Writing by Nick Stamoulis in Search Engines
Many sites were impacted by Google Penguin, the latest SEO update from Google. Sites that were hurt by the algorithm update saw a major loss of traffic on April 24th, and many sites are still struggling to figure out exactly where they went wrong and what they can do to recover. I’ve spoken with numerous site and small business owners in the past month that want to know how they can remove this “penalty” from their site, and it’s important to understand that if your website was affected by Penguin you did not suffer an manual penalty, your site was caught in an algorithm update.
Manual Google Search Engine Penalty
According to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, “Google’s definition of a ‘penalty’ is when manual action is taken against a site.” A “penalty” is when an actual human being at Google takes manual action against a website. One of the most recent (and attention grabbing) examples of Google taking manual action against a website and penalizing it was last year and the J.C. Penney paid links scandal. JCP was ranked first in the SERPs for “Samsonite carry on luggage” (ahead of the official Samsonite website) and then dropped to number 71 when Google applied its penalty. The length of the manual penalty is based on how badly a site was breaking Google’s webmaster guidelines and how severe the penalty issued was. Sites that suffer from a manual penalty can submit a reconsideration form after they’ve addressed the issue that led them to be penalized in the first place, which doesn’t guarantee a recovery but can help speed up the process.
A site that is whacked by an algorithm update is not suffering from a manual penalty; Google did not single your website out for gross violation of their Webmaster Guidelines. Penguin (and its predecessor Panda) was an algorithm update and a lot of sites got caught in its net. In order for a site to recover from an algorithm update, site owners need to remove the spam tactics (i.e. keyword stuffing, link exchanges, cloaking, etc) that the algorithm update went after. Once Google recrawls and processes the site and pages, if you did everything right, your site should bump back up in the search results to where it was before the algorithm went live.
Why is it important to understand the distinctions between the two? First off, when your site is impacted by an algorithm update you shouldn’t submit a reconsideration request, even after you fix the deeper issues on your site. If you do, chances are you will get a message in your Webmaster Tools account that looks something like this,
We reviewed your site and found no manual actions by the webspam team that might affect your site’s ranking in Google. There’s no need to file a reconsideration request for your site, because any ranking issues you may be experiencing are not related to a manual action taken by the webspam team.
Of course, there may be other issues with your site that affect your site’s ranking. Google’s computers determine the order of our search results using a series of formulas known as algorithms. We make hundreds of changes to our search algorithms each year, and we employ more than 200 different signals when ranking pages. As our algorithms change and as the web (including your site) changes, some fluctuation in ranking can happen as we make updates to present the best results to our users
When dealing with an algorithm update it all comes down to waiting for the next update to roll out. Google doesn’t recrawl most websites on a set schedule, so you could make the necessary tweaks to your site and not see any improvement for several weeks or longer. It’s important that you don’t panic during this time. Focus on creating quality content and inbound links; invest in other sources of traffic and sit tight—it will get better if you make the right changes!
If you’re not sure where your site went wrong and don’t want to play guess and check for the next six months, consider hiring an SEO firm to run a full SEO audit on your site. They can analyze the back end of your website to uncover any black or grey hat SEO tactics that might have resulted in a penalty (either manual or from an algorithm update) for your site.