How to Recover Your Site From a Google SEO Penalty.

An SEO penalty from Google sucks. I’ve had it happen to 3 sites I’ve owned in the past. But, it’s possible to recover from this, let’s go over how.

One of the main things people absolutely need to understand is that SEO penalties from Google happen for generally these following reasons:

how to recover from a google penalty

The ability to understand which of those specific things your page is responsible for doing and correcting it is what will lead to the recovery of the said page as each of those reasons above has their own manual action you can take to correct it.

The problem is that most people who engage in those activities don’t even understand that they are bad and when their site gets hit, they are lost as to why. Well at least now you have the main reasons on why this occurs.

I’ll go over the basic corrections for those issues below, but before we do that, let’s be absolutely sure your page is indeed suffering from an SEO penalty and not just a regular drop or fluctuation in rankings which happens to every single website (see the top 10 reasons), which is normal…

How to check if Google penalized my website:

If you notice your page or pages are losing traffic, rankings and so on, the question is, how much traffic and rankings is it losing? If you’re getting 10%-20% less traffic, it may be a period where something causes your audiences to forget looking up your page. It could even be (and likely is) a Google dance.

Another thing that might be happening is that a Google update (like this) has occurred during which MANY websites go through a ranking turmoil and if you give it a few weeks, it should subside. 

In short, if you’re experiencing a loss in rankings, that are around losing 1-10 spots on a particular page in the search results, that is not something I’d be concerned about as generally algorithm changes (and that dance I mentioned) are responsible for this, and it doesn’t go on for long, before your rankings go back to the way they were. You may need to give that a few days or even several weeks to know for sure. 

Now if you are experiencing a 50% or more loss of traffic and/or several pages of lower rankings (or none at all), then it’s time to raise the red flag and see what’s going on…

Note: If you’re not familiar with how to check for this stuff, I wrote a tutorial on how to check your keyword rankings on Google.

How do you check for a Google penalty? The tools that work:

So there’s specific SEO tools for this, including ones from places like Moz and other sources. I have an article here that links to 6 supposedly good ones, but I have to be honest, I haven’t personally used any of them.

What I do know works well is Google’s own service that is designed for this specific problem. It is called the Manual Actions Report (link included to the page).

You will find that this particular page has a button you can press, and then submit your site through which will produce a report on how your site is doing, if indeed there was/is a penalty taking place, and with that diagnostic tool, you’ll be able to at least pinpoint where the exact issue/s are coming from:

From there, you’ll be able to take the right actions, and then re-submit your site to be reviewed and hopefully recover from the penalty.

Now it is important to note that in order to use this service, you will need to have a Webmaster Tools account. With that, at least you’ll have a more direct connection with the service and it’ll help you speed up the recovery process of your page.

A more manual/advanced method of spotting penalties:

Once you have a Webmaster Tools account set up (remember, you need this to make all of this work), you will need to go into it, visit the page you verified within there, and then look at the following things:

Now the red areas I circled are what you would want to look at as soon as you suspect your page is suffering from a Google penalty. In those sections, you will be told (if there is an issue) what’s going on. 

Now I also include the yellow areas because you may very well see these same things one of my sites is, and panic that a penalty is headed your way. In this case, it’s not, because in the following situation, the “errors” or “coverage issues” message I’m getting are not a big deal and do not fall into the 10 main issues I listed above.

Sometimes I’ll want to prevent any search engine indexing and ranking to happen on a page I have for personal reasons and the fact that it won’t be able to access it, it will still let me know there’s an issue, but it’s not one that will cause SEO dangers.

So don’t worry about things like:

Crawl errors: If you don’t let Google index a certain page or post, this is a message you can disregard. Only worry about that if there’s a 404 error page (in my case, it’s not an issue).

DNS, server connectivity. Sometimes your page’s hosting goes down, and it may be during a time that Google’s spiders are checking out your page. And when it does this, it’ll turn up an error, and let you know that, “hey, we checked your page and it’s not up, you should fix this ASAP”.

This happens to everyone, and when your hosting resumes and everything comes back, Google will see that and it’ll be fine. Once again, you can disregard this, unless you have bad hosting (in which case, upgrade it because bad hosting can lead to too many fetching errors).

Messages which say “new coverage issues detected”. Webmaster will notify you of any coverage problems, but like I said, they aren’t a big deal, worry about the red flag ones.

Also Webmaster Tools sends you notifications and emails with warnings about all these things beforehand, so by having this account, you can preemptively stop a penalty from happening (but I suspect you’re past that point if you’re reading this).

Taking the action to recover from the penalty:

Once you’ve identified the exact issue or issues that have caused the SEO penalty to occur, it’s time to take the necessary actions. This is where, the first step would be to again go back to the manual actions report page I linked above:

google penalty recovery

What you want to do is see which particular issue is causing your page to be punished, and to see the fix for the said problem. Followed by that, you have to take these following actions:

1) Manually correct the error/s and/or hire someone for this.

2) Resubmit your sitemap to Webmaster Tools. That link will show you how to set a sitemap up.

3) Manually let Google know that you’ve made the changes. This will happen when a penalty occurs and if you are registered with Webmaster Tools, they’ll send you an email warning you about that.

From there, they’ll provide a link to send them a message letting them know the fixes you’ve made (you can also elect to just let Google re-crawl your page/s again (you don’t need to do anything if that’s the case) and let them make changes at their own pace, but sending them a message speeds it up, more info).

That is the general way of recovering your site from a Google SEO penalty.

It’s certainly a lot of info but being that there are so many rules and restrictions to improperly doing SEO, when people violate it, there is a way back. The question I pose however, in spite of showing you the recovery method is…

Is it worth going through the trouble of the fix? As I said earlier, I had 3 pages that suffered from an SEO penalty long ago, 2 of them went down due to horrendous backlinks and the other was down due to a maleware infection.

With the first 2 sites, I decided to scrap them and took them down entirely. With the 3rd, I went through the manual review route I talked about by simply cleansing the page of the malware issue and letting Google know, and it was back up in a matter of days.

Looking back, I probably should have done the same thing with my other 2 sites, but I ask if this is all worth it because many people build horrible pages that are beyond recovery and my whole thing about this is that sometimes it’s better to start a brand new page than to go through the effort of cleansing your site of all the bad content, the backlinks, the duplicate content and whatever else I said that causes these penalties and knowing what not to do, to take that into the next new domain and new page you create on it.

Now this is your choice, and you have to decide if your particular page is at that point of where it can still recover or if it’s at the point of, no way, it has to go down.

What I will say is that for the MAIN issues that penalties occur, here are the summarized fixes and while I am giving you a short “fix” for these problems, you will see a lot of them may require tedious attention, which is why I say consider starting a new page:

Just remember though, the manual actions report link I gave you is where I would go to identify the EXACT issue and then pick out how to correct it. And once again, once the fix is made, either let Google know manually or let them see the change automatically because in SEO, Google will come back to your page again and again to check for what’s changed and if they see, you made the changes to fix the issues they cited, they’ll restore your SEO credibility. 

Note: I recently updated a particular issue your site can get penalized for, which is “stealing images” and/or ACCUSED of stealing images (which is what happened to me very recently), which triggers what is known as a DMCA take down notice. 

If you happen to incorrectly have this issue happen, it can lead to a penalty, but it can also be corrected if you take the right steps. I’ve listed them here, so be sure to follow that, because the steps for THIS particular problem are not the same as the steps I listed above for other situations your site may get penalized for.

Note: One more penalty that could occur (and what to do).

There is a penalty scenario which involves people trying to sabotage your site with bad links and in that circumstance, you may need to use something called the Google disavow tool to correct it. 

Personally, I am of the opinion that unless you publish toxic links on your site, you will be fine, but in case, I am wrong, that link will help you correct that problem if someone or a service is trying to attack your site via negative SEO methods.

22 thoughts on “How to Recover Your Site From a Google SEO Penalty.”

  1. I’m still fairly new to SEO but understand the basics. I had no idea google could issue an SEO penalty! Thanks for the great info on how to fix the issue if it happens. I’ve experienced 404 errors in the past and one of the comments above mentioned to use a broken link checker to help fix that. I had no idea! Thanks so much for this helpful post!

    • You’re welcome! 404 errors are generally the main mistake people make on their sites, because when they are new, they tend to over edit their site to try and make it perfect, and often end up changing their permalinks or pointing to pages which aren’t stable and disappear. This is what leads to the 404 happening. 

      I will put up a post on this particular issue and solution soon, since it appears that most of the comments point to this being their main problem.

      I should clarify that when it comes to penalties from Google, they don’t really “punish” you for 404 errors or honest mistakes that are similar to that, they just see it as you not meeting their quota for a good site.

      Now what they do punish a site for is black hat things, maleware and viruses on your site and if you link to places that are like that. This is what they truly do not like, they will look at your site as a danger to browsers and avoid giving it exposure to them.

  2. A long time ago I had a website which was penalized, but had no idea why. Instead of trying to fix the problem I closed the website, because I didn’t know how to fix it.

    Now after reading your article I realized there were so many ways to fix it. I have started another website, and know what to look for if I run into issues. Thanks for all the information you’ve provided.

    • The ability to fix a site’s SEO after a penalty has been issued has become much easier today than it was a long time ago, so I wouldn’t worry so much about that site you decided to scrap Jag. In the past, it was a lot more difficult to fix a penalty from Google and I too ran into my own issues, for which I also scrapped numerous sites. I hope your current one does well 🙂

  3. I have never heard the term Google dance before. My own website is pretty new and I am still working on getting the initial SEO traffic, let alone worrying about penalties. I feel a bit intimidated when I read articles like this because I worry that there is just so much that goes into it. I feel kind of lost.

    • Hi Mariah, I’ll be providing my readers with a simple SEO guidebook in the near future, which will really help you know what you need to do and what not to worry about.

      Now regarding your worries, its normal for anyone getting involved with SEO to have those feelings, there’s really a lot to take in and I would honestly recommend you NOT focus on all these details. 

      This article specifically is made for people who have already been involved with SEO for sometime and did things that ruined their site. As long as you don’t do the 10 bad SEO things I mentioned at the top, you should move confidently along with your existing site and try to make fresh content through new blog posts as often as you can.

  4. I have had a bunch of broken links on my website because I kept on changing the permalink of my pages and I also deleted some website pages. Luckily, I was able to use a broken link checker to fix all my broken links and fix that problem with my SEO.

    How does a website get a malware infection? Is it based on how strong the hosting platform is on that particular website?

    • Hi Jessie, hosting plays a role, but it’s the security of the site that ultimately matters. I can’t say I’m the best expert on malware topics on websites, but since I did experience that, I can say that when it comes to say WordPress websites, one of the ways malware gets in is when a website owner doesn’t update his site to the newest version of WordPress and/or doesn’t update it’s plugins, that’s how it happened to me.

  5. Hey Vitaliy,

    Thank you for this great tutorial. So far l have not violated any of the top 10 penalty reasons as highlighted in your article. Recently l have subscribed to a Spin Rewriter to speed up some of my content writing in which they claim the spun article is 100% unique and passed the Copyscape system. What is your opinion on using a spin rewriter and does it violate the Google quality guideline?

    Best wishes.

    Nax

    • Hi Nax, I know that program you’re mentioning and I would NOT use it. Every single one of those programs claims their content is 100% unique, but it’s also extremely low quality because the context gets changed due to the wording changes. 

      I would absolutely say that using those programs violates Google’s quality guidelines (negative SEO) and I would not use them.

  6. Wow that’s crazy man. I had no clue about any of this. I legit just bookmarked it to reference later because this is some potentially important information. I definitely need to research keyword stuffing and make sure I’m not doing that. 

    Also, if I’m an affiliate with a site, can I take pictures from them and not have Google get all mad about it? 

    • Hi Jason, 9 out of 10 people would say that you can safely take pictures from a program you’re affiliated with and selling products from. in fact, since you are basically working for them, they do usually allow you to do this, BUT the 10th person would say that there are issues where for example, you may promote a product but not rate is as well as they may like and perhaps they may claim that you can’t use their image in that manner, and it can potentially lead to things like a DMCA take down notice hitting your site.

      I would advise that you either purchase the product you are affiliated with and take your own pictures with it, OR go the other route of using screenshots of the product page. Either of these 2 options would keep be safer.

  7. This is great Vitaliy. I must say that my site suffered from main Google update in August and it has not recovered yet like it should. I have no manual actions but I think that it is about the algorithm hit. Also, I have found that I have 9, 404 errors. Do you think that it can badly affect my site?

    • Hi Daniel, yes absolutely, you have 9 broken links on your site and they need to be fixed. I am absolutely certain your loss in rankings occurred because of this issue (you mentioned there were no mentions of manual actions). 

      What happened was, when Google ran their update, crawled through your site and saw those broken links, they basically saw that there was no reason to give those 9 pages any ranking value. You have to understand that broken links lead people into pages that do NOT serve them in anyway, and Google knows this, so when they see 404 error pages, they give that page a very low ranking.

      What you need to do is fix this by redirecting those 9 pages with 404 errors to their updated pages that are actually working. See my response to Jenny in this post, because she asked me the same type of question and I told her, step-by-step what she needed to do. You will need to do the same and overtime, you can expect your rankings to improve, but yeah, moving forward, absolutely make sure that you don’t have 404 errors showing up.

  8. Thanks for the detailed post.  I had to take the time and run my site through the console and check to see if any errors were present.  Luckily for me, none are.

    I’ve noticed your images are using the older console layout.  I was wondering if you have the how-to’s for the newer look.  It’s easy to switch back and forth so it’s not a big deal. I just worry the old look will vanish one day.

    I had no idea of the manual actions report. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention. If and when I have an issue, it will be my first stop in remediating it.

    Thanks again!

    • You’re welcome Scott. 

      Regarding the old console, I still stick to it because I’ve gotten so used to using their features there and since the new console hasn’t finished updating, many of the same features you’d easily find on the old console, don’t show up on the new one and frankly, because it was a pain to find things like fetching as Google on the new console as well as other features that would take me seconds to access on the old one, I decided to stick to the old one and structure this tutorial on that.

      As of now, I am very unhappy with the new console, and they actually did the same kind of thing for YouTube, for which I am also using the old video editor, because the new one still has a TON of work to do. 

      If in the future, they make the new one easier to use, I’ll probably update either this page or any future ones where I give out tutorials on these subjects of using those programs. 

  9. Great tips! I found myself receiving messages of coverage issues recently and I found out I had a bunch of 404 issues. Im fairly new to website building and all this SEO stuff, and turns out I had been writing text in the URL section when I went to insert an image. So basically I had a bunch of dead links on many of my pictures, but I think I’ve got it taken care of now. 

    I’ll be sure to bookmark this page in case I run into anymore issues. Have a great day!

    • Hi Joey, basically you were editing the permalink (the URL), For future reference, once you have a permalink set up, do not edit it (it’ll upload on auto after you write a title for a blog, then leave it alone). Only edit the title (meta title) or meta description and body (basically the whole body of the page). 

  10. I didn’t know that too many 404 errors could lead to Google penalty! Probably that’s what got my site a penalty. Too many silly things when I started out. I kept changing the URLs. I’ll try to remove the URLs if I can or then I’ll go to a professional. Thank you so much!

    • Jenny hi, forget the professional, you can make the corrections yourself. Use Webmaster Tools and they’ll show you all the 404 errors their system found, then go to your site, install (a plugin) 301 redirects (it fixes them), then take those error URLs you got from Webmaster Tool and redirect them to working URLs on your site. 

      This will allow Google to re-rank your website. This method is free for you and a professional would have you pay a lot for this service. There are YouTube videos available that show the 301 redirect plugin and how to use it if you get lost, but all in all, this process is easily correctable, but it may take time depending on how many 404 errors you’ve accumulated.

      As for the changing of the URLs that you mentioned, yes this is what led to your problem.

  11. I’ll keep this in mind, I’m not doing anything to upset google at the moment, nor do I plan to. But your list was very insightful on what not to do. I had an issue of finding my own photos when I first started my site, then I was able to start taking my own. It’s a lot more work to put in but the outcome feels more rewarding. 

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