Last week, I covered an interesting observation at a Google Groups thread, where some individuals noticed Google Sitelinks showing up for a site in the 60th position. At the end of the thread, I noted that Googler JohnMu told the webmaster that he may want to join the -60 penalty thread for more help.
Yesterday, the Smackdown blog picked it up and called this a warning shot from Google. He used this message from JohnMu to explain that the -60 penalty is indeed a manual Google penalty.
Michael continues his explanation:
What this strongly indicates is that the -60 penalty is indeed more of a manual process rather than an algorithmic one. The engineers on the web spam team have said, Nope, we can’t let you be number one (for whatever reason it is they decided to penalize the site), but as far as the algo is concerned we’re still looking at a site that should have some authority. This does in fact make sense… the site in question might have plenty of ranking power coming in through legit methods, regardless of what it did to incur the penalty (which, reading into a comment made by JohnMu in the thread, appears to be overzealous linking practices, including using sponsored themes to gain links).
It makes sense to me that if a site has Sitelinks in the position 60ish location, that some sort of trust-level penalty hit the site to (1) move it from position number one to its new position, and (2) give the site Sitelinks, which often resembles a number one ranking for that keyword phrase.