Getting hit by an algorithmic penalty can be the worst nightmare for any website owner of the business owner. It happened to one of my sites back in 2011 and I was completely devastated. I had worked years building a website which I loved and one day, all the traffic was gone. I had no idea what happened and on further inspection, I found that Google had just launched an algorithmic update to their search algorithm which is causing websites to lose search rankings.

To be honest, my first reactions were filled with horror, anger, frustration, and helplessness. I just couldn’t believe this was happening to my business and the fact that I can’t do anything to revert it made me more sad and broken. Back then, I was a novice business owner and didn’t pay close attention to Google webmaster quality guidelines, which caused by website to be hit by a regular algorithmic penalty and from then on, it took the website almost 5 years to recover. I have explained how I did that at the bottom of this post.

But before we discuss how to recover from Google’s algorithmic penalty, let us first understand few key concepts and what to do when hit by a Google algorithmic penalty.

What is a Google Algorithmic Penalty?

So what is exactly a Google algorithmic penalty and how does it affect websites, blogs, and other online properties. Let’s find out.

An Algorithmic penalty is a change affects a website negatively and causes a loss of traffic, due to changes in how Google’s algorithms evaluate websites. The evaluation of websites for different queries is changed which shakes up the rankings of most of the websites since the algorithmic change is applicable to every single website which exists. The Penalty, however, is specifically targeted towards websites who match a particular attribute and affects them negatively. If a website does not have that attribute or parameter, the algorithm continues to treat that particular website well and no loss of traffic is observed.

Some typical scenarios when Google’s algorithmic penalty can have a negative impact on your website are as follows

  • Website having thin content or low-quality content in the majority of its pages – Panda algorithmic penalty.
  • Website having links from too many spam sites or bad links from a lot of outbound domains – Penguin.
  • Websites who practiced keyword stuffing, cloaking, exact match domain names.
  • Websites who bought too many sponsored links from other websites trying to game PageRank.
  • Websites who participated in link exchange and reciprocal linking or bought links from Link farms.
  • Websites that created a large number of doorway pages or low-quality cookie cutter websites to rank for competitive search terms.

These are some of the example scenarios when a change in Google’s algorithms will cause a negative effect on your website, if Google thinks you are one of these sites who have this defect in them. However, if Google’s algorithms think that your website is fine and does not have low-quality content, bad links and everything else is just fine, your website will not be caught in Google penalty and the traffic will not drop. In fact, you might see a surge in traffic from Google because now you are getting the traffic which you were not getting earlier.

Long story short, al algorithmic penalty is a change which Google pushes in its system which affects how websites are evaluated. Based on the evaluation, the rankings change dramatically since newer factors are weighed in which were not part of the equation earlier.

Common Questions Related to Google’s Algorithmic Penalty

Given below are some common questions website owners have about link penalties.

How often Google rolls out changes to its algorithms?

Google changes it’s algorithms several times a month and each time, there is a new update which considers factors which were not considered before. For example, prior to 2011, “Thin content” or “Shallow content” was not considered a very important SEO signal but then one fine day Google changed their algorithm and all the websites which had thin content in them got caught in the filter.

So the answer to this question – Google may roll out multiple changes to its algorithms within a week or month. It depends from one situation to another and there is no hard and fast rule on how often Google is most likely to update their algorithm and incorporate newer changes.

What’s the whole point behind Google changing their algorithms all the time?

The Whole point behind Google changing and updating their algorithms is to ensure high-quality bar in search results.

Search is the sole business of Google. If lots of people are dissatisfied with the bad search results, they will abandon Google and go to use other search engines. This is not what Google wants. Google has to protect it’s business and hence, it has to go the extra mile to ensure search results are high quality and users see great content with sites having high quality content dominate the search results over spammers and imposters.

This is the reason why Google changes their algorithm all the time. To ensure search results are of the highest quality possible.

Another reason why Google has to push updates is that spammers and imposters find innovative ways to game the system. Newer techniques are introduced which were not as prevalent earlier and hence Google also has to follow suit to mitigate those effects and ensure search results are of the highest quality possible.

How do I know if my website has been affected by a Google’s Algorithmic change or penalty?

The first thing you need to do is check your Google search console account  under “Search traffic > Manual actions” and see if Google’s web spam team has manually flagged your website into a penalty. Google penalties are of two types

  • Algorithmic penalty – This penalty is automatic in nature and no communication is sent by Google to individual website owners. This type of penalty is not typically a “penalty”, it is simply a change which is made in Google’s algorithms and that change starts affecting all the websites which Google thinks are “Low quality” in nature.
  • Manual Action – Time to time, Google webspam team checks websites on whether they are adhering to Google webmaster quality guidelines. If not, the webspam team can manually ban specific websites for not adhering to webmaster quality guidelines and this manual action is communicated to the website owner from Google search console. This is a manual action which means, a Google employee has manually looked into your website and flagged it to be de-listed from Google search until further changes are made to the website.Manual action google webmaster tools
  • Manual action is not as severe as an algorithmic penalty because if you fix all the mistakes at your end you are allowed to file a reconsideration request. Your reconsideration request will be carefully reviewed by employees working in Google’s web spam team and if they find that you have taken the right steps to comply with Google webmaster quality guidelines, they will lift the ban and things will come back to normal like before.

Is an algorithmic penalty permanent? How long is a penalty valid for?

Nothing is permanent.

If your website has been negatively affected by an algorithmic change or “penalty”, it does not mean that your website can never recover from it. If you take corrective measures on your side, fix the things which caused your website to be caught in the algorithmic update, focus on creating a high-quality website with high-quality content, do not participate in any black hat techniques and above all, create a world-class website with exclusive content which people love reading and using, it is not very hard to recover from a Google algorithmic penalty.

The penalty is valid until the time you clean up the mess and fix things on your side.

Will Google tell me what changes I need to make on my website to remove the algorithmic penalty?

Unfortunately, No. Google won’t tell you what changes you need to make on your website to remove the algorithmic penalty. The simple reason is that there are too many websites out there and Google simply does not have the time and bandwidth to respond to individual webmaster’s query.

That said, Google will still give you some clues and show you the way to recovery. If you keep an eye on Google webmaster central blog, Official Google Blog, Google Webmaster Help YouTube channel, Google Product forums, you should be able to find recent information about algorithmic changes in Google web search and what can website owners do to ensure their websites are not negatively impacted. For example, back in 2011, when Google launched the infamous “Panda” algorithmic update, the webspam team wrote a detailed guideline for website owners to fix their website and not get caught in subsequent algorithmic updates.

If you follow all the recent blog posts in Official Gooogle webmaster central blog, you will have the necessary information and clues. Any major changes is officially reported over there, so that should be your first reference before taking any serious action.

What should I do if I believe this has happened by mistake and my website should not be hit by an Algorithmic penalty by Google?

Unfortunately, it does not matter what “YOU” think. It matters what the Algorithm thinks because it is this “Algorithm” that evaluates websites, not “You”.

That is the harsh truth and the sooner you accept this truth, the better it is for your website and business. You won’t go far by writing to Google because they get tons of emails every day and they cannot reply to each individual email. Also, it is not feasible for them since Google rolls out a lot of changes to their algorithm every single week and there is no way for anyone to tell what to do to fix Google algorithmic penalty.

You can post your question in Google webmaster product forum and let other experts review your website for potential problems. The more feedback you take from genuine website owners, the better. There are lots of spammers out there as well who will trick you to buy their services, so watch out for them.

Long story short, if you think that this is a mistake from Google’s end, it is not going to change things since the algorithm does not care about what you think is correct. The algorithm uses data to evaluate website and tweaks itself, so the sooner you make positive changes to your website, the faster you will see results.

How do I tell Google to re-consider my website?

In case of a Manual action, you can file a reconsideration request from Google webmaster tools. In case the change happened because of an algorithmic update, there is nothing you can do to tell Google to re-consider your website. There is no need to tell Google or other people, the only thing you should be doing now is to make up an action plan which will help you recover from Google’s algorithmic penalty.

How to Recover from a Google Algorithmic Penalty?

Now this is one of the things which every webmaster thinks after he finds that his website has been negatively affected by an algorithmic update

What are the things I have to immediately do to mitigate the effects of being hit by a Google algorithmic penalty?

There are no quick fixes so the first thing you should do is to “Calm down”.

It’s alright. It happens to the best of us. Even sites like Ebay were affected by Google’s algorithmic update, so it can happen to just about anyone. And this is certainly not the end of the world. Before you do anything or perform any major change on your website, you need to understand few key things

  • Confirm – First, confirm whether you have been hit by an algorithmic penalty or not?
  • Collect – Second, collect as much information about the algorithmic penalty as possible. What is the algorithmic penalty all about? What is Google saying about the algorithmic penalty? Check Google webmaster central blog and all the other official sources to see if Google has come up with an official statement on the major algorithmic change.
  • Bookmark – If there is some official information, bookmark that page. If possible, print it out on paper because this is the “Bible” you will need. This information is the key and it is this information which will help you recover from an algorithmic penalty. Nothing else will help but only the understanding of this information will help. An example of such an information material is this blog post published on Google webmaster blog back in 2011.
  • Cross Check – Now go through each guideline and cross-check your website? If Google is stressing on the fact – “High quality” website, consider reviewing your website with an unbiased quality evaluator and let him give you the feedback. If possible hire a reputed SEO agency to perform a thorough evaluation of your website and tell you what’s the “Quality score” of your website.

    Remember, it doesn’t matter what you think of your website because it is like your child. You will not be able to see the shortcomings of your own website but other people will. So get it reviewed by someone else whom you can trust.

  • Pause and Reflect – If Google is stressing on “Link building” and “Spammy activities”, pause and reflect on what actions did you perform in the last couple of years which can trigger this for your website?– Did you participate in link exchange schemes with another blogger or website owner?– Did you buy links from cheap content farms or link agencies?– Did you purchase low-quality content from article directories or did you generate content from a spam software or a script which autogenerated the content on your behalf?

    — Did you publish duplicate content or plagiarized content on your website?

    — Did you sell too many text link advertisements on your website and linked to random websites which violate Google webmaster quality guidelines?

    — Did you hire writers at $5 per post and let them write thousands of posts without any editorial supervision? Did you took enough time and care to craft the content? Was the content high quality in nature? Ask an expert or the editor of a Newspaper and let him review an article on your website. Note his feedback on the Quality of the article written

    — Did you change website themes or web hosting companies in the last year? Did you change domain names? Did you change your content management system? Was your website managed by someone else before you and you are not sure what he did in your absence? It is possible there is a technical issue in your website which has caused duplicate content issues, so let your website reviewed by an expert for duplicate content issues.

Only after you have reviewed each aspect of your website and carefully reviewed the content quality on your website, you will be able to come to a conclusion as to why your website was negatively affected by an algorithmic update or change by Google. It is important not to assume things and closely follow Google’s guidelines on creating high-quality websites and review your website from an unbiased expert and then religiously follow the suggestions offered by Google to create a high-quality website with high-quality content which adheres to Google webmaster quality guidelines.

Fix Things Slowly, One Step at a time. Don’t Panic and Make further mistakes

If you carefully review all the content on your website and fix things one step at a time, page by page, section by section, you should start seeing improvements as early as one month. The pages whose content you improve should see a surge in traffic because now they are no longer “Low quality” or “Shallow” or “Thin” in nature. It is important to fix things slowly and devote the necessary time to each page that it deserves.

If a page requires you to edit it 3 days, you should devote those 3 days and uplift the content of the page so that it stands on its feet and not gets classified as a low-quality spammy post. If you are not able to devote enough time to it, it may be worth deleting it altogether because it is better to get rid of low-quality content from your website than keeping it. If possible, make it better. If not possible, just get rid of it and focus your efforts on creating high quality, information-rich exclusive content for your audience from now on.

Reviewing content on your website could mean a lot of things. It could mean the quality of information, it could mean reviewing the grammar and copy of the page, checking for punctuation errors and common grammatical mistakes. It could mean reviewing the design and usability of the website and checking whether the website is usable across all desktop screens, browsers, mobiles (low-end mobiles as well). It could also mean checking the page loading time as well and ensure that all the pages of the website loads under 4 seconds. It could also mean reviewing the SEO aspects of the website. For example, if you are using WordPress as a content management system, you may want to review all the WordPress SEO details one step at a time and do a root cause analysis of the problem.

In short, if you keep improving the content of your website and get rid of shallow content or thin content and comply with all the guidelines listed in Google webmaster quality guidelines, you should be able to recover from Google’s algorithmic penalty fairly easily (within a span of 6 months to 1 year). It also depends on how big your website is, how many backlinks it has, how many pages of original content it has and how deeply it has been affected by the algorithmic change. That said, if you make changes to your website and take care of most issues, it should take you 8 – 10 months to fully recover from a Google Algorithmic penalty.

Be Sure to read our SEO Guide which contains useful information about SEO and we have discussed in detail key SEO Concepts with examples.