There's nothing worse than discovering that your website has been penalized by the world's largest search engine. Google has been penalizing websites for decades. Some of these penalties are performed automatically via its algorithm, whereas others are performed manually.
Manual penalties are typically more destructive than their automated counterparts. Not only can they wipe out your website's rankings; they can prevent your website from reclaiming its lost rankings. To successfully rank your website on Google in 2021, you must safeguard it from manual penalties.
An Introduction to Manual Penalties
Also known as a manual action, a manual penalty is a type of ranking penalty that's imposed by a human worker. Google has a team of workers who visit and evaluate websites for violations of its guidelines. If a worker identifies a violation with your website, he or she may impose a manual penalty on it. According to Matt Cutts, Google imposes nearly a half-million manual penalties per month.
Manual penalties aren't triggered by Google's algorithm. While Google's algorithm may flag websites for one or more potential violations, manual penalties are explicitly imposed by a human worker.
Learn the Causes
To safeguard your website against manual penalties, you must know what causes them. Google doesn't impose manual penalties for poor or nonexistent search engine optimization (SEO). Rather, it imposes them for violations of its guidelines.
Available to view at developers.google.com/search/docs/advanced/guidelines/webmaster-guidelines, these guidelines reveal how webmasters should build and optimize their websites for Google's search engine. It explains what practices are allowed and what practices are prohibited. Using a prohibited practice to build or optimize your website may result in a manual penalty.
Common causes of manual penalties include:
• Pure spam
• Unnatural links to your website
• Unnatural links from your website
• Thin content
• Misleading structured data
• Hacked or compromised website
• User-generated spam
• Hidden text
• Mismatch between Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) and their canonical versions
• Keyword stuffing
Sign Up for Search Console
Signing up for Google Search Console can better protect your website against manual penalties. Search Console is a free analytics service that provides insight into your website's rankings on Google. In Search Console, you'll find a tab for manual penalties. Accessing this tab will reveal whether your website has received a manual penalty, and if so, the type of manual penalty or penalties from which it's suffering.
Google uses Search Console to notify webmasters about manual penalties. All manual penalties come with a notification. If your website has been struck with a manual penalty, Google will notify you in Search Console.
Use a White-Hat SEO Strategy
Avoid using a black-hat SEO strategy. Instead, use a white-hat SEO strategy. Most manual penalties are caused by black-hat SEO practices. The most common cause of manual penalties, in fact, is pure spam. Pure spam, as defined by Google, encompasses several black-hat SEO practices, such as scraping content off the internet, automatically generating content and showing different content to search engines than visitors. If you use pure spam on your website, you will get punished by Google.
A white-hat SEO strategy doesn't include prohibited SEO practices. It only includes SEO practices that are allowed under Google's guidelines. Therefore, it won't make your website a target for manual penalties. As long as your SEO strategy complies with Google's guidelines, your website will remain safe and protected against manual penalties.
Don't Forget Google News and Discover
Google may impose manual penalties for News- and Discover-optimized pages as well. If you're trying to rank your website on Google News or Google Discover, you should visit Google's help page on manual penalties at support.google.com/webmasters/answer/9044175. In February 2021, Google updated this help page to include a new section specifically for News- and Discover-optimized pages.
Google's help page on manual penalties now has a tab for News and Discover violations. There are about a dozen violations listed under this tab. Failure to include dates and author bylines in articles, for example, can lead to a transparency violation. Google requires all News and Discover content to feature these transparency elements. Manipulated media is another violation that can prevent your website from ranking on Google News and Google Discover. Manipulated media refers to audio clips, videos or images that have been altered to deceive visitors.
Depending on the type of violation, your website may still rank in Google's search results; it just won't rank on Google News or Google Discover.
Fix Any Manual Penalties
If you find a manual penalty notification in Search Console, don't panic. Manual penalties aren't permanent. They'll only remain active until you've corrected the violation or violations that caused them. Once you've made the necessary correction, you can ask Google to lift the manual penalty.
You can find out what caused a manual penalty in Search Console. The notification you receive should state the cause, such as pure spam or cloaking, and the pages of your website that are being affected. You'll need to fix the violation on all affected pages. You can then go back to the Search Console notification and select the "Request Review" option.
When you ask Google to review your website, you should include some basic information about the steps you took to correct the violation or violations. For a pure spam penalty, you can explain that you deleted the spammy content on the affected pages and replaced it with original, high-quality content. For an unnatural links penalty, you can explain that you disavowed your website's low-quality or otherwise unnatural backlinks.
It can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks for Google to review your website. If you've corrected the violation on all affected pages, though, Google should lift the manual penalty. Your website's rankings will return, and you can improve them with on-page and off-page SEO.
Manual penalties are more than frustrating; they can cripple your website's rankings, as well as its traffic, on the world's largest search engine. Fortunately, manual penalties are preventable. You can prevent manual penalties by learning the causes, signing up for Search Console and using a white-hat SEO strategy.