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Google penalties: how to act when it affects our website

SEO penalty | 

For a long time Google has had a series of rules or guidelines that indicate the practices that are allowed to improve the positioning in its ranking, and which can cause a penalty. These types of policies are used to protect your search engine from practices and actions to exploit the web positioning, something that negatively influences the quality of the service, offering users links to pages of lower quality or that do not meet their search expectations.

The Google penalties are something that every website should avoid because they can ruin a lot of time, effort and money invested in improving web positioning.

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What are Google SEO penalties?

Google penalties are a measure that the platform applies on a website when it detects that it is committing any practice that goes against its guidelines or policies. These penalties consist in decreasing the ranking of websites so all SEO efforts to position a page will be ruined.

In the Google webmaster guidelines, a series of rules and best practices are presented. If a website violates these guidelines it will receive a penalty (penalty) from Google.

General types of Google penalties

A website that breaches any of Google’s guidelines can receive two types of penalties, algorithmic and manual.

1. Algorithmic penalties

Google uses an algorithm for crawling, indexing and positioning a website in its search engine. Algorithmic penalties are those related to non-compliance with the guidelines related to this algorithm.

This type of penalty usually comes without notice and is usually related mainly to changes in the algorithm that cause many sites to violate guidelines without being aware of it.

Google’s algorithm is usually updated from time to time to improve the crawling, positioning and indexing service, which implies the need for webmasters or SEO experts to review the new features they incorporate to prevent websites from being penalized and losing visibility.

2. Manual penalties

The other type of sanctions or penalties that Google imposes on a website is carried out manually, that is, it is a person who directly reviews the website and proposes a penalty in case it breaches any of the guidelines of the company.

These sanctions are usually notified by email, or through the Google Search Console platform itself. For this reason, it is important to periodically check the Search Console in case there is a penalty notice for any problem, and thus be able to solve it before receiving the penalty.

Depending on whether the penalty is applied to an entire website or to one or more URLs, there are two types of penalties:

Penalizing a URL

These are penalties that only affect the positioning of one page of the website. When a URL is penalized by Google, the other pages of the site are not affected.

Penalization of the entire website

A penalty to the entire website can be very serious as it affects the visibility of all its content. In the most serious cases of non-compliance, this penalty can include the total exclusion of the site from Google, known as Delisting. Depending on the level and type of penalty imposed by Google, we can find penalties of:
  • Keyword
  • Domain or Page (those discussed above)
  • Host or subdomain.
  • Hostname or subdomain.
  • Full domain name.

Google updates that generate a large number of penalties

Google’s algorithm receives updates to improve its performance and thus be able to offer a better service to users, showing the pages that are really relevant or that provide value to their searches on the platform.

Two of the biggest updates that have had a direct impact on SEO have been Panda and Penguin, causing many websites to suffer penalties for not complying with many of its regulations.

Google Panda Update

Panda was a recent update of Google’s algorithm that put the focus on content quality and user experience. Now websites with low-quality content, irrelevant inbound links, high bounce rate, duplicate content or excessive advertising, among others, suffer penalties when it comes to being positioned in Google’s ranking.

Google Penguin Update

With this update of Google’s algorithm, the company aimed to detect suspicious link patterns that were intended to modify the ranking of the results pages. This 2012 algorithm changed the way link building was done, being now much more complicated to improve positioning through external links.

From Penguin onwards, strategies to obtain external inbound links must be approached from an organic point of view, and never resorting to techniques to force them.

How do we know that Google has penalized us?

To know if a website has been penalized it is necessary to take into account three different factors.

1. E-mail

Google usually warns of penalties using the email address of the website that has been linked to Google Search Console or Google Analytics. In that email, they provide information about the reason why the penalty has been applied to the website.

2. Google Search Console

The usual way to warn of a penalty is through its free online platform, Google Search Console. To access this information, go to the left sidebar of the tool and open the Security and manual actions option.

In this section, you will be able to check if there is any penalty and what is its cause.

3. Fewer impressions are appreciated

When the penalty is of an algorithmic type, Google does not usually warn of the penalty to the website, so in order to know if it has occurred, it is necessary to analyze the impressions.

If it is identified that the average impressions have decreased significantly, it is likely that an algorithmic penalty has been received.

What are the most common SEO penalties

Let’s see what are the usual penalties that websites receive from Google:

Thin Content

Thin content or low-quality content is one of the most common reasons why a website receives a penalty and loses visibility in Google. Normally, this penalty is applied to the URL that has low-value content, but if a website has many pages of thin content it can receive a penalty to its entire domain, so all its URLs will be affected.

Unnatural links on your site

Since the Penguin update, Google’s algorithm is able to detect forced links or links that have no relation to the site. Having inbound links just to increase domain authority can be a practice that leads to a penalty.

It is best to always look for links from related sites, or that the link makes sense in the context in which it is made.

Duplicate content

Duplicate content is another of the most common penalties that Google performs. The main objective is to prevent content theft to preserve originality and protect user ownership.

It is possible to incur penalties for duplicate content unintentionally. For example, in an eCommerce, where there are multiple similar products, product listings with similar content may be considered duplicate content if not properly flagged to Google.


Cloaking is a fraudulent technique by which part of the content is hidden when it is detected that a Google bot is visiting it. The version shown to the Google bot is optimized for SEO and is not the same as the one that users can access.

There used to be several techniques to trick Google bots, such as immediately redirecting to other content or using a JavaScript script to display different content.

Nowadays it is very difficult to fool Google’s algorithm with a cloaking technique, and in the case of trying to do so and being discovered, you will receive a stiff penalty to the positioning.

Treating Google the same way as the user is the best way to avoid this type of cloaking penalty.

Image Cloaking

It is the same cloaking technique but applied to images. It consists of showing an image to users and a different one to Google. For example, an image is shown to induce users to buy where it is indicated that the products are at 10€, but Googlebots are shown an image that indicates that the prices are “from 10€”.

Sneaky Redirects

These are sneaky redirects that lead a user to visit a website that is not the one they want to see. There are many sneaky redirects techniques that seek to trick users into accessing a particular content, even though they were trying to access another.

Google penalizes these practices if it detects them as they are a clear example of how to ruin the user experience, and many of them can have malicious purposes.

Malicious Content Injection - Hacking

These are penalties applied by Google to those websites that try to install malicious content to users. If they detect this type of activity, the page or website will immediately disappear from the results pages or SERPs, to protect users from these hacking practices.

Keyword stuffing

Some time ago keyword stuffing was a very useful technique to improve positioning in Google. It consisted in saturating the content with keywords to achieve better positions in the results pages. At that time the first positions in Google were full of oversaturated pages with keywords that made it difficult to understand the content and ruined the user experience.

Today it is an obsolete SEO technique as Google easily detects this tactic by applying penalties to URLs and sites that use it.

Special care must be taken when using keywords in a text, as it can be considered keyword stuffing by Google if these keys are repeated too much.

Hidden content

This technique consists of hiding part of the text so that the user cannot read it, but Google can read it. The usual is to use the same color for the text font and the background so that users cannot read it, but Googlebots can.

Google’s algorithm is capable of recognizing the styles applied to the text nowadays, so resorting to this trick will be synonymous with receiving a penalty.

Excessive use of SPAM

These are the penalties applied by Google to sites that are overloaded with ads, banner ads and annoying pop-ups.

To act before a Google penalty you must immediately correct the problem or incident that has caused it (if it has a solution because if it is a fraudulent or malicious technique there will be nothing to do).

For manual penalties, you can go to Google Search Console to find out the cause and thus be able to solve the problem. Once solved, you can send a request to Google through Search Console to verify the correction and can lift the penalty.