October 25, 2023

What Actually Gets You Penalized By Google?

What Actually Gets You Penalized By Google?

Introduction to SEO Penalties

In the vast landscape of the internet, Google and other search engines are the undisputed gatekeepers to informative digital content. For businesses and content creators, securing a ranking on Google that generates business is often the holy grail of online success. If you are a business trying to do this yourself, you may have heard whisperings of things that will get you “penalized by Google”. This article was created to give you exact guidelines as to what violates Google’s Spam Policy and what does not. Use this information to vet SEO providers or improve your own site.

But before you worry you may have already taken negative action, it is critical to understand one thing:

There is too much content being created every day on the internet for Google or any other search engine to accurately assess the contents of every web page on every website. Google is much more concerned with finding good content to rank rather than wasting its resources and energy penalizing a site.

Penalties are usually reserved for those trying to deceive.

Google's Spam Policies: Protecting Search Quality

Google's spam policies and their role

That being said, Google does offer a list of spam policies that serve as the general guidelines for us to follow. These policies are designed to provide users with relevant, trustworthy, and high-quality search results.

How violations can affect search rankings

Violating Google's spam policies can have severe consequences for a website's search rankings. Google will not tell you you have been penalzied but a severe drop in traffic or impressions is usually the first sign. Google employs automated systems and, when necessary, human review to detect policy violations. Sites that breach these policies may find themselves ranking lower in search results or, in extreme cases, completely removed from search results.

The significance of understanding these policies

For website owners and content creators, understanding Google's spam policies is a basic element that is often blown out of proportion by YouTube style SEOs trying to sell you a course. It is something you should review yearly and nothing more. Because just like most things SEO…they rarely change. If you are creating content for the humans visiting your site, you will never see a penalty. 

Common Violations of Google's Spam Policies


Cloaking involves the practice of presenting different content to users and search engines with the intent to manipulate search rankings and mislead users. An example of cloaking is showing one page to search engines while displaying entirely different content to human visitors.


Doorways are web pages created to rank for specific, similar search queries. They often lead users to intermediary pages that lack real value. Examples include having multiple websites with slight URL variations to maximize reach or generating pages to funnel visitors.

Hacked content

Hacked content is any content placed on a site without permission, often due to vulnerabilities in a site's security. This can include code injection, page injection, content manipulation, or redirects to harmful pages.

Hidden text and links

Hidden text or links refer to placing content on a page primarily to manipulate search engines and not for human visitors. Examples include using white text on a white background, hiding text behind images, or using CSS to position text off-screen.

Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing involves overloading a web page with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate search rankings. It results in unnatural and poor user experiences, such as lists of phone numbers without added value.

Link spam

Link spam includes any behavior aimed at manipulating links to or from a website. This can range from buying or selling links to engaging in excessive link exchanges, text advertisements, or forum comments with optimized links.

Machine-generated traffic

Machine-generated traffic consumes resources and hinders user experience. Examples include sending automated queries to Google or scraping results for rank-checking purposes without permission.

Malware and malicious behaviors

Google checks websites for malware and unwanted software that negatively affects user experiences. Malware can install harmful software, while unwanted software engages in deceptive or unexpected behavior.

Misleading functionality

Some sites intentionally create misleading functionality and services that trick users into thinking they can access certain content or services. Examples include fake generators or deceptive ads instead of promised services.

Scraped content

Scraped content involves basing websites on content taken from other, often more reputable sites. Without additional value or proper attribution, this practice can lead to poor user experiences and copyright issues.

Sneaky redirects

Sneaky redirects maliciously send users to different URLs than they initially requested, either showing different content or fulfilling users' needs unexpectedly. It aims to deceive either users or search engines.

Spammy automatically-generated content

Spammy auto-generated content provides no original value and is primarily generated to manipulate search rankings. Examples include gibberish text, content generated through automated processes, or combining content from various sources without adding value.

Thin affiliate pages

Thin affiliate pages lack original content or added value and often replicate product descriptions or reviews directly from the original merchant, leading to a poor user experience.

User-generated spam

User-generated spam refers to spammy content added by users through platforms intended for user-generated content, such as spammy accounts, posts, or files.

Take a look at the bold text in each item above. Almost all of these points are penalties because they put the user (Google’s customer) at risk of a bad experience or being mislead. This is the essence of SEO. So don’t let the threat of being penalized impact your decision making when choosing an SEO provider.

Other Behaviors that Can Lead to Demotion or Removal

Legal removals and their impact on search results

High volumes of valid copyright, defamation, counterfeit goods, or explicit personal image removal requests can lead to demotions in search results.

Personal information removals

Demotions may also occur for sites with exploitative personal information removal practices or those hosting non-consensual explicit personal images.

Policy circumvention and its consequences

Engaging in actions intended to bypass Google's spam or content policies can lead to restrictions or removal from certain search features.

Scam and fraud in online content

Scam and fraud come in various forms, such as impersonating businesses, displaying false information, or misleading users. Google aims to identify and prevent such content.

Did My Content Get Penalized By Google?

The question "Did My Content Get Penalized By Google?" often arises from a sudden drop in web traffic or a noticeable dip in search rankings. While Google's primary aim isn't to penalize content but to ensure it delivers high-quality search results, it is essential to recognize potential pitfalls. This section highlights some common reasons your content might be facing penalties.

Reasons for a Sudden Drop in Rankings

Manual Actions: 

Google occasionally takes manual actions against sites that violate its guidelines. If your site has been affected by a manual action, you can find a notification in the Google Search Console.

Algorithm Updates: 

Google updates its algorithms regularly. If your content is negatively impacted, it might not be a penalty, but an algorithmic devaluation due to these updates. Staying updated with industry news can help you identify recent changes.

Duplicate Content: 

Google prioritizes unique and original content. If your content is substantially similar to other content on the web, especially without proper attribution or canonical tags, it can be seen as duplicative.

Poor User Experience: 

Slow-loading pages, disruptive pop-ups, or a lack of mobile optimization can lead to a negative user experience. Google may devalue content if users consistently bounce back to the search results.


While SEO is essential, over-optimizing your content with excessive keywords or artificial backlinking strategies can raise red flags.

Identifying if Your Content Was Penalized

Search Console Check: 

The Google Search Console provides invaluable insights. Look for any manual actions or security issues that could be affecting your site's performance.

Traffic Analysis: 

A sudden and significant drop in organic traffic, especially after a known algorithm update, might indicate that your content has been devalued.

Keyword Rankings: 

Tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs can help monitor keyword rankings. If your content suddenly drops for primary keywords, it might be facing penalties.

Competitive Analysis: 

Sometimes, it's not that your content was penalized, but that your competitors have improved. Analyze top-ranking content to understand if they offer something you don't.

Steps to Recover From Potential Penalties

Address Manual Actions: 

If Google Search Console indicates a manual action, follow the provided guidelines to fix the issues.

Improve Content Quality: 

Ensure your content is unique, valuable, and user-friendly. Regularly update outdated content to keep it fresh and relevant.

Optimize for Mobile: 

Ensure your site is mobile-responsive, as Google follows a mobile-first indexing approach.

Engage in White Hat SEO Practices: 

Stay away from dubious SEO tactics. Instead, focus on building organic backlinks, optimizing for user intent, and creating high-quality content.

Did My Backlink Building Cause Me to Get Penalized?

Backlinks, which are links from other websites to yours, have always been an essential component of SEO. They're seen as votes of confidence in your content. However, in an attempt to manipulate search rankings, some websites have engaged in questionable backlink-building practices, prompting Google to penalize such actions. Here's a dive into whether your backlink-building strategy might have landed you in hot water.

Understanding the Importance of Quality Backlinks

Natural vs. Unnatural Links: 

Google values natural links, which are those that other websites freely give to your content because it's valuable or authoritative. On the contrary, unnatural links are those you might have obtained through shady practices, potentially leading to penalties.

High-Quality vs. Low-Quality Links: 

Not all backlinks are created equal. Links from reputable, high-authority websites carry more weight than those from low-quality or spammy sites. 

Diverse Link Profile: 

Having a diverse set of links from various domains is seen as a sign of a healthy backlink profile. Conversely, obtaining many links from the same domain or having too many similar anchor texts might be seen as manipulative.

Signs Your Backlinks May Have Caused a Penalty

Sudden Surge of Links: 

A sudden influx of backlinks, especially from low-quality sources, can be a red flag for Google, indicating potential manipulation.

Paid Links: 

If you've paid for backlinks, and these are not marked as "nofollow," it's a clear violation of Google's guidelines.

Link Exchanges:

"You link to me, and I'll link to you" might seem like a win-win, but excessive link exchanges can be viewed as manipulative.

Links from Irrelevant Sites: 

If you're receiving numerous links from websites unrelated to your niche or industry, it might raise suspicion.

Usage of Public Networks: 

Engaging in public blog networks to gain backlinks is frowned upon and can lead to penalties.

How to Address and Rectify Penalized Backlinks

Audit Your Backlink Profile: 

Tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Moz can help you analyze your backlinks. Identify and remove any low-quality or suspicious links. Use Moz’s Spam Score as a quick and simple metric to asses your links.

Disavow Harmful Links: 

If you're unable to remove bad links, use the Google Disavow Tool. This tells Google to ignore these links when assessing your site.

Engage in Genuine Link-Building: 

Create high-quality, shareable content that naturally attracts backlinks. Engage with industry peers, guest blog ethically, and avoid shortcuts.

Monitor Your Backlinks Regularly: 

Periodically check your link profile to ensure you're on the right track and to spot any potentially harmful links early on.

Conclusion: The More You Know

In this comprehensive exploration of Google's spam policies and SEO best practices, we've highlighted the critical aspects of maintaining a strong online presence. From understanding and avoiding common violations of Google's spam policies to embracing user-centric content and ethical SEO practices, there's a clear roadmap to success in the digital landscape.

Understanding and respecting Google's guidelines is essential for any business or creator. Focus on offering valuable, user-friendly content and steer clear of tactics that can harm your ranking. If you're feeling lost in the SEO maze, consider reaching out for expert SEO advice. Don't wait—ensure your site is on the right track now.


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