What is a penalty?

Google uses several search algorithms to display the most relevant and trustworthy results to its users. Each algorithm handles a different aspect of ranking websites in results and has associated penalties when they detect sites attempting to manipulate them for higher rankings. Penalties are either actioned manually or algorithmically (automatically by an algorithm) and, once enforced, means you will lose rankings (thus traffic) on specific keywords, pages or, in the worst case scenario, your domain name. Most penalties are incurred algorithmically, which means you won’t know about it until it’s too late and you’re already suffering a significant loss in traffic.

What are Google’s algorithms?

Google has two main algorithms that can enforce penalties, Panda and Penguin.


The Panda algorithm was created by Google in an attempt to cause low quality sites to be displayed much lower down in search results.

Sites affected by Panda often have significant amounts of duplicated content (either on their own site or more commonly, from other sites) as well as thin content. Thin content typically is a page that consists of very few words. If a site contains a lot of duplicate and thin content then Google sees little reason to display the site prominently in its search results. An entire site can be severely demoted because of Panda, even if only parts of the site have duplicate and/or thin content.


In April 2012, Google released an algorithm change, named Penguin, which is aimed at fighting spam. It severely affects sites that primarily have widespread keyword rich anchor text (the visible, clickable text in a link such as this) and those who participate in link schemes. Penguin penalties can either be levied algorithmically or, in extreme cases, manually which occurs when a member of Google’s webspam team determines that a site is widely attempting to manipulate search results by creating a large volume of spammy links.

Algorithmic Penguin penalties usually affect a site on a page and keyword level. An example of this is if you build links to a page about truck hire and all links have ‘truck hire’ in the anchor text. If a penalty is enforced, this means the page would no longer rank well for ‘truck hire’.

However, with larger scale, more extensive manipulation, a site may not be shown in the first 10 pages of results or removed from Google’s index entirely.

How do you recover from a penalty?

At Scott Shorter, we have helped numerous businesses from around Australia recover from both Panda and Penguin penalties, with most recovering to achieve record levels of organic traffic.

However, recovery is not easy. Recovering from a Panda or Penguin penalty can be a time consuming and technical process which should only be handled by an expert, especially to ensure unaffected parts of the website are preserved. Penalties that has not been dealt with correctly may result in the worst case scenario; starting again from scratch with a new domain name. Matt Cutts (the chief spam architect at Google) says:

 ‘If you’ve cleaned and still don’t recover, ultimately, you might need to start all over with a fresh site.

Source: SEO Roundtable

How do you prevent getting a penalty?

Penalty prevention is a top priority these days. No one should enter into a contract with an SEO company without asking for a detailed explanation of their link building and content strategies.

No Scott Shorter client has ever incurred a penalty while with us. We ensure all of our link building is white hat and only recommend content improvements that are unique and valuable to both the business and Google.

To prevent penalties, we:

  • Only recommend strategies that are compliant with Panda and Penguin
  • Do all of our link building in-house and do not outsource to cheap off-shore alternatives
  • Do not build spammy links from blog comments, link farms, paid directories or irrelevant sites
  • Do not stuff anchor text with keywords and ensure that site relevant, non-branded keywords are kept at a low frequency
  • Continuously monitor our clients’ backlink profile to ensure it remains clean and penalty free
  • Make sure all internal and external textual content is unique
  • Ensure all content is of an adequate length and a high quality
  • Find and amend occurrences of duplicate content on clients’ websites and monitor on an ongoing basis
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