As we step into 2020, business owners and webmasters know that Google rankings are more important than ever. They have now become absolutely essential to the success of a business. Therefore, a penalty from Google that decreases your search rankings can greatly lower your organic traffic, therefore affecting your business and branding.
Remember, Google doesn’t discriminate. No matter how large, successful, or well-established your company is, if you don’t play nice with Google you can wind up with penalties that will massively search your search rankings. For example, Google even penalized Bing Discover by removing those pages altogether from being found in Google Search results.
The result was a massive loss of website traffic coming to Bing’s pages from Google’s search results. Google has always said it didn’t want search results pages in its search results and it was using a false URL site.bing.com/discover to piggyback on searchers who utilize Google image search, a low-volume element of Google.com.
Don’t put money in your competitors’ pockets by getting a penalty and losing search traffic. Simply follow these simple guidelines and avoid these 15 mistakes that will garner a Google penalty and lower your search rankings.
1. Don’t Buy Links
Buying links will nearly always garner you a penalty from Google. Don’t expect any mercy from the search engine giant if you get caught. Sure companies that sell links may have a flashy sales pitch with a lot of flashy jargon, but don’t trust it. If you have to buy paid links, you will get caught eventually. Also, never believe when they tell you their links are undetectable.
2. Keyword Stuffing
Any SEO expert will tell you that keyword stuffing is one of, if not the biggest no-no you can make these days. Google has been actively against and penalizing websites that keyword stuff for more than a decade. However, Google’s BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) algorithm update has proven that this search engine giant can now understand content as well as, if not better, than a human. The update was centralized around natural language understanding. Therefore, search engines naturally better understand when content doesn’t flow or doesn’t pass the “smell test” for being naturally written. Avoid a Google penalty by writing content naturally, similar to how you’d talk in real life, and keep your keyword usage around 2-3% is the standard rule of thumb.
3. Having Shallow Content Depth
As mentioned above, Google’s most recent update, BERT, now can reach and comprehend site content similar or better than humans do. This update isn’t affecting all websites just yet, but Google is rolling out BERT to affect more and more pages on a drip basis. Therefore, using shallow content on your website can lead to penalties for your site. A great way to avoid this is to maintain an ongoing industry-related blog with well-written content that is also in-depth.
4. Non-Unique Content or Copyright Infringing
Google calls this “duplicate content” and Google takes it exceptionally seriously. This includes two separate things. First, it keeps pages that contain identical content on multiple pages from being index altogether, meaning they won’t even show up. Second, you can be penalized for posting your own content in multiple places such as a guest blog with content simply copy/pasted from your website.
5. Including Ads That Makes it Difficult for Visitors to Navigate or are Top Heavy
This is exactly why Google added its unique Page Layout algorithm designed to flag pages and websites that are overly cluttered with ads or are pages that frustrate the site visitors by making them sift past all these ads to get for the information they are truly looking for. Websites that are what Google calls “top-heavy.” Simply put, this means that Google penalizes pages that have too much content at the top of their pages, making users feel overwhelmed and more likely to bounce off.
6. Never Hide Content
Google is, by default, focused on transparency. Not surprisingly, they don’t like it when you hide content in an attempt to “trick” them into ranking your site higher. Many SEO experts that haven’t kept up with the time will do things like making their text match the background color of the page. While they may think it helps their rankings, it will no doubt lead to a penalty. Be as transparent as you can with Google, including high-quality content only.
7. Show You are a Trusted, Legitimate Business
Google wants to provide the highest-quality experience for searchers that use it as their preferred search engine. The mega-giant search engine wants to make sure those searchers have a great experience and, therefore, they want to ensure that their listings are relevant to exactly what searchers are looking for. Therefore, Google tends to favor websites with high-quality, seamless customer experience. You can increase your website’s rankings as well as decrease your site’s chance of gaining a penalty by optimizing your site.
8. Write URLs for Humans, Not Search Engines
If you want to avoid your site or specific pages getting a penalty, create URLs that are clear, concise and written for the user. While it’s okay to include specific keywords or phrases, your URL itself needs to match the content and not simply be written to attract traffic and written for search engine rankings.
9. Link Spamming Other Websites
Another way to avoid penalties from Google is not to do what is referred to as “link spamming.” This is a practice that many agencies used to offer or that people at a company without detailed knowledge of SEO include as part of their strategy. It is when people simply add a link to their site either manually or with an automated platform with the belief that it will contribute to SEO. People loathe seeing these spammy links and, therefore, are flagged by Google and the link spamming website is penalized.
10. Not Noticing a Hacked Website
Hacking is a larger issue than ever before and even kids are wising up to how to sniff out your website’s content management system to add malicious content, spam, and links. When Google’s spider bots realize that a site has been hacked, they are a notification next to the search results containing a hacked site with a “this site is hacked” notice, which may be a worse penalty than losing some traction in your search rankings!
Although less common, cloaking is when websites and pages attempt to “trick” Google by using the “black hat” SEO tactic of showing a different website to human searchers than it does to Google. This is done using sneaky redirect links. Google will penalize websites that do this because the search giant wants to make sure users don’t click on the link thinking they are going to one location, only to be redirected to a totally different site without the desired information.
12. No Outbound Links
Outbound links are important to show that you are a credible business that isn’t afraid to link site visitors out to other credible sites and businesses. Including quality links to high-authority websites is important to not appear to be a spammy website and receive a penalty. You may not want visitors leaving your top-level pages, but a great place to include these outbound links is in your blog.
13. Not Checking for Harmful Inbound Links
When a website flagged as harmful, such as spam sites and sites with dubious text, links to your site, it creates an inbound link. Due to the fact Google found this link on this low-quality, flagged website, Google will begin digging into your website suspiciously. Make sure you are monitoring all the links direct out there by third-party sites by monitoring them for free using Google Search Console or use a third-party monitoring service. If you are unsure if an inbound link is spammy, you can utilize a third-party tool to check what is called the Spam Score such as Moz Link Explorer or SEMRush.
14. Don’t Over-Use Anchor Text
Over-using anchor text or not distributing it properly can any search engine optimization you’ve achieved by killing your rankings. The overuse of anchor text is one of the most common things Google penalizes for. It requires care and attention to avoid a penalty. Simply put, anchor text is the actual text you can click on to be directed to be taken to another page or website. Google wants all links to be natural and to direct people to the information they want. For example, if your anchor text for a link is actually trying to get people to sign up for your credit card, “get a payday loan Atlanta Buckhead,” is an example of an over-optimized anchor link.
15. Always Include Your Physical Address Throughout your Website
Your physical location (assuming you have one) will help you avoid a penalty and be seen as non-legitimate because it shows you are is credible and trustworthy. This directly relates to how Google ranks sites and pages. Assuming you have all three, you’ll want to include your company’s NAP (name, address and phone number), throughout your site. This will keep your site from being penalized by showing you are a site that can be trusted.
How to See if Your Site Already Has a Penalty
Google uses multiple algorithms as well as manually-conducted audits to detect issues or violations with websites and pages that call for a penalty to be issued. You or your webmaster should conduct frequent checks to see if you have already been penalties. The process is exceptionally simple. First, log in to Google Search Console, a completely free tool, to check for manual penalties. Then, check your messages to see if you have a new penalty notice. The other place you can look is under the Manual Actions sub-link found on the lefthand bar.
Conclusion: Avoid a Google Search Penalty with Ease
Google hands out hundreds of thousands of penalties every month. Many of these could have been avoided. Remember, Google penalties are absolutely avoidable. It’s as easy as having a basic comprehension of the rules that lead to penalties and avoiding them. You can utilize Google Search Console to monitor your site’s ranking for certain keywords and phrases. You can then fix any existing issues to avoid a search penalty.