Everyone wants to rank on Google, and many people will do anything to get there… as long as they can make it happen quickly.
Ranking takes time and you have to do it right, or you are going to end up with penalties that will take more time to get rid of than you ever planned on spending to get your page to rank.
What’s a Google penalty?
Google gives websites penalties when the website fails to comply with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Typically, penalties are given for black hat SEO tactics like sneaky redirects, hidden text or links, taking content from other websites, keyword stuffing, buying or selling links, etc. But sometimes websites get penalties for errors the developer or webmaster made by accident.
What happens if you get a penalty?
A penalty can cause moderate fluctuations in rankings or it can cause a website to be removed from search results all together. Losing rankings is never ideal, but if your site gets removed from search, it can severely affect your business and sales. Stay on the safe side and be aware of what is happening on your site so that you can avoid these penalties.
How to avoid Google penalties
Google’s algorithm ranks websites based on the following:
To make sure your website has a big fat check mark for all three of those factors, you must follow the rules.
Links must be relevant and natural
More websites get penalized for links than anything else, so you want to be careful which websites you link to and vice versa. Make sure they are relevant to your industry.
If your business is selling breakfast bars, then it would make sense that your website would have links from other breakfast-related websites like Golden Grams or Oatmeal. Maybe even a parenting blog. However, a link from a casino’s website is much less likely, and definitely not part of your niche, so that will put up a big red flag.
Do a backlink profile check. You want a natural link profile (links from relevant websites that you haven’t paid to link to you), not a spammy one. And remember, links are about quality, not quantity. It doesn’t matter how many links you have if they’re all junk. Those types of links aren’t going to help you.
Oh, and when you link to something, don’t try to optimize your anchor text (the text that contains the link). That will get you a penalty pretty quickly. For example, if I link to Moz, a company that makes SEO software, from our blog, my anchor text should probably be something like moz.com, rather than SEO software. It’s okay if there are only a few links like that, but if all of your links are like that, you’re going to have a problem.
Paid links are also bad. I’m not talking about the ads at the top of Google in the search results; those are fine. I’m referring to banner ads on other website. We’ll talk more about this in a few minutes. If you choose to go this route, you’re walking a very fine line between good SEO and bad SEO, and you could slide right off into the darkness without any warning.
Content must be UNIQUE, descriptive, and useful
If your content isn’t unique, descriptive, and useful to your users, you won’t rank (at least not forever).
Let’s start with unique content. If you scrape, or steal, content from other websites, you should stop. You aren’t adding any value to your user’s experience and Google knows that you aren’t writing the content yourself. They have access to every website that isn’t blocking their spiders and they know when that content was first posted and that it wasn’t on your site. Search engines aren’t going to rank you for stealing content, or for regurgitating information.
Descriptive content is also very important. I’m sure you’ve heard people say that 300 words per page is a best practice. Honestly, it isn’t about the number of words on a page that matters; it’s about the value you’re adding with your content. If your pages have at least 300 words, then it is more likely that the content is more descriptive than if there were only 100 words.
Think about it this way: if you are thinking about buying the supposedly fantastic new cell phone that was just released and there aren’t any reviews on it yet, what are you going to use to determine whether or not you really want that phone (assuming you aren’t planning on going to the physical store to get bombarded by sales people)? The content on the websites selling the phone, right? But what if they have all stolen content from each other and every single webpage selling that cell phone has the same short, non-descriptive paragraph of text? Tough call. You probably won’t buy it until there are some helpful reviews posted. However, if site A stole content from site B, but site C wrote its own, very descriptive content, you will likely buy from site C because it added more value for you. This site becomes more trustworthy in the process because it provided more information than sites A and B.
Useful content really speaks for itself. If you have paragraphs and paragraphs of fluff that no one wants to read, those pages are fulfilling that 300 word recommendation, but it isn’t necessarily descriptive. On the other hand, if those several paragraphs are filled with useful content that users can benefit from, they will likely share it with someone else, or at least browse your website for more information.
Target keywords, but be aware of how you’re doing it
You want to be able to rank for your keywords, but you don’t want to overdo it. If your URL, page titles, headlines, body copy, and images are loaded with keywords, you’re doing something wrong. Let your readers know what your webpage is about, but don’t bombard them. If you can read it without a problem, you’re usually safe, but if you think it sounds unnatural, then I would recommend some serious editing. People don’t want to read keyword-stuffed content, and search engines don’t like it either.
Promotion and advertising
This is always a difficult area to tackle with many companies. Of course, you should want exposure for your business, but you have to be careful doing it.
The world of online advertising is different than the print world. Advertising via print most likely means that you are paying for it, and that’s expected. Advertising in the digital world can cause some problems if you don’t know what you are doing.
We’ll start with bad paid ads. You’ve been to websites where there are ads on the sides of the page, right? One or two of those might be okay. I say might be because that is very much a gray area. Google specifically tells you that you should never pay for links back to your site. Some people will tell you that it’s okay to have one or two of those bad paid ads floating around once in a while, but I’m a firm believer that when you walk into someone else’s house, you obey their rules. The same goes for Google. It is a matter of respect. You’re using their search engine, so you should obey their rules.
However, if you really want an ad on a website that is actually relevant to your niche, and that website is willing to add a no-follow attribute to your ad, go for it. You might have bought that link but, in this case, that website is telling Google that they don’t necessarily endorse your website, so it doesn’t really count as a paid link.
Google does what they can to help you rank if you follow their guidelines. They want users to find your website if it is going to be useful, so don’t buy links, and you will be rewarded for it.
Now, onto good paid ads. These are better known as the ads at the top of search results, or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads. With these, you bid a certain amount on a keyword and Google ranks your ad (if you are one of the higher bidders) when someone searches for your keyword(s).
What the big difference is between good and bad ads? To search engines, PPC is a good form of advertising because the user prompted the ad with their search query. They are probably looking for what you are advertising. But when it comes to random website advertising, there’s no way of knowing if the person who sees your ad was actually looking for it, or something related to it.
Makes sense, right?
Get reviews, and be social
Did you know that 90% of customers say buying decisions are influenced by online reviews? That’s a whole lot of people!
When people write reviews, search engines use them as a ranking factor. If product A got 200 five-star reviews, it’s clear that people like it. So when I search for product A, I’ll see the site it was reviewed on, as well as the comments people wrote. Reviews are also something that people frequently search for, so if you don’t have reviews on your company, products, or services, you might be missing out on a big ranking opportunity.
Social media can be a great thing if you keep up with it. While Google still claims that they don’t use social signals to help rank websites, there have been some studies conducted that suggest Google does. If a certain webpage has a lot of shares, then it will rank better. Now, that could be because the page is generally popular, or because of those social shares. It’s hard to say.
However, based on my knowledge of the search industry, I’m pretty confident in saying that, in the future, search engines will use social factors as a ranking metric. So, post interesting information on your social accounts, BE SOCIAL and comment on other people’s posts, review other companies and blogs, and build community around your brand. Regardless of whether or not search engines ever use social media as a ranking factor, having a social community can only help your brand.
Google can always tell when you’re trying to game the system. They might not punish you immediately, but it will happen, and it won’t be pretty. Then, you’ll either have to ditch your website completely or hire a professional to fix the problem. A Google penalty can take years (I’m not exaggerating) to fix, depending on its severity, so do the hard work instead of taking the easy way out and you will get rewarded for it.