How To Tell If Google Has Penalized Your Site (and What You Can Do About It)

Tips on how to correct your website after a Google penalty

Is your Google Analytics dashboard flashing red with warnings? Is your e-commerce site suddenly converting at a much lower rate than it used to? If you’ve spent more than 30 minutes in a Google penalty prison, you’ll already know how painful this can be.

Has your website been penalized?

Don’t panic.

An algorithm or manual action hasn’t hit you yet, but it’s good to know so you can fix the problem and never fall into that trap again. Fortunately, we have some tips to help you identify the source of your penalty and help you fix the problem swiftly.

Google’s search engine is incredibly complex and nuanced — and it gets more so every day. While Google does have human reviewers, they aren’t able to stay on top of everything. As such, they depend on algorithms to support their efforts and identify which sites should be penalized. Algorithms are always web-crawling, and the search engine is continuously refining and improving them (just like the process of technical SEO).

When your site’s quality is poor, Google might manually flag your site and issue a manual action. This action can range from making a small modification to your site to showing a warning message when someone searches for your business—or even removing you from Google’s search engine results entirely (the worst-case scenario).

What is a Google penalty (actions vs. filters)?

Manual actions are Google’s way of taking action against websites they deem spammy, unnatural or manipulating Google’s results. If you see a penalty, don’t panic—while the penalties are real and significant, a penalty isn’t always permanent. There are ways to get your website back into shape and return to normal traffic levels.

Check the “Security” and “Manual Actions” tabs in your Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) account to see if you have any manual web security actions.

Types of manual actions

When Google issues manual penalties, it’s not just a slap on the wrist. It’s a severe punishment that hurts your entire website, regardless of what directory or page it issued the penalty against.

There are 2 types of manual actions: sitewide and partial. A sitewide manual action will penalize your entire site, no matter which page you’re on. Partial manual action targets specific parts of your website, like individual pages and sub-folders.

Google update filters

Algorithmic filters are part of the search engine ranking algorithm. They’re automatic rules that identify websites with low-quality content and stop them from showing up in SERPs. Even if you take action to move up in the rankings, these filters will limit what people can see of your site until you stop triggering them.

The best way to find out if an algorithm update is restricting you is to ask Google. You can do this via the Google Webmaster Help Forum. While Google Search Console won’t tell you if an update has impacted your site, you can use a website penalty checker to see if there’s any correlation between a drop in organic traffic and a known update.

Some of the most common causes for manual actions include:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Link farms, private blog networks or spammy links
  • Poor content
  • Not mobile-friendly
  • Automated content
  • Thin content/duplicate content
  • Over-optimization (page level or anchor text level)
  • Manipulative redirects
  • Over-optimizing metadata (title, description, alt tags)


How to prevent or correct a Google penalty

Google’s priorities shift from time to time, and webmasters are always scrambling to comply with the new trends. However, it’s not enough to update your site once or twice a year. You need to make sure that you update your website at least monthly, if not weekly. Only then can you prevent Google from dropping your site like a rock and sending it into a downward spiral of lost traffic.

Before you start driving neck-deep into the dark art of Google Search Console query analysis after getting hit with a penalty hammer, try these things first:

1. Check your backlinks

Bad links can be majorly problematic for your website, leading to possible manual penalties and diluted link value. When your website gets a manual penalty or de-indexed from Google, it means that the algorithm caught you buying links or participating in a link scheme.

To keep track of problematic backlinks, you need to run a full backlink analysis. You will then know which sites are linking to you and what anchor text they’re using, so you can identify bad links before they cause problems for your site.

2. Check your content

A thin content penalty is an algorithmic filter that blocks out sites that provide little to no value to users. It looks out for low-quality content created for the sole purpose of fooling search engines into boosting their rank.

One of the best ways to avoid a thin content penalty is to focus on creating authentic, human-friendly content that really solves problems.

Search engines are a fickle beast. Google can change its algorithm at any time, and the results can devastate a business’s rankings. Make sure it doesn’t catch you off-guard if Google decides to take you down. Start taking preventive measures now by monitoring your site closely by navigating to Search Analytics to review the last several months of data and see if there are any sudden drops in impressions or clicks.

Need help with managing your website and search engine rankings? Our team at Brown Bag Marketing is here to save the day!