We all rely on search engines for traffic and being penalized by Google means a loss of traffic and revenue. Panda and Penguin are algorithms and not penalties. Google’s idea is to reward good websites in their search engine that meet the set standards.

If you follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, you know what practices you need to follow if you want to try and avoid incurring penalties. Bouncing back after a penalty is also typically easy if you follow the webmaster guidelines.

Algorithm updates and manual reviews

Google works with algorithms, designed to reward quality websites. These algorithms are regularly updated to ensure that users receive quality content. When an update has been implemented, you may find it affects your traffic. When Google runs an update, it affects sites across the web, not just yours.

Google’s Penguin update was an attempt to root out some of the devious practices addressed below, such as keyword stuffing, cloaking, link building and other ‘’black hat” SEO techniques.

Finding out everything you can about a specific update helps you to start resolving possible problems. A penalty indicator tool can help you to discover if you’ve been affected by an algorithm update.

If your website has been penalized by Google as a result of a manual review, you will receive a notification via the Google Search Console.

It gives you a reason for a penalty which means you can ‘fetch’ the offending pages, fix the issues and submit a reconsideration report. When you submit this report, you should provide proof that you have fixed the problem.

1. Keyword stuffing

The term “keyword stuffing” has been around for a while and describes a practice of using keywords to manipulate site ranking. Google gives examples of the kind of keyword stuffing it penalizes, including repeating the same words or phrases so often it sounds unnatural.

For example, “We sell cheap shoes. If you want to buy cheap shoes, please contact us for cheap shoes because we are cheap shoe specialists.” Keyword stuffing looks unsightly, gives a poor user experience and often appears out of context or unnatural.

Keyword stuffing is often hidden by using white text on a white background, hiding text through CSS styling and positioning, or using it in metadata and alt text. Google does not support this practice and is likely to penalize it, rather than ranking your pages highly.

What to do:

• Remove repeated keywords and those without context.
• Remove any hidden text or restyle it so users can see it.
• Take repeated words out of your alt text and metadata.
• Make sure you’ve addressed all instances of keyword stuffing before submitting your reconsideration request to Google.

2. Low-quality content

Google has several indicators to establish what constitutes high-quality content from which viewers will receive unique value. Some of them are:

• External sources linking to content on your pages.
• Links from your website to high-quality pages or other quality pages on your website.
• Your page answers a query. If Google sees what it calls pogo-sticking, where people click a low-quality page, click back and choose a different result, they might demote that page because it doesn’t answer the query.

Content that will invariably trigger penalties come from automated content, scraped content from other websites, duplicated blog posts, and poor affiliate pages. Google analyzes pages for spelling and grammar errors.

What to do:

• Delete poor content altogether or work to upgrade it.
• Use a duplicate content checker like Copyscape to identify and remove duplicate content.
• Use a spelling and grammar checker.
• Use alt tags to give non-text content text alternatives.
• Make sure content is well organized and easy to understand

3. Cloaking

Cloaking is when content presented to Google’s spider is different to that presented to a viewer. Sometimes hackers will use cloaking to hide their hacking attempts from the site owner. Google gives examples of cloaking as:

• Showing a page of images to users while serving a page of HTML text to the search engines.
• Inserting text into a page only for a search engine request, not a human visitor

What to do:

• Compare content on your page to the content Google fetches. Remove any variations.
• Check for any redirects that send users to another location and remove them.
• If your site uses technologies, such as Flash files or Javascript, Google has difficulty in accessing them. Make content accessible to search engines and users by using descriptive text. This improves accessibility not only for search engines but for human visitors using mobile browsers, screen readers and browsers without plug-ins.

4. Bad backlinks

One of the main reasons for Google penalties is the use of low-quality backlinks and anchor text. The fourth version of Penguin in 2016 focused on punishing bad links instead of an entire site. This helped website owners who might have good intentions but took a few wrong steps to rehabilitate their domains.

Participating in link schemes and buying backlinks to boost rankings will hinder rather than help you to rank since this update.

What to do:

• Export backlinks from the Google Search Console and import them to your SEO tool. Various SEO tools, such as SEMrush, enable you to do a full site audit, check how ranking has changed and analyze your backlinks.
• By using various filters, you can narrow down your search when using SEO tools. For instance, only look for ‘do follow’ links that influence PageRank and modify them to include a rel=”nofollow” attribute.
• In most cases, you don’t have control over the linking site and must approach the owner to remove the link for you. You should find contact details by visiting the offending site, and you can email the owner. If you aren’t successful, you may have to submit a disavow report to Google.

5. A hacked site 

You may follow all the Google Webmaster Guidelines and still receive a Google penalty because your site has been hacked. You need to clean things up because a hacked site poses risks to users. Fixing a hack can be difficult, but Google offers some insight.

What to do:

• Quarantine your site. Take it offline by using a 503 response code or stopping your web server.
• Change all passwords.
• Check the ‘security issues’ section of Google Search Console.
• Before fixing any issues, determine how a hacker gained access. You have to fix this ‘hole’ to prevent further access. The hacker may have used phishing, malware or spam.
• Eliminate vulnerabilities including weak passwords, a virus-infected computer or out-of-date software.
• Turn to a professional if you’re unsure of doing this yourself.
• If a hacker has accessed confidential information, you may have some legal responsibilities too.

The takeaway

If you follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and conduct site audits frequently, you’re unlikely to receive penalties. However, don’t despair in the event that you do receive one. Fix all the issues, go back to the Google Search Console and submit a reconsideration report, providing proof of all the changes you’ve made. Explain how you plan to prevent the same problem from occurring again. You will receive a confirmation from Google, and hopefully, before long you’ll receive communication that the penalty has been removed.