What is a Google penalty?

Google owes their position as the world’s top search engine (89% market share) to a history of delivering the most relevant and useful search results.

Their motivation to serve the best results is reflected in constant tweaking of the algorithm which controls which websites are prominently positioned, and which ones aren't.

The algorithm is highly sophisticated, with over 200 different ranking factors. In recent years algorithmic and manual penalties have been issued to websites who Google deem to have been partaking in manipulative practices. These penalties reduce the prominence of these sites in search results, sometimes removing them from the index altogether.


It used to be relatively easy for adept webmasters to manipulate organic search results and push undeserving websites into top positions for popular keywords. Many of these early tactics relied on over-optimisation of onsite content and backlinks.

Onsite over-optimisation

There are a number of onsite practices which Google has highlighted as manipulative.

Keyword stuffing is defined as "the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site's ranking in Google search results."

In some instances, this could be seen as creating false relevance for keywords, which in turn creates a bad user experience for people using Google to find content, products or services.

Over-optimisation of backlinks

Links have traditionally been seen as a key ranking factor, and unscrupulous link-building methods were used to game this metric and improve search positions. Traditionally the focus has been on volume over authority (or quantity over quality), and many questionable practices were born including paid link placements, link exchanges, scraping, link network schemes and automation.

The result of these activities was an internet (and search landscape) fast becoming full of spam. It's easy to see why Google would want to discourage the publishing of content purely created to game search engines; it offers a poor user experience.


There are three Google penalties that are most common within SEO, all geared at targeting over-optimization and manipulation of the SERPs.

When struck by a penalty a website will be demoted in search results, often resulting in a loss of traffic, leads and sales.

There are ways of removing Google penalties and recovering lost rankings and visibility. The process and approach to penalty removal or recovery depends on the type of penalty incurred.

The Penguin algorithm was first rolled out in April 2012 and was designed to detect manipulative linking patterns.

Google Penguin

In February 2011, Google introduced their Panda algorithm to detect sites with thin or over-optimised onsite content.

Google Panda


Outside of algorithmic (or automatic) penalties, Google’s spam team are able to manually assess and penalise websites that it feels are in breach of their Webmaster Guidelines. This form of penalty is known as a ‘manual action’ or ‘manual penalty’ and is often focused towards over-optimisation of backlinks.

Manual Penalties

How can we help you?

If your website has recently lost rankings, traffic or sales, and you’re not sure why then it’s possible you’ve been hit by a penalty. 

Here at Jellyfish, we’ve developed the Jellyfish Penalty Checker which will help you discover why this has happened. And we’ve given you all the information you need to understand what a Google penalty is.

We know that at first glance removing Google’s penalties can seem like a daunting prospect. Correcting the errors can be a time-consuming process, and knowing where to start isn’t always obvious.

Don’t worry, whether you’re unsure what type of penalty you’ve received, or simply lack the resources to undertake the work needed to lift the penalty, Jellyfish are here to help.

We are the experts

Since the earliest Panda update, Jellyfish’s SEO team have been helping businesses lift penalties.

Through diligent and well thought-out processes, Jellyfish has a 100% removal record. 

With our experience and knowledge it’s safe to say that if you’ve been penalised, whether it’s a content-based Panda issue, a link-based Penguin problem or a Manual Action, we can diagnose the problem and help your site recover its rankings, visibility, traffic and sales.

Recommended Tools

If you’ve been hit by a Google penalty or suspect that you have been, the first step is to use the Jellyfish Penalty Checker to confirm if this is indeed the case. 

Once a penalty has been confirmed, then work needs to be done to remove it and the tools listed below should help you do just that. 

If you haven’t been hit by a Google penalty, then this handy guide to SEO tools is still incredibly helpful; the tools mentioned will help you to improve the visibility of your site and help prevent the possibility of being hit by a penalty or update in the future.

Not sure if your site has been negatively affected by a Google algorithm update? We offer a Google Penalty Recovery training course that will help you get back on track. 

Read more about Google Penalty Recovery training courses

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