Causes of your Google penalty
In our previous article “Identifying a Google Penalty”, we gave you the information needed to tell if you’d been hit by a search engine penalty as well as the tools to establish just what type of Google penalty your website had been hit with. Now you’ve established just what Google penalty you’re dealing with, it’s time to move on and find out what exactly caused it. Once you get to the root of what caused it, you’ll then be able to fix it.
If you’ve suffered a manual Google penalty then you may well receive a message within your Webmaster tools or better yet, an email direct to your inbox giving you ideas on how you might improve your chances. If your website has a bad link profile then you might see a warning page within your “manual actions” page on the webmaster tools stating that you have unnatural links to your website. If the cause is due to your content however then you’ll see a comment stating that you have content with little or minimal added value. If you’re suffering from an algorithmic penalty however and are yet to hear from Google, then chances are you won’t be getting any help from Google in figuring out what it is exactly. You’ll be pleased to know that it doesn’t matter what state your website is in, there will always be room for improvement and this article is going to look at a rather comprehensive list of potential Google penalty offences. We won’t be going through every known factor as some factors will only ever affect you positively and whilst it is beneficial to include such positive factors, they won’t get you penalised. Typically, Google penalty offences will fall into three different categories: content, link and technical issues. Let’s first take a look at content.
Content related Google penalties
Google algorithms can really struggle to tell the difference between good and bad content despite the fact that Google have been trying their best to refine this for years. Instead of looking at the general quality of the text, Google algorithms look at the tell-tale signs that are nestled deep within the content. These are signs that can result from certain patterns that are consistent with spam content such as excessive advertising or very obvious plagiarism. Google algorithms can also pick up on a lack of patterns that good content usually has too. More often than not, it will be a case of these certain signs building up and reaching a certain threshold. If a website has been marked for a manual review then an employee of Google will look to see if it’s a legitimate website and simply unlucky or if it’s actually trying to play the system with the content. There have been cases where these so-called tell-tale signs have been so plentiful that a serious Google penalty has been triggered automatically. Good examples of this would be keyword stuffing or duplicate content on a large scale. Here are some of the most significant tell-tale signs:
- Duplicate content – it’s super easy for an algorithm to check if your content was copied or duplicated elsewhere on the Internet by comparing it to all other content on the net. There are a number of plagiarism tools that can be used in order to check your content such as paperrater.com
- Spun content – these can be carried out by black-hat SEO tools that use a number of different synonyms in order to recreate sentences in a number of ways. The problem with these, aside from the moral point of view, they tend to read badly for people and will often make no sense at all. Spun articles may be able to duck under the radar of algorithms but they carry a big risk. Generally speaking, content that’s 80% unique and above won’t be flagged by any search engines.
- Thin content – if your website has a high bounce rate or a high rate in terms of returning to a search engine then this would flag potentially thin content. This can place a bad mark against you, especially if you have a lot of visitors who tend to leave your website as soon as it’s loaded. You can check your bounce rate and average times via Google Analytics.
- Over-optimising – when SEO was first practiced it was often done by stuffing content with keywords however search engines have since improved and keyword stuffing is now easily spotted and penalised against. Keywords really are a game of balance. You must appear as though you aren’t trying too hard. To protect against over optimising you could use synonyms and keywords related to your main ones.
- Hidden content – this is another tactic from days gone by when people would smuggle invisible keywords into a page that were camouflaged by a matching text and background colour.
- Content farms – the panda update had the intention of taking down all content farms that appeared to populate the web. This relates to what’s known as user generated content that doesn’t offer any use and is there simply to grab traffic and advertise to your visitors. If your website has a forum then you could be in danger of triggering this type of Google penalty. Keep safe and moderate it constantly.
Link related Google penalties
Websites being ranked based on the amount of links that were pointing to their website was what put Google above everyone else, it was their differentiation. It’s a rather elegant system in that just one website of high standing, referencing your content, would be taken as a vote of trust and relevance by Google. This can quickly break down however when people play the system using hyperlinks by linking to websites for money or linking back to their own websites via articles posted externally. If you’re suffering from a Google penalty and you believe it might have something to do with your links then take a look at this list to see if anything jumps out. Do note however that this list isn’t exhaustive:
- Exact match anchor text – the majority of the links that point back to your website would naturally display your website’s name, your name or the domain name. This is how the majority of people link to your website when they’ve done it themselves and this is what appears natural to Google.
- Reciprocal linking – swapping links in excess is a big indicator of foul play i.e. a taxi-company would want to swap links with a hotel in the local area. If however he swapped hundreds of links about other things such as poker or knitting then it would appear to have no benefit to his customers and as a result would trigger a Google penalty.
- Paid for or rented links – quality pages can be fished out from poor ones by the number of websites that link to it. Any sign of manipulation is a huge violation. Paid links are thrown up in a rather random way so if you’ve paid for links previously, you should take a look at how they were done. Get in contact with the provider of the links and ask for a copy of their work.
- Link networks – in 2012, many of the world’s link networks were targeted and abolished which also resulted in the websites that had paid for links being penalised too. Link networks do exist however they’re far more underground than they once were as they’re targeted heavily by Google. Being linked to one of these is like a ticking time bomb. You’ll be found out eventually and will ultimately pay the price. It doesn’t matter how clever the owner of the link network is, they ultimately get caught and you’ll regret the day you contacted them.
- Advertorials - if people are paying for ad links on your website then Google will see this as a clear violation of their guidelines. If you’re going to sell ad space then make sure you do it through a legitimate and reputable advertising network.
- High link velocity – if you were brand new to the web yesterday and suddenly today you have twenty thousand links pointing your way, what would that suggest? Sometimes, a high velocity of links will happen for natural reasons, say for instance, something of yours goes viral but more often than not it’s yet another sign of foul play.
- Links to and from spam websites – this is very similar to high velocity links in that the quality of the websites is often poor. Just as your own reputation can be tarnished, it can hurt your rankings too. Swapping links with spammy websites or even with malicious owners that hack into yours and plant links in your content can have terrible consequences.
- Site wide links – if you link to another website on every single page of yours then it can often be seen as a manipulation. This is also the case if a website does the same to you. There are of course legitimate examples of this say for example if you want a particular link on most pages in order to move people through the sales funnel but most often the case isn’t so sincere.
- Hidden links – any link that’s hidden from your visitors will be treated as suspicious. This sort of offence can be made when your link text matches the background colour and becomes hidden or even merely difficult to see. You can also hide a link in your script files however, for those using this technique, search engines have become rather good at spotting them.
- Affiliate link overuse – linking to affiliate products is perfectly fine but cramming a page full of such links will set alarms bells ringing. This is especially the case on websites with thin content.
- Broken links – whether they point internally or externally, if the link brings up a 404 error page then it won’t help the user experience. There are a number of tools around that will sweep your website for you and help you to locate and eradicate such links.
Technical issue related Google penalties
Things called search bots will look at your website’s code and crawl through it whilst it analyses content and links. The code is the foundation of your website and your online presence and therefore a technical issue could hamper it hugely. If you make sure your website is running smoothly then there’s much more chance of lasting over a long period of time. Here are a few examples of technical issues that would lead to Google penalties for you to look out for:
- Missing site maps – although an XML site map isn’t mandatory, it does help Google as it lets them know whenever you post new content and prompt Google to crawl your website more often.
- Down time – yes your servers might crash every now and then but if the problem persists for a longer period of time than normal and the search engine notices then it can indicate to them neglect.
- Website speed – your website can become bogged down over time when extra code is added along with plugin after plugin. To maintain a fast loading time you should keep larger files on a separate cloud base storage server. Slower speeds will severely affect you.
- Bad history – your past can indeed come back to haunt you especially if you’ve just grabbed a new domain. Even if the old one has expired, there might be a lot of spam links still pointing to it creating problems down the line.
- Reported to Google – absolutely anyone can report your website, whether it’s genuine or not it doesn’t make a difference. If your website is clean then you have nothing to worry about but if you’ve been flying under the radar then you’ll be flagged and issued with a Google penalty.
- Hacking – the more well known and successful your website becomes, the greater the chance it will become hacked. By using a popular CMS like wordpress or not keeping plugins up to date, you’ll also make you a bigger target. Get your website security in order and prepare as best as possible.
- Cloaking – last but not least you have cloaking. This is a technique whereby the search engine bots are given different content than what appears in the browser window. Cloaking is a very old practice and is likely to have been put in place a good while ago.
For more information on deciphering the different types of Google penalties and where you might be going wrong, contact Wecan Media’s SEO experts today.
Source – Random Byte, New Wave Internet Marketing, SEO, SEO Penalties, Google Penalties: Info and Recovery
Source – Search Engine Land, SEO, 8 Tips For Google Penalty Recovery