Has your website suffered a sudden drop in Google rankings? If so, you are not alone. There are many factors that can result in your site appearing lower on search engine results pages (SERPs). A major impact on rankings lately has been Google’s algorithm update. Known as the Panda or Farmer update, it prioritizes sites with quality content over sites that obviously participate in content “farming”.
But another potentially devastating cause of your fall in rankings is a Google penalty. A penalty is likely if your site violates any of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Google’s algorithm includes filters that detect and stop purported guideline violations. Penalties are intended to improve the quality of search query results for Google customers.
Google penalties exist along a spectrum with the most severe being a complete ban of your website which includes total de-indexing by the search engine. This means your site will never appear on a SERP. You basically do not exist to that search engine. For less serious violations, a ban may be imposed and while your site remains indexed, it has no Page Rank. The least severe penalty involves Google filtering your site. You are still indexed and have a Page Rank, but your site is filtered on SERPs. Google defines the parameters of each filter which can be for particular keywords or all keywords you use.
How do you know if your site has been penalized? Well, if you can answer yes to one or more of the following questions, then it is a pretty good bet Google has penalized you. If you are not sure how to answer a particular question, it is well worth finding out whether you are at risk for or have already received a Google penalty.
1. Does your site have duplicate content?
This is a bit tricky because duplicate content will not directly cause your site to be “penalized” but it can definitely result in your site being dropped on SERPs or not included at all which makes it appear to be a penalty. Duplication can appear within your own site or between your site and others. However it occurs, Google includes duplicate content in its supplemental index which means it will not be indexed for SERPs.
2. Are you guilty of keyword stuffing?
If you have a high keyword density on your web pages that do not appear natural to Google, it will not index those pages, “reading” them as spam. Historically, website owners could mislead search engine spiders into believing their sites deserved higher rankings on SERPs because of their use of keyword stuffing. Now, Google is reinforcing the need for quality content and that includes proper use of keywords throughout your site.
3. Is your site over optimized?
A primary trigger of a Google penalty is poor use of in-bound links for optimization purposes. Sites that use a link building strategy based on the same keywords being used in link anchor text can expect to be penalized. This is particularly true if you have a new site that appears to have an unusually high link rate. It is better to use different link texts along with various keywords including long tail keyword phrases. You risk a penalty if all of your back links lead to your home page rather than being spread across your web pages.
4. Are you using duplicate domains or aliases?
This means that you have multiple domains that are used for the same purpose, incorporating the same keywords and similar content. With the most current Google update, it is commonplace for these duplicate domains to be dropped from SERPs. Keep in mind that Google is known to use WHOIS and can verify ownership of duplicate domains.
5. Have you included an automated query tool on your site?
Google clearly states in its Webmaster Guidelines that it is only under certain circumstances that automated query tools are acceptable. Any other use is a violation of their terms of service and will be penalized. Google can easily detect where queries originate and a penalty can be triggered if the query IP address matches that of your website host.
6. Are you using page redirects?
7. Does your site have links to or from sites banned by Google?
When Google bans sites, links to or from those sites can trigger a Google penalty. And the more links to banned sites, the quicker the penalty may occur. This is also likely to occur if you have links from link networks that implement Black Hat SEO techniques. Sites that practice ethical SEO will not have to worry about link issues.
8. Are you linking your site to bad neighborhoods?
Similar to the last point but on a larger scale, this penalty focuses on your relationship with link farms. Google sees these, as well as doorway pages, as sites that are not high trust domains and have no relevant content to be indexed for SERPs. The point is that linking to any site that has been penalized by Google can trigger your own penalty.
9. Does your site include link schemes?
As you can see from the past several questions, links are a major point of concern for Google. And site owners that operate multiple websites risk having them all penalized at the same time if the interlinking between them is classified as a link scheme by Google which violates their service terms. Links that are optimized for keywords as well as some paid links are read as spam by search engines.
10. Have you bought links to your site?
Links from your site to sites that sell links can trigger a penalty. This is actually nothing new as Google has routinely penalized the page rank of sites that sell links. However, now sites that link to that penalized sites risk their own penalty.
11. Do you have a lot of irrelevant reciprocal links?
Popular for many years now, the idea of exchanging links continues to dominate SEO for new website owners. But if the links are not relevant to your site content and appear for SEO only, you are setting yourself up for a Google penalty. Known as a Backlink Over Optimization Penalty (BLOOP), you can experience a sudden and significant drop in rankings on SERPs with bad reciprocal links.
12. Is your site more about affiliates than your own content?
Like the link farms, sites that are comprised of more affiliates than content have a high chance of receiving a Google penalty. Google can drop these sites as a result of their own indexing or if someone reports the site as spam to Google. You can still have an affiliate site but it needs to be well balanced with original content to avoid a penalty.
13. Have you incorporated hidden text or links into your site?
Primarily used for SEO, these techniques are a clear violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines which means that in addition to a penalty, your site risks being banned altogether from Google. If you did not design your website, you may not even be aware that you have hidden components. This could be a real possibility for your penalty if you have answered “no” to the previous questions.
14. Is there a content feed on your site?
RSS and other content feeds have become popular in recent years. The potential problem with them is that they produce duplicate content which can cause your site to be penalized. This is particularly true since Google Panda was implemented last year.
15. Does your site have malware problems?
Malware issues are another area you may simply be unaware of until you check directly with Google. If Google detects malware on your site, it will blacklist it so that their customers know it is not safe to visit. Remember, Google’s priority is making sure their customers have a safe and rewarding search experience.
These are some of the most common reasons you may receive a Google penalty. You simply cannot afford to be noncompliant with Google Webmaster Guidelines or violate their terms of service. It is possible you were not aware you were not meeting the guidelines or perhaps you did not keep up with changes. If you have a minor violation on your site, Google will usually work with you by keeping your site indexed and Page Rank in place while you fix the problem. This is not the case for blatant and repeat offenders.
In our follow-up article, we will outline solutions you can use to address these problem areas and fix a Google penalty. Recovering from a Google penalty is not an easy process but there are specific steps you can take to address the issue so you are better positioned for site reconsideration by Google.
Continue Reading Recovering from a Google Penalty – Part II