Understanding Google Penalties and why you should

In the past few months, I’ve spoken to no less than three Marketing Directors who have been adversely affected by Google Penalties.

This is three more than a year back.

This could of course be a reflection on Google and the number of penalties it is now handing out.

It could also be a reflection on the growing awareness among marketers about Google Penalties and the adverse effect they can have on a website.

If at this point you are blushing because you are unaware of what Google Penalties are, don’t feel bad.

My experience is that someone only becomes aware of what Google Penalties are a period after they have been penalised; questions are asked about why a website has stalled or is going backwards and at some stage, an SEO expert or someone with a knowledge of Google Webmaster tools puts their hands up and says “Whoa, we’ve been penalised!”

It is at this point that those without a knowledge of what Google Penalties is, very quickly develop a knowledge.

I’m talking about an exponential learning curve. An exponential curve.


What are Google Penalties?

A Google Penalty is where Google penalises your website for doing something in-breach of its Webmaster guidelines. The penalty is simply though powerfully a drop in traffic:

Goodbye precious traffic


These Webmaster guidelines tell websites and website operators what they should and shouldn’t do when it comes to their website and its existence online.

In simple terms, a website is penalised where it attempts to game Google’s search engine (i.e. achieve higher search rankings) or where the website has potentially impacted on the experience of Google’s users (e.g. if a website hosts malware).

There are an unknown number of breaches a website could make though this article at eConsultancy is a good read on the top breaches every marketer should be aware of.


Why do I need to know this?

I made the point above about exponential learning and insight into Google Penalties by those affected by penalties.

And trust me it is true.

When a marketer or owner of a website learns that Google is penalising them such that their traffic and sales are dropping, you can quickly observe the colour in one’s face dropping.

And then the ensuing shit fight begins. Raised voices, pointed fingers, senior management demanding answers:

  1. How did this happen and who is responsible?
  2. How do we fix this?
  3. How long will it take to fix and get restored?
  4. Who is going to do it?


The poor marketer then has to watch from the sidelines as their SEO company or website developer starts to dismantle or correct the issue or issues annoying Google; head slightly buried in shame with the knowledge that they are ultimately responsible:

Of course, shame aside, because the marketer or website owner will be petrified about the lost sales and users as well as their own internal reputation and job, they will rightly become experts on Google Penalties and will do whatever they can to help; my experience is that marketers also quickly become superb project managers of the disparate teams working to fix their websites.

And so why do you need to know this?

If the answer isn’t already abundant, the quick summary is this:

  • There are thousands of reasons for why a website can get a Google Penalty, some out of your control.
  • The web is a key channel if not possibly your only channel.
  • The web moves and changes quickly. So does Google.
  • Training your team in best practice as well as monitoring Google Webmaster Tools is your best course of prevention.
  • Though having a knowledge of what Google Penalties are in advance will leave a much better chance of coping with the issue when it happens, lest that such a knowledge might help a hapless marketer avoid the Google Penalty in the first instance.


Better still, if you do get affected, by knowing about Google Penalties, you won’t quite have to hang your head in so much shame; you’ll be empowered to swiftly and confidently point your finger as that SEO guy in the corner and rightly blame him and his stupid backpack.

And feel good. It can be tricky having a Google Penalty removed though it only takes a week or three for things to generally return to normal.