Worried about getting a Google Penalty? As you build your website – whether it is a passive income machine, soon-to-be epic blog or a company website, you need to follow certain guidelines to reduce your risk of getting a Google Penalty.
I can’t give a 100% fool proof method of completely avoiding a penalty – cause let’s face it – sh*t happens. There are no guarantees and this is the crux of online marketing.
However, the following guidelines do a gobsmacking good job of covering the major bases to dodge that Google bullet.
Factor # 1: Website Structure & On-Page Factors
Are you a little too heavy handed with H1 tags? Not every subheading within your blog or article post should have an H1 tag. The H2 and H3 tags work just fine for subheadings. Overusing H1 tags can give the appearance of trying to manipulate keywords since this tag is usually used by Google to understand exactly what the Page is all about.
It is imperative that your website has an XML Sitemap submitted to Google. You can submit your sitemap in your Webmaster Tools account so that Google can figure out your website’s structure and layout. The sitemap is basically a list of all the pages on your site and ensures that Google can “see” all the pages on your website that may not have been naturally “crawled” and obtain detailed information about your website’s content. Having an updated sitemap can go a long way to ensuring your website stays penalty free.
Some on-page factors you *must* avoid having on your website at all costs:
1. Pop up advertisements that a visitor has no choice but to click on. Not a great selling tactic and definitely a no-no in Google’s eyes.
2. Deceptively hiding text on a web page so that certain keywords seem more relevant to the page. These tactics involve changing text color to blend in with background or making some content only visible to search engines or visitors. This is an old school black hat SEO trick that will make your rankings magically disappear.
3. Redirecting visitors to other pages within your site automatically after they click on another page in search engine results. In most cases, these automatic redirects are to landing pages for specific products or services, affiliate offers, email submit forms and other selling or marketing funnels. Again, being deceptive doesn’t pay off guys!
4. Enabling comments on your blog post. Hold your horses, of course this is crucial to building an audience and interacting with your website’s community. However, you need to weed out spam comments as these usually contain links to pretty crummy sites, that you never want to have your website associated with since these can pretty much kill your website and search engine favor.
Factor #2: Content
The most important aspect of any website is the content: This is unquestionable. Thus, if you make any of these content related faux-pas, rest assured, your website will eventually be on the receiving end of a fatal penalty.
1. Duplicate content – No one likes being copied and plagiarising or stealing someone else’s work isn’t cool. This is just too easy for any search engine to identify, so only do this if you *want* a penalty.
2. Too many posts or articles less than 500 words. Google wants webmasters to provide more value and less “fluff” to web searchers… it’s kind of difficult to do just that in less than 500 words. In years past, 250 – 500 word articles were all the rage and ranked highly in search engines. However, if your website is chock full of pages that stick to the 250 – 500 word count, there is a high probability that you might get a visit from the formidable Panda.
3. Content that exists solely to rank for a specific keyword.
4. Boring, rehashed content that can be found all over the web.
5. Scraped content – this was once a good idea to bulk out your website, but now, it’s just unnecessary and useless duplication.
In order to win big with the search engines, create content that is unique, vivacious and will stop your visitors in their tracks! You should be thinking along the lines of detailed case studies, interviews with niche experts, podcasts, videos, unique infographics, detailed and informative 1000+ word articles and blog posts etc.
Factor #3: Keywords
Keywords, the building blocks of the inter-webs. Here’s what you need to avoid:
The rules about keyword density are constantly changing. Now, it’s best not to use a hard and fast percentage applied across all your posts/articles. This creates a pattern and the Google algorithm is almost perfect at detecting patterns. Therefore, use your main keyword (very) sparingly but effectively throughout your article. Also bear in mind not to use your exact keyword in all the elements of your page such as the title, url, all your headers (h1, h2 and h3), image alts, internal page links etc.
Keywords In Domain Name
EMD (Exact match domain) websites used to rank quite highly in Google without being authoritative websites, but this has now been corrected and many EMD’s are suffering from penalizations. This does not mean, you cannot have an exact match domain name or have your domain contain the main keywords you’re trying to rank for, but you will need to be very careful how you build links to your website. Why? Well, if you build links to your home page using just the url, the keyword in the actual url counts as anchor text – which can unsuspectingly land you a Penguin algorithm penalty.
Redundant or Repetitive Keyword Usage For Different Web Pages
In the initial stages of “fleshing out” the blueprint for a website, keyword research is the critical component of planning future pages on a website. Each page is assigned at least one main keyword, and these are usually structured around the demand, supply, traffic volume, monetization or adsense cpc of each keyword within that niche. However, when analysing keywords, you will see groups of keywords with high demand and low supply that basically point to the same topic.
For example, look at the following 3 keywords:
“fedex driving jobs”
“fedex driver jobs”
These are three different keywords that happen to all have moderate search volume, so if someone had a website about Fedex, they might be tempted to use each one of these keywords for 3 different pages, to make sure they rank for all three of these seemingly separate keywords to get more long tail traffic to their website.
This is redundant and will get you a penalty! These 3 keywords, should all be used for one page on Fedex driving jobs. This technique has been used quite successfully in the past to secure boatloads of easy long tail traffic, but as Google algorithm’s become smarter, this is now highly dangerous territory.
Factor #4: Links
This forth factor shall be further broken down into Internal Links, Outbound Links and Back Links for clarity.
For goodness sakes folks, have an actual plan when interlinking between the pages of your website. A good internal link structure that makes sense can go a long way to helping your website rank higher and dodge a penalty.
Broken Internal Links: Take the time to prune, weed and take care of your internal web landscape, fix broken links asap! If it looks like you don’t care about user experience and keeping your website up to date and running smoothly, don’t expect to keep good rankings – logical no?
The links within your website that point to other websites are used to gauge whether you recommend authoritative websites within your niche – i.e. if you point your website visitors to other reputable websites in the same niche to enhance user experience and satisfaction. It’s no secret that linking to authoritative and highly relevant external websites can actually boost your own website’s rankings! (And well, if you didn’t know, you know now).
The websites that you link to from your website are the only links (besides internal links) that you have FULL control of (unlike backlinks). This means, you better watch ‘em links buddy!
Reciprocal linking: This has been heavily penalized in the last couple years. Thus, if you do engage in reciprocal linking, be sure to do so sparingly! Also, whenever engaging in reciprocal linking, always ensure that the website you’re exchanging links with is highly relevant to your website or in the same niche.
Linking out to websites that are in another language. Search engines see this as non-sensical. Why? If your website is in one language, and you link to another website in another language – that means that the majority of your web visitors who are only fluent in one language (the majority) would simply close the tab and exit (or return to SE results) – i.e. bad user experience once again.
Hiding links by making them the same colour of your website’s background is extremely suspicious (no matter your reasoning) and will definitely be frowned upon by Search engines, who won’t fall for this ancient blackhat seo tactic.
Sitewide Footer Links – Especially those left by web designers for link juicing their websites. You might think no-following these links should be okay, but unfortunately this is no longer the case, so remove ‘em altogether.
Affiliate Links – Monetizing your website by placing affiliate links is quite popular and in itself, won’t get you a penalty. However, overusing affiliate links on your website will! Don’t place these links on every single page of your website or have more links than content. Also, an affiliate link on your home page, especially above the fold, increases your chance of a penalty quite significantly.
The best way to successfully (and profitably) run an affiliate website is to make sure it does not LOOK like an affiliate website.
Affiliate links should seem like an afterthought as oppose to the main purpose of the website. Google isn’t particularly fond of affiliate sites, so make sure your content is up to scratch.
Blog Comment Links: As mentioned previously, allowing web visitors to comment on your blog posts is great. However, make sure that when they comment, you don’t approve comments that link out to spammy websites or have keyword stuffed usernames. Somehow, I don’t think someone’s real name would be “toyotacardealerflorida”
Links That Are Guilty By Association. You know that saying, “show me your friends and I will tell you who you are”? Well, it applies even with websites. Don’t link out to pornographic websites, websites that are related to hacking, malware, illegal activities or even websites that you know have received a google penalty in the past.
Too Many or Too Few External Links (Ah, the struggle!) Too many links are a sign that your website isn’t an authority on its subject matter whilst too few external links indicate that you don’t reference other authority sites in your niche and are trying too hard to keep all the delicious SEO juice.
Code based links – Messing with your code and trying to hide links in your script file? Think again – These links will be found and anything hidden is suspicious.
Backlinks have and will always be one of the strongest SEO factors that affect how your website ranks. Therefore, it is one of the most manipulated factors in SEO and as such, is heavily policed by Search engines. The Penguin algorithm was specifically rolled out to penalize websites with questionable back-linking strategies and the following are the main tactics that will get you a penalty.
Over Optimized Anchor Texts – Put your keyword in the link text of a backlink one too many times, and you will be quickly shot down by the Penguin. Keyword based anchor texts should be kept to around 8% or less of your total backlinks. Even long tail keyword based anchor texts are not safe – these definitely count as over optimization for long tail traffic.
Therefore, create more natural backlinks using anchors texts like the website’s URL (unless it’s an EMD or contains your keyword). You should also use anchor texts like “click here”, “website brand name”, “your name” as well as varied sentences that look more natural.
The point is, Google is now placing more emphasis on the actual presence of the back link as opposed to the anchor text.
Competitor Spamming Your Website – This is unsportsmanlike and just sucks. Unfortunately, it happens and a competitor might send tons of spammy backlinks to your website so that you can get penalized by Google.
However, all is not lost – The first step is to send emails to the webmasters requesting them to remove the offending links. If you get no response or the webmaster doesn’t remove them (usually the case), you can use Google’s Disavow tool to report the harmful links and they will then remove these links from your profile.
The point is, you need to ACTIVELY keep watch over your backlink profile and take timely and appropriate measures to ensure your website stays free from a backlink based penalty.
Paid Links or Rented Links – Buying links from websites (or link networks) that pass link juice from page/domain rank and authority is one of the ultimate methods of earning a penalty. Sure, it will help your rankings and traffic in the short term – that’s why people do it – it’s highly effective. However, in the long term, do you really want to have nightmares from wondering when Google will catch onto you?
Rented Links are also popular whereby webmasters rent links from other websites on a monthly basis. These are sometimes used for a few months to boost rankings and then stopped or other links rented on other websites. This is pretty much the same as buying links and the same consequences apply.
Blog Networks – The strategy of obtaining backlinks from 250 – 500 word articles or “guest posts” on websites within a blog network no longer works. It was great while it lasted, but the recent crackdown on these types of links and major penalization of these networks by Google, makes them a high risk method of obtaining backlinks. Some of the popular blog networks that have been Google slam-dunked include: BuildMyRank, MyBlogGuest, BlogBlueprint, Unique Article Wizard, MyArticleNetwork etc.
Link Velocity – Building backlinks too quickly looks unnatural and will leave a noticeable pattern easily detected by a search engine’s algorithm. Keep a log of your backlinks and dates on which they are built/indexed to ensure everything looks natural to avoid penalization.
Irrelevant Links – Having a backlink profile with links from highly unrelated websites is suspicious and indicative of a poor/blackhat SEO strategy. Your backlinks should come from websites that are related to your niche and not from random websites in different niches.
Factor # 5: Social Media
Social Media has become a prominent factor in SE rankings in the last few years due to the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Google + and other social mediums. It provides social proofing of your website and will drastically affect your website traffic and rankings.
As tempting as it may be, do not buy Facebook “likes”, Fan Page or Business Page members, Twitter “followers” etc. This is just the same as Paid links previously discussed and will attract a penalty.
Factor # 6: Monetization
Advertisements – Ads are an easy and quick way of monetizing a website, however, they can easily cause your website to be penalized. Similar to affiliate links previously discussed, you need to keep the ad to content ratio in mind. Too many ads on too many pages of your website will spell trouble. Also, you should never have too many of these ads “above the fold” as this impedes on user experience. The ad should never be the “star” of your website or web page, but rather be secondary to the actual content of your website.
These guidelines are also applicable to displaying Google Adsense ads on your website. Never have more than 2 adsense blocks per page and very rarely place these ad blocks above the fold as this pattern is widely copied by MFA (Made For Adsense) websites which are indiscriminately penalized.
Factor # 7: User Experience
If there is one thing that you can take away from this blog post is that by analysing all the ways that your SEO efforts can go wrong is that – Search engines, particularly Google place HUGE emphasis on User Experience above all else.
If your website does not fulfil the user’s needs or inhibits user experience in any way – then your site does not deserve to be ranked highly for the keywords in your niche! Makes sense right? After all, the purpose of all search engines is to serve up websites and web pages that provide the information or product that the user is specifically searching for! If a search engine can’t do that, then they’d be out of business!
Some specific user based penalties you could incur:
High Bounce Rate Penalty
If a website user, clicks on your website from search engine results and only stays on your page for a relatively short time ( say less than 30 seconds) and doesn’t view other pages on your site and simply goes back to the SE results page – this signals a high bounce rate. Meaning, your web page doesn’t fulfil the needs of the user and as such, can attract a high bounce rate penalty.
How do you prevent this? Provide engaging quality content that the user was looking for in the first place!
A high bounce rate indicates low engagement and user interaction. User engagement can be increased by creating a community such as active Facebook fan pages, responding and interacting with users on Facebook, twitter etc. An active forum also indicates good user interaction as well as genuine blog commenting.
Website Downtime & Poor Load Time
If your website is not available 24/7, then this creates a very poor user experience, thus leading to removal, de-indexing or a decreased ranking. The same goes for a website with poor load time – web users have much shorter attention spans and if your page takes long to load – you can say goodbye to impatient web visitors and google rankings.
Website Not Optimized For Mobile Devices
More people are searching the web using smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices. Therefore, it is imperative that your website is optimized for these devices as Google would not want to serve up a page that doesn’t load on these devices or shows up poorly – affecting user experience.
Factor # 8: External Variables
Has your website been hacked in the past? Or does it have malware? Even if you have fixed these issues, your website might still be penalized simply because your website is now seen as a risk to web users. Not to mention, if you have been hacked, then your website could contain links to unsavoury websites that could unknowingly cause a penalty.
Your SEO Service Sucks
Most companies or webmasters are just too busy to SEO their websites themselves and usually outsource this service to a SEO company or individual. However, with the alarming number of SEO companies using out dated techniques (cloaking, spammy links, keyword stuffing, anchor over-optimization etc) – they could be the ones landing you a penalty! (This happens more than you think.)
How can you stop this? Ask questions about exactly what on-page and backlink techniques they are using! Request that they show you where the links are coming from and decide for yourself if these fall in the Google penalty zone or not. Relying on your SEO service 100% is a gamble, so make sure to be an informed and questioning customer.
Avoiding a penalty is a lot of hard work! But completely worth it as you see your traffic, income and website’s popularity soar. However, this list, while comprehensive will continue to change and evolve over time as Google is no sleeping beauty.
Be sure to keep abreast with the changing Google Algorithms here and always follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – This is the literal guidebook to building a website that search engines will love, so make sure to read it ya!
What do you think? Got any other tips on avoiding a Google Penalty? Let me know in the comments below!