A topic was raised during a Google Office Hours Hangout about algorithm updates and whether or not a soft penalty suppresses the rankings of a negatively affected website.
The questioner brought up the concept of a ‘soft penalty,’ which has been used a lot but doesn’t really exist in any meaningful way.
They’ve also mentioned the issue with ‘the flag’ being assigned to their site, suggesting that Google has blacklisted the site in some way.
The answer was:
“No, the specified updates that we post on the Search Central rankings updates page are in no way, shape, or form penalties.”
This verifies that any ranking losses linked with a specific Google update are not a penalty and should never be interpreted as such because that is not what is happening.
The Googler at the hangout further explained that the changes were made to ranking algorithms in order to provide users with even better and more relevant search results.
If the website’s results have declined since an upgrade, the user should adhere to Google’s basic rules for content.
“See how you can improve your website as a whole, both from content and user experience perspective, and you may be able to increase your rankings again,” says the Googler.
Important Updates and Content Changes
Google employees initially said there was nothing to fix when a website loses its rankings after a core algorithm update.
In a seemingly contradictory move, they also suggested tweaking the content itself.
Anyone who has seen a decline in rankings was encouraged by the Googlers at the hangout to work on improving the quality of their content.
The advice makes sense because surfacing ‘higher quality and more relevant results’ suggest that the algorithm is focused on the content.
Is There a Soft Penalty?
A soft penalty is not a real thing. Either a website is penalized (via a manual action), or it’s not.
Non-penalty ranking drops can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Content issues
- Enhancements in Google’s ability to comprehend search queries
- Quality concerns
- A competitor’s content is just better.