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Manual Penalty in SEO: What It Is and How to Recover from It

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is vital in improving a website’s visibility and driving organic traffic. However, there are times when search engines impose penalties on websites for violating their guidelines. One such penalty is the manual penalty, issued manually by search engine reviewers. Our article will explore a manual penalty, how to identify it, and most significantly, how to recover from it.

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What is a Manual Penalty?

A manual penalty is a punitive measure imposed manually by search engine reviewers. These penalties are initiated when a website is found to be in infraction of the search engine’s webmaster guidelines. Unlike algorithmic penalties that occur automatically due to algorithm updates, manual penalties are the result of a human reviewer’s assessment.

These reviewers evaluate websites based on various factors, including content quality, link schemes, keyword stuffing, and other deceptive or manipulative practices. These penalties can significantly impact a website’s rankings, visibility, and overall organic traffic.

Types of Manual Penalties

Search engines can impose various types of manual penalties on websites. Some common manual penalties include:

  • Unnatural Links Penalty: This penalty is applied when a website is found to have an excessive number of low-quality or spammy inbound links. It aims to discourage manipulative link-building practices.
  • Hidden Text or Keyword Stuffing: This penalty is applied when a website attempts to manipulate search engines by hiding text using techniques like setting font size to zero, using white text on a white background, or stuffing keywords unnaturally into the content.
Keyword Stuffing

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  • User-generated Spam: Websites that authorize user-generated content, such as comments or forum posts, can be penalized if they fail to effectively moderate and control spammy or irrelevant user-generated content.
  • Structured Data Markup Spam: A website may be penalized if it misuses or manipulates structured data markup to gain rich snippets or other enhanced search results.
  • Thin Content: If a website has a significant amount of low-quality, thin, or duplicated content that doesn’t provide any substantial value to human users, it may receive a thin content penalty.
  • Spammy Structured Markup Penalty: If a website uses structured data markup in a misleading or spammy manner, it may receive this penalty. This includes marking up content that is not visible to users or implementing structured data for irrelevant or misleading purposes, such as redirecting mobile users to different pages.

Identifying a Manual Penalty

1. Google Search Console (GSC)

The primary tool for identifying manual penalties is Google Search Console. Webmasters can find detailed information about any manual penalties imposed on their websites by logging into GSC and navigating to the “Manual Actions” section. This section will provide insights into the reason for the penalty and specific instructions on rectifying the issue.

2. Sudden Drop in Organic Traffic

Organic Traffic

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A sudden and significant drop in organic traffic can indicate a manual penalty. Analyzing website analytics data and comparing it with known algorithm updates can help identify if the drop in traffic coincides with a known penalty.

3. Manual Penalty Notifications

Search engines may directly notify website owners about manual penalties through email or notifications in the search console. It is crucial to regularly monitor all communication channels from search engines to address any penalty issues promptly.

Recovering from a Manual Penalty

1. Understand the Reason for the Penalty

After identifying a manual penalty, it is crucial to understand its specific reason. Carefully review the manual penalty notification in Google Search Console or seek professional assistance to assess the violations comprehensively.

2. Fix the Issues

Once the reasons for the penalty are identified, take immediate action to rectify the affected pages. This could involve removing or disavowing spammy backlinks, improving the quality and relevance of content, or implementing stronger security measures to prevent hacking.

3. Create a Reconsideration Request

For manual penalties, submitting a reconsideration request to the search engine is essential once all issues have been resolved. A reconsideration submission is a formal request to review the website again after making the necessary changes. Clearly outline the steps to rectify the issues and demonstrate a commitment to following search engine guidelines.

4. Focus on Quality and Relevance

To recover from a manual penalty and maintain long-term success, prioritize creating high-quality content that adds value to users. Invest in natural and ethical link-building strategies

5. Build High-Quality Backlinks

High-Quality Backlinks

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After resolving any issues related to spammy or unnatural links, focus on building high-quality backlinks. Engage in outreach campaigns, guest blogging, and content partnerships to acquire links from authoritative and relevant websites. Accentuate quality over quantity and ensure that the backlinks are earned naturally.

6. Improve User Experience

Enhancing the overall user experience on your free web hosting service is crucial for recovery from a manual penalty. Optimize site speed, improve navigation, and make the website mobile-friendly. Ensure that users can easily find the data they need and have a positive browsing experience.

7. Monitor and Audit Regularly

Once the penalty is lifted and your website starts recovering, it is important to monitor and audit your website for any potential issues regularly. Stay updated with search engine guidelines and algorithm changes to address emerging concerns proactively.

8. Seek Professional Help if Needed


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Recovering from a manual penalty can be complex, especially for larger websites or those with multiple violations. In such cases, it may be beneficial to seek assistance from SEO professionals or consultants specializing in penalty recovery. They can provide expert guidance and implement effective strategies to expedite recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions on Manual Penalty

a) How can you know your website received a Google penalty?

If you suspect that your website has received Google penalties, you can take several signs and actions to confirm and address the situation.

  1. Search Ranking Changes: Observe your website’s rankings for important keywords and phrases in search engine results pages (SERPs). If your rankings drastically decrease or you notice a sudden disappearance from the search results, it could indicate a penalty.
  2. Algorithm Updates: Stay informed about Google algorithm updates. If you notice a considerable drop in traffic around the time of a known algorithm update, it may suggest that your site has been penalized due to changes in the algorithm.
  3. Unusual SERP Behavior: If you observe unusual behavior in the search engine results for your website, such as duplicate content or unrelated pages ranking higher, it could indicate a penalty.

b) How Long Does It Take to Resolve Google Manual Actions?

Resolving Google manual actions can vary in the time it takes to resolve the issue completely. Google manual actions are penalties imposed by Google when a website violates its quality guidelines. The duration to resolve these actions can depend on several factors, including the violation’s severity, the website’s complexity, and the actions taken to rectify the problem.

Google Manual Actions

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It is important to note that the time it takes to resolve a manual action can range from a few weeks to several months. Simple, promptly addressed, and resolved violations may be resolved relatively quickly. However, more complex violations or cases that require multiple rounds of reconsideration requests can take longer.

During the waiting period, it is crucial to continue monitoring the website’s performance, making further improvements if necessary, and ensuring ongoing compliance with Google’s guidelines.

c) What are unnatural links to your site?

Unnatural links, spammy or manipulative links, point to a website acquired through deceptive or manipulative means rather than through organic, natural processes. These links are typically considered against Google guidelines and can hurt a website’s search engine rankings.

Examples of unnatural links include paid links, link farms, low-quality directories, link exchanges, automated link building, and over-optimized anchor text.

d) How do I check for manual penalties?


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Checking for manual penalties on your website involves reviewing the messages you receive from search engines and examining your website’s performance and visibility. Here are some steps to help you check for manual penalties:

  1. Content Review: Conduct a thorough review of your website’s content, paying attention to quality, relevance, and adherence to search engine guidelines. Look for any content that may violate guidelines, such as keyword stuffing, hidden text, or cloaking.
  2. Backlink Analysis: Evaluate your website’s backlink profile. Unnatural or low-quality backlinks can lead to manual penalties. Use tools like Google Search Console, Ahrefs, or Majestic to identify potentially harmful links. If you discover problematic links, take steps to remove or disavow them.
  3. Duplicate Content Check: Check for duplicate content issues, as search engines may penalize sites with a significant amount of duplicate or scraped content. Use tools like Copyscape or Siteliner to identify duplicate content across your website.
  4. Website Health: Review your website’s overall health and performance. Ensure no technical issues, broken links, or malware infections could trigger penalties. Use tools like Google PageSpeed Insights and Google Mobile-Friendly Test to evaluate your site’s speed and mobile-friendliness.
  5. Seek Professional Help: If you’ve gone through the steps above and still suspect a manual penalty but cannot identify the issue, consider consulting with an SEO professional. They can conduct a more in-depth analysis of your website and guide you on resolving any penalties.

e) What are the penalties for SEO?

SEO Penalties

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Here are a few examples of penalties that can occur in SEO:

  1. Algorithmic Penalties: Search engines regularly update their algorithms to provide better search results and combat spammy or manipulative tactics. Suppose an entire website or web page violates the search engine’s guidelines. In that case, it may be hit with an algorithmic penalty, resulting in a drop in search rankings or even complete removal from the search engine index.
  2. Manual Penalties: In some cases, search engines may manually review a website and impose penalties if they find egregious violations. These penalties are often the result of a website engaging in black hat SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing, hidden text, cloaking, or participating in link schemes. Manual penalties can significantly drop search rankings or complete removal from Google search results until the issues are resolved.
  3. Content Quality Penalties: Search engines prioritize websites with high-quality, suitable content that provides value to users. A website with low-quality or duplicate content may be penalized in search rankings. Additionally, if a website engages in keyword stuffing or spinning content (automatically generating low-quality content), it can be penalized for violating content quality guidelines.
  4. Link-related Penalties: Links are crucial in SEO, but search engines are strict about manipulative link-building practices. Buying or selling links, participating in link farms or networks, and excessive link exchanges can result in penalties. Unnatural links, such as those from irrelevant or low-quality websites, can also be problematic.
  5. User Experience Penalties: Search engines increasingly prioritize user experience, and websites that provide a poor user experience may be penalized. Factors such as slow page loading speed, intrusive ads, mobile-unfriendly designs, and excessive pop-ups can negatively impact search rankings.

f) What is a manual action?

Manual action

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A manual action refers to a penalty or action taken by a search engine, typically Google, against a website or web page. Manual actions are implemented when a website violates the search engine’s quality guidelines or uses manipulative practices to achieve higher rankings. Manual action may be imposed when a search engine’s algorithm or the Google search quality team identifies a website that violates their guidelines.

This can result in a decrease in the website’s rankings or complete removal from the search engine’s index, making it difficult for users to find the website through organic search results. Website owners and webmasters must adhere to search engine guidelines and avoid practices that could result in manual action.