Digital Marketing google penalties Inbound Marketing website optimization

What Should I Do When My Site Is Hit with a Google Penalty?

Something that almost all website owners with a solid amount of organic traffic fear is the dreaded Google penalty. If everything’s going well, you don’t need to stress over it. But when your organic traffic suddenly tanks, what should you do?

3 Major Steps for Google Penalty Recovery

If you suspect that you’ve been hit with a penalty from Google, keep calm, take a deep breath, and follow these steps. It’s important to avoid doing anything rashly, as you don’t want to add more fuel to the figurative Google fire.

Step 1: Try to Diagnose the Penalty

Like a doctor, we want to treat the core problem and not the symptoms. That means we need to do our best to figure out what type of penalty we’ve been hit with.

First, log in to Google Webmaster Tools and see if you’ve received any messages or manual actions.

If you’ve received a manual penalty, you know what’s causing your ranking drop, so move on to Step 2. If not, chances are you’ve been hit with an algorithmic penalty and you’re going to have to make an educated guess as to which one.

The two biggest culprits are Panda and Penguin.

Panda deals mostly with on-site issues, such as duplicate content, low-quality content, or overly promotional content such as affiliate websites. If your website lacks original content or your blog posts are only a few hundred words, your site might have gotten caught in the Panda filter.

Penguin deals mostly with off-site issues, such as links from low-quality sites or too much of the same non-branded anchor text.  Take a few minutes and audit your backlink profile, and if your site has too many suspect links, you’re probably suffering from Penguin.

Step 2: Take Appropriate Action

As bad as receiving a manual penalty can be, having a clear picture of the problem and knowing that you have a person on the other end to work with is a blessing in disguise. Most manual penalties tell you exactly what’s wrong. You’ll see something in Webmaster Tools like:

  • hacked site
  • unnatural links to your site
  • thin content with little or no added value

Do your best to correct the problem, such as securing and correcting your hacked site, removing any unnatural links to your site or contacting the webmasters of the sites linking to yours and requesting that they remove the links, or cleaning up and adding useful information to your content.

And, most importantly, document your efforts to correct the problem. From there, in Webmaster Tools, submit a reconsideration request and include all of your documentation. You’ll either get the penalty removed or you’ll get information about what else needs to be done.

If you were picked up by a Panda or Penguin filter, you’ll also need to take the above steps to clean up your site. However, you don’t have the luxury of submitting a reconsideration request, so you’ll need to sit back and wait for an algorithm refresh to regain rankings.

Step 3: Adapt Your SEO Strategy to Avoid Future Penalties

Whether you were hit with a manual penalty or an algorithmic one, some part of your current SEO strategy needs to be reworked. As time goes on, Google is getting more and more selective as to what they deem as quality content and quality backlinks.

Spend a few hours auditing your current strategy to see where you can make improvements, such as hiring a firm that specializes in digital marketing to manage your content calendar and link building efforts.


Getting hit with a Google penalty or caught up in an algorithmic filter can be devastating. But it’s something that many webmasters and website owners have suffered and lived through.

If you’re the victim of a manual action or a Panda or Penguin update, do your best to take a planned and calculated approach to regaining your healthy search engine rankings. And take strong steps to alter your current approach to SEO so you can avoid any future penalization.


Stream’s Kick-Start Step:

Even if you haven’t been on the wrong end of a Google penalty, it’s never a bad time to audit your current SEO strategy. Take a few minutes to dig through your website’s backlink profile and look for any possible low-quality links or aggressive anchor text, and take the appropriate actions to clean them up if spotted.


For more information on Stream Companies’ SEO strategies, get our free How Stream Does SEO eBook.

All the best,


—Tim Backes is a Digital PR Coordinator at Stream Companies, a full-service Philadelphia-area advertising agency.