Since Google and other search engines were born, a search has been underway to develop an algorithm that perfects the art of ranking the most relevant, user-friendly and useful content at the top of search engines.
It’s fair to say Google has probably come the closest, of all search engines, to mastering this algorithm, but the difficulty comes in the speed at which the Internet moves.
All of us who write, design or develop for the Internet have to constantly keep up to stay ‘current’ and to keep up with the pace of change, and that is no exception for Google. As new Web development technologies arise, as new ways of trying to draw in visitors and potentially find loopholes in search engine algorithms are born, so are updates to Google’s manual review processes and automated algorithms.
It is these updates that can penalise our websites with a drop in rankings or a removal from Google altogether. There are many case studies across the Web that discuss specific cases of large brands (and smaller brands too) receiving a Google penalty, but our core focus for this article is to protect your blog from receiving a Google penalty in the first instance, to avoid your blog becoming one of the many case studies available.
The Google Penalties and Their Roles
There are two types of Google Penalty that your blog could receive:
- Manual Penalties
- Algorithmic Penalties
Manual penalties are forced upon a page of your blog, several pages, or even your full website after a Google employee has manually reviewed your site. The employee may have found areas they feel are a detriment to users visiting your website or decided your blog doesn’t provide a good user experience to those arriving from Google. Clear examples that could cause a manual intervention by Google are a hacked blog, too many spam links in your blog comments, or hidden text on your pages.
Google is very forthcoming about manual penalties, going as far as to provide a report to the website owner of each manual action the employee has taken, including providing justification as to why that action was taken. This can be found in the manual action report for any of your websites added to the Google Search Console.
Algorithmic updates can be split into two different types:
The Panda and Penguin updates are well known throughout the search engine optimization world as being the primary cause for Google penalties.
The Panda update is there to penalise those websites that don’t offer high quality, relevant content to its users. First released in February 2011, an update to this Panda algorithm generally occurs on a monthly basis.
Google used to announce when this update occurred, but only when a major change to this algorithm is released do Google now announce it. As with all the types of penalties, we discuss ways to avoid them further in this article.
While Panda is focussed on the content within your blog, Penguin is focussed upon the links coming in to your blog. In the early days of Google, PageRank (ie. how many incoming links you had and authority (PageRank) of those links) was what was important.
Over time, it became obvious there was too much focus within the PageRank algorithm on ‘how many’ incoming links, as opposed to the quality of those links.
As a result, it’s Penguin’s job to focus more on the quality of links, the authority of inbound links, and therefore the authority of the blog being linked to. For example, a link from an article about fishing from a .gov or .edu domain name to a fishing blog is going to be worth much more than a link from an article about online dating from a .info domain name to that same fishing blog.
How Do I Protect My Site Against Google Penalties?
There are countless ways to help yourself to ensure you maintain (and even improve) your Google search engine rankings. Below, we discuss some of the best ways to ensure Google trusts you, you become an authoritative website, and most importantly, you provide a fantastic user experience to your visitors.
Improve Your Guest Posting Links
Guest posting on high authority, large traffic volume websites has become a staple way to build an audience on your own blog. But if not done correctly, it can become a breeding ground for Google penalisation.
Take these two recent guest posts on ProBlogger.
Notice how, in example 1, Dan has a very obvious author biography. This isn’t a natural link. It’s obvious he has received this link back to his website in return for his guest article.
While this may seem fair to you and I, in Google’s eyes, this isn’t a clear and unbiased recommendation from ProBlogger, but rather a return of a favour.
In example number two, however, the link to the author’s blog is much more natural. It features within the body of the guest contribution, and feels much more like a natural and recommended link by ProBlogger. This is less likely to be seen in a negative light by Google.
Avoid Low Quality and Irrelavant Sources for Inbound Links
As discussed a little earlier in this article, Google’s core focus now is not on the volume of links, but on the quality and relevance of the source that is linking to you.
MicrositeMasters did some excellent research that shows the percentage of websites penalized by the Penguin update based on the percentage of inbound links coming from websites in the same niche.
It clearly shows that 50% of those websites that had zero relevant inbound links (ie. links not from the same niche) were punished.
A huge jump then occurs for websites that have 10% of links coming from the same niche, as only 12% of these sites were punished. The numbers keep dropping from there, with only a tiny percentage of websites being punished by Penguin when 90% of their inbound links were received from sites in the same niche.
Avoid links from websites not related to yours, and avoid links from sources that contain too many outbound links, as these appear to Google as spam and devalued links.
Stay Clear of Deceptive On-Page Tactics
Deceptive on-page tactics were one of the first ways for black-hat SEO’s to try cheat Google and other search engines.
By doing things such as intentionally hiding text from human visitors (but still leaving the text in place for search engines to crawl), automatically redirecting users to a different page from the one they clicked on in the search results, and intentionally breaking the browser back button so website visitors can’t press ‘back’ and navigate away from the website, you’re putting yourself at great risk of a penalty from Google (and indeed from other search engines).
Not only this, but you’re providing a poor user experience for your website visitors.
Stay clear of these intentionally deceptive tactics and focus purely on providing a good, friendly, useful and thorough user experience to your website visitors.
Excessive On-Page Adverts
As bloggers, it’s to be expected that we will display advertising across our websites. It’s one of the many channels of income we utilize. But excessive use of advertising will result in a poor experience for our visitors. As a result, there is the potential to be penalized by Google.
Eliminate Outbound Spam Links
Opening our blog articles to comments can, if not regularly maintained, lead our articles to become a breeding ground for spam links. We, as bloggers, are particularly susceptible to this as we become complacent and stop moderating comments.
It’s advisable to always moderate first-time commenters and do a regular audit of all comments to ensure there are no comments linking to spam websites.
Improve the Quality of Your Content
As has always been the case, content is key. No matter how many authority and relevant .gov and .edu websites link to your blog, if the quality of content within your blog isn’t good, Google isn’t ever going to position you as an authority website.
Maintain your content quality and avoid a Google penalty by ensuring content on each page of your website is different (that means totally different… not ‘similar’). Ensure your content is unique instead of a replica of content found elsewhere on the Internet.
Ensure there is lots of content; Websites with little content are generally seen as spam or created for no reason other than to rank well in search engines.
Don’t be a Social Lier
Inflating social scores seems to have become more prevalent in recent times. Forcibly increasing the number of Tweets about your brand, the number of Facebook likes, or lying about the number of email subscribers you have are all sure fire ways to be penalized by Google in an age where Social Media is tied closer than ever to search engines.
Trying to fool Google+ is as good as fooling the search engine itself, and you will be caught.
Don’t try to lie about your social scores. If you’re concerned about your low scores when you first start your blog, simply don’t show anything.
Showing nothing is sometimes better than showing low scores. Let your excellent content do the talking, rather than your social scores.
It’s All About User Experience
While above we go into the intricacies of avoiding a Google penalty, ultimately what all these ideas stem from is the ability to provide a useful, thorough and simple user experience to your website visitors. Google isn’t interested in ranking websites well for itself.
It’s interested in ranking websites well for humans, and as such, it is looking for the website that is most useful, most user-friendly, and has the highest quality inbound recommendations to position at the top of its search results.
Remember what Google is looking for and not only will you succeed in avoiding a Google penalty, you’ll also succeed in providing an excellent experience to your visitors.