Google Responds If Ranking Losses From Core Updates Are A Soft Penalty


Google’s Office Hours Hangout had a question about algorithm updates and whether a negatively affected site’s ranking is removed by a “soft penalty”.

The person asking the question referred to soft penalty, which is a phrase that’s been around for a number of years, but isn’t really a thing.

They also refer to suffering a “flag” that has been assigned to their site, which alludes to Google having flagged the site in some way, as in flagged.

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Here is the question:

“My two websites have been hit by different updates, around 90% drops and are suffering from a type of flag that is taking our sites down until the soft penalty is lifted.

Or… is there even a soft penalty? “

Here is the answer :

“No, the named updates we post on the Rankings Updates page on Search Central are not penalties in any form. »

This confirms that any ranking drop associated with a Google Named Update is not a penalty and should never be thought of that way because that is not what is happening.

The Googler explained why this isn’t a penalty:

“These are adjustments to our ranking algorithms, so they bring up even higher quality and more relevant results for search users.

If your site has dropped in rankings after an update, follow our general content guidelines.

Take a look at how you could improve your site as a whole, both from a content and user experience perspective, and you might just be able to boost your rankings again.

Basic update and content correction

Googlers first said there was nothing to fix when a site lost rankings after a core algorithm update.

But at the same time, they also advised to improve the content, which is a bit of a mixed message.

The Googler in the hangout (I think it’s Gary Illyes) advised those who suffered ranking drops to focus on improving rankings.

This advice makes sense because the surface”better and more relevant results“implies that the algorithm focuses on the content.

Soft penalty

I’ve been in the search industry for over 22 years and the term “soft penalty” isn’t a real thing.

There is no half version of a penalty. A site is either penalized (by a manual action) or it is not.

It’s a catch-all phrase that explains something without really explaining it, like the phrase “engine problem.”

Rank drops without penalty can be caused by many different causes:

  • Content issues
  • Improved how Google understands search queries
  • Quality issues
  • A competitor simply has better content

Watch/listen to the Google Office Hours Hangout at 3:08 p.m.


Featured image by Shutterstock/Luis Molinero



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