Google’s Black-mark

How do you identify it, has it happened to you, and how do you fix it?

What is it?

Google’s black-mark, or also called the black-spot is a very high level domain penalty, which occurs if there are egregious fundamental web rules broken, recidivistic activity, or illegal content.

Bailey de Villiers – Technical SEO Expert at SEOSPIDRE

Now what does that actually mean? Google’s black-mark is a high level domain penalty. First we have to take a look at other penalties incurred such as missing 404‘s, maybe thin content, a high ad to content ratio. These penalties are low level page penalties, because they’re always associated with pages such as, and low level because they act as a little -1, or -5 when Ranking or Crawling.

This impacts SEO negatively, sure, but doesn’t cripple it and certainly can be fixed by the right specialists. The difference here is that the google black-mark is two things:

  • High Level
  • Domain scope

The two types of high level penalties.

a) Google’s black-mark

b) Google’s manual de-indexing

High level penalties are the upper most bound in terms of punishment, imagine life imprisonment and death sentence for websites. The black-mark, in this case acts as life imprisonment.

The way it works is Google marks your site under a specific category of black-mark tags. For example “Pure spam,” or “extremely thin content,” or it thinks you’ve produced the website as a bot. Now once your website is tagged, it will effectively de-rank you for every keyword, sink your SERP, limit your organic visibility. Effectively cripple your Search Engine Visibility (SEV).

How this differs from manual de-indexing, is that de-indexing would be a death sentence. Google’s manual review team looks at dozens of websites per day that is referred to them by their algorithm looking for potentially highly illegal websites trying to make it onto front-page SERP’s. When they take a look at these, their decisions are either pass or de-index. You either pass, or you fail.

If the engineers decide this website is going to get de-indexed, your domain, along with all of your pages, content, images, words, smiles, laughs, get’s removed from Google. While you will still appear in other websites content in screenshots and images and such, your domain can never again have presence on Google. That effectively means starting over completely with a new domain, new DA, new PA, no backlinks, and so forth.

The penalty scope.

Penalties come in two “scopes”:

  • Local
  • Domain

Being penalised under “local scope” would mean that any penalty being applied only belongs to a specific URI or URL. This keeps the penalty local, and only will effect the page or image or whatever it might be that’s being tagged. This is a problem, sure, but doesn’t influence the rest of your page very much.

Domain scope penalties involve your root address. This is no longer about your About page missing two pictures and therefore bringing up a 410 Gone response code, this is about your being penalised as a whole. These penalties are far, far more serious because they no longer effect only local pages and images and such, but it drags your entire website down.

The combinations of severity & scope.

Your website will be impacted by one of the following combinations:

  1. Black-mark / Local
  2. De-indexing / Local
  3. Black-mark / Domain
  4. De-indexing / Domain

Determining severity.

The biggest indicators are tremendously sinking SERP results, keyword loss, tremendous organic traffic decrease, anything that would correlate to having lost your position on the web. That would indicate a penalty, but next you’ll have to find out what it actually is, and the scope of the penalty.

The first way to check is by logging into your GSC (Google Search Console) there is a section labeled “Security & Manual Actions.” Under-which, if you click on “Security Issues” will bring up related high level penalties, whether they be local or domain.

A second way to check if you enter “site:” and do not see your site, it means you’ve been de-indexed. That’s the quick way of checking whether or not black-marking, or de-indexing has occured if you are sure there has been a high level penalty.

The final check is by mapping your performance drop and calculating the rate of decline per day. If your rate of decline is greater than 40% over 5 days you have incurred a high level penalty. This requires you to log into GSC and calculate your daily fluctuations and map it out, so it’s taxing, but it will enable you to definitively identify a high level penalty.

Great, so we now know whether or not you have, or have not been penalised. Let’s assume you have, and we are now trying to figure out if it’s a local penalty which can be fixed, or a domain penalty which is a lot more difficult to fix.

Determining Scope

Is it a local penalty? Check in with GSC under the Security & Manual Actions > Security Issues, to see if there are specified pages relating to the specified issues. If there are, great, you’ve likely got a local penalty which means you can delete or modify the pages as necessary and resubmit them for re-indexing. This is a 95% surefire way of getting your penalty cleaned and sorted, so long as the penalty is actually removed when you request re-indexing. Abusing the re-indexing system can very, very quickly graduate you into a domain penalty.

Also, if specific pages of your website are ranking lower or original had high PA, which has since decreased, it indicates that the page has been penalised locally. The level of severity can be identified using the above,

It’s a domain penalty if your entire domain has lost drastic SERP positioning, primarily based around your big pages. For example Home, About, Contact. If peripheral pages such as blog posts or user-generated content is ranking lower, it is likely a local penalty where you should check the above.

Secondly if GSC tells you that your “/” page has an error, that’s your home directory. That’s very likely, but not definitively, an indication of a domain level penalty which you will need to identify through Technical SEO agencies. The method for identifying the cause of domain level penalties is completely different from identifying them to begin with, and far, far more difficult.

How do you “fix” it?

For black-mark / local penalties:

  • “Cease & Desist” with whatever content or pages are busy causing penalisations.
  • Delete the relevant pages, URI’s, URL’s, URN’s, whatever is causing the issue. You can duplicate the page and delete the original and make necessary changes under the new one.
  • Ensure that there has been no “spillover” onto local pages listed or linked to that page. For example a blog post that is black-marked that links heavily to another post has probably also effected the other post.
  • Delete and regenerate your sitemap, resubmit the new one for crawling.
  • Re-index your website once the errors have been deleted or removed permanently.
  • Ensure that you are providing value to users, not Google Crawlers.

For black-mark / domain penalties:

  • This requires “scrubbing,” where the domain is scrubbed of penalties and brought out of life imprisonment.
  • Delete content or files that Google would have found egregious or a breach of conduct.
  • Delete fraudulent backlinks or content relating to yours from non https:// sources
  • Ensure you have SSL encryption
  • Delete and regenerate your sitemap, resubmit the new one for crawling.
  • Ensure that your WHOLE DOMAIN is clean, not just “primary” pages like Home, About, Contact, Services. These penalties occur from a general fraudulence, not necessarily specific pages.
  • Check your plugins for lacking security features or poor history with Google
  • Check your most recent admin logins to ensure there has been no fraudulent back-end activity.
  • Re-index site once you are confident that your website has been scrubbed. Do not take this lightly as black-mark / domain penalties that are not scrubbed properly graduate to de-indexing.

For de-indexing / local penalties:

  • Duplicate the page from your back-end.
  • Change the <title> all <h1> tags and <meta content> where available on page.
  • Change the <rel=canonical> so that it does not exist and there is no indication of another page.
  • Change the first 100 words on the page.
  • Remove information, images, or files that would have warranted de-indexing by Google.
  • Upload page to website and include in your original index_sitemap.xml as a new page.
  • Request re-index of website.

For de-indexing / domain penalties:

  • There are only methods by which to reupload your content to the web, but there is no way to undo a domain de-indexing.
  • Copy data from current website, re-upload under a separate domain name.
  • Ensure that none of the relevant content is re-uploaded to avoid a second de-indexing.
  • Upload new sitemap containing site navigation and request indexing.

Technical SEO Specialists

We’ve had experience with all sorts of low and high level penalties impacting pages and domains. We’ll make sure to resolve the problems with you to retrieve your SERP rankings.

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