Google Update: Two Main Content Penalties and How to Reverse Them

If your site has been hit with a Google penalty with the last Google Update, it’s a frustrating experience with few details on how to combat it. Google doesn’t give site owners much information on how to reverse manual action. Site owners are left wondering what to do as their search engine traffic plummets. This guide helps site owners understand each content penalty and what they can do to reverse manual actions imposed on any website.

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What is Manual Action?

Manual action is the term used by Google to indicate that a penalty was applied to a domain. Google uses the term “manual penalty,” but webmasters use the term “penalty.” Some webmasters incorrectly attribute manual action with algorithm changes, but manual action involves a review from a Google employee. The two situations are different.

–>> definition: Algorithm: a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

Manual action occurs when the webmaster uses techniques outside of Google’s guidelines. If the algorithm doesn’t rank a website due to these factors, Google won’t apply manual action except in extreme cases. Manual action is reserved for websites that perform well in Google but use sneaky, spammy techniques.

In extreme cases, a Google employee will manually remove the entire domain from the search engine. For content-related penalties, complete removal happens when the content is spun or auto-generated.

There are two main categories for manual content action: thin content and pure spam. If you receive either one of these penalties, you know that a Google employee reviewed your site and deemed it necessary to apply a penalty to your site. The result is that your site won’t rank regardless of any positive SEO techniques.

Once you get action, you need to clean up the site and submit a reconsideration request. This guide will help you figure out where you went wrong. Some site owners have never read Google’s quality guidelines, so they are unaware of certain issues that could put them in the penalty box.

Related Article: Exact Match Domains – How Important are they for SEO

The Thin Content Penalty

The “thin content” penalty is the most difficult for webmasters to understand. Take a look at the message Google sends webmasters:

‘Google has detected that some of your pages may be using techniques that are outside our Webmaster Guidelines. As a result of your site having thin content with little or no added value, Google has applied a manual spam action to There may be other actions on your site or parts of your site.”

The “little or no added value” is what most website owners don’t understand. It’s this type of penalty that leads to confusion and frustration. It’s because most website owners see content as something they need to have on their site, but they ignore the quality part. Your content must have value, and it’s this value that webmasters find difficult to ascertain.

It’s difficult to take criticism about your site and content, but the best way to tackle this penalty is to take a step back and think like a reader. Your content should bring value to visitors and shouldn’t focus entirely on ads or affiliate links. When you create content, do you focus on bringing information to the reader, or do you focus around a keyword or affiliate link? Are you writing from an expert point of view? Are you rehashing the same content found elsewhere? Are you bringing an interesting point that can’t be found elsewhere? Are your reviews from your own experiences, or are you rewriting reviews from elsewhere?

You should approach your content as an expert, and ask yourself these questions along with identifying if your content is well written. A typo or two won’t get you the “thin content” penalty, but you can lose interest from users. Poorly written content made for search engines without any thought or editing can lead to manual Google penalties. If you approach your content as an expert, you bring information to the index that can’t be found elsewhere.

Another issue professionals have with penalties is keyword density. Google has no keyword density rule, so it’s best to write naturally. When you write naturally, your keywords and any long-tail phrases are included without forcing them. When website builders focus on keyword density, their content can be stuffed and sound unnatural. If a Google employee reads your keyword stuffed content, you have a good chance of receiving a penalty.

Affiliate sites are usually hit with this penalty, so it’s led to a rumor that Google hates affiliates. Affiliate sites that offer quality content are within Google’s guidelines. Poorly written content, keyword stuffed pages, or pages that just rewrite other’s content can lead to a penalty.

This penalty is the most difficult, because you must replace the low quality content with something of value. Webmasters aren’t always able to identify low quality content because they are invested in the site’s success. If you can’t identify the source of a thin content penalty, it’s best to ask a third party to evaluate your pages.

The Pure Spam Penalty

 Google Update
Google Update

This penalty is more severe, but it’s also easier to fix. The “pure spam” penalty basically means you’re using sneaky redirects, cloaking, hijacking the user’s back button, or spinning gibberish content. Any activity that frustrates users or tries to trick Google can lead to this penalty.

Take a look at Google’s pure spam penalty email:

“Google has detected that some of your pages may be using techniques that are outside our Webmaster Guidelines. As a result of your site having pure spam, Google has applied a manual spam action to There may be other actions on your site or parts of your site.”

Notice the wording is a little different for this penalty. Google includes “pure spam” in this email, so you know which penalty you have.

Some plugins cause pure spam penalties. Anything that hijacks the user’s back button is against Google’s guidelines. One plugin that commonly causes penalty issues is Plugrush. Plugrush is a WordPress plugin that displays ads to users when they leave a page or navigate to a different site. It also lets you redirect users. Any type of sneaky redirects frustrates users. If Google detects the redirects, an employee manually reviews your website.

A pure spam penalty evaluation takes much more common sense, but it’s also difficult for website owners who don’t know the site’s code. Are you doing anything that frustrates users? Do you auto-generate your content using spinners? Are you copying content that’s found elsewhere? While a few pages of copied content wont’ get you a penalty, Google applies penalties to sites that have substantially scraped content. This includes curating other site content without providing any added value.

Some site owners scrape sites such as YouTube, DailyMotion or Pinterest. The result is that their content is just rehashing pages that are already published. Add spammy backlinks to the mix, and you run the risk of receiving a pure spam penalty.

If you recently downloaded plugins or code that cloaks redirects or content, you must remove the code and fix the site. Any spun content must be removed also. For scraper sites, you must add significant value to your content before Google will lift the penalty.

You Fixed Your Site, so Now What?

It can take you hours or days to fix a website. Once you’ve fixed the content issues, you request reconsideration in Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).

It can take several weeks for your site review, so be patient. While you wait for an answer, do a second round of reviews on your site to make sure you didn’t miss any low quality pages.

Google manual penalties aren’t the same as Panda or Penguin. The two animal algorithms are a part of Google’s ranking evaluation, so any Panda or Penguin issues remain, even if you get the manual action removed. This is an important part of understanding Google’s penalties. Even if you fix any manual actions, you can still have issues with Panda. Your site won’t necessarily pop back to the first page. When you review your site, be honest about its quality to avoid having issues in the future.

Manual penalties are frustrating, and some webmasters panic when they receive the email. Take a step back, review your site, be honest with yourself about its quality, and fix the issues as quickly as you can. Once you’ve fixed your mistakes, file a reconsideration request to lift the penalty.

The Secrets of Google Tools

The Secrets of Google Tools for your Website and Beyond Book Cover

Are you aware that there is more to Google than them just being the biggest search engine in the world? Look closer at what they actually provide, and you will see that they offer a wide array of tools that can prove to be extremely useful for website owners. However, the difficulty here is knowing which ones to use and understanding how they can help you especially when you have rather limited knowledge in the first place, but that is where a guide such as this one can prove to be rather invaluable. Hold tight as the information that follows will prove to be useful, when you understand how to fully take advantage of it.

Where to Receive Warnings

Not sure where to start? Google Search Console, formally known as Google Webmaster tools is the first place to establish communication between your website and Google. This is where you will receive notifications that your website may have a penalty or warning.


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