The term “manual penalty” in SEO refers to a punitive action taken by search engines, notably Google, against a website that has been found to violate the search engine’s guidelines. Unlike algorithmic penalties, which are automatically applied by the search engine’s algorithms when they detect certain infractions (such as keyword stuffing or unnatural link patterns), manual penalties are the result of a deliberate review by a human reviewer at the search engine.

Manual penalties can be issued for a variety of reasons, all of which generally fall under the umbrella of attempting to manipulate search rankings in ways that degrade the quality of results for users. Some common reasons for receiving a manual penalty include:

  • Use of manipulative or deceptive SEO practices, such as cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Presence of unnatural links to or from the site, indicating attempts to manipulate PageRank.
  • Thin or low-quality content that does not provide value to users.
  • Overuse of exact-match anchor text in external links.
  • Hiding text or links to deceive search engine crawlers.

When a site receives a manual penalty, the site’s owner is usually notified through the search engine’s webmaster tools (for Google, this is Google Search Console). The notification will often detail the specific violation and provide suggestions for how to address the issue. To lift the penalty, the website owner must take corrective action to resolve the violations and then submit a reconsideration request to the search engine. If the search engine is satisfied that the issues have been fixed, it may remove the penalty, although this process can take time and there is no guarantee of recovery to previous rankings.

Manual penalties can have significant negative impacts on a site’s visibility in search results, leading to decreased traffic and loss of revenue. Therefore, adhering to search engine guidelines and engaging in ethical SEO practices is crucial to avoid such penalties.