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by Gillian
on June 11, 2015

A few months ago, we posted what causes Google Penalties. But since the Google algorithms are constantly changing, there is always room for further explanation. In this post we will break down the basics of what a Google penalty is and what might be causing them for your site.

What Does "Google Penalty" Mean?

A Google penalty is when an action or change by Google lowers your search rankings with them and causes a drop in traffic. Although many people refer to them as "penalties" the truth is that most are not actually punishments from Google, but merely a result of Google updating its algorithm to provide what it believes is the best experience for its users.

So, What Causes Google Penalties?

Google penalties come from two main sources: manual penalties and algorithm penalties. This post from KISSmetrics gives a good in-depth explanation of the difference between these types of penalties, so we'll just give you a brief overview here.


Manual Penalties

Manual Google penalties occur when a human being from the Google team (the "spam" team) determines that your site is engaging in practices outside of the Google webmaster recommendations and chooses to bump your page lower in search results. The Google team looks for any type of "black hat" activity, such as the use of link schemes or link purchasing to increase ranking.  If you are manually penalized, you may receive an email notifying you about the action.

Algorithm Penalties

Algorithm penalties are a decrease in Google rankings and therefore site traffic due to a change in how Google operates and who they decide to rank higher and lower. Although the Google algorithm is always changing a little bit, there are huge updates (like Penguin and Panda) that can cause big drops in your site traffic if you are not optimized for those changes. You will not receive any notifications from Google if your site is affected by an algorithm change but you may notice a steep decline in traffic that coincides with the Google Algorithm Change History.

The Most Recent Google Penalty: Mobilegeddon

The most recent Google penalty that you may have noticed came in the form of Mobilegeddon. You can read our full blog post on the topic, but essentially that update affected mobile search rankings for sites that are not optimized for mobile users. If you don't track your mobile traffic separately (but you do, right?) you might not have noticed its impact. Also, if you have a site that uses responsive design, you shouldn't have been affected at all.

Other Updates: Google Phantom Update

Another recent and mysterious update hit Google last month that may have caused some penalties. Google revealed few details about this "phantom" algorithm updated, but if you noticed a drop in traffic around the beginning of May, this could have been the culprit.

SEO is an ever-evolving topic and no one will ever know everything there is to know. It can cause a panic around any team when they see a drop in site traffic, but it shouldn't. As long as you are creating great content within the Google webmaster standards, utilizing great keywords that make sense for your business, and doing both of those things diligently, you should see your rankings recover.