How to Identify a Google Penalty and Recover From It

A manual penalty from Google is the worst type of penalty a website can receive for organic search rankings. Based on data from Comscore, as of December 2013, Google had a dominant 67.3% share of U.S. search activity. Many websites receive more than 50% of their traffic from Google organic search.

With it’s dominant position in search and the tens of millions it rakes in daily from advertisers, Google has taken recent steps to clean up the results it’s search engine. New algorithm updates and manual penalties it applies to websites in violation of their guidelines have had a significant impact on the Web.

Google’s Blunder –The Over Optimization Penalty

When a site receives a manual penalty from Google, it is de-indexed from the Google search engine. So that means in addition to the loss of keyword rankings, the site won’t even rank for it’s own brand name. This is a devastating blow for a website.

But a manual penalty doesn’t have to be the kiss of death for a site’s organic search traffic. There are several ways a manual penalty can be lifted by Google. We’ll look at different ways to identify a Google penalty, how to overcome from a penalty, and outcomes.

Use Google Webmaster Tools

If you seek Google organic search traffic to your website, one of the first things you should do, if you haven’t already, is register your website in Google Webmaster Tools. It’s a simple process and Webmaster Tools provides a wealth of information on your site. The information provided includes: messages from Google about your website which could include a penalty or issues crawling your website, your use of structured data, search query data, crawl data, links to your site, and much more.

Webmaster Tools crawl error
If Google detects violations to their “Quality Guidelines”, Google may impose a manual penalty on a website and send you a message via webmaster tools to notify you of the action.

Identifying the Type of Penalty

Without Webmaster Tools, it can be more difficult to diagnose the cause of the manual penalty. In addition to manual penalties, Google’s algorithm updates can also adversely (or positively) impact a website’s rankings.

The Google Panda updates have largely affected websites with poor/low quality content. The Google Penguin updates target link spam; websites that have links pointing to their website for the manipulative purposes of boosting search engine rankings, which is in violation of Google guidelines.

In addition to Google penalties and algorithm updates, other factors could be affecting a website’s ability to rank in Google such as changes to your website structure, internal link changes, lost backlinks from other websites, or competition surpassing your website in the rankings. Being able to identify the cause of the issue(s) is an important step in recovering rankings.

Google has also taken action against private blog networks, guest blog networks, and other schemes sites use to gain links for Google ranking purposes. Websites using these networks can also be penalized.

What to Do If You Have a Penalty

Different problems have different solutions so it’s important to have the expertise of a professional who specializes in SEO to remedy the problem. Google does not provide direct support to help your website overcome penalties but it does provide tools such as the link disavow tool, which when used properly in conjunction with a reconsideration can help a website recover.

Unnatural Inbound Links

In addition to Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, there are other third party tools that can help analyze your Web traffic and the timing of penalties to help diagnose potential causes.

Another step you can take to help recover from Google penalties is to develop high quality, interesting content that other websites and social networkers want to share and link to. These new links build and diversify your link profile and can also lead to new sources of website traffic such as direct, social, or other referral sources.


If being indexed in Google, ranking for your brand and having the ability to get keyword and map rankings is valuable Web traffic, then devoting the time and resources for a recovery is essential.

Google Manual Spam Action Revoked

Recovery from a Google penalty usually takes some time. While there are purports of recovery in a matter of days, a couple months is really needed for the outreach, documentation, submission to Google, and other work that may be involved in a penalty.

One thing that’s important to understand is that even if a Google penalty is lifted, it does not mean your website will regain the same rankings it had prior to the changes. This is due to factors such as the loss of links during the recovery process, competitors gaining new links, or other Google algorithmic updates that affect search engine rankings.

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