What is an algorithmic penalty?

An algorithmic penalty is caused when an algorithm designed to hurt websites is flagged for your site. For example, Google uses both the Panda Penalty and Penguin Penalty to deter low-quality websites.

Each algorithmic penalty is designed to target different websites. The overall goal is to hurt manipulative sites with a poor user experience. This poor experience may include stolen or duplicate content – it may even include websites with poor affiliations.

When the algorithm updates and your website loses rankings – this is not the same as a penalty. Instead, this is a sign your website needs to improve for the users. It’s easy to see when a website has been penalised:

penalty visible from ahrefs

How can I check for an algorithmic penalty?

Algorithmic penalties are easy to spot in third-party software, such as Google Analytics and Ahrefs. When Google penalises the website, the traffic will drop off sharply and should look like the below graph.

This drop typically happens overnight and can more-than halve your organic traffic. In this picture, we can see that traffic has dropped by half over two days and remained that way indefinitely.

Algorithmic Penalty in Google Analytics

How can I remove an algorithmic penalty?

Removing an algorithmic penalty will require you to figure out what is causing the website to be flagged. Your website may have lots of low-quality pages indexed that you didn’t know were there.

You can check this by performing a site search:

Finding page titles in site search

If there are lots of low-quality pages indexed, you will want to use Google’s remove URL tool. You can find this inside Google Search Console > Index Status > Remove URLs.

Once you’ve checked that there aren’t any thin content or low-quality pages indexed, you may wish to check your backlinks. If there are lots of low-quality pages, then you may want to add them to your disavow file.

It’s common for competitors to use dirty tactics to get ahead. Using a tool such as Ahrefs, you can check the quality of your backlinks. Here’s what that looks like:

Backlink Distribution in SEMRush

Lastly, you will want to improve the overall user experience. If your pages have a high bounce rate and poor user experience – you may wish to improve this.

Using a tool such as Google Analytics you can easily check which pages are providing a great experience. Other tools such as HotJar will help you to monitor what’s causing the issues for your users.

If you’re still uncertain then you should contact a professional for advice.