A Google penalty is a tough thing to have when it comes to your rankings and all the effort you've put into boosting them. You can't climb the ladder of success if you've acquired a penalty because Google will actually be holding you back until everything is fixed.
If you don't know what you're doing then it's pretty easy to acquire a penalty from the Google gods. For that reason, I'm writing this discussion to go over the basics of the main Google penalties so you know what to do in order to avoid them
A lot of people will start out a website and think "I need a homepage, blog page, TOS/Privacy pages, and I'm ready to go!" but that's not all. You will actually need to build up the content on these pages if you want to please Google.
This is one of the easiest penalties to avoid and lift from your website because it revolves around the content on your pages. This means you can simply log into your website, add some quality content that relates to your industry and the penalty will likely be gone the next time you get some Google search spiders crawling across your pages.
Using Free Hosting
Google has never really liked free hosted websites because the host company never really manages them well. Back in the day, it was common practice to see hundreds of thousands of free websites on a hosting company because they placed ads on the pages that would generate them revenue with each ad click. Today, you won't see many of these because they simply do not work well for anyone.
If you use a free hosting service then you're not actually being serious about your website, which is what Google wants to know. If you have your own domain, hosting, SSL, etc. then you will be seen as much more of an authority compared to someone on a free hosting platform that is talking about the same stuff you are.
This one is pretty big when you're new to SEO because you will likely hear "Use anchors and keywords whenever possible" when you first start off. This means you will likely put your keyword into every sentence of your articles but this will actually harm your website.
Adding a few keywords here and there is fine but adding them 100+ times to an article that only has 500 words is going to look ridiculous, and Google takes note of this.
To lift this penalty you simply need to edit your content and the penalty will likely be lifted the next time you get indexed.
This is similar to keyword stuffing but all you're doing is adding keywords to a page and blending them into the background so people can't really see them but the search engines can.
This used to work in the past but Google quickly caught on and started to penalize the sites that were doing this. Google does not like it when you play around with them, so if you get caught blending your keywords into the background, you will need to remove them quickly and hope your penalty is lifted soon.
Using Scraped Content
There are plenty of article scrapers out there that will put together an article by compiling 10 different articles together and spitting out a Frankenstein article. What you get is something that is "unique" but still takes a lot of time to edit, so why not write up some unique content and be original?
There are also people out there that simply take an article off of a successful website and post it as their own. This doesn't really work well for you in the end because your readers will likely have seen it before if they landed on your pages from the keywords that you were targeting, which were likely the same ones the original author targeted.
To avoid this, you need to write your own content and be original. You can't take shortcuts when it comes to the articles and blog posts on your websites, so take the time and give people something original to read.
In the end, your rankings slipping may not be due to a penalty at all but the fact that you've slowed down on your SEO and your competitors have increased theirs. SEO is an ongoing process that needs to be taken seriously, so keep at it and make sure you don't get overthrown by your competitors