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Many webmasters dread Google penalty. But what exactly is a Google penalty?

A Google penalty refers to the negative impact on a site’s search based on the search algorithm updates by Google. The penalty is often a result of black-hat SEO techniques or a by-product of an algorithm update. Aside from the well-established bots, Google has teams of search engineers who are tasked to review different websites and penalize their rankings when necessary.

One of the most talked about event was the release of the Penguin update. Sites across the web have taken a rank hit called “Manual Action Penalty,” which means “if your site has been hit, it is now your job to fix the problem.” This penalty is often presented when the site appears to be manipulated unnaturally to rank high in the search results.

Once hit, you will receive a message describing the penalty which could either be Site-wide Match or Partial Match. The first penalty description means the entire site has been affected while the latter indicates there are only some pages that got penalized.

In you using an SEO agency to help determine the problem, here are the five main causes that they will look into to get your site fixed.

1. Unnatural Links

Google can detect patterns of unnatural, deceptive, manipulative or artificial links. If a site has participated in buying links and other link schemes to manipulate PageRank, then this could be the cause of the site’s Manual Action Penalty.

There is a way to reverse this penalty. Webmasters must first read the Webmaster Guidelines on linking. Next, he or she must identify the unnatural links that violated the guidelines and correct the problem by removing them or changing the link attribute to rel=”nofollow”.

2. User-Generated Spam

The user-generated spam is caused by users leaving comments, signing up to guestbook pages, creating user profiles and dropping links in a particular site that has not been maintained. That is a standard penalty among sites with forums.

It is imperative that you understand the guidelines on this penalty and follow the necessary steps to reverse the violation by identifying and correcting the following:

  • The pages on your site where users have added some irrelevant content
  • Gibberish texts, off-topic links and commercial usernames such as “discount cleaning home”
  • Spam comments or forum posts with unrelated content
  • Implement measures to prevent user-generated spamming

3. Hacked Site

Data theft, malware, abuse of user information and security compromise, some factors can lead to a Google penalty. Webmasters who encounter this problem will experience a significant setback of search engine ranking. When you receive this penalty from Google, you must request for a review to reverse the penalty. But before you do so, here are some of the prerequisites you need to take:

  • Verify your ownership in the search console
  • Clean your site and remove all traces of the hacker’s vandalism
  • Check and correct your site vulnerability and security
  • Publish your cleaned site again on the web

4. Cloaking and Sneaky Redirects

When you receive the manual action penalty, you need to check any sneaky redirects or cloaking on your site. That means your users may be seeing a different page than Google saw. Below is a recommended action provided by Google:

  • Use the tool “Fetch as Google” in the Search Console to fetch pages from the affected area of your site
  • Compare the fetched visuals by Google to the content users typically see by visiting the page
  • Check the URLs on your site to see if there are any redirects

5. Thin Content

When a human reviewer from Google has determined that your site has not complied with their Quality Guidelines, your rank can seriously demote. The factors that caused this penalty are usually shallow pages automatically generated content, thin, affiliate pages or low-quality blog posts. You can follow the steps below to classify and fix the violation on your site:

  • Check for thin content pages that contain affiliate links on your site
  • Find the contents of your site that duplicates another content in the web
  • Get rid of automatically generated content
  • Improve the overall content

If you happen to get a Manual Action Penalty from Google, there is still an opportunity for you to clean up your site and fall back in line with the Webmaster Guidelines.

As long as you cautiously monitor the status of your site and follow the recommended course of action from Google, you can still fully recover from the sudden drop in your site rankings. Just pay close attention to the updates to avoid similar problems in the future.