When you’re optimising your website, it can often be easy to make mistakes. However, those mistakes can have a dramatic impact on your website. It could cause a drop in traffic or even removal from search engine listings. When you’re optimising your website for SEO, it’s important to know what a penalty is, why you could get penalised and the best way to avoid a penalty.
What is a Google Penalty?
Google has constantly changing algorithms which scan for clean, optimised websites. It also notes any positive or negative behaviour occurring within the website. Any behaviour that is in breach of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, or what is considered ‘black hat SEO’, will attract a Google Penalty.
There have been three big algorithm updates introduced in recent years. These are:
- Panda: this algorithm was introduced in February 2011, and focused on filtering the results featured in Google’s results pages. If the website was considered of low quality, it would lose rankings.
- Penguin: introduced in 2012, this update focused on backlinks – how many a website had, and the quality of those links. Users would attract a penalty if the website had too many low quality links.
- Moiblegeddon: in April 2015, Mobilegeddon was introduced, which penalised users if they didn’t have a mobile-friendly version of their website.
How will you know if you have received a penalty?
Sometimes, the user isn’t notified that they have received a Google Penalty. It’s therefore important for anyone with a business website to know what signs to look out for incase you have received a penalty.
Signs that you’ve got a penalty include:
- Your website isn’t ranking. If it ranked before, particularly for its brand name, but now it’s not, you’ve probably got a penalty.
- You used to have pages that ranked on page one, but are now several pages back.
- Your home page isn’t ranking on Google, but other pages are still ranking.
What mistakes cause you to get a Google Penalty?
While it’s sometimes a simple error that causes you to get a Google Penalty, in other instances it may be caused by undertaking black hat SEO tactics.
Mistakes that can cause you to get a Google Penalty include:
There are several ways links can cause you to end up with a Google Penalty. This includes:
- Buying links: bought links can often be seen as artificial, deceptive or manipulative outbound links. If you’re trying to buy links to manipulate PageRank, you could end up with a penalty.
- Swapping links: if you’re exchanging a lot of links with clients or another business, you could attract a penalty. When including outbound links, always keep them natural, make sure it’s going to a high quality website, and don’t include too many on your website.
- Links in a different language: this can seem a bit unfair if you’ve obtained a legitimate link. However, Google’s reasoning is users prefer a website in one language, and therefore there is no use for a link in a different language.
- Footer links: placing legitimate navigational links in the footer is fine, just don’t use it to pass link juice or unnecessarily promote pages.
- Hidden links: if you’re trying to hide a link, it seems a bit suspicious, and Google thinks so too. Make sure you links are visible, and never the same colour as the background.
- Link building: links help get your site to rank, but it can go badly for you. If you suddenly have gained lots of links it can often be a sign of automation. Instead, gradually make changes to avoid a penalty.
- Broken links: this is a big one. It’s important to make sure you keep all your links up-to-date to avoid having 404 error pages. These pages hinder the user experience, and will attract a penalty.
- Malicious backlinks: this is one of the most unfortunate reasons for getting a Google penalty. Sometimes, a competitor will run a malicious backlink campaign against your website to try and get your website to have a penalty.
Often, it’s the content of your own site that will attract a Google Penalty. After all, one of the main targets of the Panda algorithm was content.
So how can your content attract a penalty?
- Duplicate content: if you’ve got the exact same content on numerous pages, you could attract a penalty. Avoid having several pages with the same content. This includes blog posts – don’t just copy your own or someone else’s content.
- Keyword stuffing: you can insert keywords into your content, but if it’s obvious that you’re using too many keywords on the one page, you may attract a penalty.
- Hidden content: this is a black hat SEO tactic that you should definitely avoid. Some people will hide content in order to manipulate keyword weighting or a theme.
- Article spinning: article spinning is about rewriting an existing article and altering words, phrases or paragraphs, so you have a new, slightly different version of the content. While this can be performed manually, most article spinning is automated, is of low quality and considered unreadable. Content may often be plagiarized from other websites, and could attract legal problems because of copyright infringement.
- Guest blogging: if it’s done well, guest blogging is a great way to increase traffic flow to your website. However, it’s important to always consider the Domain Authority of the website you’re writing for. You don’t want to put a link to your website on a page with a low authority, that looks untrustworthy and hasn’t been optimised.
To avoid receiving a penalty for your content, always make sure your web pages are well written with original copy all published in the one language.
If your website is poorly optimised, you can end up with a Google penalty. Here’s what you should avoid doing if you don’t want a penalty:
- Too many H1 tags: you need headers to let Google know what the page is about. But using too many comes across as keyword stuffing.
- Website speed: nobody wants to sit and stare at a white page waiting for a website to load. Instead, they will leave the site and look elsewhere. If you have a slow website, you’re not only losing customers, but gaining the wrath of Google as well. Make sure you follow our tips on website speed to ensure your site isn’t slow.
- Website crashing: for one reason or another, sometimes your website will go down. However, this means Google won’t be able to find your website to index it. Ensure you keep track of your analytics and data to know your website isn’t going down.
- Over-optimised websites: sometimes it’s tricky getting the balance right – you need to optimise your website, but not too much, or else you will make Google suspicious. Avoid introducing every SEO tactic all at once to improve your website.
- Website design: Mobilegeddon was introduced in 2015 and targets those who do not have a mobile-friendly website. You need to ensure Google can detect that you have a mobile website, and that it is optimised to be user friendly.
- Too many ads: it’s fine to include advertisements and sponsors on your website, just make sure they’re not the most prominent aspect of the page.
What do you do if you’ve attracted a Google Penalty?
The biggest step is often knowing you’ve got a penalty, and then finding out the cause of it. The final step is to remedy the penalty. The solution will often vary depending on the cause of the penalty. Some options include:
- Manual fix: if the problem was manual, and something you have done on your website, you can fix the problem, and then submit a reconsideration request to Google. This asks Google to review your website after you have fixed the problem.
- Disavow links: if your ranking is being negatively affected by links that are out of your control, you can ask Google to disavow links. Google will not take these links into account when assessing your website.
- Remove links: You can’t just rely on disavow alone. Try and see if you can get some links pointing to your website taken down.
- Change domain names: sometimes, it’s not an option just to wait out the penalty. If your website isn’t displaying on the search engine results pages, you could be losing business. If this is the case, the best option would be to make an entirely new domain name.
Now you know what can attract a penalty, it’s best to avoid implementing these on your website. However, if you have already attracted a penalty, clean up your website, follow the Webmaster Guidelines and you should be able to fix your website.