3 March 2014 | admin

5 things you need to know about a Google Penalty

Impact of Penguin Update on SEOIf you’re not familiar with the inner workings of a Google penalty, consider yourself lucky. A Google penalty (sometimes referred to as a ‘manual action’) is applied to a site when Google finds out that they – or somebody working on behalf of their site – have been carrying out certain questionable types of optimisation and bending the rules, specifically around links. It’s the sort of message you don’t want to receive in your inbox to say the least.

Now Google does allow room for bending its rules to a certain degree (which can be frustrating), but that’s a different topic all together.

So if you are a digital marketing manager and find yourself the recipient of the dreadful message via Gmail or Google webmaster tools – don’t panic. The following points should allow you to at least cover the basics and get the ball rolling either in-house or with your SEO agency.

1. Google webmaster guidelines

Google penalties or manual actions are Google’s war against web spam, and just like any other war, this one also has certain rules of engagement. If you click through the ‘learn more’ link within the dreaded Google message you will come across a page that has the following –

google_guideline snippet

Often many webmasters (ahem SEOs) don’t know what these guidelines are and if you are one of them, do yourself a favour, go through this page first.

2. Type of penalty – Manual or Algorithmic?

There are broadly two types of penalties: “manual” and “algorithmic”. The most significant difference is that if you have been hit by a manual penalty you would be explicitly informed about it by Google itself through the webmaster tool.

In contrast, an algorithmic penalty is something you would detect through a sudden drop in traffic, rankings and visibility on Google pages 1-10. This is triggered when your SEO factors are in conflict with Google’s algorithm parameters. Although the clean up process for both types of penalty is mostly the same, with algorithmic penalty you do not submit a reconsideration request.

3. Site-wide or partial match

Site-wide penalties are pretty self explanatory, and are best described as your website losing visibility for even branded searches. I guess the Rap Genius case is the best way to understand what a site-wide penalty is and its impact. On the other hand, a partial match penalty means that the action has been applied to a specific section of a site.


However, the bigger question is – should you even bother about a partial-match penalty?

Let’s look at it this way, Google has specifically warned you of your wrong doing, say you ignore it and it finds out that you have continued with the wrong practice; all of this is recipe for a devastating penalty in the long run.

4. You will need tools

The most painful (yet most crucial) part of a penalty recovery procedure is documentation. If you do not supply enough evidence to Google, you can be sure the penalty will not be revoked. In order to document everything you would need to have access to – Webmasters, Open Site Explorer or a 3rd party SEO tool and a few excel plugins for excel. In our experience, a combination of GWT and Majestic SEO works brilliantly.

5. Timeframe and outcomes

“Patience you must have my young padawan” – is what Yoda would have said if he was my Head of SEO, guiding me through the penalty recovery. Probably.

yoda as head of seo

In our experience, if it’s an algorithmic penalty it could take up to 6 months before you see significant improvement in your rankings and traffic. You need to remember that in the case of an algorithmic penalty you don’t submit a reconsideration request, hence it is difficult to pin a time frame against its removal. In contrast, if it is a manual action which does require you to submit a reconsideration request, Google usually comes back to you with a response in about 2-3 weeks, albeit it may not be in the lines of “OK, thanks for acknowledging, your penalty has been revoked”.

You can be sure they will make you repeat the process at least 3 times. However, going by the Rap Genius case, we guess there are exceptions as they got their penalty mostly revoked in under 10 days.

Recovering from a penalty is in no way a quick win, irrespective of whether it’s a manual or an algorithmic penalty, all of the steps involved in the clean up process are manual. What is important though is that you follow a structured process and the above post highlights what is involved.

If you believe you have been hit by a penalty, contact us and we will put you in touch with one of our SEO experts.