Google algorithms are not Google penalties
The SEO industry often refers to “Google algorithmic penalties” as a catch-all phrase for websites that fail to live up to expectations in Google Search. However, the term used is fundamentally wrong because there are no Google algorithmic penalties. There are of course Google penalties, which Google officially and euphemistically calls Manual Spam Actions. And there are Google algorithms and algorithm updates. They both can and do determine how websites rank. However, it is essential to understand that they are completely different things before they can be influenced in a meaningful way.
Algorithms are (re-)calculations
Google relies to a large extent on their algorithms. As far as SEO is concerned very few of these algorithms existence are officially confirmed by Google. Google Panda, which is focused on on-page content quality and Google Penguin, which has been designed with off-page signals in mind, are likely the two most commonly cited and feared algorithms. While there are a few more named algorithms or updates to existing algorithms, it is important that these are the few named instances compared to the countless algorithms used at any time and hundreds of updates released throughout the year. In fact, on average there are multiple releases, major or minor every single day. The SEO industry, let alone the general public, rarely take notice of these changes. The release process is understandably a closely guarded Google secret. While new algorithms rarely are perfect from the start, they evolve. However, SEOs and marketers must know that algorithms by their very definition do not allow for exceptions. Google has always denied the existence of white- or black-lists of any sort and for a good reason. They simply do not exist.
Google Search Console. In the best case scenario, server logs covering an extended and recent period of time are also used to verify findings. The latter step is also important to address a crucial question: How long will it take for Google to pick up on the new, improved signals before a site’s rankings improve again? That central question can only be answered individually for any given website and depends mostly on how frequently and thoroughly a website is being crawled and indexed. Small sites and sites that actively manage their crawl budget tend to benefit more swiftly. Large, cumbersome websites with a lot of crawl budget waste crawl prioritization signals and can take months or even years before they are recrawled.
Google Webmaster Guidelines violations. But they don’t. Search is a complex matter and thus far, no one has been able to come up with an algorithm equally able to keep up with human ingenuity. Despite tremendous efforts to algorithmically combat spam, sites still manage to cut corners and get around rules – from Google’s point of view – to outrank their competitors. That is the main reason for Google penalties aka Manual Spam Actions. With these manual interventions and the occasional report on the webspam operation Google has been keeping spam sites in check for many years.
There are several reasons why sites get penalized by Google. The Ultimate Google Penalty Guide explains the issue in detail. When comparing manual penalties against algorithms, they may appear to have a similar impact. There are, however, several important differences from an SEO perspective. For starters, manual penalties trigger a message in GSC, highlighting the issue detected. Not only does Google provide transparent information regarding the type of violation identified, they also frequently share hints on how to fix and remedy the problem. In other words, there’s certainty when it comes to manual penalties. If a website is penalized, the site owner can find out their current status easily.
Reconsideration Request. Similarly to not disclosing the specific time range of a penalty, Google does not provide any hints regarding the anticipated processing time of reconsideration requests. This is a manual, labor-intensive process that involves Google Search employees evaluating the information submitted. Experience shows that anything from several hours to several weeks, and longer is a distinct possibility.
Similarly to investigating signals that may trigger algorithms, the initial work when resolving manual penalties is done by crawling the website, it’s backlinks and investigating these signals.
Algorithms and penalties
It is important to know that both algorithms and penalties can simultaneously affect a website. Their trigger signals can even overlap. For a site’s health, visibility in search and ultimately commercial success, algorithms and penalties are relevant factors to be managed. This is why periodic technical checks and Google Webmaster Guidelines compliance reviews are a must. Google does occasionally update their Webmaster Guidelines, often without much fanfare, to reflect the changing realities of today’s web better. That’s why periodic audits should be part of a company’s due diligence.
Neither algorithms nor penalties are to be dreaded. Experiencing an abrupt, unanticipated drop in search can be an opportunity to clean house. Once the shock dissipates, there is then an opportunity to grow both SERP real estate, Google Search visibility and CTR way beyond what was previously considered respectable results.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Search Brothers and well-known search expert specializing in recovering websites from Google penalties and helping websites improve their rankings with SEO Consulting. Before founding SearchBrothers.com, Kaspar was part of the Google Search Quality team where he was a driving force behind global web spam tackling initiatives. He is the author of the ultimate guide to Google penalties and part of the Ask the SMXperts series.