The ultimate guide to Google penalties

The ultimate guide to Google penalties

Being penalised by Google is something that every webmaster dreads. Whether done intentionally or not, breaking Google’s guidelines may result in a variety of actions being taken against your website. These penalties can have a huge impact on the success and upward mobility of your brand. Google is constantly updating its algorithm in an attempt to catch fraudulent websites and it is important to stay aware of what behaviours they deem appropriate according to each update. If you think you have been penalised and are unsure of what to do, or if you are simply looking to avoid being penalised at all cost, the guide below explains what you might do to break Google’s guidelines and how you would go about resolving this.

How can I tell if I’ve been penalised?

Woman doing SEO sits at laptop with her hands on her head as she has been penalised by Google

It may not be immediately obvious that your website has been penalised. If you think you have received a penalty from Google, or that you may be at risk of it, here are some signs to look out for.

Your traffic has dropped unexpectedly

Boosting your traffic is extremely important for your website. If your traffic has very suddenly and uncharacteristically dropped in number, this may be a sign that you have incurred a penalty. Google may have removed your page from the top of its searches so that it is harder for visitors to find. They may also have indicated that your website is fraudulent which would also deter traffic.

Your PageRank has dropped unexpectedly

Similarly to with traffic, you may notice that your Google PageRank has dropped suddenly without you doing anything. This is again an attempt by Google to remove a website which they believe to be fraudulent from the top results. This will further impact your traffic and the credibility of your brand.

Your website says “this site may be compromised”

When searched, your website may actually indicate that Google believes the site has been compromised. If you see a note that says “this site may be compromised” with your website title, this is a good indicator that you have received a penalty for something.

You have received a notice in Google Webmaster Tools

Perhaps the most obvious sign that you have been penalised is if you receive a notice from Google that indicates you have. Usually it will not be overly specific about what you have done to receive the penalty but will simply inform you that you have one and give the general reason for it.

Why have I been penalised?

Confused woman frowns at laptop as she is doing SEO and does not know why she has a Google penalty

To understand what may have happened to cause a penalty, it is important to familiarise yourself with the guidelines that Google requests that websites adhere to. The algorithms are constantly changing and it can be useful to use SEO services to help you out with staying on top of this. If you are unsure of what part of the guidelines you have breached, here are a few common reasons for receiving a penalty.

You post plagiarised content

Google (and readers) appreciate original and engaging content. If Google finds an article that is an exact copy of one that already exists, it will penalise you for plagiarism. The same goes for if the article is scraped. Plagiarised content is a clear sign to Google that a site is engaging in fraudulent activity.

You post thin content

Content is important. But so is the quality of the content. If your content is purely self-serving and contributes nothing of value, Google will also penalise this. Finding new ideas for content can be difficult but it’s important to be original and informative otherwise your site will be deemed unworthy of promotion by Google.

Your website is full of spam

Any website that appears to contain spam will be quickly picked up by Google and, again, not deemed worthy of promotion. It is important to be diligent about your SEO strategies and the way that you run your website. Anything that appears to be too self-serving or disingenuous will be penalised.

You use cloaking and sneaky redirects

Cloaking refers to showing different pages to Google than what are shown to users. Similarly, sneaky redirects send users to a different page than what is shown to Google. This is also defined by Google as fraudulent behaviour and will incur a penalty.

Your content isn’t mobile-friendly

Your content also needs to be mobile-friendly in order to be promoted by Google. Almost everyone owns a smartphone and corporations like Google are well aware of this. They have made the push to accommodate for the traffic coming from mobile devices and will penalise websites who do not comply.

You have unnatural links

While gaining backlinks is an important part of SEO, participating in link building schemes or linking to bad websites will definitely get you penalised by Google. Google’s guidelines clearly outline that websites who pay for backlinks or post backlinks that have not been naturally earnt will be penalised. You should try to gain links naturally through posting quality content that others will want to share of their own accord.

What’s the solution?

Two SEO professionals discuss a solution for their website and for their Google penalty

If you are engaging in spam, cloaking or any of the other practices listed above, you must stop immediately to avoid penalty. If it is too late for this or if the breach of the guidelines was not committed by you, there are a few things you can do to recover your website’s ranking.

Improve your content

To show Google that your website is not deserving of a penalty, you must first clean it up and ensure that you are not engaging in any of the above practices. Make sure that your content is original, informative and mobile-friendly. The kind of content that focuses on benefitting readers will be accepted as worthy of promotion by Google.

Remove bad links

If you have directly or indirectly been involved in the placement of bad links, it is important that you have them removed. If you have posted bad links on your site, you can remove them yourself. Otherwise you will need to contact the owners of the websites on which your links appear and ask them to take them down. If this does not work, you can ask Google to reconsider the penalty due to the fact that the breach was out of your control and you have genuinely tried to have it rectified.

Ask Google to reconsider

You have the option of owning up to Google and explaining what has occurred. If it was not you who placed the links and you have genuinely tried to have them taken down, you can explain this. You can also explain yourself if it was you that placed the links and detail what you have done. Providing evidence that you have stopped placing bad links and removed existing ones will be helpful. Google will appreciate the transparency and may reconsider your penalty. Allow some time for this report to be processed and then, hopefully, you will see your website be restored and your ranking return.

Conclusion

Being aware of the various Google penalties and what you might do to incur them is extremely important for ensuring that your website functions properly. Engaging in any practices that breach the Google guidelines can be detrimental for your business as it will result in a range of things including lower ranking and lower traffic. Although there are solutions if you are penalised, it is crucial to prevent this from occurring if you can.