Google Manual Penalty Guide

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Google definitely gives out manual penalties. This is not something new.

It sounds a little crazy with all the billions of sites on the internet that Google would ever manually look at any of them, but they do.

The thing is, they only do a manual review on the sites listed at the top of the search engines for fairly competitive keyphrases.

So a site in one of the top 3 spots for ‘car insurance’ has a really good chance of getting manually reviewed.

A site at the top for ‘my favorite car insurance and why’ will probably never catch anyone’s attention.

And there’s all the stuff in between that may or may not ever be reviewed by someone on Google’s webspam team.

So there’s a limited number of sites that are ever manually reviewed.

Unless you’re actually good at SEO and go after phrases with some competition, you never need to worry about this (and may still not).

But, manual penalties are a real thing.

And there’s more to a manual penalty than just having your site de-indexed. You can have a manual penalty placed against your site where it’s still in the index, but it just doesn’t rank high for any keyphrases anymore. For these you’ll notice because when you type in your domain name without the .com at the end (or whatever extension you have), you won’t show up at the top, but often buried back to page 5 or worse.

Or you can take a short piece of content from your page, put it in quotes and when you search on Google you don’t come up until way back on page 5.

Sometimes they’ll penalize just one page on your site. Other times it’s for everything so you get absolutely no traffic from Google anymore.

The thing is, when you have a manual penalty placed against your site, you cannot SEO your way out of it.

You cannot build more links and get the site’s high rankings to come back.

There’s really nothing you can do except figure out what you did to make Google mad, fix it and then submit what’s called a request for reconsideration through Google Webmaster Tools. Or you can just live with the fact that you won’t get any more traffic from Google.

You have these two options. That’s really about it.

And you know, it sounds harsh (and it is), but so many things we’re all doing online are like this.  YouTube (again owned by Google) can pull the plug on your account at any time. They can also pull the plug on your Adwords account so you can’t place ads on their network anymore.

Clearly, Google’s just looking out for themselves and no one else. That’s obvious.

But other companies with a big online presence do the same thing.

  • Facebook can take down your fan pages.  They can also ban you from advertising on their site.
  • You can get into mobile marketing and make iPhone or Android apps and I’m sure if your apps don’t meet the terms of service they can pull those down as well.

There’s countless other examples. It all sucks, but you have to play by the rules.

So since manual penalties are something people are paying more attention to now, I want to teach you how to identify them first and then help out a little with overcoming them.

I’ve been into ranking sites high since 2001. And I’ll admit to you I’ve had a few instances of manual penalties over the years.

And I’ve also overcome them.

During this time I’ve come to know that there are actually people who specialize in manual penalties. The whole industry (although small) is called Search Compliance. You can actually pay someone to help you with a manual penalty and you can even pay someone to help you try to get your sites in Compliance before you ever get a manual penalty.

At one point, I spent several thousand dollars to learn a lot about the whole process from one such expert. He worked with very high profile clients (although I think I do OK, I’m talking about large corporations who make millions per year, so way out of my league). So it was nice to be able to learn from someone like that.

I definitely learned a lot from the process. It was very frustrating, but it did get fixed.

I will say the Search Compliance expert I hired always thought my particular penalty was some sort of mistake. And it had nothing to do with link building or anything I teach in my SEO course so you don’t have to worry there.

I’m only telling you this because I actually have first-hand experience with manual penalties. I’ve also done a lot of research on them.

To get on with this, the first thing that usually happens is you notice you’re not making as much money from a site, or you’re not getting as many leads as you normally do. That’s a big clue something’s happened.

At that point, you should look at your traffic stats and see whether or not the traffic went down. If so, then you can see what happens when you search for your site in Google.

These are what I call, “the checks”, and I’ll refer to them a few times in this article. Here they are (they’re pretty easy to do)…

  1. Is your site ranking when you type in mysite without the .com or the extension? If it’s not ranking for that, then that’s bad. So if your site is, type in myshoesite and see what happens. It should come up first or very close to that. If it’s not showing up until page 3 or worse then you could have a real problem.
  2. Also go take some snippets of text off your pages and see if they show up at the top of Google. Again, it’s real bad if they aren’t coming up near the top.  And by that I mean if you’re really having to dig through the search results pages to find them and you finally see them on page 3 or worse then that’s a bad sign.
  3. Also, check and see if you’ve been de-indexed by typing in your full URL with the extension. If you type in and you can’t find your site anywhere in the results pages, then it’s been de-indexed. There’s probably a manual penalty on it.

So those are the 3 checks you need to do in Google. Make sure you’re not logged into any Google products when you do this.

If all signs point to a possible penalty, you’re not ranking high for snippets of unique text on your site or for your URL with or without the extension, then the next step is to go to Google Webmaster Tools.

If you already have an account and your site’s been verified, then see if they’ve sent you a message.

In some cases this may be the way you find out.  Maybe you just happen to login to GWT (Google Webmaster Tools) everyday for some reason and you get a message from them. I rarely login to GWT and most of my sites have no Google products on them (because Google already has too much information), but maybe you do.

Anyway, sometimes Google does let people know what’s going on. The problem is that they don’t tell you that you’ve got a manual penalty in many cases. But I’ve heard of it happening so it’s worth checking there.

At any rate, if you don’t have a Google Webmaster Tools account and you think you may have a manual penalty, then I’d get one, you’ll need it. Just open one up and verify your site.

Whether you have anything in your GWT account or not, if you’re not ranking well in Google, you’ve followed my steps above and all signs point to a manual penalty, then I’d consider submitting a request for reconsideration to validate if your site actually has a manual penalty.

I say, ‘I’d consider it’, because you don’t want to rush into this and send one in.  I know it’s hard if you see your traffic drop, but a lot of things can cause your traffic and even your rankings to drop.  And I don’t believe that any good will come of submitting a request for reconsideration unless you really have a manual penalty.

When you send in a request for reconsideration, you’ve got to inform them which of their guidelines you broke and fix it. Google doesn’t want you sending requests in just to ask if you have a manual penalty or to ask them to rank your site higher. You can do this, but I know I don’t want anyone on their webspam team to start looking at my sites just because I’m wondering what happened.
I try to build high quality sites, but …. it’s kind of like asking for the IRS to come and check if my accountant did my taxes right.

No thanks, I’ll pass on that!

So do make sure you try the checks first.

Also, I’d suggest waiting a few days if not a week.  You can actually use that time to your advantage.

The thing is, if you’re thinking about sending in a request for reconsideration, it’s better to send that in with some information as to what you changed on your site.

Again, you really should not just send in a notice asking if you have a manual penalty or to ask them to rank your site higher.

There’s a lot going on right now. People are getting WARNINGS in their GWT. I put those in caps because it’s often just a warning.  Those aren’t necessarily a sign that you’ve got a manual penalty. They’re just warnings.

This is true even if you see your rankings drop at the same time (remember, try the checks first).  You can drop in rankings due to one of the many algorithm changes going on and those can’t be fixed by sending in a request for reconsideration.

Anyway, if you’re going to send in a request then definitely first change something on your site that may have violated their guidelines, and THEN send it in.

If you don’t have a notice in GWT, but lost a lot of rankings in Google then you are going to feel you need to know if something bad happened. But it’s really important to wait.

After waiting, you may see your site bounce around in the search engine results. If it comes back, then you don’t have a manual penalty. That could have just been due to an algorithm change.

If you have a manual penalty then that will keep your pages buried pretty well. Your site will not bounce around in Google’s search results much at all.

So in the meantime, while you’re waiting, I’d suggest looking through your site and see what you can change if and when you do send in a request for reconsideration.

Here are the Google quality guidelines.

I actually noticed they updated them to be a little more specific sometime after Jan 2012, but still didn’t put two and two together that they were going to be going on a rampage and manually penalize sites at a higher rate than they have in the past (if they really even are).

At any rate, even though this page is VERY vague, it’s got about 2 to 3 times more detail on it then it did prior to 2012.  I don’t understand why they are so vague, especially if they’re going to basically ruin someone’s business over it.

So this is stuff you can look through if you think you have a manual penalty. Or you can look here and see if you’re doing any of this and change it (if you want).  It’s your business. It’s not like you’re a bad person if you’re breaking every last guideline on the Google Quality Guidelines pages.

It’s not THE LAW.  You get to decide if you want to follow these or not. But Google definitely feels like if you aren’t then they can kick you out of their index or rank you lower.

Anyway, here are some things that might cause a manual penalty:

Reciprocal Links Pages.

There are still a ton of sites on the internet that have these.  Just a ton.  And it’s a direct violation of Google’s guidelines.  So it’s possible if you have this on your site you got busted for it.

Again, Google only manually reviews a portion of the sites on the web so it’s possible you could get flagged for it even if you had it on there for 5 years.  So don’t assume just because you had reciprocal links stuff going on for years that can’t be the problem, it totally can. And if so that’s a pretty easy fix because you know exactly who’s linking to you and can ask them to remove the links. And you can take off your reciprocal links page (or at least ‘no follow’ everyone on it).

Keyword Stuffing.

Another is if you over-optimized your pages by keyword stuffing. So maybe you were trying to rank high for ‘dog training’ and you had that word in each and every page on your site like 20 times, linked to it between your pages all over, just really over-did it and then some. Start taking that down.

The algorithm is pretty good at catching this and then just devaluing your pages, but if you slip through the cracks then you could get a manual penalty for this.

Selling Links.

Maybe you allowed people to buy links on your site and have a little link in the footer or your sidebar. You might want to take that down or at least no follow it. If you bought paid links that’s worse because now you’ll have to get all the people you paid to remove them.

Hidden Text.

Maybe you have hidden text on your page or made some text the same color as the background. Usually when people do this it’s to ‘stuff in keywords’ so it kind of goes along with keyword stuffing issue. It’s an easy fix for this one too.  You’ll have to remove it and then somehow convince the web spam team that you realize this was wrong and you aren’t going to do it again.

There are all kinds of people giving bad advice so people actually do this stuff. If they rank high enough and get a manual review then they can get a manual penalty for it.


If you were cloaking that’s bad, stop doing it if you think you have a manual penalty.

Malicious Pages.

Check to make sure your site wasn’t hacked and that it doesn’t have malware or something bad on it.  One of my sites had this problem.  I made a little software application with my computer that I guess was infected. So I was distributing infected software (big oops, but it was unintentional).

Although this happened a few years ago I still feel bad about it.  Anyway, Yahoo caught it, but Google did not and my site was kicked out of the Yahoo index for a while because of it.

Again, I had no idea and I’m just guessing that’s how the application got infected.  At any rate I did get it fixed and I did get the site back in Yahoo, but it took months. And that was back when Yahoo actually got more traffic, so it was noticeable and definitely cost me some money.

So check and see if your site’s been hacked or has malicious pages on it.

Automated Queries.

There are a ton of people selling software applications that will tell you where your site ranks in Google and other search engines.  I have no idea if they know this is against Google’s guidelines or just don’t care or what. But it’s not something they want you doing.

I guess people have wondered why I never recommended any of this stuff, but that’s why.  I’ve never known anyone to get a manual penalty for this, but anything’s possible and it should be a pretty easy fix.

Link Schemes.

Here’s the full copied and pasted text from their guidelines. It’s been like this for a while so it’s not new although most people will tell you penalties for linking are new or are not possible …

“Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.”

If I cover this it will be in a different post because this one’s already really long. But know it can happen.

Doorway Pages.

This one’s kind of tough because what Google thinks is a doorway page and what the rest of us think is a doorway page are two VERY different things.

You want to have original content and unique content, but I’ve seen cases where the site had that and it still got slapped with a manual penalty for being a doorway page.

Your site has to have something of real value to it, especially if you’re trying to earn money with affiliate, CPA, or Adsense.

You’ve got to have more than just some mediocre content targeted around keyphrases with affiliate ads plastered all over it.
Google has gotten really aggressive with this. To the point where if you’re at the top of Google for a competitive phrase and you’re earning through Adsense, affiliate or CPA programs, I think you want to really evaluate how useful your site is.

Is it useful for people to land on your site before …

… going to the vendor’s site?
… or the site paying for the Adsense ad?
… or right to the CPA landing page?

If there’s not any real reason for anyone to come to your page first, then your page (or whole site) can be classified as a doorway page. It’s not really much different than the ‘thin affiliate’ label.

They’ll reason that your site is just in the way and adds an extra step in the process.

Google wants the visitor to go to the real site and not have yours be the extra step so they’ll remove it. Their algorithm has gotten smarter about ranking low quality pages, but it’s still very possible to get around. So they manually look for what they call doorway pages.

If you go through all the other issues and you don’t think it’s any of those, but you know you have a manual penalty, I can almost guarantee you that this doorway page guideline is the one you’re breaking.

Your odds of this being the problem are very high especially if you’re running an Adsense site, one with affiliate/CPA ads, or even if you’re a drop shipper.

Again, doorway pages, thin affiliate sites, and made for advertising sites (MFA) kind of all go together. Google doesn’t want them showing up at the top of their results because they feel they are low value and can give you a manual penalty if they find them there.

It’s entirely up to their discretion, which sucks.

If this is the Google Guideline you’re violating and you want to fix it, then you’ll need to edit your pages and really look and see how you can add some value. I can’t really get into this in this post as it’s already way too long, but this is a very big one. And it sucks because the Google Guidelines are so vague about this one.  But if you want to get traffic from Google then I don’t know what choice you’ve got other than to try to make them happy.

On a positive note, it also makes your visitors happy so think of it that way if you don’t want to go out of your way for Google. In the end you’ll be happier and so will your visitors. Google can be way down on your list of people you need to please.

Anyway, these are all things you can look into if you think your site is under manual penalty and you don’t have any GWT notification. I’d check them all and try to figure out what they don’t like about your site and fix the problem.

Again, if your site seems to be under manual penalty then you’ll need to change something on your site first. Then I’d file a request for reconsideration through GWT for that site. It’s pretty easy.

When you file the request you’ll need to state the fact that think you have a manual penalty, that you read their quality guidelines and that you think you found the problem. Explain what you think the problem is and how you fixed it.

So if you had a reciprocal links page I would suggest saying that you had one, you removed it, and that you contacted everyone who did a reciprocal link and asked them to remove the link back the site.

I’d also just throw in there that you received some bad advice and didn’t know this was against their guidelines (hopefully that’s all true). And that you won’t do it again.

It sucks, but that’s how it works with these. I could spend another post at least this long venting my frustrations with the process, how much I think Google’s procedures are very bad for small business and how I hope they get sued over it, how it’s so and so’s fault, on and on, but what’s the point? I’m just giving you the facts and what I know works.

Again, you don’t have to beg for forgiveness in your request for reconsideration, just state it factually.

Anyway, then just send it.

At this point I want to point out that these are my suggestions.

Other people will tell you not to admit anything to Google.

I think that’s bad advice.

Especially if you’re pretty sure you have a manual penalty (again, go through the checks). You’re not getting out of it until you admit you did something against their guidelines and fix it.  It’s probably not going away otherwise.

I hate to tell you this, but I do not think that manual penalties have a time limit. I know a lot of folks are not going to want to hear this, but I really do not think that they do.  So that means if you don’t fix the problem, you’re not going to get traffic from Google.  Possibly ever.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know this for sure, but from what I’ve seen and heard from people I trust on this issue that’s how it works.

So in my opinion, you should really try to get your site fixed.

Again, do all the checks I recommended first.  Also wait a few days or even a week just to make sure your site’s not fluctuating in the search engine results pages before you send in a request for reconsideration.  And, make sure you fix what the problem is completely. If you half fix it then they’ll just keep your site under penalty so in that case you’re just wasting time.

So that’s what I suggest you do. In the past, the turnaround time for hearing back from the Google web spam team after sending in a request for reconsideration was about 2 weeks. This could change though so keep that in mind.

You may receive an automated notice that your request for reconsideration has been sent. These were coming like 2 seconds after you sent one in. They’re just an automated thing. I don’t know if they’re still doing that. But anyway, all that means is they got your request and will get back to you.

So it really means nothing.

You have to wait the 2 weeks or whatever to get a real response.

I’d spend that time doing something else and not sit around waiting. Create some videos. You can get traffic from YouTube pretty easily.  Create something cool for your site and send out a press release for it. This can also get you some easy traffic.

Look into getting paid traffic to help you diversify now and in the future.

You can get paid traffic to work even if you’re promoting affiliate and CPA offers. The thing is to make sure you send the paid traffic to a page where you’re building a list of subscribers.  It’s a great way to diversify and you’ve got PPC, PPV, solo ads, Facebook ads, and more options to try out.  You just need to spend some time testing to make sure you’re coming out making a profit.

So I’d use the time to do something productive and in the end you may wind up with your Google traffic back + something else.

And that will make your business stronger in the end.

But I wouldn’t give up on Google traffic. It’s just too easy to make a really good profit with it and Google controls so much of the internet.  I wish it weren’t that way, but that’s how it works in this day and age.

Anyway, you’ll finally get something back and it will look like one of these three ‘canned’ responses (and of course it’s possible they can change them and add in new ones, but I know these exist). They look automated, but presumably someone really looked over your request and then decided which of them to send you back:

Here’s what you might get back:

  • “Reconsideration Request for No Manual Spam Actions Found”
  • “Reconsideration Request for Site Violates Google’s Quality Guidelines”
  • “Reconsideration Request for Manual Spam Action Revoked”.

Those are the titles.

I’ll go through these now.

The last one, “…Manual Spam Action Revoked” is great news.

It means you figured out the problem and they revoked the manual penalty. So now your site should go right back to where it was (usually, if you had a link violation and you had links removed then you will lose some rankings).

Here’s what that one of these looks like (again any of these can change, but I’d imagine the main point will stay the same)…

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Previously the webspam team had taken manual action on your site because we believed it violated our quality guidelines.

After reviewing your reconsideration request, we have revoked this manual action. It may take some time before our indexing and ranking systems are updated to reflect the new status of your site.

Of course, there may be other issues with your site that could affect its ranking without a manual action by the webspam team. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users. If your site continues to have trouble in our search results, please see this article for help with diagnosing the issue.

Thank you for helping us to maintain the quality of our search results.


Google Search Quality Team

OK, so that’s great news.

If you get the one where your site doesn’t violate the quality guidelines that’s pretty great too. That’s the “No Manual Spam Actions Found”. That means your site is just ranking lower because of a change in the algorithm.

And that happens. Here’s what that one looks like:

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google.

There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team.

Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site’s ranking. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users.

If you’ve experienced a change in ranking which you suspect may be more than a simple algorithm change, there are other things you may want to investigate as possible causes, such as a major change to your site’s content, content management system, or server architecture. For example, a site may not rank well if your server stops serving pages to Googlebot, or if you’ve changed the URLs for a large portion of your site’s pages. This article has a list of other potential reasons your site may not be doing well in search.

If you’re still unable to resolve your issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.


Google Search Quality Team

This just means your site was impacted by an algorithm change.  It’s not at all the same type of penalty as a manual penalty.  I guess if you really want to call it a penalty you can say ‘algorithmic penalty’, but it does kind of just make things confusing to use the word ‘penalty’ at all for these.

The good news is if you fix things, usually by making your site better and that sort of thing, then in theory it should gain in rankings. It will bounce around when you change things so you can make your rankings go up and down.

A manual penalty will keep your site down.

As the note says, you don’t need to request reconsideration for this sort of issue. You just fix things on your site and when it’s recrawled, which happens pretty quickly (but it does depend on how important Google thinks your site is), then it’ll move around in the search engine results pages.

So you can SEO your way out of that.

Although so many people completely freaked out about the Panda updates that started in 2011, that was really mild compared to a manual penalty.

You can fix your site if it’s just a Panda algorithm change or any other algorithm change they might come out with in the future.

I’m not going to get into bringing your rankings back due to an algorithm change in this post. This is just meant to cover manual penalties.

In theory, you cannot fix your site and get it recrawled if it’s a manual penalty.

You’re not ranking in Google until you fix whatever the problem is, send in a request, and have it approved. And it’s possible these do not expire. So it’s a very serious problem.  Not a fun thing.

Anyway, to keep going with this, if you get the other type of response back, the one that says, “Site Violates Google’s Quality Guidelines”, then there is a manual penalty on it.  So that’s not a happy day.

Here’s what those look like:

Dear site owner or webmaster of,

We received a request from a site owner to reconsider for compliance with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

We’ve reviewed your site and we believe that some or all of your pages still violate our quality guidelines.

In order to preserve the quality of our search engine, pages from may not appear or may not rank as highly in Google’s search results, or may otherwise be considered to be less trustworthy than sites which follow the quality guidelines.

If you wish to be reconsidered again, please correct or remove all pages that are outside our quality guidelines. When such changes have been made, please visit and resubmit your site for reconsideration.

If you have additional questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.


Google Search Quality Team

Again, Google seems to be letting people know more of the details about what the problem is. If you just get a generic one where they tell you to look over their quality guidelines then that really sucks, because you now know your site is under penalty, but have no idea what the deal is.

But you can figure it out and fix it. I’ve done it and so have many people I know. So if it’s a quality site that was earning you money I’d really suggest trying to figure out the problem.

This is how they all used to be… completely vague and just a generic response.

In fact, at one time you just sent in your request for reconsideration and you never got ANYTHING.

So although this all sucks, if you can believe it, it’s gotten a little easier to deal with Google’s webspam team because you’re actually getting confirmation and in some cases real information on what you did to make them mad.

Sometimes they’ll let you know more about the problem and in that case you need to take what they say to heart and try to fix it.

I know it sucks. If they say doorway page it means they don’t like your content.  It’s hard to hear, but you can at least fix that.

And even if they don’t tell you anything, you may review your site and come to the conclusion that it’s just a thin affiliate or made for advertising site. In that case have an editor go over your content or just re-write it. Put in more research.  Drop some pages of the low quality pages off your site. Combine content where it makes sense. Add in some useful things to your site.

You can get this fixed. You’ll probably have to do a complete overhaul of your site, but it’s very fixable.

Lisa Parmley
Lisa Parmley

Lisa Parmley is the founder of After gaining a Master's degree, she worked in research for about seven years. She started a training company in 2001, offering a course helping people pass a professional exam. That course has earned multiple 7 figures. She created SEO and authority site building training around 2007 which went on to earn well into the 6-figure mark.

She has 22+ years of experience in the trenches creating and selling online courses. Get help starting and growing your online course business here.

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