Understanding Google Penalties: Penguin 2.0 Is Coming

Written by Nick Stamoulis

Word on the street is that Penguin 2.0 will be coming to a Google organic search result near you very shortly. If you aren’t familiar with the Google Penguin algorithm update, it was first launched in the spring of 2012 and targeted websites that were using low quality (spammy) link building tactics. According to Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team at Google, Penguin 2.0 will be significant. Website owners- you’ve been warned.

Because Penguin 2.0 hasn’t happened yet and the only thing that we know for sure is that it is on the horizon, we figured we’d take this opportunity to discuss search engine penalties as a whole and try and clear up some of the confusion that exists among our clients and blog readers.

The first thing to understand is that there are two different kinds of search engine penalties. A site can be penalized manually which means that a manual review of the site was conducted and it doesn’t live up to the Google Webmaster Guidelines that Google has set forth. The second type of penalty is an algorithmic penalty. This kind of penalty occurs when Google makes a change to the algorithm, changing the way that sites are ranked which changes what appears in the SERP, and your site was affected negatively. A penalty can occur based on what you are doing on your actual site or on off site SEO factors like how you are approaching link building.

The primary indicator that your site may have been penalized is that there is a dip in visitors to the site which can easily be seen within Google Analytics. Now, there are plenty of reasons that a dip in visitors may occur that have nothing to do with penalties and it’s important to rule those out first. Maybe the business just has a seasonality and there isn’t much demand for what is offered or maybe you’ve cut back on your marketing efforts which usually correlates with a dip in traffic. If nothing is adding up, it might be time to investigate whether a penalty has occurred.


By taking a look within Google Webmaster Tools you can check to see if there are any notifications. You may receive a notice if a manual penalty has occurred or if Google sees anything “going on” with your site that you should be made aware of. If there’s nothing there, start doing some research on Google algorithm updates. Google has become much more transparent regarding algorithm updates and when they happen, and there are plenty of SEO blogs out there that will provide you with timelines. If you see that a dip in traffic occurred right after an algorithm update, that may be the culprit.

The approach that we recommend if the penalty is algorithmic is to simply step back and not take any action for a few months. Frantic website owners usually don’t want to follow this advice, but here’s why we believe this is the right thing to do. When an algorithmic update happens, it’s never final. In some cases once the dust settles things could correct themselves naturally without taking any kind of action. We’ve even seen it happen. An algorithm change can affect those that have been doing something wrong and it has finally caught up, but sometimes it affects those that haven’t done anything wrong but simply somehow get tangled up in the mess of the algorithm change.

The moral of the story is- if an algorithm change happens and you see a drop in traffic- you need to figure out why that is. If you’ve been participating in some “bad” SEO practices, it’s time to fix things up. If you don’t think that you’ve done anything wrong- don’t panic- and give it some time. If things don’t rebound in a few months, then it’s time to take action.

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