In around 1996 Google started to implement a special penalty for sites which has since been dubbed the -950 penalty. The penalty continues to this day.
What Does It Do?
The 950 penalty is one imposed by Google which basically drops your website to the bottom of search ranks (page 7,8,9). It’s been said that it’s likely a negative multiplier which is applied to your existing rank that drops you to such low levels.
Why Does it Happen?
There’s a lot of speculation about why this penalty is applied to sites and since it is a bit of a rare phenomenon there’s little data to study, however it seems that this penalty is applied to sites which have been “over optimized” for search, or are just spammy sites. This means stuffing keywords within the site repeatedly, having meta tags which list tons of synonyms, etc. This penalty is interesting since it isn’t exclusive to poor quality sites. Some high quality sites have been hit by this penalty but it seems that over optimization is the main theme between them all.
When Does it Happen?
The 950 penalty can be applied at any time it seems. Some claim it’s applied when Google’s algorithms pick up on the over optimization, however I don’t want to explicitly say that is the case. Some of the sites which are effected by this don’t experience any penalties or ranking loss from other algorithms so it seems like it can come out of the blue making me wonder if it’s perhaps something which can be implemented by manual actions, I can’t say for certain either way though.
Can You Recover From It?
There are reports of websites recovering from it. It seems the most common route taken was to de-optimize it and then the sites could bounce back to their original positions at any time (days, weeks, months, etc.). Some people have said they recovered from crawling back up the ranks as well however that makes me question whether it was something else that they were affected by. If it is a spammy site that was affected then please shut that site down and stop spamming!