What’s the Difference Between Manual and Algorithmic Penalties?

google is watching you

The Short Answer:

There are subtle differences between both manual and algorithmic penalties; however both are used to stop unnatural manipulation of search results and spam. The main differences are:

  • A manual penalty comes from Google’s web spam team and involves a human element to the review process. If that person feels you’ve broken Google’s guidelines they will issue a manual penalty on your site.
  • An algorithmic penalty on the other hand occurs when Google release a major update to the search algorithm. This algorithm then calculates whether your site has broken Google’s guidelines and will penalise your site.

So what are the similarities and differences?


  • Algorithm and manual penalties can either:
    • Completely demote websites in Google’s rankings. It’s the equivalent of Google boarding up your home and cutting off your power. How will you get guests through the door?
    • Partially demote certain sections of the site. Commonly, this is the website’s homepage (or front door). This means visitors might be coming through the backdoor or in through the windows so the majority won’t be able to find you.
    • Removing penalties can be difficult and time consuming.
    • Regaining lost rankings, traffic and sales requires expertise and can be complicated.


Manual Penalties:

  • Can occur at any time (as Google’s web spam team are constantly reviewing websites).
  • Google’s Webmaster Tools notify website owners of penalties.
  • Provides  real examples of what Google believes breaks web spam guidelines.
  • Can be revoked if Google’s guidelines are being met.

Algorithm Updates:

  • Can’t be predicted as Google does not reveal in advance when algorithm updates will occur. Therefore, it’s difficult to identify if websites have been hit by an algorithm update until after the event.
  • Each update is targeted at a particular type of web spam. Panda targets poor quality and spammy content, while Penguin searches for poor quality and unnatural links.
  • It’s hard to tell exactly when a site will recover from a penalty; however there are always other business opportunities to take advantage of.

Although algorithm and manual penalties are different, the impact on your business and website is essentially the same. Google’s algorithm and web spam team was setup to stamp out unethical practices. If businesses focus on providing users with a high quality and unique experience then there shouldn’t be any reason to be concerned about being hit by a penalty.

Image by Patrick Barry Flickr

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