How do you avoid a Google penalty?
Everyone wants their website to appear at the top of Google searches, but that’s a whole new ball game to your typical marketing. There’s something about working magic on this platform that’s almost like wizardry; luckily, we know all the perfect spells to create results that are out of this world.
The problem with trying to get these results yourself is that it can come with the risk of getting Google SEO penalties against your site, just because you may not understand how to create quality strategies that don’t ‘tick Google off’. Unfortunately, navigating the complexities of SEO continues to become more complex, so it’s important to utilise an expert that can help you land rankings, all the while helping you to avoid Google penalties altogether.
Sure, there are other search engines available but when Google commands more than 90 per cent of the market, it is not hard to see why people favour this option and put all of their efforts into getting to the top of organic search rankings.
There are many ways in which you can achieve this and some of them are more ethical than others, a fact that is not lost on Google. The search engine giants have web crawlers that analyse each and every website and if they discover that you are using dodgy or non-ethical ways to boost your way up the rankings then they are going to penalise you.
This means your site has zero hope of reaching the top of the rankings or even appearing on the first page of searches, which is a critical hit considering that the second page of Google search results only accounts for around 6 per cent of all website clicks.
There are many correct ways that you can boost your way up the Google rankings and these processes are called search engine optimisation. We will explore the correct methods and also the ones you should avoid so you don’t risk Google penalties.
How to avoid Google penalties
Create a solid SEO strategy
This is the process of optimising your online content so that Google favours your website when it is connecting search queries to search results. Google became the global leader for good reason and it wants to ensure that the best possible results are being displayed to users so it uses artificial intelligence in web crawlers and advanced algorithms to make sure this is the case every single time. Ways you can impress Google, its calculations and web crawlers through SEO include:
Google makes no secret of the fact that they will favour websites that have quality, relevant content. This is especially the case for sites that are constantly updating with new blogs, articles and other content of value that is fresh, original and relevant. Rolling out blogs, news articles, videos, eBooks, white papers and any other content that is relevant to your industry and provides value to your audience is a great way to improve your Google ranking organically.
This involves looking under the hood at your HTML coding to ensure you are delivering the user the best possible experience possible. You want your site to load quickly, be optimised for mobile devices, be clear to read and that all links are working and directing to the right location. It is not just aesthetics; you want to remove any redundant code that could be slowing down your site. Think of your website as a car, it needs regular servicing. Ensure you schedule time at least annually to review your site and ensure it is optimised.
Use platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to share your content and drive more traffic to your website. Google will favour sites that are getting more traffic than those that are not adopting strong social media strategies.
These are called white hat SEO strategies and there is no fear of being penalised by sticking to these strategies.
The different types of Google penalties
It is when you adopt black hat SEO strategies that you’ll be slapped with a Google penalty. So what are black hat SEO strategies? Ultimately, these are practices like:
Inbound and outbound links from and to high-quality websites is a great way to boost your SEO. If you are found to be buying or selling links, Google will hit you with link penalties.
This is when you show one piece of content to users but a different one to search engines in an attempt to deceive them.
Using artificial intelligence or other software to auto-generate content using relevant keywords is another big no-no from Google.
Don’t steal content from elsewhere. It is plagiarism, it is lazy and it is one of the quickest ways to earn a penalty from Google which is able to detect it quite easily. This also means copying content from one part of your website and replicating on other parts of your site.
These are pages that use keywords that Google likes but then re-direct visitors to another URL.
Hidden text or links
Trying to hide links or keywords on your site by making them invisible (font size zero, white font colour on white background etc) is going to get you in strife.
There is no magic formula when it comes to how many times you can use keywords in the text, but the rule of thumb is to ensure that your content is readable. Having a sentence like “Buy your running shoes from the running shoe experts Mike’s Running Shoes” for example is a clear example of keyword stuffing.
When you are using external links, they have to be relevant. Piling in as many external links as you can that link to any old website will not do you any favours.
Over optimising HTML headings
There is one main header on every page on your website, which means just one H1 headline. Having more than this is considered negative or black hat SEO. You can use several H2’s, H3’s and H4’s but only ever a single H1 per page.
Is my site penalised by Google?
There are two primary ways you can check to see if Google has penalised your website. The first way is through Google Search Console where you can check under the tab ‘Security and manual actions / manual actions’, but this option is limited.
There are two different kinds of penalty you can attract, manual penalties and algorithmic penalties. Manual ones are applied by real-life humans who likely are part of the Google Quality team. In this case, you will get a report outlining what you have done wrong, what you need to do to rectify it and then you can send a reconsideration report to have the penalty lifted. With an algorithmic penalty, Google’s AI has penalised you and this is the more common of the two. These are also trickier to repair as they are not listed on Google Search Console and you don’t have access to a reconsideration report.
To find out if you have been automatically penalised you are going to need to go into your Google Analytics and take a look at your organic traffic. If you see any major hits to your organic traffic and this coincides with a time period when Google was doing an update on its algorithm then you have likely been given an automatic penalty. Unlike manual penalties, you are not given the option to rectify your mistake and ask for the penalty to be lifted.
Think of stealing cookies from the cookie jar. If you are found guilty of having your hand in the jar by your mother, she is going to be very upset and you are going to be in trouble – most likely banned from having cookies for a period of time. It also means that your mother is going to be wary of you doing it again and she will be watching you closely. It is very similar to Google – you are going to need to re-earn its trust.
Through a prolonged period of positive SEO strategies and no further black hat tactics, Google will slowly begin to trust your site again and after a period of time, the penalty will be lifted. But if you are caught with your hand in that cookie jar again, you can expect the penalties to be much more severe and it will take much, much longer to earn trust once more.
How long do Google penalties last?
With a manual penalty, you will be told exactly how long the penalty will last for and you also have the option to submit the reconsideration report after fixing your mistake which can result in the penalty being lifted immediately. But, as discussed, automatic penalties are far more common and Google does not give you the time frame or the option to appeal.
What is Google penalty duration?
How long the penalty lasts for depends on the severity of the transgression according to Google Webmaster Guidelines. A minor offence of having a few too many keywords, for example, might only warrant a 30-day penalty. The more severe the black hat SEO, the longer the penalty will be and there are penalties that last three months, six months – all the way up to two years in really bad cases. There is no guarantee that these penalties will be lifted after that period of time either, because if you transgress again you are going to be further penalised.
The best thing you can do is identify the likely source of the penalty, fix it immediately and then keep your nose clean. If you are extremely well behaved, Google will also sometimes lift the penalty ahead of time.
How do I stop Google penalties?
The only effective way to truly stop being penalised by Google is to avoid any practices that could warrant a penalty, to begin with. There is no silver bullet that is going to rocket your website to the top of Google Rankings in an instant, you are going to have to put in the hard work.
Routinely delivering quality, relevant, new and original content is going to slowly build up your reputation with Google and ensuring that you meet all Google Webmaster guidelines will ensure you are not issued any penalties as your website slowly rises up the Google rankings.
SEO is a marathon, not a sprint and (to use another analogy) illegal performance enhancers are not going to deliver you the gold medal. Remember that your SEO strategies aren’t just for Google, they are for your current and potential customers as well. You want to deliver a positive user experience to your visitors because it is more likely to gain you leads, conversions and sales. You want to deliver high-quality content because it is going to position you as an industry thought leader and make you appear more credible than your competition.
What kind of Google penalty checking options are available?
Google Search Console and Google Analytics are not going to directly tell you if your website has been automatically penalised and there is no information available to say how long the penalty will apply either. But are there third-party options that will open up this information to you? Fortunately, there are some powerful options available including:
MOZ Algorithm Change History: Think of this as a weather forecaster except instead of rain and sunshine it is measuring the Google algorithm. When there are major updates, this algorithm will show turbulence so you can see when these updates have occurred and check through Google Analytics if there has been any dip in your web traffic during this period of time which would indicate that you have been penalised.
Fruition Google Penalty Checker: This is a simple to use tool that gives you great visibility on when there are Google algorithm changes and the impact these are having on your website. It used detailed analytics like organic traffic, new and repeat visits, page views and more to give you complete transparency on automatic penalties so you can address your page and work towards having these penalties listed.
SEMrush: SEMrush has a tool called Sensor which detects disruptions in Google’s SERPs which indicate that there have been changes to any algorithms. You can monitor your site traffic within SEMrush as well so you can see if these algorithm updates align with a drop in traffic.
Penguin Penalty Checker: This works in tandem with your Google Analytics account and takes your traffic history and layers it over algorithm changes. This gives you a visual graph that will clearly show if you have been penalised because there will be a noticeable dip in traffic when these updates have occurred.
Rank Ranger Rank Risk Index: A great tool that not only alerts your algorithm changes, but lets you know which keywords could be a risk factor or, in turn, which ones could present an opportunity for you in proper SEO strategies.
Remember, preventions are always better than a cure when it comes to mitigating Google penalties. If you are using correct SEO strategies then you have nothing to fear. Speak to our SEO team to set your campaign up for success, with no consequences.