1. SEJ
  2.  ⋅ 
  3. SEO

Google Answers If Core Update Ranking Losses Are A Soft Penalty

Google answers question about the causes of ranking drops after a core algorithm update

Soft Penalty

Google’s Office Hours Hangout featured a question about algorithm updates and whether the rankings of a negatively affected site is suppressed by a “soft penalty.”

The person asking the question made reference to a soft penalty, which is a phrase that’s been around for several years but isn’t really a thing.

They also make reference to suffering from a “flag” that’s been assigned to their site, which alludes to Google having marked the site in some way, as in flagged.

Here is the question:

“Both of my websites have been hit by different updates, around 90% drops and are suffering from some type of flag that is suppressing our sites until the soft penalty is lifted.

Or… is there even a soft penalty? “

This is the answer:

“No, the named updates that we publish on the rankings updates page on Search Central are not penalties in any shape or form.”

That confirms that any ranking drops associated with a named Google update is not a penalty and should not ever be thought of that way because that’s not what is happening.

The Googler explained why it’s not a penalty:

“They are adjustments to our ranking algorithms, so they surface even higher quality and more relevant results to search users.

If your site has dropped in rankings after an update, follow our general guidelines for content.

Take a look at how you could improve your site as a whole, both from content and user experience perspective, and you may be able to increase your rankings again.”

Core Update and Fixing Content

Googlers initially advised that there’s nothing to fix when a site loses rankings after a core algorithm update.

But at the same time they also advised improving content, which is somewhat mixed messaging.

The Googler in the hangout (I think it’s Gary Illyes) advised those who have suffered drops in rankings to focus on improving rankings.

That advice makes sense because surfacing “higher quality and more relevant results” implies that the algorithm is focusing on the content.

Soft Penalty

I’ve been in the search industry for over 22 years and the term “soft penalty” is not a real thing.

There is no half-version of a penalty. A site is either penalized (by a manual action) or it’s not.

It’s a catch-all phrase that explains something without actually explaining it, like the phrase, “engine problem.”

Non-penalty ranking drops can be caused by many different causes:

  • Content related issues
  • Improvement in how Google understands search queries
  • Quality issues
  • A competitor simply has better content

Watch/listen to the Google Office Hours Hangout at the 15:08 minute mark.

Featured image by Shutterstock/Luis Molinero

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Google Answers If Core Update Ranking Losses Are A Soft Penalty

Subscribe To Our Newsletter.

Conquer your day with daily search marketing news.