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Are Core Update Ranking Losses A Soft Penalty?

Yeah, sometimes it might feel like a penalty if your website just randomly starts experiencing losses in rankings. And while it would be nice to be able to blame the bad performance on something else, there is no such thing as a soft penalty.

Google confirmed this during Google’s Office Hours Hangout during which one of the attendees asked a question regarding a ‘soft penalty’ and ‘flags’, Search Engine Journal reports.

The person asking the question was concerned about both of their websites being hit by different updates and mentioned 90% drops. They said that the websites are suffering from some type of flag that is suppressing their sites until the soft penalty is lifted.

Google answered:

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

In other words, ranking drops resulting from Google updates are not penalties and shouldn’t be interpreted that way because that’s not the case.

Soft Penalties Are A Myth?

Google proceeded to explain that the updates are just adjustments to their ranking algorithms, with a goal to give searches even higher quality and more relevant results.

If your site has suffered a drop after an update, you might be able to improve your rankings by following Google’s general guidelines for content and improve your site overall, both from a content and user experience perspective.

As Roger Montti from Search Engine Journal says: “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.”

The changes in rankings can happen because of some content-related issues, if Google changed how it understands search queries, or if your competitor is simply better. Might be the harsh truth, but that’s how it is. Better content will get better ranking.

To Fix Or Not To Fix?

In the same report, Roger noticed two contradictory tweets from Google dating a few years back. Initially, they advised us that there is nothing to fix when a site loses rankings after a core algorithm update:

Sometimes, we make broad changes to our core algorithm. We inform about those because the actionable advice is that there is nothing in particular to “fix,” and we don’t want content owners to mistakenly try to change things that aren’t issues…. — Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) October 11, 2018

Then again, at the same time they were also saying to improve content:

For advice on great content, a good starting point is to review our search quality rater guidelines. Raters are people who give us feedback on if our algorithms seem to be providing good results, a way to help confirm our changes are working well…. — Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) October 11, 2018

However, it makes sense to focus on improving your rankings – fix your content, and make sure it’s high quality. But, always wait for the update to fully roll out.