Responding to a Manual Penalty From Google

The changing landscape of SEO means that each new update brings with it a certain measure risk. Practices that were once overlooked or accepted come first under scrutiny and then attack, knocking websites off the results pages for half-forgotten misdemeanors or purposeful rule-breaking. Sometimes, however, a slap can come out of nowhere and is far more personal. Unlike algorithmic changes, a manual penalty stems from direct human judgment of a website. In these cases, a conscious decision is made to lower a website’s ranking, rather than an algorithm shuffling results by code.

Thankfully, Google does attempt to work with borderline websites before and after they are punished. According to Google’s Matt Cutts, almost 100 percent of all manual penalties are documented and provided for the webmaster to review. If you are on the receiving end of a penalty, it is not too late to return to favor and regain your rankings, but it will take time and a new attitude toward SEO.

Finding the Problem

Google primarily communicates with business owners through Webmaster Tools, a free SEO monitoring service with a number of functions. When a violation of Google’s policy is detected, Webmaster Tools sends a warning. These warnings are often vague, but they should give some idea of the offense in question and can be clarified upon request. Those who do not receive the warning may instead notice declining rankings, especially compared to other search engines. A common culprit in recent months has been low-quality backlinks, but other issues such as spam or inappropriate advertising are also common.

Naturalizing SEO

Before Google will consider removing its blocks and reinstating your ranking, you must ensure that your website’s SEO is spotless. The search engine has always encouraged a gradual, natural approach to SEO built on real recognition and usefulness within a niche. It pursues those exploiting its algorithm ruthlessly and with ever more sophisticated tools; the old quick fixes are now a liability. Start by examining the domain itself. Remove any spam posts or articles and eliminate keyword stuffing. A Google-friendly website is as organic and user-oriented as possible while still mentioning its main keyword phrases.

Removing Bad Links

After the pages are cleaned up, it is time to move on to backlinks. Once, the more backlinks a website had, the better it ranked. This caused many webmasters to use paid link-building schemes and support directories full of useless spun content. Google Penguin and its most recent iteration, Penguin 2.0, now actively penalize websites with links from poor sources.

There are many tools online to pull up a comprehensive list of links pointing to a domain. Work your way down the list and remove any links that no longer meet Google’s standards. Those that you do not have control over can be ignored with Google’s disavow tool.


Finally, when the original problems cited in the warning have been corrected, Google allows webmasters to appeal the penalty. It is best to be honest about what you have done, both good and bad, since Google will have records of its own. Treat it as a learning experience and demonstrate change, and the search engine is likely to relent. It will then take a few weeks for the website to rise back up through the ranks.

About the Author

Paul Teitelman - SEO Consultant

Paul is a well-respected Canadian SEO consultant and link-building expert with over 15 years of experience helping hundreds of companies rank for competitive keywords on Google. He is a Toronto-based SEO consultant who is passionate about search engine optimization and link building. Over the years, he has made a reputation for himself as a leader in the industry by consistently delivering phenomenal results to his growing client base.