November 14, 2023

Alina Hasnaș

All about the SEO penalty: meaning, reasons and how to avoid it

A Google penalty happens when you lose positions in the Google rankings, due to updates made in the search algorithms, or even your site is completely de-indexed from Google. In other words, these penalties mean that your site has violated Google's policies - Google Search Essentials.

Next, we set out to discuss the most common reasons for penalties received from Google, to know what activities and tactics to avoid in your SEO strategies, and not to sabotage your efforts or the advantages obtained from site optimization.

Manual Penalty

If this type of Google penalty has been applied to your site, it means that the search engine has decided to manually remove it from the index (ie from their web page storage bases) based on a prior evaluation by a Google employee. Usually, the manual penalty also comes with a notification in the Search Console under the "Security and Manual Actions" compartment. Here you will also receive an explanation of the penalty. Google also gives you the chance to fix the situation and later request a manual site review through Search Console. For your request to be taken seriously, it is recommended that you provide as specific information as possible about the remedial actions you have taken.

Manual actions can be triggered by:

  • spamming the site or compromising the site;
  • unnatural backlinks;
  • weak or low added value content;
  • cloaking - a basic principle of how search engines work is to show the same content as they would to a human visitor and the search engine bot. This means, among other things, not hiding the text in the HTML code of your website (ie where a normal visitor can't see it).
  • overusing keywords to try to manipulate search results.

Automatic penalties

These are applied automatically by the algorithm and come without notice. To detect such a penalty it is advisable to analyze the analytical data and positioning of the site and observe if major changes have occurred.

Here are the most common situations of penalties:

  • Hidden/different redirects on mobile - it's not uncommon for the mobile version of a website to display slightly different content than the desktop version. Quite often, images need to be resized to fit a smaller screen. However, the penalty is imposed when some or all pages on a website redirect mobile users to content that is not visible to Google's crawlers.
  • Covered images - serving images that are hidden by another image, redirecting users from the image.
  • AMP content mismatch with de facto - applies when the AMP content is different from the canonical version of the web page. Both versions must be essentially the same. That doesn't mean the text has to be identical, but it has to match by a high enough percentage.
  • Keyword stuffing (unnatural stuffing with keywords, or keyword abuse) - involves using keyword terms or phrases repetitively on a page. This is to make it appear more relevant to search engines.
  • Auto-generated content - that is, written by a robot, not by human hands.
  • Structured data issues - if you don't follow the user-rich snippets rules or your content is irrelevant or misleading, you'll be penalized.

What can be done to avoid penalties?

Use tools like or to manually investigate your site's backlinks and understand which are good and which are toxic.

What we have to do as a first step is to download all the given backlinks into Excel. Then let's review the spreadsheet in more detail. Here we will be able to see exactly which are those backlinks that led to the massive influx and when they appeared. Did they appear around the same time? All these bad-quality domains should now be put into a simple .txt file. And then this file is sent to Google via the Google Disavow tool:

Penalties in Google Discover would include:

Adult-themed content - Google explicitly prohibits adult-themed content from appearing in Discover. That means banning nudity, sexually exploitative material, and even sexually suggestive content. An exception is scientific or medical terms related to human or sexual education.


Since organic traffic (and especially from Google) is the largest source of traffic for websites globally, losing it is certainly a tough test for any online business. It is precisely for this reason that we need to be aware of the latest algorithm updates and make rigorous changes and adaptations to ensure that we are not hit by algorithm updates.

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