Penalty Recovery

Amazingly, there still seems to be a lot of confusion among both site owners and even some self-proclaimed SEO “experts” regarding penalties. So let me offer some clarification, because without understanding why your site is losing traction, it’s next to impossible to accomplish any sort of recovery.

Dampening vs. Penalty

First, link related issues that cause a drop in a site’s search visibility can take two very distinct forms: Only one has to do with the Penguin algorithm. That has these following characteristics:


  • It is not a true “penalty” – it’s more accurately described as a dampening or filtration of the site’s inbound links, because of Google’s perception of toxicity
  • There’s no notification from Google that the site’s links are considered problematic
  • It doesn’t necessarily require solicitation of removal of individual links from linking sites (although this can be wise in some circumstances)
  • The effect of removal of all toxic links won’t immediately result in improved rankings. Any improvement will be delayed at least until after Google has recrawled the affected pages (this used to be delayed until the next Penguin update, which sometimes was over a year, but Penguin now runs continuously). Even then, in some instances, it may not result in any improvement of your site’s rankings.
  • There’s no reconsideration request for algorithmic actions. Any recovery will be after Google decides that the site is of sufficient quality to warrant a reduction or removal of the dampening effect.

The other, sometimes referred to as a manual penalty, but more accurately called a manual action, has these characteristics:

Manual Action

  • This is a true penalty, when Google’s Spam Team has decided that a site is guilty of egregious behavior that deserves a “slap”. This may be a reduction by some (varying) percentage of a site’s inbound link value, reduced ability to rank for only specific search terms, the inability of specific pages to rank for one or more search terms or in extreme cases, the inability of an entire site to rank for any
  • Because the Spam Team has determined that the site no longer is “trusted” because of its apparent linkbuilding practices, it’s necessary to demonstrate that those detrimental practices are understood, that a good faith effort has been made to correct the effects and that future actions won’t be more of the same
  • After a thorough link cleanup has been completed, a reconsideration request must be submitted to Google, explaining what was done to remediate the toxic links and convincing them that it won’t happen again.

Crossing the Beams

While it’s certainly feasible that a site being dampened by the Penguin algorithm could be a flag for human review that results in a manual penalty, there is no other connection between Penguin and a manual action. A site can be subjected to either or both simultaneously. Logic would tell us that there’s at least some chance that a site was slapped by the algorithm before it attracted human attention, though, which would also tell us that even after a manual action has been removed, at least some of the algo’s effects might still be present after the manual action is revoked. This can make the start on the road to recovery more difficult to spot, as well as possibly delaying it significantly.

Some Supposition

Because Google is necessarily vague regarding many of the specifics of its functions, a lot of what professional SEOs work with is supposition and conjecture. Even when supported by extensive research and testing, it’s still virtually impossible to isolate the many factors that affect rankings. This, of course, gives birth to the ever-recurring problem of conflating causation and correlation. Premising our work on correlation isn’t necessarily a bad thing… sometimes it’s the best we have to work with. It only becomes problematic when we assume that those suppositions are fact-based.

For instance, a lot of testing has been performed which seems to indicate that a site that has previously received a manual penalty and subsequently succeeded in having that penalty removed may be put in a “probationary” status for some period of time, meaning that future transgressions might be less tolerated. One can reasonably consider that the same might be true for an algorithmic dampening, as well.

But, since there’s no way to be certain it’s true, it’s really just conjecture, even though testing seems to support it. As conjecture goes, it’s relatively safe, since adhering to it won’t put a site at any greater risk of being slapped by either Penguin or the Spam Team. Unfortunately, though, there’s a lot of other conjecture floating around that has the potential of being tremendously harmful to a site.

If your site has experienced either a sudden or a gradual loss in the SERPs, you may or may not be a victim of algorithmic dampening or a manual action. If you think you may be in this position, contact us today for a quick determination of what can be done to begin to achieve recovery of what you lost.