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How to overcome Google penalties

A Google penalty can strike quickly and cause your search traffic to plummet.

Whether you purchased a cheap link-building package some time ago or have some content or usability issues on your website, a penalty — manual or algorithmic — can seem difficult to overcome.

Types of Google penalty: manual and algorithmic

In one sense, it’s preferable to receive a manual penalty. This is because they are human-edited, so if you make a good case in your resubmission request, all previous rankings will be reinstated.

Algorithmic penalties are often trickier to detect, as you won’t get a message in Webmaster Tools — but if you’ve noticed a sudden, drastic drop in search traffic, there’s a good chance you’ve been hit. With an algorithmic penalty, you’ll need to clean up any issues that have triggered it. There’s much less room for error, and a lot more time needed to assess — and fix — the problems at hand.

Penguin and Panda

A lot has been written on the differences between Penguin and Panda. Panda updates generally relate to content quality and usability, whereas Penguin updates relate more to attempts to manipulate search rankings and over-optimisation. The Moz guide is pretty thorough, but the key points are as follows:

  • If you’ve been hit by a non-manual Penguin penalty, it will take until the next refresh for your changes to be taken into account. This could be several months.
  • Panda is largely focused on on-page changes, and updated regularly as part of the main algorithm.
  • An algorithmic penalty could simply be caused by anchor text over-optimisation too. Use the Remove’em tool to see if there is an issue.

How to fix a manual penalty

  1. First, carry out a thorough link audit. You will need to combine link reports from Open Site Explorer, Webmaster Tools, Ahrefs and Link Detox to get the fullest picture possible. The only metrics you need to concentrate on are referring URL, anchor text and page title.
  1. Once you have your spreadsheet together, you will need to manually check the URLs. Highlight in red any that are unnatural — such as links on irrelevant, poor-quality sites or SEO directories.

Below are some examples of bad links.


  1. Once you have your list, you will need to begin an outreach campaign. This is much easier than you think, and can be managed using RMOOV.
  1. Use RMOOV to generate and submit your disavow files.
  1. If you are working on an algorithmic penalty, you will now need to check your onsite optimization and possibly build new quality backlinks.
  1. For a manual penalty, you will now need to submit a resubmission request. A template is provided below.

Do not copy and paste this, whatever you do. It is here for guidance – you need to demonstrate that you have made an effort to fix the problems at hand. Think of this as a narrative piece and tell the story of the work you have carried out.

Hi there. My name is John Doe, and I work for A Company, an agency that was hired to handle an SEO campaign for a website. I regret to say that a junior member of the team was tasked with the project and used a number of non-Google compliant techniques, which we believe has led to a manual penalty being applied to the site.

We accept full responsibility for this and we have taken a number of steps to address the issue, which are detailed below. The staff member in question has also been retrained.

First of all, we carried out a backlink audit using data from AHREFS, Open Site Explorer, Webmaster Tools and Link Detox. Each page was manually checked. Poor quality or irrelevant links are marked red in the spreadsheet below and we have contacted the site owners to have them removed.


The results of the outreach campaign can be seen here – INSERT URL

Out of the 115 problem domains, 80 have had the problem links removed. The rest have been included in a disavow file.

While we would have hoped for more, many site owners asked for money in exchange for removing the link. We were unsure over Google’s policies regarding this and have just disavowed them as result.

The disavow file can be seen here – INSERT URL

We hope that this clearly shows our intentions of repairing the damage that has been done. If we have missed any poor quality links, we assure you that this is due to human error rather than a deliberate attempt to manipulate rankings.

Then, all you can do is wait — and take it as an opportunity to learn and improve.