Google Penguin PenaltyWhen someone gets industry news coverage just for leaving their job, they tend to be the kind of person who is worth listening to. Even more so when you work in online marketing and the person in question has just left a post on the search quality team at Google; the department that decide who ranks and who doesn’t, and who are in part responsible for fine tuning the infamous Penguin algorithm.

We’re talking about Kaspar Szymanksi, former member of Google’s search quality team, active participant on Google’s webmaster help forums, and as it turns out, a generally nice guy (newsworthy in itself given the bad press that this department get thrown at them from all corners of the web).

Kaspar’s change of jobs was covered on the incredibly popular Search Engine Round Table (, and since leaving Google he has hosted a series of exclusive workshops with fellow ex-Googlers Fili Weise, Jonas Weber and Ariel Lambrecht, sharing insider information on SEO and the inner workings of Google. We were lucky enough to be one offered one of only 20 tickets to their London event.

The session lasted around 8 hours in total and covered everything from technical SEO to marketing within the search space. Some of the most interesting points were related to Google’s penalty process, and some of the main points are below:

Google does not have a whitelist of preferred websites, every site including huge domains like Amazon, Facebook and Wikipedia are all at risk of receiving a penalty if they engage in negative SEO. Also, Google does not prefer big brands, the reality is simply that brands tend to perform well on a lot of elements of Google’s algorithm.

Penalties expire. However, simply waiting for them to expire is a very bad course of action because they tend to take several years to be lifted, and if issues are not resolved you could quickly be penalised again.

There is no such thing as an algorithmic penalty. If your rankings have suddenly dropped, you may have suffered from a manual penalty and will receive a notification in your Webmaster Tools account. If you do not have this notification, then you have either changed something on your site or Google’s algorithm has been updated. One of these things will be at play, there is no such thing as having targeted action taken on your site by the algorithm.

Google’s webspam team can see the age of links. If you send a reconsideration request but have been continuing to build links you will struggle to get the penalty lifted. All manual linkbuilding should stop while you have a penalty in place, and you should review your linkbuilding strategy after the penalty is removed.

The disavow file does work, but it will not work on its own. If you disavow links but Google’s team see in your reconsideration request that you have not attempted to remove these links before disavowing them, they will not remove the penalty.


For those who are not familiar with the SEO industry, there is a lot of bad information around, and Google is incredibly tight lipped on what does and doesn’t work. It was incredibly refreshing to hear hard facts from perhaps the only group of people in the world who are able and allowed to tell us what’s going on inside Google.

Some of the information was new, but the majority was simply confirming that what we do for our clients is exactly what we should be doing. SEO has changed a lot this year, and there has been disagreement on the best course of action even from the most reputable sources. Thanks to Kaspar and the other ex-Google employees, we can now move ahead confidently and continue with the strategies that we already have in place for our clients.

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