On-page and off-page SEO optimization techniques that breach Google’s Webmaster guidelines can result in a ranking penalty (either a manual penalty or an algorithmic penalty) against your website. If you don’t take these guidelines seriously, the penalty that your website receives as a result can be difficult to recover from.
In this article we’re going to walk through 5 tips to ensure your website avoids the dreaded “Google penalty.”
How to Find Out If You Have a Penalty
A manual penalty involves the Google team manually reviewing your site and discovering that it has breached their guidelines; an algorithmic penalty is when your website triggers a filter which is automatically picked up by their search engine algorithm.
You can check to see if your website has received a manual penalty by visiting Google Search Console and selecting Search Traffic > Manual Actions.
Knowing if you have been hit with an algorithmic penalty is a lot harder to tell as Google will not inform you, and you will likely find out through the harsh reality of seeing a sharp decline in traffic or sales / inquiries. By having an SEO agency or consultant conduct an audit on your website you can find out which rule you may have broken.
The seriousness of a penalty can range from a temporary ranking hit, all the way to a near permanent exclusion from the Google search results. By taking the necessary steps and following “white hat” ethical SEO, you can minimize the chances of being struck with a punishment from the search engine giant.
Now, let’s review the 5 tips below to help you avoid an SEO penalty in the first place.
1. Gain relevant links and get rid of harmful ones.
Gaining relevant links is another term for quality link building. The more natural and organic the links, the better. For example, when an active user shares high-quality content from your website, you earn a link to be proud of which won’t have any risk associated with it.
When a website with dubious content links to your site, Google starts looking at you suspiciously – so you should regularly check on your links through Google Search Console to ensure that no ‘spammy’ websites are linking to you. One way to check the ‘spamminess’ of a link is by checking the Spam score using the Moz Open Site Explorer tool.
There is a disavow tool in the Search Console, which you can use to tell Google which links to ignore.
2. Show that you are a trusted business.
One of the most important things to Google is ensuring the businesses listed in their search results are legitimate businesses related to the search queries from their users.
It’s important that you come across as a genuine brand by offering a seamless user experience for visitors to your site. You can get more tips on how to do that by reading this post on our blog.
You should also ensure that you share your physical address across your site. You can reinstate this with a solid social media presence and consistent citations with the same NAP (name, address, phone number). Combined, this will be viewed positively by Google and show that your website can be trusted.
3. Don’t hide keyword text or overuse / spam keywords.
Abusing keywords in an article is also known as keyword stuffing and has been very much against Google’s policy for over 10 years now. Using the same keyword repeatedly in your webpage content or in the technical elements (such as meta keywords) is one of the most commonly known black-hat SEO techniques and doing it can negatively effect your website’s SEO.
Whether you have an in-house or outsourced web developer for your site, it’s important to check with them and ensure they’re not engaging in any spammy onsite SEO techniques. In the past, some webmasters even attempted to stuff keywords on pages and then color the font the same as their background so readers couldn’t see them. This may have duped their audience, but not Google’s spiders — and nowadays this technique would lead to a search engine penalty.
Keep the keyword density of your pages to no more than 2-3% to avoid stuffing and a potential penalty hit from Google.
4. Avoid duplicate content.
Avoid using duplicated content at all costs – this is something which Google does not take lightly. The search engine will simply not index pages that contain duplicate content, as it confuses searchers.
This includes not only posting duplicate content on your own site, but submitting guest blogs or other content to other sites that is already on your own site.
5. Don’t abuse your anchor text.
Anchor text is a word or phrase that is hyperlinked to a different webpage (either internal or external). Relevant anchor text that is linked to your website from a high quality website can result in the target page ranking high in Google for that keyword phrase. This can be very good for SEO. However, overusing anchor text can also result in a penalty.
For example, let’s assume you sell office chairs in London and want to rank #1 on Google for the phrase “office chairs London.” You decide to visit websites and forums and leave a comment with your anchor text as “office chairs London” with a link pointing back to your site. If you do this too often you can automatically trigger the Google Penguin algorithm to slap your website with a penalty.
Generic or branded anchor text should be used most of the time in order to avoid triggering Google penalties. The key is to keep the anchor text natural.
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