Awhile back I talked about getting the dreaded letter from Google informing you that they’ve detected that you’re doing something they don’t like. Matt Cutts, the face of Google’s web spam team, has said that they try to avoid the word “penalties” but instead favor the term “manual action”.
Algorithmic Google Penalties
A manual action is essentially the dreaded letter; it’s Google’s way of telling you they’ve detected you’re trying to game the system or doing something which goes against their definition of white hat, so this is your chance to turn things around otherwise be penalized… oops. A typical example would be something clear cut such as link buying.
Google has made it very clear that they are against link purchasing because it’s not natural. It’s a plain and simple attempt to game Google without providing any further value on your own site and in this case you could receive a letter via your webmaster tools warning you to take action to remove those links lest receive a manual drop in rankings or deindexing from Google, etc.
Algorithmic updates on the other hand are just that, an update to the algorithm which can cause your ranking to drop though in this case you can’t explicitly refer to it as a penalty. Instead, Google is just beginning to value and favor something which other sites are doing and which yours is not or is not doing to the same degree as your competitors.
Still, the two can be inextricably linked in some cases. If you begin to lose rankings because of an update to the algorithm which favors webmasters who are doing something you’re not doing or worse who aren’t doing something themselves which Google now has gotten around to frowning upon, then it’s difficult to not see it as a penalty. In that case, you’ve got to hope that you’d get some kind of warning message before manual action is taken against your site.
Maybe we’re dabbling in semantics here; the outcome is typically the same to a webmaster or marketer: a loss in sales/income/traffic. Still, it’s important to understand and be able to identify where a penalty is coming from whether it’s been manually handed down from Google or if it’s simply part of an unfavorable algorithmic update.