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Getting your website seen by your target demographic is the aim of most online businesses, and that can mean employing a variety of techniques.
However, while doing your best to be visible, it’s easy to accidentally breach Google guidelines, leading to a penalty being levied against your site.
There are different types of penalties, but the net result is the same: a lower ranking on the search results.
If this happens to you, don’t despair. There are actions you can take to reverse the penalty but even if you don’t do anything, you won’t be stuck forever.
Here’s a closer look at Google manual penalties and when they will expire.
There are different types of Google penalties that website owners may fall foul of, but these can all broadly be split into two groups: algorithmic penalties and manual penalties.
Algorithmic penalties are levied as a result of a filter that’s been automatically applied. Bots crawl your website and identify anything which is a problem. This can occur even when your website hasn’t undergone any changes because Google regularly changes its own criteria.
This is why it’s important to stay up to date with the impending changes from Google. It’s much quicker and easier to get your website changed in preparation than to deal with the fallout from algorithmic changes.
Manual penalties are a little different. These occur when a human employee from Google has looked over your site manually. Many of the big corporations such as Facebook and Twitter get criticism for their bots incorrectly identifying problems but the manual penalties at Google are rarely wrong.
The Google staff are expert in spotting transgressions which violate the Google Webmaster Guidelines. These manual penalties have an enormous range of repercussions, stretching from being barely noticeable to having devastating consequences for your website. The extent of the penalty will often depend on how severe Google believes your transgression to be.
Google refers to these penalties as “warnings” which is a somewhat disingenuous term as by the time you receive the warning, the consequences have already been applied to your website!
The Google Search Quality team look for transgressions which are significant enough to warrant sanctions being taken against your site.
There are a range of reasons why a manual penalty may be triggered, but these are some of the most common:
Most of the above issues are within the webmaster’s control, and should be fairly easy to correct. However, there is one which particularly stands out as problematic, and that’s the first one on the list: unnatural outbound links.
This refers to other websites containing unnatural links to your site. This may feel extremely unfair as website owners can’t control what links other sites contain! And herein lies the difficulty; if you haven’t been involved in rogue practices such as purchasing backlinks, then you’ll have no way of correcting other sites with unnatural links to you.
And this means that you may have no choice but to wait it out, and hope that the manual penalty will eventually expire.
Google will communicate with webmasters using the Google Search Console. Look for the tab in the menu that says “manual actions” to find out more about any penalties which have been applied.
If there are no manual penalties, you’ll just see a message that says “no manual actions found”.
If penalties have been applied, you’ll see the details here. This will include the precise reason why sanctions have been taken, and the pages which have been affected. It may only be specific pages on your website which have been penalised but Google can also decide to penalise your whole site.
Google say that the vast majority of their manual penalties relate to webmasters attempting to “manipulate” the Google search index. They will remove any ranking which relates to the activity which breaches their rules, and you’re likely to see your site slump down in the search results.
If you’ve been slapped with a manual penalty, there is the option to take corrective action. You can then submit a request to Google to ask them to check your site again. This will remove the penalty and allow your site to start ranking in the search results once more.
Google take a considerable length of time to reconsider a site that has been penalised. You may be waiting a number of weeks, or even longer, for them to conclude their follow-up investigations. If your site has been hurt badly by the manual penalty, this can feel like a very long time!
But not everyone has the option of just correcting the problem. If you have been penalised for unnatural outbound links and they weren’t due to links that you purchased, it’s not quite as easy to rectify. In these circumstances, you may have no choice but to wait it out and hope that Google removes the sanction.
Tests have been carried out on websites to see what happens if no corrective action is taken by the webmaster. After a period of time Google simply removes the manual penalties which were levied, even if the site has not been corrected as requested.
If you were hoping to use this as your plan of action, one word of warning: manual penalties do not disappear quickly. Manual penalties will remain for a period of two years if not corrected sooner. Once the two years are up, the manual penalty will just be quietly removed.
There are some suggestions that any breach could be picked up subsequently by an algorithm. Many older manual penalties can now be covered by algorithmic activity. However, there is no guarantee that activity resulting in a manual breach will be picked up again by algorithms and automatic penalties applied. Once the manual penalty is lifted, you may see positive results right away with no further penalties incurred.
Overall though, it’s far better to keep up to date with the SEO changes in Google and the Webmaster Guidelines. This will help prevent any accidental breaches and manual penalties being levied that could have been avoided.