Google prides themselves in giving users the best possible experience. This means that Google only wants to showcase the best, most relevant websites on the first page.
Google cares about giving their users the best possible experience so much so that if you are found to be breaching the guidelines or twisting the rules, you are likely to receive a penalty. Google works continuously to improve their algorithm so that only the best of the best are highly visible.
In this blog post we will look at the actions of websites that warrant a Google penalty. Google penalties can be quite detrimental and could see your website banned entirely from the search engine giant. This is why it is important to have a good understanding of SEO and how to use it. As well as this, if you are going to hire an SEO firm, you need to ensure they are using white hat methods.
It can sometimes be different to determine when you have actually received a penalty from Google. Some of the giveaways or signals that you have received a penalty include:
- Your website gives a poor ranking when you search for your brand name; you may not originally had a good ranking for other keywords, however the keyword of your business name should always have a good SEO ranking
- The PageRank for your website as dropped without you doing anything
- If you held a high position for some keywords, they slip down to a higher page number without any action
- When you run a website search (i.e. site:withyourdomain.com.au) you get no results
- Your website has been removed from Google’s cached search results
- The first website listing that you find for your website is a page that isn’t your home page (so for example if you finally find a search result for your website and it is the “About Us” page and not the home page)
Receiving a penalty from Google can occasionally mean the be all and end all of your website, however most of the time it isn’t and you can still recover. If you have received a penalty from Google (and your website wasn’t banned), it just means that you have to work extra hard and stick to only white hat methods. Just knowing that you have received a penalty is pretty much half the problem answered because then you have the ability to combat it and change your ways.
If you receive a penalty it is important not to panic, you will need a level head when you work through your website to get it back on track. You can also ask Google not to take troublesome links into consideration. You can also work and get some of the negative links attached to your website removed. However, sometimes it can be the better option to just abandon your website altogether then to fight with Google.
If you are doing any of the below things (hopefully you aren’t!) then you probably will see a penalty from Google.
This is probably one of the most obvious reasons. Just like in school or university, if you were caught plagiarising or copying someone else’s work you will receive a penalty. Duplicate content makes your website less useful in the eyes of Google.
This is because you aren’t bringing anything new or interesting to the table. As well as not copying any writing from other websites, you must also ensure that you do not copy your own content on the different pages of your website. There are many ways to write your content.
Slow website speed
Have you ever been onto a website that was really slow? How long did you wait for it to load before you gave up? Were you really annoyed and frustrated by the situation?
These days user’s patience is shrinking rapidly. If it makes users unhappy Google will look into it and penalise those websites. There are a lot of different factors that can affect your website hosting speeds.
This makes it fairly difficult to come up with a solution. If you find that your website is too slow try using a caching plugin.
Links to bad websites
You should never link yourself with other websites that are involved in illegal or unethical actions. They will likely receive a penalty from Google and if you are found to be associated with them you may be penalised as well.
Websites that are dedicated to hacking or porn, etc. need to be avoided. As well as this, try to steer clear of websites that have been penalised in the past (if you are aware of it!).
Buying links is so old school SEO and these days it is pretty much considered cheating. By purchasing links you are essentially manipulating the search algorithm.
Buying links should never be considered when trying to improve your search engine ranking. If you do buy links you will eventually be caught and penalised. There are so many better ways to improve your SEO, why would you risk buying links?
Keyword stuffing is a big no-no and Google is really cracking down on websites that are found to be stuffing too many keywords into their website. Websites with a high density of keyword also tend to hold poorly written content. If you try to include too many keywords in your content it can often not make sense and confuse the reader.
Websites try to keyword stuff because this improves their relevancy and can give them a better rank. As a result of this, Google has cracked down in the number of keyword on a page of your website. If your website is found to include too many keywords it is likely to be hit with a penalty.
Misusing H1 tags
Ensuring a proper structure of your content will do wonders for your SEO. On the flip side, poorly structured content can be confusing and have a negative impact on your SEO. A H1 tag assists Google in understand what is on that particular page of your website. H1 tags need to be specific however using too many could be seen as trying to inflate your search results listing with too many keywords.
Developing new and exciting content can be hard at the best of times. This is why businesses sometimes pull content from other websites to make their own content bigger and better. Many don’t feel as though there is anything wrong with this.
However, Google views this as duplication and you are likely to receive a penalty. Producing unique content can be difficult but if you are stuck do not copy from other websites. Instead you can read what other websites are saying to get some ideas on what you are going to write about.
Websites not optimised for mobile
More and more individuals are using their smartphone to look at websites. This means you have to ensure that your website is fully functional on a smartphone screen as it is on a desktop screen. If you don’t, this impacts user experience and as we all know Google’s algorithm is based on ensuring users have the most positive experience!
Simple things like ensuring the text is big enough and the most important information is visible without scrolling go a long way in the eyes of Google.
Broken external links
Ever seen an “Error 404: Page Not Found” page? Well this is a broken link and usually happens when the website doesn’t keep all the links up to date.
By not ensuring that your links are up to date you are sending Google a message that you don’t actually care about user experience. A simple 404 error message page is not enough. However, it is understandable that sometimes errors do occur, but by constantly checking your website and the links you are limiting the chance of this error occurring.
Note: Your website will never deserve this penalty and if you receive a penalty from Google because of this it is terribly bad luck. It wasn’t anything that you did but you need to be aware that this unfortunately does occur.
Competition in every industry is getting increasingly competitive, so much so that some unethical competitors are using dirty tactics and spammy links. So instead of focussing on their own website and pushing their website up in the rankings, they look at your website instead and try to shove it down in the search engine results.
They do this by trying to get your website penalised and they usually conduct a malicious backlink campaign. As said above there is not much you can usually do about it, but you should try to keep track of the type of competitors you have and if something seems a little off about one or a couple of them always keep this in the back of your mind.
Domain name has a bad reputation
These days a lot of the good domain names are already taken. This is why a lot more businesses are purchasing the domain name from other businesses that are no longer using it. This does come with some risk because there could be a bad history attached to the domain name that you purchased. This can cause major problems when you are trying to build a new business and website around this already negative connotation. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to come back from this and you are probably better off finding another domain name.
You must ensure that all of the links that are on your website are both visible and useful to all users. It always looks suspicious if you are hiding something and links is no exception! No matter your reason you should not make a link the same colour as the background or have it in such small writing that users can’t read it.
Using an SEO company that has offers too good to be true
SEO takes a lot of work and effort; therefore many businesses tend to leave their SEO efforts to a professional business. There are a stack of SEO agencies out there all vying for your attention. The risk when hiring an SEO company is that you may not know exactly what they are doing.
Some SEO companies offer guarantees that they just cannot sustain. You should avid SEO companies which offer you this kind of guarantees. Reputable SEO agencies don't promise guaranteed search engine rankings. You should also be wary of SEO businesses claiming they can get you the first spot on Google or they can increase your ranking really fast.
These companies tend to incorporate black hat methods into their campaign for your business which includes all (or some) of the above points. Think of it this way: If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. A quick fix is never sustainable and no one actually knows what is included in Google’s algorithm. The best way to improve your ranking is to use a quality SEO company that is reliable and they are happy to put in the hard work, long term to give you the results you deserve.
Google takes user experience very seriously and will do everything in their power (which is A LOT) to ensure that users have the best possible experience. If Google feels as though your acts are not thought with users in mind then you may receive a penalty. If you are trying to rig the system or cheat your way to the top, Google will probably find you and serve you a penalty.
Occasionally businesses receive a penalty from Google that is completely unwarranted. You can talk to Google and fight it, especially if you feel as though your penalty was the results of a malicious link campaign. However, most of the time Google’s penalties go to the rightful owner.
If you do the wrong thing and cut the line to the front you should be wary of a penalty coming your way. If you find that you are guilty of performing any of the above actions you should rectify the situation as quickly as possible.
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Sarah is the head of guest posts outreach and an SEO expert. Her interests are search engine optimisation, social media and brand management.