When embarking on your website’s SEO strategy, the ultimate goal for most is to get your website ranking on the first page of Google. It is one of the most popular search engines and Google itself provides a lot of great tools that can help improve your search ranking presence.
Working on your search ranking strategy can be an exciting task. From your first blog to 6 months later seeing your keyword ranking report, you can see how far your website’s search rankings have progressed and what your customers are really searching in order to come across your website. It can be a great insight into what your customers are thinking and wanting, and can truly improve your bottom line.
Nowadays, as many of us are aware, SEO improvement is not something that happens after your first blog post. It is a long-term strategy that requires dedication, strategy, content creation, reporting and refining. Google doesn’t it make it easy for businesses to easily become first on its search results. They are looking for quality websites of real value to the user.
Therefore, knowing what Google defines as negative activities and avoiding penalties is crucial to your overall web strategy. Why go to all that effort of having your online visibility to be the best it can be, only to accidently do something that Google doesn’t approve of.
Here is a list of common penalties and how you can avoid them.
Sending visitors to the wrong page
Google really wants to protect the user experience of visitors. Therefore, when it discovers that you are redirecting visitors to a page they weren’t intending to go, it is a red flag.
Sometimes this happens by accident, sometimes it happens on purpose. Let’s look at how this can occur when a website isn’t purposely redirecting a visitor.
A common way that this can happen is as your business evolves, page content can significantly change to what the page content was originally intended to be. Although this may be an innocent upgrade, many times the descriptions of the page and backend SEO content are overlooked and stay the same.
The original descriptions and alt tags get picked up by Google, then Google becomes aware that the descriptions of the page aren’t relevant to the now completely different content.
To check whether your website may be in violation of this, go to the search console in Google Analytics, then go to the filter that allows you to fetch content as Google would about your website.
From here, you can look at the content on your website and see if it matches up with the content that Google has gathered.
Not showing full content
This is known as a “cloaking” penalty. Basically what this means is what your site is showing up in Google search engine can’t be accessed by the visitor once they click on your page.
For example, you may have a page that is optimised for particular information, like an article. However, once the visitor clicks on the web page they can’t access it without signing up or paying a subscription fee.
If you have this model up set-up for whatever reason, check out Google’s “first click free” policy. This allows first time visitors to see your full article, but after this, they are then restricted. This will allow you to still have your content hidden and prevent you from getting penalised from Google.
If you really want your content to be fully restricted, then simply don’t optimise the page and set the page to “no follow”. If visitors aren’t meant to look at your content, then they shouldn’t be directed there in the first place.
Presenting the wrong images
Just like Google fetching content that doesn’t reflect the purpose of a web page, then same goes for images. Sometimes this can occur due to certain plugins that you may have installed over time. They can redirect, hide or show a different image than the one intended.
Do an audit of your website’s images and make sure they’re the same as what Google is fetching. It would then be wise to send a reconsideration request to Google once you have sorted out the penalty issue with your images.
Your site has been hacked
Particularly in content management systems, such as WordPress, the security can sometimes not be as tight as you thought. A common hacking method is that hackers place spam links throughout your website.
When Google realises that your site has been hacked, it will place a warning on your affected pages, which can show up in search results. Obviously this is terrible for SEO, not to mention the integrity of your website.
Reasons why sites get hacked can vary. But there are number of ways you can protect your site such as doing the following:
- Ensure your site is always upgraded to its latest version
- Install a plugin that notifies you immediately if a hacking issue has occurred
- Install a security plugin that has advanced IP reputation monitoring, country blocking and strong spam filter.
- Remove or upgrade any broken plugins
Once your site has been hacked, sometimes it can be difficult for the non-technical person to reverse the hacking. If this is the case, you may need to contact your website developer and get them to remove any corrupt files. Although this may cost you money initially, you will know for future how to protect your site and can avoid perhaps bigger consequences down the track.
10 years ago, keyword stuffing was a more common practice. However, it’s mostly well known, whether you are an amateur marketer or professional that this type of tactic just doesn’t work in the eyes of Google.
It’s great to want to get your site ranking for your chosen keywords, but you need to be careful how many times you are referencing this word throughout a web page or blog. The same goes for your alt tags and page descriptions.
Try to only focus on 1 keyword per page and don’t use the keyword more than 3 times throughout 750 words. Remember, you can always substitute the need to use a keyword for similar terms. In fact, this is something that is encouraged. It allows Google to see that your page is in fact relevant to a user’s search.
For example, if you have the keyword “dance class”. You can also use similar phrases such as “dance instructing” or “dancing programs” throughout your content rather than keyword stuffing.
Also, some businesses try to trick Google by keyword stuffing in the website footer. This doesn’t help your SEO efforts one bit. Not only is this keyword stuffing but it is also seen as duplicate content because your footer is featured on every page of your website. Although it’s fine to have a common footer throughout your site, as most sites do, keyword stuffing and having loads of copied and pasted content is another.
To do an audit of your text on your website, a simple way to do this is to use the “control + F” function on most keyboards. You can then type in your keyword for that specific page and see how many times it has been used. If you have gone overboard, just change these words to similar phrases or tweak the structure of the sentence.
If spamming is carried out, it is normally done intentionally. Ways that your website can be seen as spamming is using scraped content and using content automation tools.
Another way is using a “free hosting” site that allows you to have a site hosted at no cost but at the expense of having pop-up ads interrupting the user experience.
Although you may be saving money initially, this isn’t going to help with your online credibility in a number of ways. It will put visitors off your content, it will reflect poorly on your brand reputation and Google will penalise your site.
You can also have “spammy” URLs and H1’s. For example, you may have 3 keywords that you would like to get ranked for. Therefore, you create a page URL that features all these keywords and have these words featured in your heading as well.
Again, similar to keyword stuffing, Google doesn’t look upon this favourably. This type of tactic will backfire and you won’t get a great ranking for any of the keywords used.
Pages with minimal content
We all know that content can help get your website ranked, but having minimal content can do the exact opposite. Google sees pages with no or little content as pages of no value and therefore will penalise your site for this.
It signals that this page is of low quality and won’t help a visitor get the information they are after. Sometimes business do this by accident. Content creation takes time and due to a lack of resources and time restraints, some pages don’t get the content they need. After time, these pages can become forgotten about and impact your search ranking ability.
Also, don’t forget about any stand-alone microsites. For example, you may have purchased a great URL. It is keyword friendly and available, so you snatch it up. However, you have left creating content for it on the “to do list”. If the site is active, Google’s robots are crawling this website and realising there is no content or value connected with it. Once you eventually get around to adding content, the damage may have already been done and the site will be seen as having a low authority ranking.
Some pages have minimal content because the nature of the pages calls for it. For example, the contact page or your blog introduction page can have minimal content because its aim is to have you fill out a form or be directed to further blogs. You don’t have to make your contact page have 1000+ words, however, it’s ideal to include more than just a line stating, “Use the form below to contact us”. Example of content you can include on a contact us page could be what states and cities your company is based in, your opening hours or what sort of customer service will be received when a user contacts your business.
Just like keyword spamming, most businesses know this black hat SEO tactic is not a wise move. It can severely impact your SEO ranking. Today, your website is judged on quality. Focus on quality and legitimate links. Some of these include online directories and guest blogging.
Purchased links can take the form of text, as well as images. Purchasing 50 links in a week, rather than naturally building your link building strategy is one that you should stay away from.
When it comes to getting noticed by Google, just remember that there are no quick fixes. If you do come across a tactic that seems to good to be true, most likely it is.
Not all penalty-causing activities are done on purpose. Sometimes they are done by accident or because businesses are time poor. Therefore, it’s always important to place in your schedule to do monthly website audits. Check each individual page on your site, check for duplicate content and check for keyword spamming.
Also, don’t forget about your website’s security. You might think that hackers only go for “big business” or websites with data that they really want. But in today’s online world, all websites are at risk. The less security or holes your site has the more likely you will be the target for hackers.
When it doubt always come back to quality control. Think about the quality of your links, content, images, website structure and images. Ask yourself, are they misleading visitors or giving them want they are searching for?