It's not all about algorithm in SEO: manual penalties in Google

In the Google algorithm leak May 2024, it has been confirmed that Google uses manual penalties that are imposed by human reviewers when a website violates Google's quality guidelines. We have had to wait a quarter of a century, for confirmation of what we already knew, but we see penalties can affect both entire sites and specific sections within a site, and are distinct from automatic algorithmic penalties.


In the SEO world, the prevailing narrative is that Google's algorithms are the sole force shaping our fate in the search results. We are sold that everything that happens in these macro tools is purely objective and mechanical, but the truth, recently exposed in the Google algorithm leak, is much more complex and human. Google doesn't just rely on cold, calculated algorithms; it also employs human reviewers who can impose manual penalties, and this is where things get interesting.

The censor

Imagine your website is optimized according to SEO best practices. You've invested time and resources into creating relevant content, building quality links and ensuring a flawless user experience. Suddenly, however, your traffic plummets. What happened? It's not all down to an algorithmic update. You could have been the victim of a manual penalty, imposed by a human reviewer who, for whatever reason, felt that your site violated Google's guidelines.

Manual penalties are not applied randomly. They are the result of a human evaluation in which Google reviewers decide if your content is misleading, if it lacks transparency, or if you are using spammy techniques. This human component introduces a layer of subjectivity into the process. What if the reviewer doesn't like your style or the way you present your content? What if a competitor reports your site and the reviewer decides to penalize you? At Proportione, we've always advocated that technology should be fair and transparentBut the reality is that human decisions can be biased and have devastating consequences for business.

Business implications

A manual penalty can mean the difference between success and failure for an online business. The loss of visibility on Google can drastically reduce traffic, affecting sales and brand reputation. Most worryingly, reversing a manual penalty is not simple. It requires a thorough review of your site, correction of any perceived violations, and submission of a reconsideration request to Google. This process can take weeks or even months, during which time your business continues to suffer.

Recent examples have shown how Google has applied manual penalties to sites that, in the eyes of reviewers, disseminate misleading content or lack transparency in their presentation. Websites that promise information that is not reflected in their content, or that do not provide clear details about authors and publication dates, have been heavily penalized. These cases underline the importance of being transparent and authentic in everything you publish.

  1. Penalty for misleading content: The site "filmifeed.com" was manually penalized by Google due to content that was deemed misleading, severely affecting its visibility in search results.
  2. Penalty for pure spam: Google imposed a manual penalty on the "tvguide.com" site for using aggressive spamming techniques, which resulted in its removal from search results.

We need a technology strategy that integrates the best of both worlds: the efficiency of algorithms and the fairness of human reviews. However, the reality is that manual penalties can be influenced by the subjective perception of reviewers. This highlights the need for Google to be more transparent about how these penalties are applied and what specific criteria are used.

It's the people, idiot, it's the people

The Google algorithm leak has revealed a truth that many of us suspected: in the world of SEO, not everything is automatic. Manual penalties are a tool Google uses to maintain the quality of search results, but they also introduce a human element that can be unpredictable and, at times, unfair. For businesses, this means they must be prepared to navigate not only the complexities of algorithms, but also the subjectivities of human reviews.

It is essential that companies adopt a comprehensive SEO strategy that not only optimizes for algorithms, but also complies with Google's quality guidelines and maintains high standards of transparency and authenticity. Only then will they be able to minimize the risk of manual penalties and maintain their presence in search results. The key is to understand that, behind Google's advanced technology, there will always be a human component that can influence the fate of your website.

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