A Google Manual Action Penalty will result in a serious and sudden drop in traffic and keyword rankings.
How to Find Out if You Have a Manual Action Penalty
Login to Your Google Search Console
You can find out if Google has imposed a Manual Action Penalty by logging into your Google Search Console Account (formerly Google Webmaster Tools).
Look Under “Search Traffic” for “Manual Actions”
If you have a penalty, you’ll find a manual action notice there.
Manual Action Penalty: “Thin content with little or no added value”
Manual Action Penalty: “Unnatural links from your site.”
Most penalties are a result of bad backlinks. Google calls these links “Unnatural Links” because they were added with the intention of increasing the number of backlinks to your site and not as a “natural” result of creating good content.
Google’s Top 10 Red Flags
1. Unnatural, Low Quality Inbound Links to Your Site
Inbound links are a major ranking factor for Google. Google see a link back to your website as a vote for the quality of your content. The more backlinks the more votes, resulting in better rankings and more visitors to your website.
Google’s algorithm measures and scores the quality of each link coming back to your site. Spammy, low quality links are seen as an attempt to game the system, and too many spammy backlinks will more likely result in a Manual Action Penalty for have “unnatural links”.
2. Thin, Low Quality Content
Thin, low value content doesn’t deliver what the visitor is looking for. Websites with little value for visitors designed to draw traffic to affiliate pages, auto-generated websites and duplicate site can receive this penalty.
3. Outbound Links to Unrelated and Low Quality Sites
Linking to unrelated or low quality sites looks to Google like you are selling backlinks. This is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. It also can distract from the content, giving your visitor a poor user experience. User experience is very important to Google and your site will suffer a manual spam action if this happens.
4. Inbound Links from Unrelated and Low Quality Sites
Inbound links are an important part of Google’s algorithm. Penguin, one of Google’s algorithms, looks for websites with spammy backlink profiles. Spammy inbound links tell Google that you are trying to game the Google Webmaster guidelines. This is the quickest way to get a very serious Manual Action Penalty.
5. Sneaky Page Redirects Trying to Trick Google
This is an old trick but some websites still try to trick Google. Sneaky redirects are used to send your visitor to a different page, not they page they clicked on. Visitors are “redirected” to spam, sell pages, or pages loaded with ads or affiliate links.
This is one of the quickest ways to get a Manual Action Penalty because it’s so easy for Google to detect.
6. Spammy Free Hosting
Free hosting comes with hundreds and probably thousands of spammy websites all coming from the same IP addresses. Most free hosts are “bad neighborhoods” and should be avoided if you’re serious about organic web traffic.
7. User Generated Spam
“User generated spam” is content spammers will drop on your website by creating content or a profile with a link back to the user’s site. You’ll see a lot of this kind of spam in comments.
You need to monitor your user generated content very closely or risk a penalty.
8. Text Hidden by Styling or Background Colors
Again, another old trick, hiding text by making the text color very close to the background color thereby making it basically invisible to your visitors. The reason websites try to hide text is to add content which is over-optimized and not good quality for visitors. The search engines, however, see the content and add it to the overall value of the page.
There are several different ways to hide text and Google knows them all. This is a very good way to get a Google Manual Penalty.
9. Keyword Stuffing
Here’s what keyword stuffing looks like via Neil Patel:
Buying a valentine’s gift for your spouse is a great step to take. This year, your valentine’s gift should be an avenue to express how much love you’ve for him or her. Make sure the valentine’s gift is well-researched. But don’t stop there. Make it a culture to always show love to your spouse, whether there is valentine celebration, christmas etc. When you show love, you get love with a valentine’s gift. For instance, when you show love today, you’ll live to be loved. Are you ready to choose the best valentine’s gift?
Besides repeating the keyword “valentine’s gift” five times in one paragraph, the paragraph has thin, poorly written content and is really just a carrier for the keyword.
Here’s my rule on copy: If your copy bores you, it’s going to bore your reader. Don’t do it.
10. Your Website Has Been Hacked
Hacked websites are a major concern. One of the biggest problems with a hacked website is that you can have thousands and even ten’s of thousands of spam backlinks pointing to the hackers site. So your website is passing link authority to a spammy website.
This can result in a “Unnatural Links” penalty even though the website has not engaged in any spammy backlink tactics.
Removing the “Unnatural Links” penalty is the same process for a hacked site as for a site recovering from spammy backlink profiles once you have removed the cause of the hack.
If the links have not been there long you have a better chance of returning to your normal rankings and traffic. The hacked backlinks did not help build your rankings and traffic and their removal will not negatively impact your site down the road.