Google Penalties: What They Are and How to Avoid Them

Referee pulling penalty flag out of pocket

 
The SEO blogosphere has recently been filled with report after report of websites receiving Google penalties. Google’s webspam team has been cracking down on guest blogging, especially networks like MyBlogGuest and websites that use those networks. It has also been taking action against companies like Portent, which they feel may be using “unnatural links” in their link building strategies. Those receiving the penalties are seeing their websites at least decrease in rank if not altogether disappear from search engine results.

With consequences like that, Google penalties should obviously be avoided at all costs. However, before you can avoid them, you need to understand what they are and how websites receive them.

What are Google Penalties?

Google penalties actually start with search engine optimizers (SEOs). Some SEOs find a method for increasing their sites’ SEO success that violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. More and more SEOs get clued in to this method and start using it. Inevitably, Google’s webspam team finds out about it, and their reaction is to issue a penalty. This penalty can take one of two forms:

1. An Algorithm Change


This occurs when the team changes how Google filters and ranks search results, and it tends to affect all the people using the unacceptable SEO practice. This is typically the case if your site drops in rank significantly overnight, and you do not have any messages in Webmaster Tools indicating that Google has taken manual action against you.


2. A Manual Action

In this case, the team penalizes individual websites that they feel are using a practice that violates the guidelines. The respective webmasters will receive messages in Webmaster Tools saying their websites have been penalized and why. They will also notice their website dropping in rank, if not disappearing completely from search engine results. They are responsible for fixing the problem and sending a reconsideration request to Google in hopes of getting the penalty lifted.

Armed with this information, you are ready to learn how to prevent these penalties to begin with.

How to Avoid Google Penalties

The easiest way to avoid penalties is to carefully read and follow all of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. The guidelines are quite specific about which website development and SEO practices are and are not acceptable.

Here are some more specific ways to avoid a penalty:

Be careful about links, both to and from your website.


Make sure all the links on your website are related to your content and provide some kind of value to your visitors. Also, links to your site must be quality links from reputable websites, not deceptive or manipulative links from link spammers. Google is not fond of what they call “unnatural links,” or links that are not clearly related to the site’s content or overtly providing extra value to website visitors. 


Choose Guest Bloggers with Caution.


Matt Cutts makes it apparent in this blog post that guest blogging for SEO purposes is dead. However, there are other reasons to have guest bloggers on your site, and Cutts encourages you to continue to do so for those reasons. If you are going to have a guest blogger on your website, make sure he is an authority on his topic and that the subject is related to your site. Any guest blogging that appears spammy will result in a penalty from Google.


Avoid Keyword Stuffing Like the Plague.


I know you want to rank on the first page or even as the first result for that high-profile keyword. However, including the keyword in every possible spot on your website is not the answer. Use it in places that make sense and flow naturally for the reader. Also, do not include every keyword that could relate to your website in the meta keywords for your pages. Google will at least ignore them, if not penalize you for using such a technique.


Keep Track of Algorithm Changes.


Google’s algorithm is constantly updating. According to moz.com, Google’s algorithm is changed 500-600 times a year. Many of those updates are small and do not have an effect on the rank of most websites, but you need to be aware of some larger updates as well. Moz.com provides a listing and description of these bigger updates. I suggest checking that page on a regular basis to stay up to date on the larger algorithm changes. Hint: According to this Search Engine Watch article, an algorithm change could occur in the near future.

As always, keep in mind that websites are supposed to be created for website visitors, not search engines. If that is truly your focus, it is likely you will use SEO best practices and will not have to worry about penalties.

What best practices do you use to improve your website’s SEO while avoiding Google penalties? Let us know in the comments below!