There are many different kinds of Google penalties, from manual actions to algorithmic ones. Here we’ll describe some of the different kinds of penalty you may be subjected to.
Google penalties are actions taken by Google to lower the ranking or remove websites from its search results. These penalties are usually a result of violating Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can severely impact a website’s visibility and traffic. Here are the main types:
These occur when a human reviewer at Google determines that a site is not compliant with Google’s guidelines. The website owner is typically notified of this penalty through Google Search Console.
These are automated and result from Google’s algorithms (like Panda, Penguin, or Hummingbird) identifying issues in a website. Unlike manual penalties, there’s no explicit notification from Google.
Targets low-quality content, such as thin, duplicate, or plagiarized text, and content farms. Panda came out in February 2011 but is believed to still be active. There’s more info on Panda from Moz here.
Focuses on penalising sites engaging in manipulative link schemes or having unnatural backlink profiles. This algorithm is also still part of Google’s core algorithm – meaning it’s always running in the background. There’s more info on Penguin from Moz here.
Aims to understand the intent behind queries and penalise keyword stuffing or irrelevant content. This was believed to be an overhaul of the core Google algorithm, where it helped Google to better understand the intent of search queries made. There’s more info on Hummingbird from Moz here.
Mobile Compatibility Penalties
Websites not optimized for mobile devices may receive a minor penalty, especially after the implementation of Google’s mobile-first indexing. Note that these aren’t really considered penalties as such, more like factors that could hinder your site from ranking higher.
Websites that use intrusive interstitials (pop-ups) that hinder the user experience, especially on mobile devices, can be penalised. I generally tend to err on the side of caution – if you’re giving your users a really bad experience, then it’s unlikely to help your long term SEO efforts. Having lots of interstitials or ads running isn’t going to help your SEO performance.
Page Layout Penalty
Targets websites where the content is not immediately visible to the users and they have to scroll past a large number of ads. Again, this might not be considered a proper Google penalty, it might just prevent your website from ranking at it’s full potential.
Thin Content Penalty
Websites with a large amount of shallow or low-quality content are subject to this penalty. Sites that make use of AI to generate content at scale may be at risk of being penalised here. I think Google will lean heavily on this in the future as more and more people start using AI to generate low quality content.
User Generated Spam Penalty
For sites that have spammy content in user-generated sections, like comments or forums. This is why it’s essential to have a strong moderation policy in place, to catch and prevent issues like this.
Helpful Content Update
Although not a penalty as such, there were many sites that were hit by the HCU that was launched in September 2023 and finished rolling out in late October. SearchEngineLand speculated that this update mainly affected niche SEO sites – that is, info sites that are largely designed to attract organic traffic without being associated with any real business. Typically on sites like this they’re monetised through ads and affiliate programs. The HCU was looking to reward sites that provide helpful content for users, and Google shared that it does look at a variety of signals to determine how useful content/a webpage is deemed to be.
Need help with a Google penalty?
Understanding and avoiding these penalties is crucial for maintaining and improving a website’s SEO performance.
If you’re worried that you might have been hit by a Google penalty then just reach out to us for help.