The Difference Between Algorithm Updates and Manual Penalties

Mon, 29/04/2013 - 08:56

There has been some confusion of late among those in the online space regarding manual penalties and algorithm updates. So I’ve decided to try my hand at clearing up some of the confusion.

Manual penalties:

A manual penalty happens when a website is in violation of the rules set out in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines .

If you’ve been hit by a manual penalty you’ll receive a notification in webmaster tools that looks something like this:

unnatural links

Not something you generally want to see. The good news is that if you receive a notification like this you can submit a reconsideration request to the web spam team at Google to have the penalty lifted from your site.

To do this, you’ll first need to establish what the issue is, take corrective action and then submit your request. The notification you receive in webmaster tools will usually give you an indication of what’s wrong (E.g. unnatural linking). If your reconsideration request is accepted, Google will notify you with a message (very similar to the one above, but with good news instead of bad).

Algorithm updates:

Penguin and Panda are both algorithm updates. I discussed the difference between the two in a post a few months back.

Algorithm updates like Penguin or Panda refer to adjustments made to the over 200 signals that Google uses to rank content that’s presented on the SERP.

Panda and Penguin are NOT penalties; they are updates to Google’s algorithm. Yes, they do address different issues but are both algorithm updates.

This is according to Google’s head of web spam, Matt Cutts who explains that Google’s definition of “a penalty” is when “manual” action is taken against a site – and that Google doesn’t use the term “penalty” as much as they refer to “manual action”.

So how do you tell if your website's been affected by an algorithm update?

Check on performance. If you’ve noticed a drop in rankings and traffic and your competitors haven’t upped their game, there’s a good chance that you’ve tripped Google’s web spam alarm.

If you suspect this is the case, review your site and links to identify anything that may have caused the problem. If you find any issues, do what you can to correct them. Unfortunately sending a reconsideration request will do little to help if your site has been affected by an algorithm update because, as mentioned earlier algorithm updates are not viewed by Google as penalties.

So what can you do?

Wait. This is probably not what you want to hear but the only way to “recover” is to wait for the next refresh of Google’s algorithm.

Note: Websites that have been affected by algorithm updates will never prompt any notification from Google (whereas with manual penalties, Google will always notify you). The next generation of Penguin (2.0) is due to be rolled out soon and Google has also stated that current and future panda updates are unlikely to be confirmed as was done in the past. This is due to a new “gradual” rollout infrastructure being used when updates are implemented.

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