What is a Google Penalty?
First, it must be understood that Google’s primary goal is to guide users to the content that is most likely to satisfy their queries. Whenever someone types a search into Google, the search engine automatically files through billions of web pages to find the content that is most likely to satisfy the user. In the past, people found that in order to rank higher on Google all they had to do was fill their site with the most popular queries, even if the phrases were irrelevant or unnatural, a phenomenon known as keyword stuffing. Due to rising rates of keyword stuffing and other search manipulation factors, Google changed their webmaster guidelines in order to penalize these sites. Therefore, a Google penalty is whenever a website, webmaster, or even an SEO engages in practices that are considered against Google’s webmaster guidelines. As the guidelines continue to grow and develop, it has become increasingly easy to get penalized.
What is an Algorithmic Penalty?
An algorithmic penalty means you are violating the guidelines of the search engine’s algorithm. There are many updates to these search algorithms, and if you are penalized by a specific update, such as Panda or Penguin, it means that you have to wait for that same algorithm to run again to get your rankings back. Meaning, you could be waiting several months to see any of your SEO efforts lift a penalty from Google. I think we can agree it is best to just avoid getting penalized in the first place.
What is Google Panda?
Google Panda is the most well-known and popular change to Google’s search ranking algorithm. It was first released in February 2011 with the purpose of keeping low-quality (“shallow”) content from showing up in search results, while providing higher rankings to those sites with high-quality content. If a site is shown to contain a certain amount of low-quality content then that entire site can suffer from a Panda penalty, not just the individual pages. Now, what constitutes low-quality content? Some signs your content may be at risk are if it is:
1) Poorly Written– If you find content on your site just does not sound right or has poor grammar, it is probably time to rewrite it. It can be difficult when short on time, but it is important for your sites future.
2) Short, Too Brief– If you look at a page on your site and see it has very little content it is time to get to writing or simply remove the page if it does not have a purpose.
3) Duplicated from Another Source– Panda has the ability to recognize duplicated content and can penalize you for it. If a large amount of content is duplicated from other sources or even if the content comes from another one of your sites or another page on your current site, you can be penalized for repeating yourself.
4) Adds No Real Value– Scan through your website and ask yourself how many of these pages are really necessary or even relevant. If you find a page is irrelevant or not helpful to users, you may be at risk for a penalty from Panda.
Check out this blog post created by Google Employee Amit Singhal that provides a more in-depth way to analyze your website under Panda.
What is Google Penguin?
The Penguin algorithm was introduced in April 2012 as a way to punish sites that have created unnatural backlinks in order to increase their ranking on Google. Links are very important in search engine results because they show Google that someone is referring your information, meaning it must be pretty good. The more popular the website sharing your information, the better it is for your site. All links also have what is called anchor text, which explains the content on the link to the search engine. Therefore, webmasters would use this information to create links with keyword rich anchor text. They would then share these links across sites, on a self-created blog post, comments or directory listings. These self-made links are exactly what Penguin sets out to penalize. When Penguin was first released, it affected over 3% of search queries, which may sound low but is quite a lot considering the high volume of searches coming in each day. Here are 3 backlink factors that can be used to identify unnatural link patterns:
1) Link Quality – A naturally linked site has both high and low-quality referrals, while an unnaturally linked site is generally shared by all low quality or only high-quality sites.
2) Link Velocity – If a site gains links at an increased rate over time that may be a bad sign. Unnatural sites often get a lot of links in a short period, followed by a sudden decrease.
3) Link Diversity – Sites that are naturally linked to other sites come from all sources while a site that is unnaturally linked to other sites come from one source (like blog comments). Links should also have varied anchor text, too many links with the same anchor text could induce a Penguin penalty.
The good news is Penguin will not punish an entire site only specific pages that are being referred by faulty links. Bottom line, do not refer your own website.
What is a Manual Penalty?
Penalties can be the result of a manual review or one of the algorithm updates. A manual penalty is given by actual Google employees and contractors who review your site against their quality guidelines and deem that you are violating one or more of them. The staff looks for factors such as:
1) Unnatural links to or from your site– The staff can and will act as Penguin to find any unnatural links the algorithm may have missed.
2) Hacked site– If Google finds your site has been hacked, it can be removed from the search engine or flagged as hacked until it is fixed.
3) Thin content with little or no added value– In this case, the staff acts as Panda to ensure only high quality and relevant content appears in the search results.
4) Spam– They look to see if your account has or contains any spam or faulty links/content.
5) Cloaking or sneaky redirects– The staff is looking to see if your site is displaying different pages than it is showing Google.
6) Hidden text or keyword stuffing– If you are hiding text or have low-quality content filled with keywords, the staff can manually penalize you.
How Do I Know if My Site Penalty was Manual or Algorithmic?
When you get an algorithmic penalty from Google you won’t receive any messages or alerts. The only way to spot them is by observing your analytical data and seeing a very clear drop-off in site visits. If you see that your traffic rapidly declined a few days before or after a major update, you were likely penalized by it. It can take updates a long period of time to roll out, sometimes weeks, so traffic may not decline on the exact day the algorithm was reported. On the other hand, manual penalties on your site can be just as damaging to your traffic, but you’ll be able to see if you were hit by one when you receive a message in your Google Search Console inbox.« Navigate to Glossary Index