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Algorithmic Penalty Definition & Meaning

What Is an Algorithmic Penalty?

An algorithmic penalty is an automated penalty for a website by a search engine algorithm. Algorithmic penalties can result in a loss of search engine rankings or deindexing of content.

When an algorithmic penalty occurs to a website, one or more factors was discovered through the indexing and ranking algorithms that violated the search engine guidelines. As a response, all or part of the website’s content experiences lower rankings in the search engine results pages (SERPs) or is deindexed completely from search.

Common issues that lead to algorithmic penalties include:

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  • Participating in link schemes.
  • Not identifying links that were created as part of advertisements, sponsorships, or other compensation agreements as sponsored links (rel=”sponsored”) or nofollow links (rel=”nofollow”).
  • Using auto-generated content.
  • Publishing large quantities of thin content.
  • Using keyword stuffing.
  • Having deceptive structured data markup.
  • Participating in activities that lower the trust score for a website.
  • Focusing too heavily on monetization that it harms the user experience (e.g., excessive use of advertisements).
  • Using sneaky redirects for search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Creating doorway pages.
  • Having too much user-generated spam.

With an algorithmic penalty, there is no manual processing done by a search engine employee. Therefore, the penalty cannot be lifted manually. The website owner must fix the issues that caused the violation and wait for the next reassessment of the site.

Depending on the violation, algorithmic penalties in Google, Yahoo, and Bing are not lifted until the next core algorithm update, which happens 1-3 times per year on average, or an algorithm refresh, which happens multiple times throughout the year. And because search engines do not inform website owners as to what factors caused the algorithmic penalty, it can be hard to know what issues need to be fixed.

Therefore, the recovery process for an algorithmic penalty typically starts with a full website SEO audit to try and uncover potential issues that may have led to the negative action. After an on-site and off-site SEO analysis is complete, the website owner can work on fixing any problems that were identified with the hopes that the site’s rankings and/or indexing issues will be resolved during the next algorithm system update.

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Go to the SEO Glossary to find more terms and definitions that relate to the field of search engine optimization.