Google penalties have had a major impact on search queries and websites in the past few years. For instance, Google Panda affected the rankings of almost 12% of all search queries, whereas Google Penguin affected over 3%. These penalties are never a good thing.
However, there are steps you can take to prevent Google penalties from affecting your website. The majority of strategies that help you avoid these search penalties deal with having a high quality strategy and content creation schedule for your site. It’s also important to stay up-to-date with the latest penalty and SEO news, so you can ensure that you’re employing the most recent best practices, especially since search engine optimization is an ever-evolving industry.
Don’t Do Anything Black or Grey Hat
If you are starting an SEO strategy or campaign from scratch for a website that’s never done it before or is a completely new website that was just built, one of the easiest ways to avoid Google search penalties is to never engage in black or gray hat SEO strategies in the first place.
Black hat SEO are strategies that involve attempting to manipulate search engine rankings, search algorithms, or even users in order to increase a website’s traffic or search engine rank. At the other end of the spectrum, white hat SEO practices are those that Google recommends, such as publishing high-quality, relevant content and proper navigation on a website.
In between is grey hat, which are are techniques that aren’t necessarily either white or black hat. What is considered grey hat is usually dependent on each SEO’s opinion. One example of a potentially grey hat technique is guest blogging (read on before freaking out), which Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, has said could negatively affect your website when incoming links from guest blogging are out of place or not useful to a reader. If you are trying to avoid a penalty, staying away from anything considered grey hat would be a good practice.
There are several different dubious techniques that SEOs have used in the past which Google is looking out for. According to KISSmetrics, a few black and gray hat techniques to avoid include: article marketing (which is the act of posting the same or similar articles on a variety of different article marketing sites), misleading text or anchor linking practices that try to trick the user into clicking or buying something that they are actually looking for, and using comment spam or hidden links throughout a website in order to increase traffic or manipulate search results. Any strategy that focuses on trying to trick or game the search engines or users should be avoided at all costs.
Good practices for SEO’s to incorporate into any new strategy include: high-quality content, great navigation and interior link building, and a website that is easy to read both from a user and Google search algorithm perspective.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs Into One Basket
With the recent Panda and Penguin updates, Google put an emphasis on penalizing sites that have questionable practices such as article marketing sites, which were mentioned previously. Companies who spent all their SEO strategy and time on creating and promoting hundreds (or even thousands) of articles with links back to their website suddenly found themselves receiving a penalty for unnatural links to seeing their search engine rankings become basically obsolete.
screenshot of notification by Daniel Threlfall.
Permission to reuse given by Search Engine Journal.
This showed us that diversification of SEO strategies needs to be a priority for all marketers. This should be something that companies themselves take responsibility for instead of depending on whatever SEO firm that they’ve hired to handle all their strategy.
As Neil Patel from QuickSprout states, “Your SEO might be doing more harm than good…some SEOs are still doing stuff like spamming your site with low-quality links from content mills and directory listings…[and] using outdated techniques such as cloaking, optimized anchor texts, and keyword stuffing.”
Besides blog posts, you should also be creating white papers, recorded webinars, tutorial videos and guides, and rich media, like photo galleries and podcasts. Keeping a diverse content portfolio feeds into the idea of not putting all your eggs into one basket.
eConsultancy reports that corporate training company InsideOut put a greater emphasis on their content strategy, and focused on slide decks articles and videos. As a result they improved their lead generation by 388% and had a 20% higher click through rate. Diversified content is good for avoiding penalties and business! Who woulda thought?
Don’t Do Too Much At Once
While it’s important to diversify your content strategy, it’s also important to note that trying to do too much at once can also signal that you are trying to drive large amounts of traffic to your website unnaturally, as mentioned by KISSMetrics. Some strategies that black hat SEOs have used in the past include creating several different YouTube videos that are just rolling text and links that are going to several different pages on their website, as well as paying traffic generation companies to use several different proxy servers to look like there are several different users visiting the website at once. This is one way in which Google determines a website’s page rank, as high traffic equals popularity, which means that pages likely useful to users. In this case, that high amount of traffic would be misleading.
It’s also important to be pickier with authors who guest post on your site and where you are guest posting as well. Because Google is looking for unnatural links that look out of place on a website, guest posting with obvious unhelpful anchor text that links back to your website can come back to affect you negatively.
Clean Up Your Act
In order to avoid getting a manual penalty, you can be proactive and remove unnatural or spam links that are linking to any pages on your website. This is possible by conducting a link audit, which is fairly simple when you use a variety of online tools that crawl your site and give you a list of inbound links.
Two common link tools include Open Site Explorer by MOZ and Ahrefs.
Both offer a free version of their tools but both also have a paid plan that offers more information and additional resources. On Open Site Explorer, you can also compare your site to another site, which could be useful when examining competitors’ sites.
Once your search is complete, export the results into an Excel file and highlight the links that are unnatural or are from sites that you don’t want to be associated with in the eyes of Google. Next, find these websites contact pages or look at their footers to try to contact the webmaster of each domain that has an inbound link to your site that you want to remove in order to ask them to remove the link. You can also use a tool like rmoov, which allows you to import a list of URLs and polls the contact information for each domain from their WHOIS records.
Your message to these webmasters should be polite and not defamatory. Say that you are doing this as a precaution and it isn’t anything personal when it comes to their site specifically, even though it may be. After you have contacted all that you could and have heard back, it’s time to use the Disavow tool, especially for sites that you can’t get a hold of or refused to take off your link.
It’s important to note that this tool should be used with caution and should only be used if you have a considerable amount of spam or low-quality links pointing to your site. Google recommends that this tool should only be used if you believe that these links are currently affecting your site’s performance, meaning that they have potentially been penalized which is affecting your site search engine rankings.
Disavow Tool Case Study
SEO consultant Cyrus Shepard showcased a disavow case study on his blog, where he used the tool to remove 96% of all inbound links to his clients website, which had been penalized manually. He then submitted a reconsideration request to Google to get back into the search rankings, which included a list of all the links that they had disavowed.
As a result, Google lifted the penalty and Shepard reports that his client’s website traffic slowly recovered to about 50% of its pre-penalty traffic numbers. While this extensive decreasing traffic can be disappointing, getting back in Google search engine rankings could be the difference between success and total failure for a business.
404 Error Report
Google Webmaster Tools is, for many SEOs, the most underutilized tool that is available to webmasters today. It contains a variety of information and reports that Google releases to you that can help you figure out how people find your site, what they do and they get there, and the errors and bad links that they might incur while they’re there.
The 404 error report should be run regularly in order to make sure that search engine crawlers and users are finding all the information they’re looking for. This is important because it’s one of the qualifications Google looks at when evaluating a site in deciding penalization is how updated its navigation and pages are.
In order to find your 404 error report, sign into Webmaster tools and click on the URL for the site that you want to pull a report for. Once its dashboard has come up, click on Crawl, and then Crawl Errors.
Always Be Improving
It’s important to add new high-quality content to your site on a regular basis to avoid search penalties because it shows that your website is committed to quality and user education and interest. In addition, staying on top of current trends also can help you produce content that keeps getting better and better.
Keep content relevant
One thing that Google looked for in both its Panda and Penguin updates was unnatural links that looked out of place on a website as a whole. For example, a dermatologist should it be linking to several different landscapers and toy stores within their website. These types of links for content topics that are out of place for the overall theme of your company and website are a red flag for the Google search algorithm.
Stay on top of content trends
Stay up-to-date with what is happening in popular in your industry by reading books, other blogs, white papers, and even going to and speaking at conferences. Being submersed in your industry will not only give you a wide variety of content ideas for creation on your own site, it also gives you a better overall view as to what people are interested in learning more about in your industry.
Finally, when it comes down to it, in order to be a white hat SEO, you must think like a white hat SEO. Quit trying to “game” the search engines and instead take their advice to heart. Attend conferences, read more industry books and articles, and start to implement proven strategies that make you as a professional and your website into the high quality industry expert that you wanted to be.
By being proactive and attempting to permanently avoid Google penalties through link audits, diversified strategies & content, and the implementation of SEO best practices, your website can continue to build up its traffic numbers and high-quality inbound links from other websites. Increased leads and popularity will come when users that think of your content as a beneficial read, not just something that was created to get clicks or to manipulate the search engines.
All screenshots taken April 2014.