How to check if your website is penalized by Google

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Written By tsboi team

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The first step before optimizing your website for Google is to check if your domain is penalized.

A website that is penalized by Google cannot rank well, so your priority is to find out what algorithmic changes are affecting your web property and create a recovery plan.

What are Google penalties?

Newbie bloggers and webmasters with no SEO experience hear the words panda, penguin, dove, hummingbird and wonder why everyone online is making such a fuss about these animals.

The answer is quite simple, these are the names that Google (and the press) have given to the different sets of changes that Google is making to its ranking algorithm.

Google officially stated that every year it makes hundreds of changes to its search algorithms to improve the quality of its search results.

Every time they make a change, there are winners and losers. This means that some websites are positively affected because they get better rankings (meaning more Google organic traffic) while other websites are losing traffic because their rankings have dropped or been lost altogether.

Why do you care?

It is well known that not much can be accomplished online without Google. Like it or not, Google is the best source of traffic, especially if you are looking for targeted traffic.

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Getting your website to the top of Google produces a series of benefits that you cannot ignore.

So, that’s the first reason why you should be able to tell if your website is filtered by Google algorithms.

Another reason is that if you know which Google update you’re penalized from, you can take corrective action so that the next time there’s a change, you’re out of the penalty (this isn’t easy but it happens if you work hard).

Finally, recognizing Google penalties can answer the question “Why did I suddenly lose my traffic?” since if you get hit by a Google penalty, the changes in your traffic will be more than visible.

How to know if your website has been penalized by Google?

There are two ways to find out if your website was penalized by Google. The first is through Google Search Console and the second is by looking at your Google analytics traffic reports and comparing your traffic to the dates when the Google update occurred.

Let’s see how you can use both methods to track and identify Google penalties.

Step 1: Sign in to Google Search Console

If you have not yet registered your website with the Google search consoleThis is the moment to do it.

Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) is the means Google uses to communicate with webmasters and inform them of potential problems their websites may have, and this also includes manual penalties.

Before showing where exactly you can find this in the Google Search Console tools, it should be mentioned that there are 2 types of penalties and it is important to know their difference.

#1 – Manual Penalty: A human (probably from Google’s quality team) imposed a penalty on your website. This can happen due to a number of reasons and it can be site wide i.e. affect the entire website or part of it i.e. affect only some pages of your site.

When this is the case, Google will give you an indication of what the problem is along with a list of actions you can take to correct the problems. Once you make the necessary changes, you can submit a request for reconsideration and they will tell you if the sanction has been removed or not.

#2 – Algorithmic Penalty: This is the most common type and is automatic. Algorithmic penalties are not reported to Google search console tools and there is no option to complete a reconsideration request. The only way to identify if you received an automatic penalty is to use the method described below.

Algorithmic penalties are the result of continuous changes that Google makes to its classification algorithms (That’s when the animal names mentioned above are gaining more importance to webmasters.)

Going back to the example, you can log into Google Search Console to see if your website is under a manual penalty.


Manual Actions Report - Google Search ConsoleCheck Google penalties using the Manual Actions Report.

If you see the message “No problems found”, then you are clean and do not need to take any further action; However, you should continue with the steps below to find out if you were affected by an algorithmic penalty.

In case there is a manual sanction, you should carefully read the message with the reasons, try to correct the problem, and then request a site review.

Step 2 – Sign in to Google Analytics and review your Google traffic

The best way to check if your website was penalized with an automatic penalty is to log into Google Analytics and review your organic traffic from Google.

If you see a drop in traffic during the dates Google released an algorithmic change, chances are you’ve been affected and that’s why your traffic dropped.

Select your website from the Google analytics panel, then go to ACQUISITION > All Traffic > Source/Medium.

From the list, select GOOGLE / ORGANIC. What you see now in the report is the number of visits you get from Google search.

Then select the reporting period at the top right and go as far back as you can.

Google Organic Traffic ReportGoogle Organic Traffic Report

What you need to do now is compare the dates that you see a significant drop (or increase) in traffic with the dates that an update was released.

This handy guide from moz shows all the dates in the last 16 years that Google made a change to its ranking algorithm.

Tip: You can also create annotations in your Google Analytics report to mark dates when a change was made in the same view as the report graph.

If you see a sudden drop in traffic on or around a date (or close to the dates) an update was released, look in the moz report to see what type of update it was and start reading about what you can do to recover.

What happens when your website is penalized?

The first thing that happens is that you lose your Google traffic (or part of it).

The second thing is that you also lose some (or all) of your trust in Google and this means you have to show good faith and be patient until you get it back.

Google doesn’t like websites that are spamming or trying to trick their algorithm and that’s why they remove them from their index.

Returning to the index does not mean that you will regain your ranking and go back to the pre-penalty stage and, furthermore, it will be more difficult from now on to achieve a high ranking.

They want to show good websites in their SERPS and violating their guidelines is a very bad move and it is your responsibility (not theirs) to play by the rules all the time.

How long do the sanctions last?

Manual sanctions are in effect until you successfully submit and approve a reconsideration request or until they expire. Some sanctions can stay for 6 months, while we have read cases where sanctions stay for 2 years before they expire.

Just to be clear, when a manual penalty expires, it does not mean that the website is clean and will regain rankings and traffic.

It simply means that the penalty is no longer displayed in webmaster tools, but if you did nothing to fix the issues, the website is most likely affected by automatic penalties and is still subject to a penalty.

When you are affected by a change in the classification algorithm, you should take corrective action as soon as possible and wait for the next version of the algorithm to see if it has been recovered or not.

There are some cases where recovery may be faster as there are ongoing algorithmic changes, but in most cases you will have to wait for the next major Google update to see if the changes you made are producing positive results.

What to do if you are in trouble?

There is no quick answer, google about this and you will see various opinions and many things you can do.

To save you valuable time, please read my summarized steps below:

Unnatural links pointing to your website – If you did any of these: buy links, trade links, guest post links, comment links, submit your website to thousands of spam directories, you most likely received a penalty manual and a message in Google Search Console Tools.

What can you do to recover? Ask webmasters to remove links (or “not to follow” them), document your efforts, use Google’s disavow tool to ask Google to disregard those links, and submit a reconsideration request.

If it fails the first time, take your time, repeat the process, and submit a review request again.

Unnatural links pointing from your website to other sites: If you used to sell links or have many links on your pages pointing to other sites, remove those links (or “nofollow”) and submit a reconsideration request.

Thin content – ​​If your website has many pages that have little to no content, remove them or combine them. “Do not index” pages that are not useful and try to add useful content that is unique and original.

Recommended reading: How to find and fix thin content pages.

Duplicate content – ​​Google doesn’t like content that isn’t unique, so if you’re constantly copying content from other websites, stop doing so and follow the same steps as for “thin content” above.

Optimize your website – Having a website that is not SEO friendly is not a reason to receive a penalty, but in situations where you are having trouble from a penalty, it helps to optimize your website as much as you can. You can use my SEO audit checklist to optimize your website for Google.

How to avoid being penalized by Google?

The best way to recover from a Google penalty is to avoid it in the first place. In my experience, webmasters are always looking for shortcuts to get higher rankings and this leads them to do things that Google doesn’t like.

I have said many times that to achieve good results with Google you need to be patient and follow the rules. Don’t believe what you read about how to increase your ranking with cheats that can get you into trouble.

The recipe for success has been the same in the last 17 years that I have been working online and this is none other than:

  • Publishing high-quality content.
  • Comply with all Google webmaster guidelines
  • Track changes that affect SEO (such as https, mobile optimization, keyword avoidance) anchor text when linking, ‘do not follow’ external links, etc.)
  • Promotion of your website and content through white hat channels.

If you do this consistently over several months, you’ll start to get noticed and if your content is good, you’ll attract natural links that will improve your Google rankings.

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