5 Step Guide to Diagnosing any Google Penalty


If you’ve suffered a sudden drop in organic traffic or have seen your site drop an alarming number of ranks in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) stakes, you must be wondering what just happened?

The likely explanation is that your site has received a penalty from one of the major search engines, with Google being the prime suspect due to its consistently high traffic numbers. Read on and let us help you diagnose the penalty that’s afflicting your site with this handy five-step guide to diagnosing any Google penalty:

1. Realising you have a penalty

Google dishes out a substantial 400,000 manual penalties per month (approximately) for websites that fail to abide by their rules and guidelines. Receiving a Google penalty is more likely than you think, so knowing how to detect and accurately diagnose these penalties is vital for fixing the issues on your website and gaining more traffic.

In the case of manual penalties (those issued manually by Google staff), you will receive a notification in your Google Search Console which helps to explain the issue. However, if you’re unfortunate enough to be facing an algorithmic penalty, you won’t be explicitly told and must work it out for yourself.

Whichever type of penalty you have been hit with, the first step to detecting it is to look for symptoms of the disease, such as sudden drops in organic traffic and loss of links. The best ways to do this are to check the Google Search Console and/or cross reference drops in traffic with algorithm updates, which we’ll explain in more detail below.

2. Check your Google Search Console

As mentioned before, you (or your webmaster) will be notified of any manual penalties from Google in the Google Search Console notification centre. There, you will find messages regarding any manual penalties assigned to your site, the reasoning and how you can fix the issue(s).

Because these penalties are manually assigned, you also have the option to appeal them once you have taken actions to fix the issue they relate to. While there is no guarantee that the penalties will be lifted after you make your appeal, at least you are told what the issue is, how to fix it and how to reverse the punishment from Google in the case of manual penalties.

3. Dealing with Manual Penalty Notices

Most manual penalty notices are rather self-explanatory, relating to low-quality content, spam, or link violations, so at least you have a good idea of why you are being penalised. If you’re unsure of how to proceed, we suggest checking the ‘Manual Actions’ tab in the search console, which has a variety of recommendations from Google themselves.

Below, we have compiled a short list of how to respond to the most common types of manual penalties to help you get through this:

  • Fix or replace low-quality content immediately: Any content that has been ‘spun’ to only promote your business or contains numerous grammatical errors will be penalised, so rewrite it quickly.
  • If any penalties relate to link, conduct a link audit: Unfortunately, backlinks are an area where “guilt by association” applies, so make sure to audit links to and from your site, deleting any low-quality of irrelevant links.

After you have done your best to solve the issue that your website was penalised for, you can ask Google to reconsider and appeal the penalties. If you have successfully fixed the issues that you were penalised for, it’s a fairly simple process to appeal your penalty:

  1. Login to the Google Search Console
  2. Double-check all versions of your site to make sure the data is complete and correct
  3. Carefully review the manual penalty and make sure you have resolved the issue
  4. Request a review and ask Google to reconsider, making sure to show your workings and provide plenty of documentation
  5. Wait: Google will confirm when they receive your request, but it can take weeks for them to reach a decision.

4. Detecting Algorithmic Penalties

Unfortunately, algorithmic penalties are much harder to discover than manual penalties and do not come with explanatory messages or tips on how to remedy them. The first clue that you have an algorithmic penalty will probably be a sudden drop in your Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rankings or organic traffic.

The main cause of algorithmic penalties is Google updating the algorithms to target different features of sites, or updates to sites which cause guideline violations. You should double-check any recent changes to your site that might have caused you to anger the algorithms before looking at Google’s update logs.

The good news is that you’re not alone in this struggle, and there are a variety of tools online to track and investigate Google algorithm updates to see why your site is penalised.

5. Dealing with Algorithmic Penalties

There’s no easy way to detect or decipher an algorithmic penalty, so when you have determined that you are affected by one (instead of a run of bad luck, for example), the best course of action is to simply clean house. Google’s algorithms are designed to penalise low-quality content, spam and illegitimate links, so make absolutely sure that your site does not have any of these to escape the ire of algorithmic penalties.

Unfortunately, you cannot appeal algorithmic penalties and must wait until the next algorithm update for your site to (hopefully) have any penalties removed. It may sound trite if your site has already been penalised, but the best approach is prevention – make sure that your site is above reproach and you’ll dodge a few bullets down the line.

In Summary

Google penalties can hit your traffic and rankings hard, so the critical thing is to respond quickly, diagnosing and fixing the issues as soon as possible so that you can regain traffic soon. Manual penalties are easy enough to spot with due diligence, but algorithmic penalties can be a real mystery, as we’ve explained above.

Whichever type of penalty your site has been hit with, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so make sure to read the fine print of Google’s policies and abide by the rules as best you can. Monitor your site, audit your links regularly and keep up-to-date with Google’s newest policy changes and you’re sure to go from strength to strength.

Have you been struggling with a penalty that just won’t go away? Or maybe you want to push your site into the top SERP rankings for relevant keywords? If you want to learn more about effective SEO techniques or get expert advice and guidance, reach out to a member of the Cleartwo team today.

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