When Google started to become the search engine behemoth that it is now, it has established itself as an authority in all things related to ranking on their pages. It is, after all, the company’s stomping grounds. Only those who run it have the authority to make and change the rules. And by the way they change and enforce the rules, they take their business seriously.
Google has every right to hand out penalties to those who break these rules for the sake of fairness to all those who are trying to rank by methods that are well within their guidelines. The reasons and scope of these penalties vary, and their impact range from negligible to utterly catastrophic for a website’s visibility in Google’s organic search results.
Since 2012, Google has ramped up its efforts in communicating with webmasters about issues that are likely to negatively impact the presence of their websites in organic search for relevant queries. It’s done through Google Search Console, which was previously known as Google Webmaster Tools.
Nobody wants to incur a Google penalty. To help you interpret and respond to these notifications or what Google calls “warnings,” many of which are black hat techniques that are spotted by a Search Quality team so outstandingly bad to trigger sanctions, here’s every Google SEO penalty there is and how you can avoid or fix it.
10 Google Search Violations and How to Avoid or Fix Them
1. Major and pure spam problems
When you receive a notification highlighting “major spam problems,” Google has identified your page content as entirely spammy and offering no value to users. At the time the recipient reads this message, the most severe consequence has come into effect, and in most cases, the website has been completely removed from organic Google search. However, there are cases when removal may affect only a subset of pages from the site. A rare variation of this problem points out the gravity of the violation in sharper wording, referring to the website as “pure spam.” When handed out, the penalty seems to be frequently associated with or similar to user-agent cloaking, which involves displaying entirely different content to search engine bots and user-agent. However, this has become rare, and at the same time, Google has improved its detection methods. This is likely the reason this penalty is now occurring less frequently.
The fix: If this is the first offense, rectify your mistakes and comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. You can then submit a reconsideration request after the issue has been addressed.
2. Spam problems
This is the toned-down version of the major and pure spam problems notification, with less severe sanctions. The message suggests that while the website isn’t entirely bad, small parts of it haven’t met Google’s standards. This could be classified as thin content, which is generally considered spammy. This may also very well refer to doorway pages, which is likely of low quality, with the primary purpose of redirecting users to another page rather than immediately offering an answer. A penalty associated with this violation doesn’t result in the complete removal from Google search, as the site will most likely still be indexed. However, it will be much less visible in organic search results.
The fix: The website must go through an extensive review that’s focused on content quality. It’s advisable for large sites to conduct an all-out audit to identify which content is indexed or not. For thin content, you have to work on improving them to meet standards or use noindex to avoid indexing low-quality content and improve crawl budget distribution in the long run. Your evaluation process must have a landing page engagement assessment. Keep in mind that it must not be driven by word count, so don’t focus too much on the length of your content, but how useful and engaging they are to users. Before you send a reconsideration request to the powers that be at Google, doorway pages will have to be removed, and the content will need a makeover, with a shift towards less content focused on being more useful and robust. These steps should be properly documented to make sure your reconsideration request is in order.
3. User-generated spam
User-generated spam is often an issue for large, user-driven websites. If a penalty is handed out, this usually means that the site is being taken advantage of by spammers and black hat practitioners. When this happens, Google is basically asking you to get your affairs in order or you’re in trouble. The message will include the sample URL where the user-generated spam has been detected, and the penalty, which is a removal from search results, is limited to the URL mentioned.
The fix: These security measures should be taken as necessary:
- Ensure that your forum or discussion software is updated, particularly the security patches issued.
- Use moderation capabilities for the following actions: a.) Blacklist spammy or inappropriate words and continue to add to it based on what you’re seeing. b.) Identify and review content from a single account or IP address that has a large volume of posts over a short period of time. c.) Posts from new members or new posters should be subjected to editorial review before publishing. You can lift the restriction once they’ve proven themselves as trustworthy.
- Limit your users’ ability to link. a.) Consider barring links entirely and allow only trusted users with a spotless track record when linking to other sites. b.) If you do allow links, you may nofollow them to strip them of the incentive to link externally.
- Close the comments section or discussion threads after a reasonable period since they’ll eventually collect spam after real users have stopped engaging there.
4. Hacked content spam
This penalty is similar to user-generated spam wherein it’s also a case of a compromised website that’s being abused by spammers to insert malicious, irrelevant content without the webmaster’s consent.
However, there are a couple of differences:
- The penalty is applied to sites that are not user-driven and where the vulnerability isn’t due to poor enforcement, but a lax in security.
- The consequence is a prominent label in SERPs that warns users of a possible threat if they proceed to the website. It’s guaranteed to make you lose traffic coming from organic search.
- Contact your web host and assemble a support team
- Quarantine your site to mitigate damage
- Use Search Console to help you identify the hacking type
- Identify if the damage was done by spam or malware
- Determine the vulnerability to know how the hacker got in
- Clean your site to address the vulnerability
- Request a review from Google to reconsider your hacked label
5. Incorrect structured data
Structured data makes both the content and context of a website better understood by search engines while being a means to claim more SERP real estate. When implemented correctly, it can enhance your SERP listing with an eye-catching “rich snippet.” For this reason, there are those who attempt to game the system using deceptive structured data. Fortunately, this kind of activity is very much on Google’s radar. If spotted, you’ll receive a notification saying you have incorrect structured data, and your rich snippet will disappear from search results.
The fix: The recovery and reinstatement process is similar to what you have to do for other types of manual penalties: house cleaning, proper implementation, and complete documentation are key. Keep in mind that once confidence in the accuracy of structured data is lost, getting it back entirely is rare. Therefore, gaming structured data is risky, so it’s a big no to even think of attempting to do it.
6. Unnatural outbound links
Selling links to manipulate PageRank is another violation that triggers another penalty, with a message highlighting the issue. However, the penalty involved doesn’t cause a dramatic loss in site visibility in organic search unlike before. Still, this should not be taken lightly, so it’s prudent to take the necessary measures to address this issue.
The fix: Narrow down the problem and apply a suitable solution by doing a nofollow on questionable links.
7. Unnatural inbound links
The most commonly experienced penalty is the one involving unnatural inbound links to a website. Affected websites are regarded as engaging in link schemes, which is building links intended to manipulated rankings. This is considered a major violation, and the penalty’s impact can partially or entirely affect the entire domain.
The fix: To garner a favorable result in your first reconsideration request, it’s important to examine not only your backlink volume and distribution, but also the linking site’s quality and its general approach to linking out. After creating a file that contains all your spammy backlinks, you can start working on removing them from the web. You might have to reach out to webmasters and ask them to take down links to your site or have them marked as nofollow. All the spammy backlinks you’re not able to get removed should be isolated and saved in .txt format, which is called a disavow file. Once the review is done and the file has been created, you should upload the disavow file first before submitting documentation listing all the relevant steps taken to resolve the issue.
8. Hidden text and keyword stuffing
It’s been ages since stuffing your content with keywords to rank has been considered passé. You can actually get into trouble for it, too. Use too many keywords that are out of context and Google “referees” will raise a yellow card to penalize your website. Search engines are designed to work like accounting auditors in a sense like they want to see everything out in the open, with absolutely nothing hidden. This includes text that your readers may not want or need to see. Text can be hidden in many ways such as using font color that’s the same as your page’s background. Regardless of the methods used, Google will still consider it as spam and penalize your site accordingly. These penalties come in two forms: partial matches that affect portions of your site and site-wide matches that affect your whole website.
The fix: You can still use keywords as many times as you want on a page as long as they make sense within the context of your message and appear to be naturally inserted in sentences. To solve issues related to these penalties, you can follow these steps:
- In Google Search Console, go to Crawl then Fetch to collect the pages from the affected portions of your website.
- Look for text that’s similar in color to the background of the page.
- You can also look for hidden text using CSS styling or positioning.
- Remove or re-style any hidden text found to make it obvious to your readers.
- Remove repeated keywords that are out of context.
- Fix meta tags and alt text that contain strings of repeated keywords.
- Review your pages and remove all instances of keyword stuffing.
- After making sure you’re all clear, you can submit a reconsideration request.
9. Expired jobs
If you’re aiming to get a job posting to appear prominently in Google, you can use job posting structured data. Google takes this data, aggregates it, and shows it at the top of its results page.
There are a couple of ways to make this happen:
- Through direct integration where you use job posting structured data markup on your own site when promoting a job
- Using third-party job sites that use job posting structured data markup such as Career Builder, Monster, and Zip Recruiter among others The danger in posting on your own site lies in exposing yourself to a potential penalty in the event that you don’t remove an expired job posting. In line with Google’s mission to provide a good user experience, displaying expired job openings is contrary to this objective—and very easy to find. So, if you’re going to use job posting structured data markup, make it a point to keep it current.
The fix: There are a few actions you can do to resolve this. One is to remove the job posting structured data markup from the page or remove the page entirely, turning it into a 404 or 410 status code.
10. Spammy free hosting
If you’ve ever heard of free hosting, you must know that there’s no such thing. What you think you may have saved upfront from hosting fees will go down the drain with all the spammy ads and inconsistent reliability. Google will take manual action against entire hosting services if penalized, so there’s no point taking a risk.
The fix: You’ll need to migrate to “name brand” shared hosting services before submitting a reconsideration request. The best way to avoid this is to never go for free hosting and pay for yearly reliable shared hosting services.
Work with a Legit SEO Team
To avoid getting penalized and make your efforts go to waste, you should be working closely with a team of trusted individuals who know how to implement legit SEO. Nothing beats working with people who know the ins and outs of search engine optimization and how to comply with Google’s rules.
Through their expertise in the field of SEO, you can rank your website through white hat techniques, which are focused on relevancy and proper organic ranking. It’s always better to rank through the right methods that are within the bounds of Google’s rules than go down the dark path of using black hat techniques and lose organic search ranking due to penalties.