3 Potential Search Engine Penalties You Need to Know About

Imagine your website… Now imagine your worst fear about your website…

No more traffic.

No more users.

No more conversion.

What do you do? Why did this happen? How do you fix it?

Whether you accept it or not, websites gain a large majority of their traffic from Google, and the numbers support this fact. Google is a search engine giant, and they aren’t afraid to penalize your site.

Say you get hit with a penalty. You could lose five, 10, 25 percent, or more, of your traffic overnight. Your website could go from thriving to drowning in less than 24 hours. It’s an overwhelming thought.

You will find two types of penalties when it comes to search engines:

  • Algorithmic
  • Manual

Algorithms tend to get most of the attention because they affect tens of thousands, if not millions, of sites at once.

What most people don’t know is that there are over 400,000 manual penalties applied each and every month, according to Matt Cutts, software engineer and former head of the webspam team at Google. That’s a lot.

To put penalties into perspective, many of the sites that receive them deserve them; they are legitimately dreadful. Not only do they implement spam tactics to manipulate search engines to get what they want–which is not clean SEO–if you are familiar with black hat SEO tactics, these sites implement them, too, on a regular basis. Most get caught and penalized. Very few escape the net.

On the flip side, most sites are doing the best they can regarding SEO–and doing it legitimately. However, even with the best of intentions, your site could end up penalized.

In the following post, MDPM will cover some major penalties that may affect your website. This is in an effort to educate you on the realistic dangers websites face daily when not following search standards and policies.

Panda Eats Weak Content, as Opposed to Bamboo, Which is Quite Strong

One of the better known algorithms, Panda, was run in 2011 and crippled traffic on many low-quality websites. As the algorithm “rolled out” it was run about once a month, but as it became established it now seems to be running once a year.

You may think it’s better to see the update only running once a year; however, it’s a double-edged blade. On one side, fewer updates result in fewer opportunities to get penalized.

On the other side, if you do get penalized and fix the issue, you have to wait until the algorithm runs again to be cleared or marked clean. Therefore, it takes longer for the penalty you gained to be removed.

This means you could be waiting several months, if not a year, to get your rankings back.

There is also the danger that you were unsuccessful fixing the issue initially, which means you won’t find out you were unsuccessful until the first update, then you will have to wait for the next update before the penalty is finally removed, which can add up to almost, if not definitely, two years.

Now that you know a little bit about how penalties work, let’s take a look at what Panda is and how it works:

Even though Panda has been run quite a few times over the past four or five years, its significance has not been openly defined (although we have a pretty accurate idea what it is).

Google works to keep their algorithms secret, and they do not assist very often in helping sites remedy an algorithmic penalty.

However, they do assist actively in confirming manual penalty fixes.

What we know for sure is this: Panda is in existence to keep low quality content from appearing in search results.

How Does Panda Work?

Google creates a general threshold for the entirety of a site’s content. If the content drops below this threshold, a penalty is applied. Google lowers all the rankings of all the pages on the site, thus lowering the ranking of the website as a whole.

Essentially, if you get hit with this penalty, your entire site will be penalized.

Penguin the Link Checker With Wings That Doesn’t Fly

Penguin and Panda are closely related.

The pair in tandem have demanded SEOs pay attention to them as a team rather than as individual algorithms.

Penguin, released in 2012, decreased traffic based on links.

What does Penguin search for? It looks for fabricated backlink patterns.

Although Google will never release more information than what we can gather from SERP and other data, there has been three factors pinned down as relevant to this algorithm:

Link quality: A website which gains their backlinks naturally tend to have a mix of high, medium, and low quality backlinks. Black hat practices typically show only high or low quality backlinks for one site, which is a red flag for Penguin.

Link growth: This relates to how quickly a website gained their backlinks. Over time, sites tend to gain backlinks at an increased rate, which means spikes followed by a large decrease tend to get the algorithm’s attention.

Link variety: Websites that gain backlinks naturally have a diverse link portfolio. There will be links from blogs, forums, websites, context, etc. Black hat tactics tend to focus on one of the many areas to gain backlinks. For example, blog comments. Sites who gain all their links from one mode tend to get nailed with a penalty.

Penguin has influenced many SEOs to go “white hat” with their approaches. A more pragmatic term would be gray hat, since we’re still in the shade when it comes to knowing what specific things Google experts do or don’t expect.

How Does Penguin Implement a Penalty?

Penguin is not a site-wide penalty. It denotes specific pages.

Typically, 80 percent of a website’s traffic comes from 20 percent of its content, which means a Penguin penalty could knock out 30, 50, or even 80 percent of your traffic.

If your site is marked by Penguin, your site will be penalized. However, in rare cases, the value of the links deemed unnatural or fabricated will be reduced rather than your site receiving a penalty. Either way, you’re losing rankings or traffic. Neither of them help your site continue to grow.

Mobile-Geddon: a Push Into the Future?

Google’s number one goal with this update was to help users find relevant content to their queries.

The first decade or so of Google’s existence, it worked to discover and classify content as relevant or not (among a myriad of other relevance related things).

They’ve become pretty good at it.

A major factor is the speed at which the content creators can create new content compared to the rate of user consumption. Creators simply can’t keep up.

Google announced in 2015 they would start making it easier for its users to find relevant and useful results on their mobile devices more so than before. Mobile is the future.

The announcement sparked quite a flame in the SEO community, and many prepared for an epic shift in search engine standards.

Many website owners hustled to update their site to make it mobile friendly, which in retrospect could mean quite a few different things. Nonetheless, SEOs and website owners were prepared.

On April 20th, Mobile-geddon rolled out.

It was less than expected.

It did move the results a bit, but it didn’t do enough to warrant the hustle by SEOs and website managers between the announcement and the roll out.

Nonetheless, those without a mobile-friendly site are seen less in search results and suffer because of it online.

How do you Check to see if Your Site is Mobile Friendly?

Google has offered up this tool for those interested in testing their own site.

It simply tells you if your site is mobile friendly or not. It doesn’t give much else. Just know that mobile-friendly is only the beginning to appeasing Google’s crawlers and your potential users.

Make sure you check the various pages on your site with this tool. You may have a homepage and an internal page design. One could be fine while the other is not. It’s best to check a handful of pages through the mobile-friendly tool just to be safe.

Another place to check for mobile issues is in Google Search Console. You can find Mobile Usability here: GSC > Search Traffic > Mobile Usability.

If you have any errors, you need to fix them. However, if you don’t have any, great.


Whether you’ve been penalized, or you are worried that you may be, it’s best to know what you’re working with to get your site ranked or noticed online. You are working with search engines and users in tandem to ensure your site, brand, or product is discovered, seen, and shared. Shortcuts, as in life, can often be taken but show very little in reward. In other words, black hat tactics online are extreme risk-medium reward. Work to gain the rank and popularity of search engines and users the right way the first time, and you won’t have to spend days and nights worrying if and when you’ll be penalized.

Want to learn about more algorithmic and manual penalties? Not sure if your site is up to search engine policy and standards? Call MDPM Consulting with your questions at 972-781-8861 or Email us at Info@mdpmconsulting.com. We’re always looking for ways to make Google’s SERPs the place to find you!