Google is uncompromising when it comes to providing users with accurate information and unique content written by first-class authors. It ensures well-deserved acknowledgement of the best websites in the internet by frequently using different tricks and regularly improving its operational algorithms.
However, this method has an unfortunate “dark side” – Google’s penalties that serve as Google’s tool to fight troublesome websites. Sometimes they are well deserved, however even knowing that you’re wrong you would probably like to somehow amend the issue.
What Are Google Penalties?
Google’s ranking algorithms had been changing regularly since December 2000, when the company issued an extension to its toolbar. Radical changes that took place back then to the updated toolbar became the basis of the modern SEO industry. Actually, that’s exactly when the PageRank became an important and applicable tool.
During the following ten-odd years the company continued on improving the quality of search results. Overtime it began eliminating websites with low-quality content and give higher rank to more trustworthy products. This is when Google penaltieswere introduced.
New algorithm, the Google Penguin filter, was introduced in 2012. Statistics of its powerful and accurate strikes was impressive, as it penalized more than 1 out of 10 websites represented in search results. Some resources were completely erased from the search database. Websites with low-quality content took a severe hit, which forced optimizers to act more responsibly when developing content strategies. Since then SEO professionals keep a close look at Google’s plans and policies, being afraid of new unexpected updates that could destroy websites they worked on for years in a blink.
How To Recognize A Manual Or Algorithmic Penalties From Google?
There are two types of “administrative sanctions” applicable to websites:
- Manual penalties. They are imposed directly by company specialists. When selecting potentially dangerous, suspicious, or untrustworthy resources, they analyze websites and, if necessary, apply relevant measures. Advantage of this method is that you’ll definitely get a notification in case such penalty is imposed. It can be seen in the webmaster toolbar in section “Search Engine Traffic” – “Manual Actions”.
- Algorithmic sanctions. These are imposed as a result of work of Google’s corporate algorithms. Penguin is among the best-known search engine filters (it analyzes quality and naturalness of linking weight), as well as the Google Panda filter (controls the content quality, level of SEO-optimization, relevancy of content etc). Nobody notifies you of such penalties, therefore even the most professional SEO specialists may be taken by surprise with automatic penalties.
There are several indicators that faultlessly confirm algorithmic penalties:
- Your website is no longer ranked in connection with the brand name. This means an empty search results. Even if your website is not ranked across the entire list of keywords, it shall at least be visible as a result of branding queries.
- All pages are rolled back from their current position to the second or third page without any actions on your side.
- Your website PageRank unexpectedly goes down to a big fat “0” or a pitiful “1” from respectable “2” or “3”.
- Unexpectedly, your entire website is deleted from the Google search cache.
- Website search in form of “site:yourdomain.com keyword” provides zero results.
If you notice one or several issued mentioned above, you can be assured that your website was penalized by Google.
Why Does Google Penalize Your Website?
Google constantly reviews the methods of indexing websites’ content.
While it shines some light on new algorithm updates from time to time, the company also rarely gives any explanations regarding the need to use specific control features.
In order to set you straight, we suggest some information that you’ve been long waiting for: 50 reasons, why Google may disapprove of your website. While we don’t know specific reasons for penalties against your particular website, we’re confident that the factors listed below will directly effect such sanctions. Therefore, it’s a good time to analyze your website against such defects.
- Buying links. Buying links can naturally be seen as an attempt to manipulate the PageRank. Some people may swear they meant nothing like that. However, if you’ve bought bad links (and in large amounts), your actions will constitute strong evidence against you.
- Extensive amount of mutual links. Link sharing used to be an innocent marketing tactics, until people started taking advantage of it. If you exchanged lots of links with clients, it can be viewed as an attempt to manipulate.
- Duplicate content. Guess, no one would argue that any copying of the website content makes it less useful for Google’s goals. Therefore, such trick can easily cause penalties, which the Google Panda filter will make sure of. Check carefully that your content is unique and well written; use such tools as Copyscape and CopyGator.
- Extensive use of the H1 tag. SEO helps to properly structure the content. The H1 tag helps Google to understand, what the page is about. Extensive use of the H1 tag can be seen as an attempt to oversaturate the Google’s information database with keywords.
- Internal 404s error. Google wants to be sure that you pay close attention to your website contents and eliminate any errors and problems. If you allow the 404s error to exist within your website, this is a good indicator that your website users won’t be able to find what they’re looking for.
- Links from websites in another language. Seems unfair, doesn’t it? You should have a legitimate right to receive links from your clients located in other countries. However, this fact will give you a technical disadvantage. On the other hand, Google’s justification for such approach also seems reasonable: users normally select one language that’s convenient for them, therefore links to websites in different languages might be useless for them.
- Extensive use of keywords in the content. There are a number of strange and amazing “rules” regarding the density of keywords in the text. While none of them are justified, high density of keywords is an indicator of poorly written content. If Google determines suspiciously large number of keywords on a page, it can penalize you, whether it is justified or by mistake.
- Footer links. Some web designers use footer links as a navigation tool. Others try to manipulate the PageRank with them.
- Lack of the sitemap data. Google uses the XML sitemap to analyze your website structure. Make sure that this option is up to date and available, and make it visible in your Webmaster Tools account.
- Hidden links. All links on your website should be visible to users and useful for them. Everything hidden is deemed suspicious. Never highlight links with the same color as the background of the page or a button under them. Even though you might have justified and innocent reasons to do so.
- Broken external links. If you don’t take care about accuracy of links provided on your website, Google will consider that you don’t care about users and glad to provide them with 404 error pages instead of the quality content. Make sure to periodically check and renew your links.
- “Stolen” content. Sometimes content managers plagiarize the content from other sources in order to fill their websites as much as possible. It is often done with good intentions in mind and may be seen as an innocent mistake. However, Google sees it as a pointless content duplication. Replace someone else’s articles with your original ones.
- Hidden content. Optimization tactics that lack any ethical principles may mask content posted on site pages in order to manipulate the topic or the volume of keywords. Naturally, this method is strictly forbidden.
- Extensive text anchoring. Long time ago SEO experts actively worked on connecting particular keywords, which allowed for better achievement of marketing goals. However, since Google introduced the Penguin update, extensive use of anchor connections is strictly criticized. Replace your artificially created, unnatural links containing keywords with those fair, written in proper English language.
- Neglecting the “hreflang” attribute”. “So I disregard it, so what?”, you may ask. Well, the answer is, this attribute is designed to notify Google that you have published the duplicate content on purpose for different languages or residential areas. It’s hard to say if it really helps, however its use won’t harm anyways. This method’s efficiency is still questionable, however it definitely has no negative effect on your website.
- Timing out of link response. When your website loading speed slows down, everyone is frustrated – users, webmasters and search engines. If Google can’t see your website, it will rather deindex it than allow its clients to visit such dead ends.
- Domain names with keywords. Domain names by themselves bear no threat to website ranking, however domains that contain keywords are known to be guilty. Say, if you regularly link to an area that has an anchor link, Google might consider it as manipulating anchors. Therefore, if you really intend to use such approach, make sure that your website has lots of high-quality content. Otherwise the search engine will blame your for fraud.
- Rented links. Some experts still consider rented links useable and even useful for SEO purposes. They pay for them monthly and change them from time to time. However, most professionals tend to see such links as bought (see item 1 of the list).
- Use of the blog network. Since Google tends to consider any network as a potential threat of possible SERP manipulations, most of such networks were closed.
- Advertising articles. Disputes regarding advertising nature of website contents were a central debate topic when the launch of the Google Penguin 2.0 filter was announced. Pages are considered as advertising if they’re full of paid links, and such pages are often used for aggressive manipulations with search results.
- Lots of affiliated links. In general, Google has nothing against affiliated websites, however large number of affiliated links may be a signal of poor quality content. While affiliated links can be masked with redirects, try to avoid this trick, as Google knows about it as well.
- Site wide links. Interlinking of pages within the website is an all-around necessity. However, Google closely monitors such links for being natural. Typical examples are footer links like “website is developed by…”, “website design is created by…”. Don’t just use the “nofollow” attribute, but delete such links altogether.
- Extensive use of meta keywords. Meta keywords were in the center of discussion for quite some time. The reason is that they allow for easy manipulation of the system. Make sure you use no more than five instances per page.
- Low speed. If your website loads slowly, it will disappoint your users. And since the hosting speed is affected by multiple factors, this problem is quite complicated and may be hard to eliminate. Use the caching plug-in or the CDN. You may also move your website within the data processing center closer to your regular visitors, although this might be a bit more difficult.
- “Overspun” content. Spinning constitutes the theft of content, therefore using such trick may easily lead you into a big trouble, including Google penalties. Therefore, be careful when buying extremely cheap articles from copywriters. Authors themselves may sometimes spin texts, and you won’t even notice the catch. If your order price seems too good to be true, it most probably is, and someone’s probably trying to sell you a content of such cheap level.
- Spam containing comments. Most commenting systems are equipped with an automatic spam detection system, however some texts may still trick the program. Therefore it’s best to personally control comments left on your website. If you have no time for it, it’s best to turn off this feature altogether.
- “Black Hat” SEO advises. If you publish information about manipulating search results by using the “black hat” methods, you can definitely count on Google getting back to you with a penalty.
- Hacked content. If your website was hacked, Google will quickly erase it from search results. Act fast in order to prevent the hack attempt. And if it happened, try to recover data from the backup copy as fast as possible.
- Fast link building. Your desire to see your website ranked as quickly as possible is purely understandable. However, it’s best to not overdo it. Large number of similar type links signal about automation. Don’t grow your linking weight artificially; make regular changes over the long time, and the result will come.
- Spam notifications. Google has published an online form to file complaints about spam from websites. Your website (honestly or fraudulently) may also be presented as a potential spam source.
- Forum linking. All of us used forums that are overfilled with links in signatures. Sometimes there are so many of them that it becomes quite difficult to find specific messages. If you add a forum link, make sure to use good, high-quality linking techniques and consider adding them to “nofollow”.
- Hiding sponsors. There’s nothing wrong about having a sponsor. Many websites would be unable to exist without them. Don’t try to hide your sponsor, but follow these rules: mark your sponsorship links as “nofollow” and make sure that Google bot won’t scan pages where such links can be found.
- Robots.txt deficiencies. The robots.txt file instructs search engines on how to work with your website. While there are reasonable grounds to leave pages out of the robots.txt file, we recommend that you follow the procedure as accurately and consistently as possible. Google will not appreciate if it is blocked from visiting too many pages.
- Links to suspicious websites. Never deal with websites that do something suspicious from the ethical or legal standpoint. Avoid trespassing websites; porn sources, those distributing malware files, etc. Besides, try to delete all links from your website to resources that has already been penalized by Google in the past (if you have such information, of course).
- Target pages. Some companies try to use several target pages to improve their position in search results. Others though try to improve their position by creating one-page websites optimized for a specific keyword that redirect users to other sites. Google considers this as a bad practice.
- Extensive optimization. As strange as this may sound, Google doesn’t like it either when everything is too good. Getting a penalty for “over-optimizing” normally means that you’ve gone too far in your attempt to outdo your market competitors with the SEO adaptation of your website. Take a breath and try to make some part of your content more natural and unrestrained.
- Extensive outgoing links. When you link to other websites, do it naturally. Large number of links is a sign that you exchange them with other people for gaining SEO benefits.
- Redirecting. If your website was penalized, you can transfer the penalty to another place with the 301 redirect. Furthermore, manual penaltiesmay be prolonged if you delete the redirect later. Therefore it’s best not to do it at all for your personal safety.
- Error codes. Besides the obvious 404 errors there are a number of others that Google really can’t stand. For instance, it’s best to avoid using the 302 code (means that the “website/page has temporarily moved”) by replacing it with the 301 redirecting code. Also, if you notice any 500-type errors, make sure to detect their reasons as soon as possible. WebConfs HTTP Header Check Tool can help you to find invisible errors.
- Duplicating metadata. Some blogging tools and CMS platforms may occasionally duplicate metadata. While such duplicating itself doesn’t constitute much of a problem, it may cause the duplicating of content. And that’s something Google will definitely disapprove of. Therefore, such situation is highly undesirable and requires fixing.
- Malicious back links. Even if your website is a showcase, you may still face penalties. The reason is that indecent competitors may try to bring your source down to the very bottom of search results by setting Google onto it. The easiest way would be running a malicious back-linking campaign.
- Target keywords. Google is at war against some keywords that appear most frequently on spam websites. “Payday loans” is a good example of such key entrances. If you legitimately work in an industry that is known for spamming, you should be ready for regular inspections.
- Bootleg links. Don’t try to be smart by placing links in script files. Google can analyze scenarios perfectly and pick out strange links that shall not exist.
- Poor mobile websites. Google needs to see s clear connection between the mobile-adjusted website version and your major web source. If your mobile site is not good enough, such connection will not be obvious. Make sure that your website’s mobile version is correctly displayed on devices that the mobile agent is installed on. Some experts advise to use separate subdomains for such websites.
- Too few outgoing links. Google wants to see content that refers to other content of similar standard. Otherwise your attempts to bring in traffic will seem unnatural to the search engine.
- Bad reputation of the domain. Even when you simply buy a domain with bad history and try to build a website on it, you’re doomed to face some difficulties. This problem has no solution, therefore it’s best to accept financial losses and get rid of the problematic domain by purchasing a new one.
- Stolen content. Even if you haven’t stolen your website content from anyone, someone may easily steal yours. It’s quite a big problem that may even lead to judicial proceedings. If you are penalized for this reason, try to request Google to delete the stolen content.
- Large number of ads. Advertising entries are normal, as long as they’re provided reasonably and on secondary positions. If such messages prevail on your website over the useful content, it’s time to make adjustments before the search engines makes them for you.
- Using content farms. Following the introduction of the Google Panda filter, purchase of content from relevant “farms” (this is the name for companies that create large amount of poor quality SEO content) is considered a gross violation. Therefore, if your website’s content is far from the best and texts published thereon were created with the only purpose of your source not to look empty, you should immediately order writing of high-quality texts from professionals.
- Beware quick fixes. Don’t believe those promising to sell you a magical reliable method that will immediately bring your website to the top of search results. The only way to reach a respectable place in SERP is to work hard over a long time.
What Should You Do If You Were Penalized?
Have you determined the reason for the penalty? Congratulations, you’re halfway to the problem solution (once we assume it’s solvable altogether).
Separate action plan is required for each specific case. However, there are a number of generally accepted rules, following which can do you no harm:
- Don’t panic. Even large well-promoted websites get penalized from time to time.
- Let go of troublesome links. Request Google to not account for troublesome links that harm your website. You can find a proper tool here (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main?pli=1).
- Delete some links. The previous method is good, but it’s not quite reliable. Therefore, speed-up the process by manually deleting bad links.
- If manual penalty is the case, file a request to review it.
- Be patient. Sometimes it may take Google some time to deactivate troublesome links upon your request and make a new scan of your website.
- Sometimes its best to abandon the website rather than to fight the search engine for it to be reinstated. For example, if your domain’s reputation was clouded, your chances for success are minimal. However, most problems can be partially eliminated with little efforts, while some of them require hard and patient work. Ethical and professional approach to the issue of reinstating your source is also very significant.