Is your website falling foul of a Google Penalty?
I get asked fairly often about how to avoid a Google penalty, and there is always buzz about the “latest and greatest” ways that Google will analyse your website. It can all seem pretty overwhelming at times. But, in reality, there are a few key things to keep in mind when optimising your site. Check out the list of possible Google penalties below and learn how to avoid them!
1# Website Security
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Google’s goal is to provide their users with the best content as it applies specifically to their search terms. So all of the penalties that they’ve developed have been created with that goal in mind.
Website security is a big one. Google doesn’t want to present their searchers with hacked websites, so if they think that your site is hacked, they’ll blacklist it. How do you keep your site secure? Here are some of my top tips:
- Use a strong username and password. Avoid usernames like “admin” or your website name. And make sure your password is a random mixture of lowercase and capital letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Keep your software up to date. Out-of-date software, themes, and plugins make it very easy for hackers to get in! Make sure you update every time one is available.
- Lock down your site. Make sure that if someone does try to hack your website, they get locked out. Try setting something up so that if someone uses an incorrect password three times, they’re locked out for a period of time.
- Install a firewall. A firewall is like a gateway – it tightens access to your website and protects it. If you’re using WordPress, one of my favourite plugins is All in One WP Security and Firewall. It provides all of these features and more!
What if you’ve been hacked? Hire someone to remove the malware from your site and lock it down. Then, resubmit your website to Google in order to remove the blacklisting. Sucuri is also an excellent tool to clean up a hacked site, and to monitor and prevent hacking in the future.
2# Keyword Stuffing
It’s definitely important to use keywords that you want to rank for within your content. But there’s also a limit to how often you should do this! You see, Google doesn’t want you to trick the system; instead they want you to deliver relevant, high-quality content to your site visitors.
So make sure that you use your keywords in a way that makes sense. Don’t list keywords at the bottom of pages, and don’t force it too much. While there’s no “magic number” for keywords, 2% – 5% of the page content is generally considered a good number to hit. If you’re on WordPress, the Yoast SEO plugin will measure your keyword density and keep you safe. Keyword stuffing has caused thousands of website to full foul of a Google penalty.
3# Hidden Text
There are a variety of ways to hide text in order to try and manipulate your search engine ranking – and Google doesn’t like it! They’re able to see which content is visible to site viewers, and which content is hidden, and they’ll apply a Google penalty to your website if you hide text too often. This was a early example of how to manipulate Google into ranking for more keywords, and is now regarded as black hat SEO.
So avoid things like making your text the same colour as the site background (i.e. white text on a white website), hiding text behind an image, setting a font size of “0” for your text, or using one small character for a link (such as *).
4# Doorway Pages
These are pages created to provide no direct purpose other than to rank for keywords on Google. Landing pages for specific purposes or topics are definitely a great idea, but make sure that they provide relevant content for your site visitors! This is a another typical example of how websites receive a Google penalty.
For example, avoid creating landing pages for a variety of locations (i.e. transportation in Denver, transportation in New York, transportation in Orlando) that are essentially the same content, with only the location name changes. Instead, provide unique content on each landing page, such as things to do in each area, relevant information for each location, or calls to action specific for that offer.
5# Affiliate Programmes
Yes, affiliate links and programs are a great way to earn a little extra money through your website. But make sure that you’re using them correctly!
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Make sure that your site doesn’t exist solely to sell your affiliate products! Instead, add additional content, such as your own blog that provides valuable information related to your products or services.
- Don’t just copy content from the original website and paste it on yours. Rewrite it so that it’s unique and usable.
- Add a rel=”nofollow” attribute to all of your affiliate links. By doing this, you’re telling Google to ignore the link when it comes to SEO purposes. Ultimately, this tells them that you’re not trying to manipulate your ranking through affiliate links, thus avoiding a Google penalty.
- Use affiliate links sparingly. Don’t add them dozens of times to a single page! Instead, use them when they make sense and when they serve a purpose.
The key is to ask yourself why someone might visit your own website rather than the original site instead. Provide additional, unique value for your site visitors.
6# Outbound Spam Links
Generally, linking to other websites with relevant content is a great way to provide value to your site visitors and, therefore, is great for your Google ranking. However, make sure that the quality of the sites that you’re linking to is high! Avoid linking to spammy websites that provide little value, or sites that are filled with ads or malware. Keep a close eye on content that other site posts so your website does not get a Google penalty.
7# Duplicate Content
Technically, duplicate content is not a Google penalty. But I wanted to include it here because it can hurt your site ranking. You see, Google knows that when someone searches for something, they don’t want the same content displayed over and over again, but would like a variety of search results. So Google essentially “consolidates” the content and will only choose one of the pages with that content to display. Therefore, you could not show up for that topic in search engines.
Make sure that you set up appropriate redirects (301 redirects for http vs. https, and www vs. non-www) and use canonical tags to “tell” Google which version of that content you’d like displayed, thus avoiding a Google penalty.
As you’ve read, it is a good idea to keep in mind when building and maintaining your website what actions could constitute a Google penalty. However, when it comes down to it, if you keep the user experience at the forefront of your design, and avoid trying to “trick” Google into ranking your website higher, you’ll be just fine!
About the author: Kathryn Marr is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Blue Ivory Creative, a digital marketing company based out of Nashville, TN. A graphic and web designer, as well as social media manager, she brings a passion for entrepreneurship and creativity to the table. Kathryn loves helping people pursue their dreams and be successful doing what they love to do.