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When we think of a Google penalty, we like to liken it to what happens when you go against Ads guidelines. Your ad account gets banned, and you lose the freedom to advertise on that platform.
Google penalty works in a similar way. It's a punishment issued by Google for violating their webmaster guidelines. If a Google penalty hits you, its root cause is often down to black-hat SEO tactics used to exploit loopholes in their search system.
Such tactics could see you unethically improve your web page or website traffic. But when Google finds out, they penalize you by de-ranking or removing your pages from search results.
When this happens, you see a sudden drop in traffic, which results in lost traffic, leads and customers. Fortunately, Getting a Google penalty on your Programmatic SEO site isn’t the end of the road.
Google penalties can be removed by following the guidelines in this guide. If you do as we say, there's a 70% chance of removing the penalty and recovering your site.
Before we jump into the Google penalty removal process, it's important to know the kind of penalty you got and what triggered it in the first place.
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There are two types of Google penalties:
However, the one most common to programmatic SEO sites is manual penalty.
What’s a manual penalty?
Programmatic SEO sites get hit with this penalty after a human employee at Google reviews your page and finds you guilty of violating the Webmaster guidelines.
Google can issue a manual action to the entire site or one URL on your site. Usually, the most common causes of manual penalty for programmatic SEO sites are:
And aside the details we covered here, we’ve written a comprehensive guide titled:
That dives deep on how to solve these issues and many more your pSEO site might face.
How do You Spot a Manual Penalty?
Just know that when you receive a manual action, it will be visible under your Google search console dashboard's "Security and manual action" session.
Follow this path to get there: Google search console > Security and manual actions > Manual actions.
If you’re guilty of a manual penalty, you will get a message that looks like this:
Or something like this, if you're clear;
Usually, every manual action message is followed by information on the “Why” and “How” it happened.
The “Why” tells you the reason for the penalty, and the “How” shows you how to fix the issue.
The good thing about a manual penalty is that you can appeal, and we will tell you more about that shortly.
One thing to note is that a penalty isn’t the only issues programmatic SEO sites face.
We’ve written a guide that covers all the possible problems you might run into when implementing programmatic SEO on your website.
An algorithmic penalty is more subtle than a manual penalty. It happens when Google makes an algorithm update. And you’re penalized by Google for failing to adhere to the guidelines of the new algorithm.
Unlike manual penalties, you don’t get a message from Google for an algorithmic penalty.
The only way to know that your site has been affected by an algo update is if there’s a mass effect on other websites in your niche.
For instance, when the helpful content update rolled out in December 2022, most site owners on LinkedIn and Twitter complained about a dip in search traffic and website ranking. While others took their complaints to Google's help center:
Since you can't tell where you went wrong with a known algorithmic update, our opinion is to optimize your page, your content, and your links to comply with Google’s algorithms.
You will know a Google penalty has hit you if you see a significant drop in traffic or page. However, losing your ranking position in SERPs doesn't always mean a penalty has hit you.
Google bots continuously search the web for the best content for each phrase. It's normal for a higher-quality page to displace yours.
But with a Google penalty, the situation is different. You could see your page go from page 1 to page 3 or 4 overnight. Or see it removed completely which results in a decline in search traffic.
When that happens, your content becomes a mere piece of writing rather than an asset that drives continuous leads and scores sales for your business.
Google hasn’t given a straight answer to that. But the general belief among SEOs and sites like Search engine journal, Neil Patel and Rock Content is that manual action will take 30 days to clear up.
While a penalty due to Google algorithm update will take longer and often span several months. The solution? Avoid a penalty as much as possible.
And you can only do so when you know the root cause in the first place. For us, this is the right way to recover from a Google penalty.
If you've got a Google penalty, chances are that you're guilty of one or more of the following:
If you implement Programmatic SEO on your site, you can unintentionally fall into the trap of doorway pages.
As the name suggests, doorway pages are an entrance to the main content that provides the information the user seeks.
In some way, it redirects the reader to the page that gives the value they seek.
Search engines hate these pages since they don't answer readers' questions directly. And because it's not matching search intent, searchers are likely to bounce off.
A good instance of a doorway page is if you have a page on “outdoor sneakers” in your eCommerce store ranking on the page of Google.
Now, this page drives 1,000 monthly visitors but you want to Increase the number.
So, you go ahead and create multiple pages that redirect to the “outdoor sneakers” pages in your eCommerce store.
The variations could be something like this:
And so on.
If none of those pages provide value or any original texts, but only aims to get readers to visit the the main page on “Outdoor sneakers”.
They’re considered “Doorway pages” by Google.
How to fix
Look through your pages and identify doorway pages. This guide from Search engine land gives a deep dive into doorway pages.
Once you fish them out, rewrite them to make them less redundant and valuable to the reader. Or better still, delete them.
Keyword stuffing is repeating certain words multiple times on a page. These "words" are usually keywords the website owner wants a page to rank for. A paragraph guilty of keyword stuffing could read like this:
"Programmatic SEO is a strategy for targeting keywords that are easy to rank for. With programmatic SEO, you can drive qualified leads. Another advantage of programmatic Seo is that…."
We get it; you want your page to rank for that keyword, but there are better ways to go about it than stuffing them into your content.
Not only does it lead to a poor reading experience, but it confuses search engines as well.
How to fix
A good way to fix keyword stuffing is to carry out a content audit on SurferSEO. It will tell you if your content is over-optimized or under-optimized for the keyword you’re targeting.
Unnatural links are backlinks gotten through unethical means. It includes the backlinks you bought from Freelancers on Fiverr, or earned from blog comment sessions.
Google wants you to earn backlinks organically and are smart enough to detect when a website owner cuts corners to earn them. Hence, during link building campaigns, it’s important to prioritize good backlinks over toxic ones.
How to fix
Avoid link building schemes and strategies that violate webmaster guidelines. If you already have toxic backlinks, do a Backlink detox.
Check your site's backlink health and identify toxic ones. Once identified, you should remove toxic backlinks with a disavow tool.
Thin content includes duplicate or automated content. Any content that doesn't provide value to the reader is considered "Thin Content".
You want to read our guide to quality pSEO content to discover the strategy for creating high-quality content that scores leads and Google's approval.
How to fix
Automated content can evade AI detection, provided they have a human vibe. If you create content with AI softwares, we recommend you do the following before publishing:
Now, you know what caused your penalty, so what next?
You need to launch a Google penalty recovery campaign, and here's how to do so.
The process we will cover here applies to both manual and algorithmic penalties. But it's more helpful in the case of manual action. It's so because, with a manual penalty, you can request a review by writing a letter explaining how you fixed the issue.
With an algorithmic penalty, it isn't so. Regardless, here's what you should do to guarantee a Google penalty removal.
If you notice a drop in targeted traffic and suspect a penalty to be the cause, the first step is to launch a technical SEO audit. A technical audit checks every corner of your site to fish out issues and hidden black-hat tactics.
When done right, your technical SEO process ought to check for the following:
How to Perform a Technical Audit
Performing a technical audit on pSEO sites with thousands of pages isn’t easy, and you might likely run into trouble.
The easiest way to run an audit is by using SEO software like Ahrefs and Semrush.
Ahref has a free site audit software that allows you to check technical issues on your site, while Semrush site audit is a premium feature that needs to be paid for.
Using Ahrefs free site audit, you can check for indexing and content-related issues. This allows you to identify issues hindering your site’s performance.
To carry out a technical audit with Ahrefs site audit tool, do this:
From the list of Google triggers outlined above, it's obvious that most causes of manual action are down to low-quality pages. During a content audit, you want to check for the following:
One of our favorite content auditing software is SurferSEO. Our content team uses the software to analyze:
And compares with the top-ranking pages for each keyword to measure our chances of ranking on the first page.
Backlink detox is checking all the links pointing to your site to remove the bad links. What makes a backlink toxic? Bad links often fall into one of these categories:
To clean up your link profile, you need to do three things:
In most cases, you have to combine two different tools to execute this process. Fortunately, we recently found a tool that combines all these processes in one: Web CEO.
Using Web CEO is the easiest way to eliminate toxic backlinks. All you need to do is enter your website URL, as we did below.
Then follow this path to view toxic backlinks lingering on your page: Insert site URL > Backlink profile > My backlinks > Toxic pages.
When we did that, Web CEO showed us that we had two toxic links pointing to our site (corrected now by the time you are readin this):
Next, we disavowed them by adding them to the disavow list. Web CEO's built-in disavow functionality will automatically help us to create, import, and export a disavow txt file to remove the link from your site.
Another option is to write an Email to the site owner the backlink is earned from. Most website owners might miss the Email, while others might ignore it. Going the Web CEO way is by far the easiest way to remove toxic backlinks from your site.
If you’ve done all the steps mentioned above, then you’re ready to submit a reconsideration form.
WARNING: Don't submit a reconsideration request without fixing the issues first.
To submit a reconsideration request, log in to your Google search console and go under "manual action."
Here’s a recap of how to get there: Google search console > Security and manual actions > Manual actions.
Underneath the message you got for manual action, you will find a button that says “Request review". Click on it and submit your reconsideration request. To be clear, your request should be in text form.
How do you write a convincing reconsideration request?
There's no one way of writing a reconsideration request. What matters most is the tone of voice. Remember, a real human will be reading your request; you want your writing to do these things:
If your request is accepted and the penalty revoked, you should get a message like this:
If otherwise, it should read like this:
You have to type in your reconsideration letter in the request field manually. No need to attach a pdf or word document. And it usually takes a while (Within a month of submitting) to get a response. Wait for as long as possible, and don't resubmit.
Google penalty checker tools does two things: Compares your site history data relative to Google algorithm update.
And secondly, it notifies of new updates and how it’s likely to affect Google search results.
Here are the best Google penalty checker tools out there.
Since manual actions come from Google reviewers, Google search console is the best manual penalty-checking tool.
We've covered how to navigate to "manual actions" under Google search console several times in this content.
So we see no reason to revisit that.
Panguin is a free Google penalty checker designed by Baraccuda Digital to check if a site has been affected by an Algorithmic penalty. How it works is that it asks you to connect your Google analytics account.
Then it analyzes your page and traffic generated over the last two years and compares them with the latest Google algorithm.
MozCast is a tool created by Moz to analyze Google algorithms and a change in them. While it won't tell you if your site has a penalty or not, you will be alerted to recent Google updates that might hinder your site traffic.
If you're a business owner, whose site has been penalized by Google, we don't recommend you sit down and watch. While you're waiting for Google to lift the penalty, we believe exploring other digital marketing distribution channels should be the next move.
You could drive traffic to your content via your newsletter, social media, or forums in your niche.
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