to acquire backlinks, it can result in a penalty. This includes buying links, participating in link schemes, excessive link exchanges, and spammy links.
  • Keyword stuffing. This is the practice of overloading a website’s content with keywords to manipulate search engine rankings. This results in low-quality and spammy content, which Google’s algorithms can easily detect.
  • Duplicate content. Publishing identical or very similar content on multiple pages or websites can result in a duplicate content penalty. This can happen unintentionally, for example, if a website has multiple versions of the same web page with different URLs.
  • Cloaking. This is a black hat technique where a website shows different content to search engines than what is shown to users. This can include hiding text or links, using hidden keywords, or serving different HTML to search engine bots.
  • Auto-generated or scraped spam content. Some websites use automated programs to generate low-quality and spammy content, or they scrape content from other websites without permission.
  • Thin or low-quality content. Google values high-quality and relevant content. Websites with thin, shallow, or low-quality content may be penalised for not providing value to users.
  • Hacked website. If a website is hacked and used for malicious purposes, Google may penalise it to protect its users from potential harm.

Types of Google Penalties

If you’ve noticed a sudden drop in your website’s search traffic or rankings, it could be a sign of a Google search penalty. Before you can start the process of Google penalty recovery, you need to know what type of penalty your website has received. There are two main types of Google penalties: manual and algorithmic penalties. Here’s how they work:

Google Manual Penalty

A manual penalty is when your website has been manually reviewed by a Google employee and deemed to be violating their quality guidelines. This could result from a spam report from another website or an internal review by Google’s webspam team.

Manual penalties can target specific pages or sections of a website, or they can affect the entire website. Google will usually notify you of a manual penalty through Google Search Console, and it will also provide details on what actions you need to take to fix the issue.

Manual penalties are very rare compared to an algorithmic penalty relating to SEO, but they do still happen. Here is a full list of manual actions that Google can apply against a website.

How To Recognise a Manual Penalty

The first sign of any type of penalty is usually a drop in organic traffic. It’s quite easy to find out if this is because of a manual penalty by looking at the “Manual Actions” section in Google Search Console.

Here’s how to check:

  1. Log in to your Google Search Console account.
  1. Click on “Security and Manual Actions”.
  1. If there are any manual actions against your website, you will see them listed here with details on what needs to be fixed.
  1. If there are no manual actions listed, then your website is not currently under a manual penalty.
  1. If you expand the manual action description pane, Google will provide a brief description of the issue, the affected pages, and how to begin the process of Google penalty recovery.

How to Fix a Google Manual Penalty

If your website has been hit with a manual penalty, it’s important to act quickly and rectify the issue. Here are some general steps you can take to fix a manual penalty:

  1. Understand the root cause of the penalty. Read Google’s description of the manual action and assess which aspect of your website does not comply with their guidelines.
  1. Fix the issue. If the manual action is related to user-generated spam, you’ll need to remove the offending content or block users from creating spammy content. If it’s an issue with unnatural links, you’ll need to identify and remove those links.
  1. Document your efforts. Keep a record of all the changes you make and any communication with Google. This will help you in case you need to appeal the penalty.
  1. Submit a reconsideration request. Once you have fixed the issue, submit a reconsideration request through Google Search Console. Be sure to provide details of the steps you have taken to fix the problem.
  1. Be patient. It may take some time for Google to review your website and lift the manual penalty. In the meantime, continue to make improvements and follow Google’s guidelines.

Google Algorithm Penalty

This type of Google search penalty is far more common, and unfortunately, it’s also more challenging to diagnose. Google regularly updates its algorithms to improve search results, and if your website is not in compliance with these changes, it may experience a drop in your search engine ranking or traffic.

In 2023 alone, there have been nine updates so far. In 2022, there were ten updates. Every time Google changes its algorithm, there is a risk that your website might experience a penalty. Google algorithm penalties relating to SEO are handed out automatically, and you won’t be made aware of them unless you see a significant drop in search engine rankings and organic traffic. This is why it’s essential to keep a regular eye on your search traffic and overall website performance.

How to Recognise a Google Algorithm Penalty

Unlike manual penalties, you won’t receive any notification or explanation from Google if you have been hit by an algorithm penalty. This makes it much harder to diagnose and fix the issue. However, some signs can help you identify if an algorithm penalty has hit your website:

  • A sudden drop in rankings. If your website experiences a sudden drop in rankings for multiple keywords, it could be a sign of an algorithm penalty.
  • Decrease in organic traffic. A decrease in organic traffic is another tell-tale sign of an algorithm penalty. If your website’s traffic has significantly decreased, it’s worth investigating further.
  • Loss of featured snippets or rich snippets. If your website previously had featured snippets or rich snippets and they suddenly disappeared, it could be a sign of an algorithm penalty.
  • Changes in Google Analytics data. Check for sudden changes in your website’s Google Analytics data, such as a drop in referral traffic or an increase in bounce rate.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to take immediate action to address the issue before it affects your website’s rankings and traffic even more.

How to Fix a Google Algorithm Penalty

Since you won’t have any specific information about the algorithm penalty, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for fixing it. However, if you suspect the algorithm is punishing you for one reason or another, it’s not the end. There are some steps you can take to try and recover from an algorithm penalty:

1. Try to Identify the Type of Penalty

This is the hard part. With Google’s algorithm updates becoming more sophisticated, it can be challenging to pinpoint the exact cause of a penalty. If you suspect you have received a penalty, always start by checking if you have received any manual penalties in Google Search Console. 

Once you have ruled that out, you can then try to figure out if the problem is related to an algorithm penalty. It’s helpful to identify the moment when the traffic decreased and see if it correlated with a specific algorithm update. If so, then you can investigate the nature of the update and see if anything might be relevant to your website. You can read detailed descriptions of each update on the Google Search Status Dashboard.

2. Perform an SEO Audit

Whether you think you’ve received a Google algorithm penalty or not, an SEO audit is a good idea. You can hire a professional to conduct the audit for you, or if you have experience with SEO, you can do it yourself. The goal of an SEO audit is to identify any technical issues or violations that may be affecting your website’s performance and rankings. This usually involves:

  • Checking for duplicate content
  • Ensuring proper use of canonical tags
  • Finding and fixing broken links
  • Reviewing website structure and navigation
  • Verifying backlinks and anchor text usage

Addressing any technical issues and making sure your website follows best practices can help you recover from an algorithm penalty.

3. Remove Low-Quality Content

Sometimes, Google penalises websites for having thin, duplicate, irrelevant, or low-quality content. If you find that your website has pages with little to no content or content copied from other sources, it’s essential to remove these pages or improve the quality of the content. This will not only help you recover from a penalty if you have one but also enhance your website’s overall performance and rankings.

Recent Google Algorithm Updates

If you’re worried that your website may have been impacted by a Google algorithm update, it’s important to stay informed about the latest updates and changes. Here are some recent notable updates that have affected search rankings since the beginning of 2023 (in reverse chronological order):

November 2023 Core Update

  • Objective. This update is part of Google’s ongoing efforts to improve the relevance and quality of search results. The update may result in noticeable shifts in website rankings as Google’s algorithms reassess websites.
  • Impact. Ranking volatility is expected, but fluctuations do not necessarily indicate fundamental SEO issues with affected websites. Remember that drops may occur simply because other sites are deemed more relevant.
  • Announcement Date. November 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. Expected to take about two weeks.

October 2023 Core Update

  • Objective. This update, the third core update of the year, aims to enhance the quality of search results and demote low-quality websites.
  • Impact. Considerable ranking fluctuations should be expected, especially with the overlap with the spam update. Sites that experience adverse effects have been advised to focus on content improvements before the next core update.
  • Announcement Date. October 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. October 5, 2023 – October 19, 2023.

October 2023 Spam Detection Update

  • Objective. The update gives Google’s spam detection capabilities a boost across multiple languages, addressing quality gaps and improving English language results.
  • Impact. If it works as intended, it will reduce various types of spam, including cloaking, doorways, hacked content, hidden text and links, keyword stuffing, link spam, and more.
  • Announcement Date. October 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. Completed on October 20, 2023.

Google’s September 2023 Helpful Content Update

  • Objective. This update is meant to prioritise genuinely helpful and informative content, targeting content that is created primarily for search engines rather than for usefulness. This is supposed to punish unoriginal, low-quality content that doesn’t secure high rankings in Search.
  • Impact. It has led to a significant shift in rankings, especially for content-heavy sites. Sites with low-quality or unoriginal content may see a decline.
  • Announcement Date. September 14, 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. Approximately two weeks. Completed on September 28, 2023.

Google Update to Language Matching Systems

  • Objective. This update was designed to improve how Google Search matches languages to deliver more relevant pages in search results. It improves multilingual search experiences.
  • Impact. It might increase the discoverability and relevance of non-English websites on Google for searches in specific languages.
  • Announcement Date. Officially announced two weeks post-launch around late August.
  • Rollout Duration. Not specified, but implied as a gradual and ongoing improvement.

August 2023 Broad Core Update

  • Objective. This was Google’s second core update of the year, aimed at improving the relevance and quality of search results.
  • Impact. It was expected to trigger substantial SERP ranking fluctuations. But remember that drops in rankings do not necessarily indicate issues with the website but may reflect Google’s reassessment of more valuable pages.
  • Announcement Date. August 22, 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. 16 days, completed on September 7, 2023.

April 2023 Reviews Update

  • Objective. This update was aimed at helping Google to recognise and reward in-depth, research-rich reviews over superficial content that summarises products, services, or other entities.
  • Impact. It targeted a broad range of reviews. In addition to products, this also included services, destinations, games, movies, and more.
  • Announcement Date. April 12, 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. April 12, 2023 – April 25, 2023 (13 days).

March 2023 Core Update

  • Objective. This March 2023 update aimed to enhance Google’s ability to identify high-quality content, helping to refine user search results.
  • Impact. This update led to “Very High” SERP volatility, causing significant fluctuations in search rankings, with more pronounced effects observed in mobile rankings. This suggests that it had an emphasis on optimizing content for both desktop and mobile.
  • Announcement Date. March 15, 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. March 15, 2023 – March 28, 2023 (13 days). 

February 2023 Product Reviews Update

  • Objective. This update sought to promote comprehensive, high-quality product reviews, and reward sites that offer depth and valuable insights.
  • Impact. SERP volatility peaked in the “Very High” range, which means there were considerable ranking changes for affected sites.
  • Announcement Date. February 21, 2023.
  • Rollout Duration. February 21, 2023 – March 7, 2023 (14 days).

5 Reasons Your Site Hasn’t Recovered from a Penalty

Sometimes, you try your best to follow Google’s guidelines and provide high-quality content, but your site still gets penalised. Here are five reasons why your site may be yet to have a successful Google penalty recovery:

1. Google’s Hasn’t Noticed The Changes Yet

Google’s algorithms constantly evolve and refresh, meaning it may take some time for your site to be re-evaluated and regain its rankings. During this time, continue following best practices and improving your site’s content quality. You might have to be patient, as it can take a while for a penalty to be lifted.

2. Your Website Still Contains Poor Links

If you haven’t done any shady SEO techniques in the past, then it’s unlikely you have anything to worry about. However, it is rare but possible that someone else may have purchased backlinks for your site to deliberately harm your rankings and get you in trouble with one of Google’s black hat SEO penalties. In the Google Search Console, you can find all the websites linking to your website under the “search traffic” tab and by selecting “Links to your site”. You can then download a file containing all these links and determine if they are low-quality or spammy. You can use tools like Monitor Backlinks to upload your link file and filter through the links to find ones that might be harming your SEO.

Here’s how you can remove bad links:

  • The first thing you can try is contacting the webmaster of the site with the bad link and requesting for it to be removed. To do this, you’ll need the email address of the webmaster. Most websites have contact forms or a contact page where you can get in touch with the company that runs the site. If you can’t find this anywhere, then you can use to find the email address linked to the domain.
  • You can also use Google’s Disavow Links tool to remove any bad links from your website. This effectively tells Google to ignore the shady links pointing to your website. But do this with caution! Accidentally removing good links can also harm your rankings.
  • You can also use tools like Ahrefs or Semrush to handle the entire process of identifying and removing bad links. Both these tools are paid, but they are extremely useful for SEO purposes.

Note that it will take around four weeks to see any effects of removing bad links – so be patient and keep monitoring your rankings.

3. More Than One Issue Is Impacting Your Site

You may think you’ve fixed the issue that caused your penalty, but there could be other underlying issues affecting your site’s Google penalty recovery. For example, you might have solved a manual penalty, but a previous algorithm update could still negatively impact your site. In this case, it’s important to analyse your site and its content thoroughly. This is where a full SEO audit is your best option. You’ll need to identify all potential issues and fix them accordingly.

4. Your Content Is Still Poor Quality

Content quality has a significant impact on SEO, and it’s not always immediately apparent what counts as “poor quality” content. After Google’s Panda update in 2011, low-quality content became a major SEO concern. But how does Google determine if something is low quality? They have published the following list of questions that can help during the process of Google penalty recovery:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognised authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don’t get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health-related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognise this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopaedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

5. You Still Have a Poor Link Profile

Even if you’ve removed any bad backlinks, you can still be penalised if you lack quality backlinks. Search engines consider the number and quality of websites linking to your page as a measure of its credibility and authority. This means that if you have few or low-quality backlinks, search engines may perceive your site as less trustworthy and rank it lower in their results.

To improve your link profile, focus on creating high-quality content that other websites will naturally want to link to. This can include guest blogging on reputable sites, creating informative and shareable infographics, or collaborating with other businesses and influencers in your industry.

How Long Does It Take to Remove Google Penalty?

Penalty recovery timelines can vary greatly depending on the type. If you have corrected a manual Google penalty and sent a reconsideration request, it will usually take between 2 to 4 weeks before a human reviewer will get around to reviewing your site and possibly lifting the penalty. But even after they review your site, it may take several months for your rankings to improve.

For algorithmic SEO penalties, there is no reconsideration request procedure. You will need to make the necessary changes and wait for the next algorithm to pick up on these changes to see any improvements in your rankings. This could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Meanwhile, you can keep creating high-quality content and building quality backlinks to improve your SEO.

It is important to note that reversing a Google penalty may not guarantee an immediate return to your previous rankings. It will take time and effort to regain your lost credibility and authority with both search engines and possibly users too.

How Can You Protect Yourself from Google Penalties?

The best way to protect yourself from Google penalties is to follow Google’s webmaster guidelines and keep creating high-quality, relevant content. There are a few more steps you can take to ensure that your website stays in Google’s good graces.

  1. Regularly monitor your site for potential issues or penalties using tools like Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
  1. Stay updated on any algorithm changes and adjust your SEO strategy accordingly.
  1. Focus on building natural, high-quality backlinks from reputable sources.
  1. Use proper canonicalisation techniques to avoid duplicate content penalty issues.
  1. Avoid any black hat SEO tactics such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, or participating in link schemes.
  1. Keep your website’s user experience in mind and ensure it is easy to navigate and offers valuable information to visitors.
  1. Regularly audit your website for any technical errors, broken links, or other issues that could negatively impact your SEO performance.
  1. Get involved with the SEO community and follow social media profiles like Google SearchLiason on X to keep up to date with any changes or announcements from Google.
  1. Consider seeking professional SEO services if you are unsure how to optimise your website for search engines properly.
  1. Stay consistent and patient with your SEO efforts, as organic search traffic takes time to build and maintain.

Get Expert Google Penalty Recovery Services

While Google penalties can be a scary notion for website owners, it’s not something to fear if you follow best practices and stay up to date on any changes or guidelines from search engines. Even if you do run into an issue, there are steps you can take to rectify the problem.

The key is to focus on creating a great website – one that is user-friendly and full of useful and well-written information. If you focus on these core principles, your SEO strategy will naturally fall into place and help your website rank well.

In the unfortunate event that a Google search penalty has struck your site, our experts can help to get your ranking and search traffic back on track. Get in touch with PWD today to learn more about how we can help.