Google’s on a mission BIG TIME!
It wants to give its users the very best content, the latest information and the best content. It’s on a mission to refine, tweak and improve its ranking algorithm so users only get first-class results.
All results displayed on Google have been through a rigorous filtering process, so you, as the reader, get the results you deserve. That is the creme de la creme of information. Nothing can beat Google when it comes to the delivery of information. That’s why it’s such a great search engine, and people love it so much!
Sometimes websites can sneak past Googles’ strict ranking criteria and guidelines and make their way to the top of the search results. These sites are there because they have been shifty enough to dodge Google’s algorithm and rank on page one. These sites eventually get what they deserve; a Google penalty means they are swiftly deindexed and removed from the results page. In 99.9% of the cases, these websites deserve the punishment, and most businesses who suffer a penalty are desperate to have this Google penalty removed.
What is a Google Penalty?
Since December 2000, Google has been tweaking and changing its algorithm to enhance the search experience. Algorithm changes such as the Panda & Penguin updates eliminated trashy websites from the SERPs and elevated sites that provided a better experience – which is how penalties evolved.
Google rolled the Penguin update in 2012, which affected 10% of the websites worldwide. Boom, they came crashing down overnight! What happened was poor quality websites with nothing to offer were either deindexed or pushed down the rankings.
Updates like Penguin are a constant reminder to SEO agencies of what’s waiting for them if they defy any of Google’s guidelines. They have to think more carefully about their link building and content strategies and not spam the system.
Recognising a Google Penalty
Penalties come in two forms; automatic or manual. With manual penalties, you are told by Google that someone has audited your site and that you need to clean things up. However, with an automatic penalty, it’s a case of here one day – gone the next without a word from Google.
Following are some clear signs that you have a penalty—a note here: never panic as there’s always a way out of this.
- Type your brand or business name in Google, and if it doesn’t come up, this is a dead give away that you’re in a penalty. If there’s one keyword you should be ranking – it’s your name.
- You’re page one position is now on page two or three.
- PageRank for your site, for some reason, plummeted from a three or four to a horrible zero!
- Enter this in Google search – site:yourdomain.com keyword – and it doesn’t show anything.
- If you find your website listing, it’s for an internal page and not your main homepage.
If you see one or more of these factors, it’s a bloody good sign that you are in a Google penalty. Again, take a deep breath and relax – this is fixable!!
Why Has Google Penalised My Site?
Let’s get to the crux of this article and work out why Google has penalised your site. While Google will publish clues about its algorithmic updates, they will never outline these clearly, so we guess what some of the issues may be. As SEO professionals, we have a pretty good idea, but there are hidden ones we will never know about. Most of them are fixable, with some harder than others.
To get you started, here are 46 common reasons for Google taking issue with your site.
- The buying of backlinks. The practise is widespread among cheaper SEO agencies who want to get sugar high rankings for their clients. They buy dodgy cheap backlinks with little or no value. Plus they build these backlinks unnaturally very quickly.
- Unreasonable reciprocal links. Swapping links between websites was once deemed a good idea to get authority. If you have been reciprocal linking, delete these asap.
- Duplicate content. Why would Google rank pages that are the same? It’s pointless, and Google will penalise sites that have duplicate pages. You have to make sure that all pages on your website are unique, well written with very informative content.
- You are abusing H1 tags. The H1 title tells Google about the intent of the page. Essentially each page should have only 1 x H1 tag. Excessive H1 tags will confuse the reader and Google simultaneously about the page’s content – a recipe for a penalty indeed.
- You have broken internal links. Suppose people are clicking on pages that go nowhere this is a bad user experience. You have to check that all links are correct and there are not too many 404 errors. If your website has too many internal errors that you can’t be bothered fixing, Google will penalise you.
- Inbound links from websites in another country. Getting links from overseas is seen as spammy, as you should be getting links from your country in your native language. Many bad SEO agencies buy cheap links from’ overseas and point these to your site in an attempt to build your authority. Check all your inbound links and if they are from a foreign-language site, disavow them.
- Keyword stuffed pages. Web owners think that if they repeat the exact words on a page with different formats, it will somehow boost any keyword variation. Well, that’s wrong. Keyword stuffing is banned, and I say good riddance. Theres’ no point in having gibberish content on a page that makes no sense to the readers.
- Overuse of footer links. Some SEO agencies use footer links to help users find pages – it’s a handy tool. But the use of footer links to manipulate rankings is a reason for a penalty. Check the footer links on your website and if they appear crowded and too many outbound links, start to get rid of them.
- You are missing sitemap data. Google uses the XML sitemap to crawl your website’s structure. Ensure your XML sitemap is up-to-date and visible in your footer.
- Hidden links. Google thinks you are trying to hide something. People can innocently place links on their site in the same colour as the background, which looks suspicious. Make sure all links are visible to avoid any penalties.
- You have broken external links. If you can’t be bothered to fix broken links, you are not creating the best possible user experience. Broken links pointing to 404 pages are a sign to Google that you can’t be bothered fixing your site. Check all outbound links periodically.
- Plagiarised content. Never take the copy from another site and try to pass it off as your own. Google sees this as pointless duplicate copy, and you will suffer the consequences of a penalty. It’s often tempting to scrape copy to save time, but it’s a fruitless exercise.
- Hidden content. Never hide content from the reader. All page copy should be easy to read and never cloaked or disguised.
- Overuse of anchor text. Penguin Update in 2012 banned the overuse of exact anchor text linking. Trying to use the same keywords repetitively and linking these to one particular page is not only a poor user experience but spammy – expect a Google penalty. Unlink these keywords and try to write normally for the user and not Google.
- You forget hreflang. If you are trying to rank the same page in other countries and forget the hreflang, Google will think it’s a duplicate copy. So whatever you do, make sure you add the hreflang code.
- The website is down all the time. When a website goes down frequently due to hosting errors, users don’t like it and nor will Google. Why should they be pointing people to a site that’s never online? Google will deindex it rather than placing it in the SERP’s.
- Keyword domains. Buying a domain name to try and rank a particular keyword could be seen as attempting to be spammy. If you purchase an exact match domain, make sure the site is a credible site with an informative copy. A thinly worded site used for a particular keyword without relevance will get a penalty.
- Rented links. Popular among guys with private blog networks, rented links are when you buy a link, and they place it within their sites for some time. As long as you keep paying the monthly fee, the rented link will remain. Google doesn’t like these links because they suddenly appear on existing content without any relevance. Rented links and viewed as link buying schemes and are one of the worst things you can do – they will get you a swift Google penalty.
- Private blog networks. See point # 18. Read this article: Private Blog Networks for SEO: avoid these at all costs
- Affiliate links all over the place. One or two affiliates are fine, but if you have them all over the page, it looks weird. It will affect the user experience, and Google will penalise you for this.
- Sitewide links. Suppose an SEO company places your link in the footer of another site to help with your rankings. In that case, this link might be sitewide on hundreds of pages, a clear sign to Google that you are trying to be dodgy and manipulate rankings unfairly. The sitewide link will be indexed, and that site will receive a penalty.
- Overuse of meta keywords. Keep the keyword you are trying to rank for about 3 to 4 % of the total word count. Anymore more looks fake and dishonest.
- Slow load times. Make sure your website is super fast to load. Slow load times only irritate people. Google will only rank sites with speedy load times.
- Spun content. Spinning content could land you up in trouble if it’s another person intellectual property. Spun copy is the results of buying cheap articles online – going for the most affordable option is popular, but it’s going to land you in trouble in most cases. They have stolen the copy from another site and tried to pass it off as their original copy – what a rip off! Google will see this as a duplicate copy once you post it to your site, and it’s a Google penalty waiting to happen. When it comes to copy, please make sure you have it professionally written.
- Comment spam. Are you allowing people to comment at the bottom of your blogs? If so, watch out for people trying to spam comments on there and link back to their website. Closely monitor this and if you don’t have the time, switch off the comments area.
- Black hat SEO information. If you write information about manipulating Google’s SERPs using black hat techniques, expect to be penalised.
- Hacked website. OMG, this is terrible when it happens. You’ve been hacked, and there’s some weird spammy message on your home page. Get rid of this quickly and restore your website from your back up files quickly!! If you wait too long and I’m talking a day or two, Google will deindex your site from the SERP’s.
- Quick link building. Most businesses want to rank quickly, and they pressure their SEO agencies to build links in a hurry. Google doesn’t like this as they want to see a natural and organic link building process. Whatever you do, never turbo charge your link building. Do them very gradually, which is why most SEO campaigns are for the long term, as you need to build links over this period.
- Spam reports. Your competition can put your business on Google’s spam report – this does happen, so keep an eye out for this. Google has published an online form for spam site reporting. You are hiding
- You are hiding your sponsors. Make sure all your sponsors are visible on your site but have nofollow links. Google may view it like your trying to pass page rank to your sponsors. A nofollow stops this from happening.
- Exclude page from Robots.txt. The robots.txt file tells the search engines how to rank your site. Try not to exclude any pages from the robots.txt.
- Links to dodgy sites. Try not to link to porn, gambling, payday loans and other dubious websites. After all, you want to link to sites that are trustworthy and highly regarded by the public. If you have been hacked ( whether you know it or not ), they may have inserted links to porn or gambling on your site, so regularly audit your external backlink profile for these suspicious links.
- Multiple one-page websites. Businesses will often try to build dedicated landing pages based on specific keywords. For example, a plumber in Sydney might build separate one-page websites for keywords like plumbers in Parramatta, hot water repairs Paramatta. They will then have links in all these sites pointing users to their main site. Google considers this a terrible practice.
- Over-optimisation of links and content. I know that you want to outrank your competitor. You will try and do the right thing by build links and publishing excellent copy. But don’t do this all at once. Take a step back, let things calm down and take a natural approach to this. Never try to rush it.
- Advertorials. An advertorial is a page of content with a ridiculous amount of paid links. These pages are blatantly used to manipulate the SERPs’. Avoid websites trying to flog you a link on their advertorial.
- Far too many outbound links. When linking to other websites from any page on your site, keep it natural. A large quantity of links is a sure sign to Google that you’re swapping links with people or selling links on your site page. If your outbound links have nothing to do with the content of your website, this appears dodgy. Why would you link to another unrelated website unless it was for monetary gain? Google will note this very quickly. Let’s look at the plumber example again. Why would a plumbing website has an outbound link to a beauty school website unless it is for swapping links or being paid? Very suspicious!!
- Redirection. If you have received a penalty on your site and redirect this to another site, that new site may also be penalised.
- Too many error codes. Google hates to see too many error codes. There’s the hated 404 and the 302 error code. Have too many of these, and you will cop a penalty. You need to find the root cause of these errors and fix these asap. Find invisible errors with this check tool.
- Duplicate metadata. Some blogging CMS platforms like WordPress can create the same metadata by accident. It is not a massive cause for concern; it may mean, however, that you have duplicate pages, which are an issue.
- Malicious backlinks. Competitors can do this, and it’s not uncommon for a nasty, jealous or cruel person to get lots of harmful backlinks pointed to your site. Now, Google will be lenient if there are one or two links, but any more will trigger a manual or algorithmic penalty. If you know of a competitor that’s got a grudge against you, make sure you do a backlink audit.
- Mobile un-friendly websites. Make sure your site is mobile friendly and renders across all mobile and handheld devices properly. It’s all about the user experience when it comes to ranking on Google. Expect a penalty if it’s not up to scratch on mobile searches.
- Few outbound links. Google likes to see you reference other sites with similar content, and if you don’t, it will appear like your just trying to attract traffic. Google expects you to offer trustworthy information from other sites – hence you have to outbound link and reference other sites on all your pages.
- Your websites domain name has a bad reputation. Some people may have bought an expired domain name that’s had a Google penalty in the past. You did this innocently, but it will affect your rankings moving forward. The best way around this is to cut and run and buy another domain — no point in putting all the effort in on a tainted name.
- Too many adverts. Advertising on your website is OK, but if the ads are prominent and clutter or confuse the reader from the page’s intent, it might cause a penalty.
- Content farms. If you buy poorly worded content online and hope to publish it on your site – forget about it. Content farms are a waste of time since Google’s Panda outlawed this years ago.
- Ranking guarantees. Watch out for dodgy SEO agencies that offer quick ranking and back this up by guarantees. It’s a scam, and it’s one of the main reasons ( because of the shoddy work and low-quality links they build), websites get penalised.
How to Deal With a Google Penalty
You have to figure out the cause of the penalty and then go about fixing it very quickly.
Every penalty requires a different way of handling it. Some penalties are easier to recover from, and others will have you biting your nails for months.
- Don’t panic; there’s a lot of answer on Google’s search help console
- Disavow toxic links. : Get a list of all dodgy links and disavow them. Here’s the link to the disavow information, and here’s what Matt Cutts’ has to say What are common mistakes you see from people using the “disavow links” tool?
- Get some links removed. Don’t wait for the disavow – get onto it and contact the website owners who have your link and see if you can get it removed.
- Request reconsideration if your penalty was manual.
- Be patient. It can take time for Google to disavow your toxic links. I know you want to have the penalty removed now, but you have to sit it out and maybe do some Adwords in the interim.
It might be better to walk away from the site if it’s just too far gone in very few cases. Maybe you’ve been with an SEO agency for years, and the damage is too extensive.
But most penalties are fixable. You have to put in the hard yards, or even better, contact the Penalty removal professionals at SEO Sydney Experts. While I can’t guarantee you 100% that you will recover, I can say that every site that I’ve worked on, I have been able to get them out of the penalty in under eight weeks!