If you have noticed a sudden drop in your website traffic or do not seem to see yourself in Google search results often, then your site may have been slapped with a Google penalty.

While these penalties are not usually brand-destroying, they have an undeniable impact on your performance and visibility. This means that it is often important to know if (and why) you have a Google penalty to deal with.

What is a Google Penalty?

When your site is penalized by Google, it is either partially or fully removed from the Google index.

Any parts of the site that are no longer indexed are effectively ignored by Google’s ranking algorithm, meaning that they have no SEO impact and are not usually visible in search results.

Not only does this drop the rankings of the site as a whole, but it can also prevent specific pages from appearing, even if they are relevant.

In general, this creates situations where a site will suddenly experience lost traffic since users can no longer find certain parts of the website. This also damages a site’s ranking position, which can make it harder for the site to rank high for the right terms in the first place.

Types of Penalties

There are two main types of penalties: manual and automatic (or algorithmic).

Manual Penalty

A manual penalty is applied by a member of the Google team and is usually done in response to something major, such as a site-wide issue or something that impacts the majority of pages on your site.

While this does not actually change anything about the penalty itself, you often get specific warnings about what the problem is, along with a list of corrections that you can use to fix the issue.

Once corrected, you can send a reconsideration request to Google. This will prompt them to take another look at your site, with them usually removing the penalty if all of the stated issues are fixed.

Algorithmic Penalty

Algorithmic penalties are not sent to Google Search Console and do not have the reconsideration request option.

These often happen when Google makes a change to their ranking algorithms that identifies a major and long-standing issue with your site.

These can still be identified and resolved, but the lack of Google Search Console messaging forces you to use your gathered data as a way of identifying the issue.

What Happens After a Penalty?

Once you get penalized by Google, your site will start to lose some or all of its traffic. You will also lose Google’s trust, which usually means that your SEO efforts will get weaker in general (even if only a few web pages were actually penalized).

Google prefers high-quality sites full of high-quality content, so any deviation from their standards (such as certain pages being part of spammy link schemes or a site creating a large flood of unrelated and thin content) can sometimes get at least part of your site penalized.

While penalties are not permanent, they are also not entirely temporary. If you get penalized by Google and lose your rankings for a while, reversing the penalized issue does not guarantee that you will regain your rankings.

In general, at least for a while after receiving and responding to the penalty, it will become harder to rank at the same level that your site used to reach. This is because penalties do some substantial damage to the trust that Google has in your site.

When is a Google Penalty Applied?

Google penalties are essentially the SEO equivalent of suspensions or red flags. These are handed out to moderate the actions of different sites and as a warning to stop using questionable ranking-boosting methods or black hat SEO options.

Google will employ these penalties to deal with any sites that violate its guidelines, even if those violations are technically very small ones.

For example, building excessive link schemes of spam links or making obvious attempts to pay for extremely valuable but irrelevant links will usually get you penalized.

These penalties are not permanent, but they can last a long time.

The more severe the reason was for the penalty, the longer these generally last, and penalties for serious violations may even require you to approach Google to ask for approval first.

In simple terms, these penalties are used to remove sites from the search algorithm if they are a bad fit or are using questionable techniques.

Google prefers to serve authentic and useful content to its users, so sites full of low-quality content and rules violations are usually dealt with quickly.

How Long Do Penalties Last?

A Google penalty lasts different lengths of time depending on its type and the situation that caused it in the first place.

A manual penalty remains in effect until you fix the issue and submit a reconsideration request that passes successfully or until it expires.

Algorithmic penalties require a fast response and will usually persist until the next update to the algorithm, which means that you can’t always guarantee a quick recovery.

It is also important to note that penalties “expiring” does not necessarily mean that it is resolved.

When a penalty expires in Google Search Console, it simply means that it will no longer show in the webmaster tools. However, the next Google update may simply re-apply the penalty if the issue is not fixed.

In either case, penalties effectively last indefinitely if nothing is done about them. Manual penalties can be fixed faster, whereas algorithm-based penalties rely on a Google update to resolve the issue.

How to Tell If Your Website Has Algorithmic Penalties

While there are ways that you can act to deal with Google penalties once you notice them, it is not always an easy thing to identify.

People without much SEO experience might not even know what a Google penalty looks like, let alone how to check for one.

There are two main ways to identify if you have a penalty – looking at Google Search Console or using your recorded data about your site’s performance to pinpoint the moment when you suddenly lost search rankings or had a major drop in traffic.

For Manual Penalties – Log In to Google Search Console

If your site is not already set up with Google Search Console, then you should do that as fast as possible.

GSC is one of the best ways for webmasters to engage with Google and receive updates about the performance of their sites, including details like manual penalties or warning signs of low-quality content.

From inside Google Search Console, you should have access to the Security and Manual Actions menu.

Within the Manual Actions sub-menu, you can check the manual penalty actions placed upon you and the finer details behind them.

For Algorithmic Penalties – Log In to Google Analytics

If your website was penalized automatically, then you can’t use Google Search Console in the same way to get an easy breakdown.

Instead, you will need to head to Google Analytics and start comparing data.

Since these penalties are applied based on Google updates (such as the Google Panda Update in Feb 2011, which targeted content farms), all you need to do is compare traffic numbers before and after any recent updates.

If your traffic dropped right after major search engine algorithm updates and never recovered, then those pages (or your entire site) might have been penalized by Google algorithms.

It is not hard to find the dates of recent algorithm updates, so be sure to look them up if you are not entirely certain about when they happened.

A single major Google update could technically release at any time and slap your site with a penalty, so make sure you know when the most recent updates happened.

What Can Cause a Google Penalty?

There are actually quite a lot of different reasons that you might be penalized by Google.

While some of these are obvious (especially the manual penalty types, which are explained to users in Google Search Console), there are also some more obscure reasons for why you might be algorithm-penalized.

It is obviously important to minimize penalties as often as you can, and that means that it helps to understand why Google penalties are applied.

Sometimes, it only takes one mistake for your site to suddenly have weakened rankings, so being able to pre-emptively avoid penalties makes a huge difference.

On-Site Spam

If your site is filled with spam that you intentionally created, then Google is not going to be very pleased.

This usually leads to major penalties since your site is effectively considered a spam site and usually has most of its ranking potential stripped away.

Whether it is your entire site or just some pages, Google does not appreciate spam sites since they are an active detriment to its goals to provide users with useful and relevant content.

This can also make the penalties for spam very harsh compared to other penalty types since spam content is considered to be a major breach of Google’s expectations.

If your site is built around spam content or uses it as a core SEO tool, then this is something you need to change immediately.

While spam can be effective for both SEO purposes and drawing in organic traffic, this only happens until Google notices the spam and makes your rankings crumble out from underneath you.

Duplicate Content

Duplicate content is already something that many SEO services aim to eliminate, but it can land you with penalties if you are not careful.

Content copied wholesale from another site damages your rankings, but it can also cause you to be removed from search engine results almost entirely if it keeps happening.

Again, Google only wants to give organic traffic to a web page that has some value behind it.

A site that copies other websites is not creating anything of its own, so Google is not willing to give them the same platform as the site that they copied from.

Removing duplicate content – or at least adding enough original content to make it an original piece – is important if you want to rank higher on search engines.

The more unique content you can offer, the higher your rankings will be, which is naturally a huge boost to your performance overall.

User-Generated Spam Content

If there is spammy content on your site – even if you did not create it – then Google may apply manual penalties. This can include user-generated content, forum posts, or anything that is very obviously spam.

Usually, it takes a lot of comments and posts from other users for these penalties to apply since they are not from the site owners themselves.

While these might not necessarily be the fault of the site owner, they still have an impact on SEO.

Site managers are expected to remove spam and other questionable content placed on their site, and failure to do so can have Google bots penalize those pages to ensure that the spam does not end up in search results.

Purging spam content off your site is the best way to get around this issue, as well as boosting your rankings overall due to the lack of bad content dragging you down.

Search platforms rank sites based on their overall quality, so removing spam allows the site’s good points to push you higher in the rankings.

Taking steps to prevent future spam posts is also a good idea, especially if your site has a forum or open comment system that allows anybody to post content on your platform.

This is even more important if you have a profile system or anything else that would allow longer-form content to be shown to the public.

Keyword Stuffing

Keyword stuffing – the process of filling a page with as many keywords as possible – is also considered to be worth penalizing.

This is another technique that violates Google’s standards since it means that a page is being pushed into ranking for as many things as possible instead of only relevant results.

Google prefers a quality over quantity approach, meaning that high-quality content that ranks for specific terms will always be better than content that ranks for a lot of different terms.

This is also usually because keyword stuffing relies on content covering a lot of topics at once, making it less focused overall.

This might draw in more organic traffic, but the content itself usually is not as good since it has been written with the intent of hitting a wide range of keywords.

Refining your web pages to target a specific set of keywords is usually the best idea.

Keyword stuffing rarely achieves anything that is not possible by simply making multiple pages all targeting different sets of similar keywords – something that is often more effective at attracting traffic as a whole, too.


While technically related to keyword manipulation, SEO as a whole also matters.

While bad SEO will simply not have you rank at all, black-hat SEO methods (like using irrelevant title tag text and anchor text to attract users or getting another site to sell links to you) can cause much more damage.

Anything that puts you in search queries that you are not supposed to be in or involves link building with external links and anchor text that are not even relevant to your business is bad news.

Even if you are using the best SEO tools on the market and trying to hide all of your black-hat options, search engines will eventually notice.

This usually means massive drops in search engine rankings alongside the penalties themselves.

Thin Content

Thin content, meaning content with no real value, is another element that might get penalized.

This mostly happens if your content is shallow, such as using auto-generated AI content that does not have an actual purpose or user-generated content that does not offer site readers anything helpful.

As a whole, low-quality site content is against what Google wants its search platform to be.

Most search engines will naturally make low-quality site content rank lower, but a site that is mostly thin content will usually get penalties due to its lower quality overall.

This can be resolved by creating better-quality content for your site and making an effort to improve your entire website overall, page by page.

Google wants content with “meat,” meaning content that gives users a reason to visit and engage with it on at least one meaningful level.

Creating blog post after blog post of empty AI-generated text is going to attract a few website visitors, but search engines will not like it.

It is much easier to create less frequent but higher-quality blog posts that can gain attention and get organic links sent to them from other sites.

Unnatural Incoming Links

Unnatural links pointed at your site – and especially larger-scope unnatural linking patterns – are another major target for Google bots.

Excessive link schemes or massive amounts of clearly-bought links are usually grounds to have your site penalized.

As you might expect, Google prefers relevant and high-quality link profiles that have been earned organically.

If you have a lot of incoming links from irrelevant sites (especially ones that have all been earned at the same time, indicating a pattern or scheme), you can expect a penalty in the future.

This is especially true for sites where the irrelevant content is mostly coming from spam sites or other low-quality sources.

Even if it was not something that you arranged as an SEO measure, a disproportionate amount of strange links often tells Google that something about your site is attracting them, wanted or not.

Disavowing these links using Google’s provided tools is the easiest way to clear out links that you no longer want.

This prevents them from impacting your SEO at all, which is perfect for links that are actively harming your site and not giving you any SEO benefits in return.

Unnatural Outgoing Links

Having unnatural links pointing away from your site as outbound links can also be a reason to get penalized.

This mostly happens if Google suspects that you are offering paid links or are part of a spam network.

Make sure to read the Google webmaster guidelines on links and how they should be used.

If you genuinely just have too many links to sites for legitimate reasons, consider adding the [rel=”nofollow”] tag to the ones that are negatively impacting your page rank the most.

You can also use the robots.txt file to change how Google bots crawl your site, meaning that you can tell them to avoid crawling links that do not have anything to do with your SEO.


Cloaked keywords, images, and text are surface-level tricks often used to fool search engine bots.

This basically means that you are showing users a different site from the bots: users get a site designed to appeal to them, while the bots reading the hidden parts of the site get a highly optimized SEO-focused site that is meant to boost rankings as high as possible.

This can be done in a few ways, such as playing with the code or outright redirecting real users to a different site while crawlers scan the fake one.

However, once Google detects this, they often slam harsh penalties down on the guilty sites – even if the cloaking was technically done accidentally.

The simple solution to this is to not cloak anything.

While this might have happened by accident with certain site designs, Google does not like it when sites are split between a search engine optimization tool and a user space – high-ranking sites are designed to be both equally well.

Avoiding Google Penalties (and Penalties from Other Search Engines)

Nobody wants to have their site penalized by Google, and that means that avoiding a Google penalty is an important part of seeing success on the search engine.

One of the biggest reasons that sites get penalized is due to the webmasters wanting to take shortcuts or simplify things.

This can result in mistakes that Google crawlers interpret as spam attempts or even genuine usage of black-hat and gray-hat methods that Google naturally does not like.

If you want to avoid Google penalties, you basically have to play by the rules and build a site that actually holds value for users.

The closer you skirt to pushing past Google’s guidelines, the more likely you are to suddenly get hit by a penalty that you could have avoided.

In general, Google penalties are mostly handled through common sense.

If you do something that compromises your site’s quality or usefulness, then Google will take it badly, whereas doing things within Google’s webmaster guidelines will keep you in the clear.

Creating Good Content

The better the content on your site is, the higher you will rank – but this also means that you are far less likely to get penalized overall since there is less of a reason to penalize your site.

As a general rule of thumb, sites are at far less risk of penalties if they offer good content and make themselves worthwhile to readers, no matter what their subject matter is.

The better your content is, the further you are from the edge of Google’s webmaster guidelines, which means that small mistakes do not lead to penalties.

Keeping your website on the very edge of what Google considers acceptable (such as creating the bare minimum quality content to stay afloat) only means that you are much more likely to suffer from algorithm changes.

Managing User Content

User-generated content can have a big impact on your site’s rankings and overall quality, too. For example, a free hosting service may see its SEO suffer if it is being used to create a huge amount of spam sites with no consequences.

If your website allows user-generated content of any kind, then it is important to monitor such pages and content to eliminate any risky elements.

This might not be content that you created yourself, but search engines see it that way – any content on a website is the responsibility of the website owner.

Website owners need to regulate what gets posted on their site and eliminate anything that could be seen as spam, especially if it begins to interfere with search traffic and risks a Google penalty.

Varying Links

Make sure that you are keeping your backlink profile varied and free of as many low-quality links as possible.

Your link profile is the core of your SEO, so you do not want to be filling it with links that can damage your rankings and slash your ability to get organic search traffic.

Kick out spam links, remove low-quality backlinks that are not offering you anything, and make sure that you are not working with any businesses that are selling links that Google might notice.

Link buying is a very risky move, especially if you are link building with relevant anchor text on unrelated sites.

If Google detects strange patterns or behavior in your linking habits, you might get hit with a Google penalty before you even realize that they have noticed.

Keeping everything varied and above board is always the best option.

Using White-Hat Methods

Even if you manage to sidestep the threat of a Google penalty by tricking Google itself, any user on the internet can file a Webspam report against you or report your site for not following Google guidelines.

This usually means that a Google penalty is already on the way, and you will not usually have time to adjust the site before the report goes through.

If you are using any black-hat methods that go against the webmaster guidelines, then you can almost certainly expect penalties.

When you are ranking on a search engine, you have to play by their rules. Always follow these guidelines – fair or not, they are the restrictions that you are placed under while ranking your site on their platform.

To Recap

A lot of this can be a very confusing process that requires a solid understanding of the guidelines you need to follow, as well as a good level of experience with digital marketing and the various systems behind it.

However, these penalties actually are not that hard to understand if you break them down into something simpler – which is exactly what we have done here for you.

Avoid Getting Penalties

Ideally, you never want to have to use a Google penalty checker in the first place.

If you end up needing Google penalty checker tools, then you are already past the point where you can prevent the penalty – but if there is nothing in your Google penalty checker tools and no obvious sign of performance drops, then you still have time to avoid future issues.

Make sure you understand the guidelines and their stance on anything your business is currently doing, from developing sites for mobile users to building quality backlinks.

Sticking to the rules makes it nigh impossible to get a penalty unless something major changes with the algorithm overnight.

Different sites will have to tackle different issues. For example, spammy free host content would require the hosting site to eliminate spam content on their platform, whereas spam backlinks in your link profile would need you to dive in and sort out any links that are not relevant.

Try to pre-emptively avoid anything that could trigger a penalty, and never assume that you “got away” with something just because the penalty does not hit for a few updates.

Google will eventually notice these things as they refine their algorithms, and these changes could hit you at any moment without warning.

Resolve Penalties If You Get Them

Always look into the Google penalty checker tools if you suspect a penalty.

Google Analytics is one of the ideal Google penalty checker tools available, since you can identify the exact moment that the penalty damaged your rankings and digital marketing.

If a Google penalty leads to serious drop-offs in your rankings, then you can use these Google penalty checker tools to identify what happened and how you can fix it.

Even algorithm penalties, like those caused by the Penguin Update, are not exempt from this.

They might not tell you the step-by-step solutions like a manual penalty, but you can still use these Google penalty checker tools to figure out when it happened and expand your investigation from there.

If your site has any kind of penalty, then you need to take the required steps to fix it as soon as possible and then request a review or wait for the next update.

Remember: having any kind of penalty on your site can mean a semi-permanent change to your rankings, which will not necessarily go away right after you fix the issue.

The more effort you make to avoid these issues in the first place, the better your marketing will be overall.