Google penalties are applied to websites or webpages that are seen to be infringing Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. It is not uncommon for individuals to employ tricks or techniques in the hope of optimising their ranking position in the search engine results (often referred to as black hat SEO) but this activity can also be accidental. 

Regardless of intent, if such activity is detected by Google, a Google penalty could be applied to the website in question.

In its most extreme form, a Google penalty could mean an entire website will no longer be included in the search engine’s results. In most cases, the page in question will lose its position in the search results pages dropping down the rankings, with associated traffic dropping off as a result. 

The seriousness of a Google penalty will depend on various factors such as the commercial value of the page in question, the volume of traffic that page was receiving pre-penalty, the severity of the drop and how long the penalty lasts. 

Suffice to say, a Google penalty can lead to a sudden drop in online revenue and enquiries for businesses.

What Can Attract A Google Penalty?

Any breach of Google’s Webmaster’s Guidelines can technically result in a penalty but there are patterns of consistently bad behaviour that will often result in a penalty. 

Such breaches include:

  • Websites containing malware, spyware or adware
  • Hidden links or text
  • Cloaking techniques designed to display an alternative version of the website to the search engine algorithms
  • Automatic or deceptive redirects
  • Webpages with a high volume of irrelevant keywords
  • Keyword stuffing
  • A significant amount of duplicate content
  • Purchasing links or automating the creation of backlinks
  • Manipulating links in order to optimise them

Manual vs Algorithmic Penalties

Google penalties are awarded manually or algorithmically, meaning that either someone in Google’s webspam team will levy the penalty or the search engine’s algorithm will flag sites that breach its rules and penalise them automatically. 

With regard to manual penalties, a “manual action report” will be sent via Google Search Console (GSC), and the penalty will not be removed until necessary corrections have been made and a successful appeal to Google has been submitted through GSC.

Algorithmic penalties happen automatically, without any human input, and typically apply when a website uses keyword stuffing, has very poor quality content or has a lot of poor quality or spammy links pointing to their site. Such a penalty will not remove the offending website from the search rankings altogether, but will instead see rankings fall suddenly.