How to avoid a Google penalty

It’s no secret that Google is the most popular search engine on the web. More than 40,000 searches happen on Google every second, which equates to over 3.5 billion searches per day! Ranking high in Google’s organic search, then, is extremely important for businesses looking to get a leg up on the competition, but to do that, you need to keep Google happy.

If you don’t follow Google’s best practices, you risk getting a penalty, which could seriously reduce the volume of traffic heading to your website. Nobody wants that to happen, so let’s take a look at what exactly a Google penalty looks like and how you can avoid them!

What is a Google penalty?


To deliver a good browsing experience to its users, Google has a list of practices, called Webmaster Guidelines, that they expect all websites to follow. When a webpage, or entire website, goes against these guidelines (whether on purpose or by accident), Google can issue a punishment called a manual action, or what’s more commonly referred to as a penalty.

How do Google penalties affect your website?

After a penalty is applied, you will start to see a major dip in organic traffic, because the affected pages of your website are now being repressed by Google. The incriminating pages won’t show as high up in the organic search results, or maybe not at all, so it’s important to fix the issue quickly.

4 ways to avoid a Google penalty

To make sure you rank well in the search results and don’t get any of those dreaded Google penalties, it’s important to know what Google is looking for in your website. Here are four ways to keep Google on side!

1. Make sure your site is secure

If your site is hacked and/or becomes infested with malware, it becomes a huge risk to others, so Google may issue a penalty to your site that prevents it from appearing in the search results. The best way to protect your website and its users, is to adopt HTTPS (the five letters that appear at the beginning of your website’s URL). HTTPs sites are significantly more secure than their older HTTP counterparts. So much so that in 2014, Google released an update to its algorithm meaning search results now strongly favour HTTPS sites because of their additional layers of security.

To learn more about HTTPS and how to adopt it, read Google’s resource.

2. Publish original, high quality content

It should go without saying, but copying and pasting content from other websites is a big no-no. Google likes unique, high quality content that is useful to users. If your pages don’t have much content, or just really aren’t saying much to help a user with their search query, you’re not going to rank too high in the organic search results. So get writing; or even better, get your customers to do the writing for you by collecting and displaying customer reviews on your site.

Perhaps the biggest content-related crime in the eyes of Google is keyword stuffing, where a page continuously mentions a specific keyword (or variations on that keyword) numerous times to try to increase the page’s relevancy. Don’t think that hiding those keywords will work either – Google can see everything, even if your users can’t! Keyword stuffing will almost certainly result in a penalty.

3. Make sure your pages are marked up correctly

Hopefully, you’ve designed your website so it is user-friendly and easy to navigate, but that doesn’t mean that Google understands the different pages of your site. Structured data markup helps search engines understand and categorise your site’s content, which is really important to ensure your pages rank well. However, if you don’t follow the guidelines around structured data markup correctly, you could find yourself on the end of a penalty from Google.

Here’s what not to do:

  • The content on the page is different to the structured data on the page
  • Structured data has been applied to page elements that are not visible to your site’s users
  • A page containing a review doesn’t show where the reviews came from or how to leave a review

For a full list of structured data issues, please read Google’s guidelines.

If you’re collecting product reviews, adding review structured data to relevant pages will enable you to qualify for organic stars. Organic stars allow you to show off your star ratings within Google organic search results and can help boost trust, traffic and conversions. Find out more about how to qualify for organic stars.

4. Check only natural links are pointing to and from your website

Buying links to your website is another shady search engine optimisation (SEO) practice used to manipulate page rank that is in direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. However, you can be penalised for dodgy links to your website, even if you didn’t know they existed, so it’s important to regularly check who’s linking to your pages. You can download and review a list of links to your site from Google Search Console. Find out more here.

Similarly, deceptive, unnatural or paid for outbound links on your website are also against Google’s guidelines. If you have any links on your website which go against Google’s guidelines on linking, these need to be removed or changed so they are no longer taken into consideration for page rank.

How do I know if I’ve received a Google penalty?

Referred to by Google as ‘manual actions’, you’ll receive a notification that your site is being affected when you log in to Google Search Console. If you don’t have Google Search Console, go and set it up right now! The notification will also detail which pages are affected and why, so you can identify the problem and hopefully solve it.

If you have not received a penalty from Google but have still noticed a drop in traffic, you may have been affected by an update to Google’s algorithm. Googles changes its algorithm between 500 and 600 times a year, so it can be hard to keep up! Fortunately, Moz keeps an excellent record of all confirmed and unconfirmed algorithm changes, so be sure to bookmark this resource.

How can I get a manual action removed?

First of all, you need to right those wrongs! Make sure every page affected is fixed, otherwise the penalty will remain on your site. Bear in mind that Google needs to be able to reach those pages, so check they are not behind a paywall, require a login to access or blocking a web crawler from finding them.

Once all the issues have been fixed, you need to submit a reconsideration request from within the Manual Actions Report. When you do this, make sure you describe:

  • The original issue with your site that caused the action
  • What you’ve done to fix the issue
  • The details of the outcome of your efforts

You’ll then need to wait up to two weeks for Google to review your account and reply to your request via email.


Need more help with Google?

Our Google DIY Tool Kit is a helpful step-by-step guide on how to stand out on Google. You can download it for free by clicking the banner below!

Google DIY Blog Banner.jpg


Net Promoter® and NPS® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Satmetrix Systems, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.