When teachers grade written answers by their students for an examination, sometimes they find huge similarities in the answers of two students. This is a big indication of cheating. In a way, this is how Google’s algorithm spots websites trying to manipulate search rankings.
Another scenario is, a teacher or an invigilator might catch students exchanging notes during an exam. This is an imperfect representation of a Google manual penalty.
Manipulating search engines is like cheating in school. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
To put in simply, automatic penalties are usually handed out a large number of websites at one go. Typically, these websites have overlapping footprints. For instance, they might be hosted on the same server, share the same network of links or share identical Google or Statcounter user ID. A manual penalty, on the other hand, is handed out a member of Google’s webspam team who has physically visited the offending site. So what types of manual penalties are there?
• “Unnatural links to your site”
This is caused by a large number of backlinks from low-quality websites, article directory or private blog networks. Traffic will drop instantly as affected websites will suffer a massive drop in search ranking. Traffic will not pick up until webmasters disavow the questionable backlinks.
• “Unnatural links to your site – Impact sites”
This is caused when a Google employee suspect your site of selling or exchanging backlinks, is part of a private blog network, or has an artificial and unnatural pattern of outbound links. Unless the website disables all their outbound links or uses a nofollow attribute, they will stay at the bottom of the search pile alongside website selling Viagra or organ enhancement devices.
• “hacked site”
The website has been hacked and been injected with malware and spyware
• “Cloaking & Sneaky redirects”
The website shows different content to search engine and human visitors. The website is also redirecting traffic to third-party, likely dodgy, website. There’s very little chance of coming back from this, truth be told.
• “Hidden text and/or keyword stuffing”
The hidden text and keyword stuffing scheme is probably done by a webmaster who has just woken up from a coma. This tactic stopped working 20 years ago.
• “pure SPAM”
The website is filled with gibberish or barely readable auto-generated content. Another lost cause.
If you’re getting any of these messages, you probably need to have a rethink of your SEO strategy going forward. Or, to hire an SEO company who can help.