6 Website Traffic-Killing Google Penalties and How to Avoid Them

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Google hates shady SEO (search engine optimization) tactics. And they should! These black hat techniques go against everything that Google stands for. They're designed for gaming the system and trick users into clicking on low-quality results.

The temptation to break Google's terms and conditions to manipulate its algorithm and gain an edge on the competition is intense. After all, everyone wants their website to rank higher in search engines results.

But to combat this, Google has a department dedicated to weeding out these malpractices. And whatever they find influences future updates to the algorithm, making it harder for those employing black hat SEO to rank as highly.

This cat-and-mouse game has been going on since the early days of Google as the internet has become more complex, Google's algorithm too. Also, even if you swear never to engage in black hat SEO tactics, there's always the chance that you could be penalized for something beyond your control or by trying to be clever.

With so many different variations of bad practices, it can be hard to keep track. Instead, it's wiser to have a better understanding of the different types of Google penalties a website can receive. This way, you can avoid them altogether.

This post will cover:

  • What we mean by Google penalty
  • How to tell if you've been penalized
  • The big six Google algorithmic penalties

What we mean by Google penalty

The word "penalty" strikes fear around the SEO community like no other. The reason is simple: If you get hit by a Google penalty, your traffic will drop significantly, usually overnight. And no one wants that.

There are two types of Google penalties:

  1. Manual penalty—a failure to pass a manual review conducted by a Google quality reviewer
  2. Algorithmic penalty—a negative change to your search engine rankings resulting from an algorithm update

Google's quality guidelines are very clear. If you violate them, you risk getting a manual penalty. Some of the most common violations include:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Cloaking
  • Participating in link-building schemes
  • Creating doorway pages
  • Scraped content
  • User-generated spam
  • Hacked site
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Abusing structured data markup
  • No original content

These are all avoidable and preventable if you take the necessary steps. If you're not sure whether your site is in violation of Google's quality guidelines, conduct a manual review. Google Webmaster Tools is also a great resource for identifying potential issues.

Once you've identified the issue, take steps to fix it immediately. If you're not sure how to do it, work with us. We're an SEO marketing Agency that can help you get your traffic back.

On the other hand, if you've been hit by an algorithmic penalty, it's usually the result of a Google update. Google updates its algorithms 500-600 times per year, but most of these updates are minor.

However, every once in a while, Google rolls out a major algorithm update that can have a significant impact on your traffic.

How to tell if you've been penalized 

With a manual penalty, you'll receive a notification directly from Google. All you need to do is check your site's Google Search Console. Navigate to Search Traffic > Manual Actions. If you don't have any messages listed, then you haven't been penalized.

However, algorithmic penalties are more difficult to diagnose and detect. It's because Google releases very little information about its algorithm changes at the time they roll them out.

The best way to find out if you have been hit by an algorithmic penalty is to monitor your traffic and rankings closely. You can use tools like SEMRush to do this.

Just enter your domain and scroll down to the organic and paid traffic graph. You'll see small 'G's along the time axis. When you click on these icons, it will reveal the update rolled out.

Hence, if you see a significant drop in organic traffic or rankings around the same time as an update was rolled out, there's a chance your site has been penalized.

However, if you've misdiagnosed the penalty, any changes to resolve the problem can cause more harm than good. So, it's essential to be 100% sure before you start making changes to your site.

We're an SEO agency that can help you get to the bottom of it so that your traffic and rankings can recover.

The big six Google algorithmic penalties

Now that we know what kinds of penalties can be levied against a website, let's take a look at the six most common algorithmic penalties Google doles out:


Panda was one of the first penalties Google handed out, and it's also one of the most common. It was released in 2011 to target spam websites. The primary purpose of this algorithm update is to keep thin or low-quality content from showing up in the search engine results pages.

What does low-quality content mean? Well, they are best described as:

  • plagiarized content
  • very short content
  • spun content
  • poorly written content

Google will assess all your web pages to see if they are high quality. If not, your traffic will suffer.

How to avoid it: The best way to avoid the Panda penalty is to make sure all your content is original, well-written, and informative. Use tools like Grammarly and Copyscape to ensure your content is the highest quality. Link back to high-authoritative sites to add weight to your own.


This algorithm update tries to protect searchers from spammy or unnatural links. If the algorithm suspects you have spammy or low-quality links pointing to your website, it will penalize you.

How to avoid it: The best way to avoid a Penguin penalty is to make sure all the links pointing to your website are high quality and come from reputable sources. You can use a tool like Moz's Open Site Explorer to check the quality of your inbound links.


This is not a made-up word. Mobilegeddon is a Google algorithm update that penalizes websites that are not mobile-friendly. With more and more people using their phones to search the internet, Google wants to make sure searchers can find websites that work well on their mobile devices. Keep in mind that unfriendly websites mean a terrible user experience.

How to avoid it: The best way to avoid a Mobilegeddon penalty is to make sure your website is responsive. That means it should work well on all devices, from desktop computers to mobile phones. You can use Google's Mobile-Friendly Test tool to see if your website passes muster.

Top Heavy

This update penalizes sites that put a lot of advertisements above the fold, affecting the user experience. Above the fold means the visible section of a web page that can be seen without scrolling.

How to avoid it: The best way to avoid a Top Heavy penalty is to make sure your website does not have too many ads above the fold. You want to strike a balance between ads and content to make your website easy to use. So instead, place your ads below the fold or in sidebars.


Many online industries spend a lot of money just so their websites rank at the top of the Google search results. Some examples include:

  • the weight loss supplement industry
  • Viagra
  • casinos
  • the payday loan industry

Due to their revenue potential, many webmasters have operated in these industries using every possible black hat SEO strategy or technique to game the system. Google is well aware of these niches. Thus, bringing in the Payday penalty in 2013.

Simply put, this penalty casts more scrutiny on sites that operate in these industries.

How to avoid it:  If you want to rank in these industries, you need to have a very clean link profile and great content. You also need to be patient, as it will take time to build up authority.


If a website content violates piracy laws by giving site visitors copyrighted, stolen material, then the website will get a Pirate penalty. It targets torrent sites that allow users to download movies, TV shows, music, etc., illegally.

How to avoid it: If you want to avoid a Pirate penalty, then do not host or link to any copyrighted material. Then, unless you're stealing content, you don't have to worry about this penalty.


When you start to understand how the big "G" works, you can consider different strategies and tactics to get the best results with your website. Just remember not to cross the line and break any of their guidelines, or you may find your website being penalized.

If you need help with SEO, boosting your website traffic, or digital marketing, you can always consult us. We are an SEO Consulting Agency or search engine optimization company. We offer the Best SEO Services in Los Angeles, CA, and can get your website traffic growing in no time.

Schedule a FREE SEO traffic Analysis! Our SEO company will be happy to help. No other SEO companies can help you get the results we can. Contact us now!