What does a google ‘penalty’ mean in terms of SEO?

We often hear the term ‘penalty’ when dealing with SEO in a lot of different contexts. It is used in many ways, and can be quite a confusing term when going into the industry. So, lets take a look at what the term ‘penalty’ means, what it can do, and how to avoid receiving one.

When dealing with SEO services, we often hear the term ‘penalty’ thrown around a lot, and is used so often and so loosely, that you could be forgiven in thinking that this term has multiple meanings. However, this term has one specific meaning.


What does a ‘penalty’ mean?

Users will often report that a site losing traffic and visibility is down to a ‘penalty’ being put in place, either manually or through an algorithm. However, this term is not used entirely accurately in this context.

An official penalty means manual action being put in place from Google. This means that your website has violated the webmaster quality guidelines, and has therefore been devalued in the SERPs (Search engine result pages), via a Google human reviewer. You would be notified of this via Search Console.


Why have I been penalized?

There are multiple ways for your website to be in violation of the webmaster quality guidelines and have a manual penalty, such as:

  • Hidden text or links
  • Automatically generated content
  • Hosting pages with little or no original content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Creating pages that host malicious behaviour, such as phishing, viruses, trojans and other badware
  • cloaking
  • loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding value
  • Sending automated queries to Google
  • Scraped content
  • Doorway pages
  • Abusing rich snippets mark-up




If you have received a penalty on your website, it is likely to be down to manual action been taken due to the reasons listed above, however you can be penalised for other reasons as well.

The term for your site losing rankings is known as ‘algorithmic devaluation’, and due to its awkward name is often referred to as a ‘penalty’, however, penalties are site specific, and not an effect from Google rolling out a general algorithm update.


How to know whether you have received manual action?

If you have received a penalty on your website, you will be informed through the Google search console. Having a console set up for your site is very important for situations like this, as fixing your website to comply with the webmaster quality guidelines as soon as possible s important to prevent further loss of traffic and visibility.

Once your site has been reviewed and updated to comply with the guidelines, you can then submit your site for a ‘reconsideration request’. This means you have asked Google to remove the penalty or manual action.

To conclude, having a manual action or penalty placed upon your website is never a good thing, but addressing the situation and making tweaks to make your site more user friendly and accessible, will help towards removing the penalty whilst also improving your traffic flow and visibility.

Do you need assistance with recovering from a penalty for your website? Why not contact In front digital today to see how we can help you!