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20 SEO Issues that can Quickly Trigger Google Penalty

by Jay | Updated on October 21st, 2019


Google is on a mission to eradicate websites that are not giving value to its users. Its aim is to give users access to truthful information, exceptional content, and the finest writers. It repeatedly improves and tweaks its algorithms so that the best content providers on the web get the exposure they deserve.

SEO Issues that can Quickly Trigger Google Penalty

Regrettably, there’s a penalty for erring offenders. That’s the consequence of Google taking offense with something on your website. Sometimes a penalty is well-deserved.

What does the term Google penalty mean? 

Google doesn’t even use the word “penalty”, however, a Google penalty is the harmful impact on a site’s search rankings. These rankings are based on updates to Google’s manual review or search algorithms.

Since December 2000, when Google released its toolbar extension, it has been altering its ranking procedures. At that time, the toolbar update symbolized a wave of change that would create the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry as we know it today. This was when PageRank was first released in a usable or meaningful form.

Over time, Google has continued to increase the quality of its search results. Google is eliminating poor quality content and elevating the good ones to the top of the Search Engine Result Pages. That’s the origin of penalties.

In 2012, when the Penguin update was introduced, it affected a lot of websites overnight. It wiped some websites out of search completely. Poor quality content was pushed off the map, forcing optimizers to think carefully about their content marketing approach. 

Ever since the update, SEO professionals have been playing by the rules and trying not to err in case it results in a penalty for a website they’re trying to rank.

When BMW was punished for using doorway pages, it served as a warning to top brands, and none of them ever tried to do the same trick again.

A penalty can be Manual or Algorithmic. The algorithmic penalties are forced automatically by the system once it detects any misconduct. However, manual penalties are sanctions that are manually imposed on websites for not obeying the laid down rules.

How to recognize a penalty

Penalties can be automatic or manual. With the manual penalties, Google will most likely inform you, but if it’s algorithmic, you might not know you have been targeted. These penalties may surprise even the most knowledgeable and experienced SEO professionals.

Here are some clues to watch out for regarding algorithmic penalties.

  • Your site has stopped ranking well for your brand name, for a start. Even if your website doesn’t rank for other terms, it should perform well on a brand name.
  • You begin to lose your page one position, slipping back to page two, three,  or four for no explainable reason. 
  • Your website’s page rank has mysteriously dropped from a reputable two or three to zero or a miserable page rank of one.
  • Your website has been detached from Google’s accumulated search results suddenly.
  • Whenever you run a site search for your domain, for instance, – keyword – it produces no results.
google search site:

Checking for google penalties by searching for your site domain

If eventually, you find your site in Google –a page on your website turns up other than the homepage.

If you ever come across one or more of these factors, just know that a penalty has affected your website.

What can you do to avoid penalties?

Below you will find 20 common slip-ups you must avoid to stay away from Google’s penalties.

  •  Buying links

A lot of people swear it doesn’t happen, but in reality they do it. Buying links could indeed be seen as an effort to manipulate SERPs, and therein lies the disagreement. If you have been buying links then it’s time you faced the consequences of your actions.

  •  Unusual link velocity

If a website gets hundreds or thousands of backlinks from sites with high Domain Authority, Google will recognize that this is standard. However, if you are running a site that has many new inbound links and your site content can’t validate these links, then it will be regarded as spam links, especially if the website is a new one.

  •  Too many reciprocal links

Not too long ago, swapping links was regarded as an innocent marketing strategy, until people started to abuse it. If you have been swapping lots of links with your clients, it could be viewed as an attempt to manipulate the system.

  •  Duplicate content

I guess this is obvious: If you have duplicate content on your website, Google will regard your site as less useful, which could get you penalized. Ensure your content is unique and perfectly written; use digital tools like Copyscape to check for plagiarism.

  •  Hijacked sites that take months to notice

If hackers have hijacked your site and are using it to promote their products (think of Cialis, Viagra, etc.), or are using it to carry out other mischievous acts like; installing malware and other viruses, phishing, etc. you risk getting your website penalized. The funny thing is that you may not even know the reason your website’s ranking went down until you notice odd pages popping on your website.

  •  Overusing the H1 tags

If you correctly structure your site’s content, it will help with SEO. The H1 tag assists Google in understanding what your page is all about. However, excessive use of H1 tags could be viewed as a way of pumping Google’s listing with your keywords.  While having more than one h1 is not against the rules of SEO, using more than one H1 tag per page is not recommended by Bing Webmaster Guidelines

Here’s what Google thinks of H1

“I think it makes sense to use semantic markup so different heading levels to better break up your content and make it a little bit easier to understand. Sometimes this helps search engines to better understand which pieces of text belong together, sometimes it also helps users to understand this a little bit better.” —John Mueller 2018

Attempting to inject keywords using h1 not only doesn’t help crawlers, but it’s a clear indication of what you are trying to do and it does not even help with your ranking as it is a small and soft factor:

“If you have been using them properly I would definitely keep them there, and it’s…  like a really small and soft factor when it comes to signing pages.” —John Mueller 2018

404 page not found error google

404 error causing penalties

  •  Internal 404

Google always wants to know if you’re taking care of your content and removing all errors and problems. If you’re having 404s within your website, it’s a certain fire signal that your audience isn’t getting the info they are asking for.

  •  Placing too many Ads

Showing too many ads at the top of your website can be distracting and affect the usability of your website. It’s understandable that you want to monetize your blog, but let it just be one ad, anything more than one will make your site look spammy or slow. 

Reasonably place ads in the content of your page, and ensure they aren’t interfering with your site’s outlook and speed so you don’t get penalized from the algorithm.

Some might say this seems unfair, you’ve got a genuine link no doubt, from a client, perhaps in another country. However, it’s technically not counted for you. Well, Google’s perspective is sound: users are generally inclined to prefer one language, so linking to websites in a different language from the one on your site won’t be useful for them. If you are trying to reach a foreign market, make sure to provide some content, such as articles, page(s) mentioning, hreflang, geolocation language URLs, etc. Google will most likely understand if you are teaching English to Spanish students, but to receive Russian or Chinese links might not help, and if it’s a paid link, it will definitely not help.

  •  Keyword stuffed content

On the web, you’ll find various wonderful and weird ‘rules’ about keyword density and how it’s best applied in content writing. In all honesty, none of these rules are established, and it will amaze you to know that very high keyword density written content is a red flag for poorly written content. If Google notices a weird number of keywords within a page, it may reprimand you – rightly or wrongly.

  •  Hidden links

There should be no hidden links on your site. All the links on your website should be noticeable and useful to your users. Anything that’s concealed is considered distrustful. Make sure your link is not the same color as the background of your web page or button, regardless of your reasons.

  • Deceptive headlines or bad clickbait

A lot of content marketers use clickbait all the time because it pushes people to click on a headline, that’s fine, Google understands that. But, where there is a problem is when your content doesn’t relate to what your headline is saying, then you risk getting a penalty. Google algorithms can perceive this via some metrics. In general, headlines should be appealing, but not to the level of misleading your readers just for clicks.

  •  Scraped content

In some cases, website managers take content from other websites to bulk their pages. When this occurs, it’s done with the best of intentions, and it might also be an innocent mistake. But in the eyes of Google, it is worthless duplication

  •  Overusing Anchor text

In the past, SEO professionals linked certain keywords to strengthen their authority. Ever since the 2012 Penguin update, Google has frowned on the over-use of anchor text linking. It’s strongly discouraged. Swap your forced, abnormal keyword links for honest links expressed in real English.

  •  Guest posting for links

Guest posting is a good SEO strategy accepted by Google, but only when it’s done with the right intentions. The major reason many authors go into guest posting is to gain more significance and further push themselves as an expert in whatever niche they belong to.  

Anything beyond this is considered to be spammy, most especially if the only aim is to point countless links to the author’s website. Algorithms will consider the links as spam, for that reason, you will incur a penalty.

  •  Website timing down or out

Whenever your website goes down, everybody gets disappointed: the webmaster, the visitor, and the search engine. If Google can’t locate your website, it would reasonably de-index it instead of sending web visitors to a dead end.

  •  Spamming blog comments

One common tactic by content marketers in search of backlinks is to post links as comments on various blogs. These comments are treated as spam since they are often found on blogs that are not even related to where they lead to. Your links will then be inappropriate, and as such earn you a well-deserved penalty. Spammy blog comments can hurt both the website where the link is and the one it is linking to.

  •  Affiliate links all over the place

Google has no problems with affiliate websites, but a huge amount of affiliate links on a website is a red flag that the site’s content may not be useful to anyone. Although some marketers conceal affiliate links with redirects, Google is aware of this tactic, so please stay away from it.

  •   Concentrating on filler content over quality content

Quality content offers value to readers, not because of how long the content is, but for the useful information in it. Writing needlessly long pieces that have no relevance to the readers can invite Google’s algorithm to reprimand your site.

Do not associate yourself with a site that is doing something ethically or legally dubious. Porn, Hacking, and malware-filled sites should be avoided at all cost. Also, try to get rid of links to websites reprimanded by Google in the past, supposing you know about it.

In conclusion

If your site gets penalized by Google, it’s not a death sentence, you can regain your balance once you get rid of what prompted the penalty in the first place. There are a lot of ways through which you can be penalized, either automatically or manually.

If you ever get penalized, login to Google Search Console to know the offense you committed and get recommendations on how to get it fixed. For websites that were manually penalized, make sure you resolve the issues before submitting your website for reassessment. Best of luck to you.



I've worked for WooRank, SEOptimer, and working on a cool SEO audit tool called Now I have build Linkilo and SEO RANK SERP WordPress theme. I've been in the SEO industry for more than 5 years, learning from the ground up. I've worked on many startups, but also have my own affiliate sites.


No need to hire SEO experts anymore to fix your site technical SEO issues