Jeff Pickle

What is a Google Penalty?

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What is a Google Penalty? Picture by tico24

(see comment section for detailed followup or contact us)

When you can’t find your website at all in the Google index or if you don’t have top rankings for your domain name, you most likely have a penalty. Google penalties are the result of violations against the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Violations against the Google guidelines are either detected algorithmically or are detected manually. Some violations are considered worse than others. A penalty can expire in a few weeks, a few years, or may be slapped on permanently.

For example, hidden text is considered a relatively minor infraction. Hidden text can be detected by the Google Algorithm and a penalty will usually be automatically lifted in a few weeks once the hidden text is removed.

A little higher on the list, another type of algorithmic penalty can occur when you have content detected that looks like gibberish, links on a page using anchor text that point to what has been deemed a bad neighborhood, or too much anchor text manipulation without a nofollow that point to duplicate or pages of low-quality content. Depending on the severity, penalties can last quite some time, on the level of several months, even after being corrected.

Other penalties, such as a manual penalty for participation in a link farm or link exchange program, can last several years if a reinclusion request is not filed. Even then, your request to get re-included in the Google index may be ignored.  Google will not confirm or always lift a penalty to avoid tipping off spammers.

What is not a Google Penalty?

Many webmasters occasionally report seeing a sudden drop in the rankings by 30 or so spots. Sometimes called -30, -60, or -950 penalties, these are the result of filters the search engines have used to dampen your search rankings. The filters are based on the quality scoring algorithmic signals for your website pages much like the quality scoring guidelines for Adwords. If your site is run through the filters, Google may adjust your web page ranking by lowering it for a particular keyphrase from which you will have to fight your way back to the top via better relevant content, traffic, and incoming links. Not a penalty or ban, but a way for Google to put you in your place so to speak.

Lowered page rank is not a sign of an incurred penalty as long as your site is still present somewhere in the search rankings. An update to your Google toolbar PageRank can be affected for a myriad of reasons. Most commonly, backlinks have likely been discounted as reverberations occur throughout the entire web as PageRank and Domain Authority for other linking websites are updated.

What to do in case of a Google Penalty?

In the case of an algorithmic penalty manual penalty, keep in mind that you are guilty until proven innocent. Clean the site of infractions and file a re-inclusion request in Webmaster Tools. Be honest, clear, and detailed. Also, pray that it is your lucky day. Given the workload that Google has to deal with these requests, one can only wonder how much attention your site will receive for re-inclusion. There is a better chance that your site will have the penalty expire automatically and leave it at that.  After the bans have hopefully lifted given a length of time, you will get your PageRank back. In the same regard, be very wary of purchasing old domains. Some curses live on and never die.


  1. Tama
    Posted November 1, 2008 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    Great post, my site still penatied in google seach engine so I must study a lots to solve this problem now, thanks for your informations.

  2. Mister bargains
    Posted November 4, 2008 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    my site get -30 penalty for 10 months until now :( … thanks for article

  3. Dana
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    No one will give you a penalty that lasts for years, Google will ban you and that’s it. Unfortunately no one knows how long a manual penalty lasts.

  4. Posted May 21, 2012 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks Mr Turtle. Only the owl knows how many licks it takes to get to the center of Tootsie Roll Pop.

    How often are major infractions expired? The first two citations below are 5 ½ years apart for link exchange penalties.

    Dec 30 2002

    Hey, recently we penalized some domains that participated in a certain link exchange program that used hidden links with keywords stuffed in those tiny little images. I won’t call out the link exchange program by name, but it was pretty obviously spam that went way outside our quality guidelines.
    I just wanted to let those site owners know that those penalties are set to expire, and most of those domains will be coming back. A note to site owners who were in this program: please don’t use hidden text or hidden links on your pages. Ultimately, each webmaster or site owner is responsible for what’s on your own domains. If you put hidden links/text on your pages, Google may have to remove you from our index, and we’d rather not do that. More info on our guidelines is here:
    Hope this helps,

    •Matt Cutts blog:
    July 24,2008

    Hey folks, I wanted to let you know that new toolbar PageRank values should become visible over the next few days. I’m expecting that also in the next few days that we’ll be expiring some older penalties on websites.



    WebMasterWorld Google Guy (aka Matt Cutts) followup posts: -
    hidden text/hidden link algorithms caught you…. A typical hidden text penalty would be for one month -
    “PR0″ penalties–they aren’t penalties at all, just a case of not being able to crawl your site (or not having the resources) for this crawl. Some penalties expire with time, and some are permanent. I believe one load of penalties is set to expire next month, for example. -
    Don’t worry about forum links and similar stuff–that shouldn’t have affected things. -
    Just wanted to let people know about another set of penalties that is about to expire. This SEO put doorway pages directly on client sites, with sneaky redirects on those pages. I won’t call out the name of the SEO, although they have been caught twice now. Dec.20,2002
    We usually don’t lift penalties on expired domains. I’ll check out your case; if we can determine that you have nothing in common with the old site, we might be able to put your domain back in. you asked why penalized domains can retain their penalty. That helps to prevent a spammer from profiting from a domain after they decide to throw it away. They’ll use a domain until it’s caught, and then they’ll sell the domain once it’s worthless. Again, you want to be careful if you’re thinking about buying expired domains. pages can be a little trickier than hidden text. Wouldn’t hurt to do a resubmit and mention WebmasterWorld and your nickname. saltwaterpizza, I wouldn’t worry. Automatic penalties (e.g. hidden text) tend to expire automatically after a period of time. Hey, automatic-but-expiring penalties are better for the web (less hidden text) and better for Google too. We get to deal with fewer webmaster emails, and good websites get back in quicker. We’re working for the day when everything is automatic. It’s not there yet, but maybe in time. -
    The smart money has already noticed some expired domains dropping out of DMOZ, and there’s other signs out there for people to notice. I’ll see if I can accelerate that PR drop for a batch of PR7 domains, as a favor to keep you from getting a bad deal.
    Hi kaled. We’ve got automatic algorithms that detect hidden text, despite a number of tough cases. Besides Jimwp above, and bodybuilding, and rnrtvb, several other webmasters have verified this. You might want to check these for background:
    We given hidden text an automatic penalty that expires after a few weeks, so if the site owner cleans up his site, he can get back into the index.

    No worries, PBG. It’s easy to make a mistake, and that’s why we put an expiration on this set of penalties. You should be fine in a while.
    Reminds me of the story where the guy goes to visit his doctor:
    Patient: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
    Doctor: “Okay, don’t do that.”
    Alright, alright, I’ll get serious. Sounds like the hidden-text algorithms kicked in. Penalty was about 30 days, which sounds right. After it’s over, the site is re-included without any penalties. Later we may do another pass through the sites that were caught in order to verify that the hidden text is gone.
    Bottom-line: if you took all the hidden text off, you should be fine.
    I wonder if someone heard it at pubcon and passed that message on? I know that when the filter went checking on that site (and it did), the hidden text had already been removed.