Google Penalties

Panda, Penguin and more – The Google penalties you want to avoid

9 September 2015

Your digital presence is heavily reliant on your website appearing on Google’s search results. Google has an assortment of algorithms that they run to penalise websites for various reasons. These range from weak or duplicated content, to not having a site that is optimised for mobile viewing. On the opposite side of the scale, the algorithms will then push high-quality websites up in Google search results.

But automated algorithms are not the only concern. Google also performs manual checks to ensure everybody is playing the SEO game fairly, issuing thousands of penalties annually. And nobody is safe from Google’s penalties, just ask BBC, Mozilla, and even WordPress. Google even penalised BMW’s German website in 2006 by completely blacklisting them.

We take a look at some of the most famous algorithms and give you guidelines on how to avoid their penalties.

The Algorithms

history of google algorithm changes

Let’s have a look at the most well-known algorithms, ranging from the latest Google creations:

Mobile-Friendly Algorithm (April 2015)

The latest high-profile Google algorithm, also known as “Mobilegeddon“, was created to favour websites that are mobile-friendly (fortunately only when you do searches from a mobile device). Google even created a site to check your own website’s mobile optimisation – see here.

Overall it seems that this wasn’t a significant algorithm in terms of sites that were penalised, though an article from the Wall Street Journal reported that this algorithm took a while to show a meaningful impact.

Solution: Have your website optimised for mobile viewing. So much web traffic is now generated from mobile devices, so it makes sense to make your site more accessible via mobile phones and tablets. And if that fact didn’t persuade you to optimise, then “Mobilegeddon” should do the trick.


Penguin (April 2012)

Penguin is aimed at dealing with the shadier side of SEO – black hat SEO techniques. Specialists in this particular field violate Google’s guidelines by increasing the amount of incoming links to a website. The links are of a suspicious nature – a large amount of low-quality links, or they could be coming from one source as opposed to a variety of sources. These are usually paid links.

Penguin example

Example – A site that lost ~65 percent of its Google organic traffic overnight.

Solution: Thankfully Penguin penalties are only applied to the pages where these links are pointing to, but that’s not much of a silver lining as it could still have a dire effect on your overall traffic.

Assess where you could have been penalised by running a crawl test (you can try Moz) to find any bad links. Export these bad links to a spreadsheet, and evaluate each of them to see if they are spam.

Then you would go about removing them one-by-one. You can do this yourself (if you are able to do so), or you could e-mail the owners of those websites to remove the link, or even make it no-follow. This is a timely process which can take up to a couple of months (depending on how many incoming links you have). Obviously it’s not possible to get them all, so you can contact Google via the Google Search Console and ask them to disavow some of these links.

After applying these changes, you wait for the next version of the algorithm to run on your site to see if it gets fixed.


Panda (February 2011)

Panda (named after Google engineer Navneet Panda) penalises websites that have duplicated or low quality content. The targeted content is usually short, terribly written, and essentially adds no value to the digital space. When this first ran in 2011, a large amount of sites were negatively affected (though some sites did show increased amounts of traffic, like Facebook and Youtube).

If you’ve been hit by Panda, you’re going to have a bad time. It affects the entire site, and your web traffic will suffer greatly. See the following example posted by Screaming Frog:


Solution: Time for an SEO audit to evaluate what the exact cause was of your penalty. The main culprits here would either be poor content, or maybe your onsite SEO is not up to scratch and you are pushing out weak content by accident. So you would be looking at either replacing the penalised content with something of higher quality, or having your site structured to create better content.


Google wants the highest quality content available to their users, and it must be optimised for all platforms. Again, we do say this often but that is because it’s the honest truth – there are no shortcuts for proper SEO. Shortcuts might make you quick gains, but you will eventually be penalised for those. Don’t take chances with Google, their algorithms are updated on a regular basis to deal with the latest workarounds, and their penalties can cripple your website traffic if you implement poor practices.