Avoiding Google Penalties

There are two main Google penalties you can get:

  1. The first one is a manual action from Google’s spam team,
  2. The second one is an algorithmic penalty

These both can be located in your Google Search Console.

Google algorithm update signs
Google algorithm update signs

TL;DRAvoiding penalties –> add an About + Contact page, include credible authors, GMB reviews & listings. 2. Correctly set up an SSL certificate on your website. 3. Perform PageSpeed insights mobile tests, fix accordingly. 4. Audit your metadata, header tags, and schema settings. 5. Review your content & backlinks regularly.

What are the most important on-page factors to Google?

Most important factors in Googles eyes are (in order):

  1. Backlinks – incoming links to a webpage. Links show that your content is valuable and worth sharing.
  2. Words – Content is king. Pages with over 1700 words definitely get more love in Googles eyes. (Don’t over optimize your content. Keyword stuffing is bad news.)
  3. Rankbrain – which is Machine Learning that helps with deciphering long tail searches containing Homonyms. This adds context behind the query, helping you find the correct related searches. At times it can be difficult for Google to know if you are searching for Turkey the country, or Turkey the food. Are you talking about tree bark or a dogs bark? Content and proper content writing are key. Google awards sites that include question/answer based material.
ranking drop
Ranking Drop

How to identify a Google Penalty

Even if you know you have been penalized, it is essential to determine the exact nature of the penalty. Take your time before making changes.

  1. Identify – a drop in organic traffic
  2. Locate – the affected pages
  3. Fix – very carefully
  4. Resubmit – for reconsideration

If you go in and change things without due diligence, you may end up making matters worse. The cautious approach is best.

Tips on Avoiding Google Penalties

1. Improve your website’s: Expertise, Authoritativeness, & Trustworthiness. You can do this by adding an About page with a history of your business, events you attend, and how you got started. Your Contact page must have your address, phone numbers, email addresses, and not just a contact form. Remember to register your business with “Google My Business,” including reviews on your website. Add credible authors, make sure they have their own author page, if possible, get guest posts by industry experts.

2. Correctly set up an SSL certificate on your website. Ensure everything redirects to your https URL. Make sure you have all 3 versions of your site listed in Google Search Console: HTTP, HTTPS, & WWW.

Server Statistics
Server Statistics

3. Perform PageSpeed insights mobile tests, fix accordingly.

4. Audit your metadata, header tags, and schema settings. Duplicate Header tags, pages with over-optimized content, and/or pages with slim content can send your stats into a nose dive.

5. Review your content & backlinks regularly. This is where it is essential to revisit the articles you’ve written in the past. Are all links up-to-date? Has anything changed? Google loves evergreen content and will link to it if it has been regularly updated.

Google updates that could be affecting your website

“Medic” Core Update  

August 1, 2018

If you saw a significant drop in traffic on Aug 1, Evaluate your EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness.) + YMYL (Your Money, Your Life) scores.

This can be remedied by adding a great About page and a detailed Contact page. Followed by Google Reviews, credible author pages, and local listings citations. Too many times I’ve had clients refuse to add any information that would associate them to their website, Google is looking to remedy this practice, adding credibility to sites.

Chrome Security Warnings (Full Site)  

July 24, 2018

Ensure your website has an SSL certificate (HTTPS) and is applied correctly. You can get a free certificate with “Let’s Encrypt.”

Mobile Speed Update

July 9, 2018

Mobile-First Index Roll-out  —  March 26, 2018

Test your website using Google’s PageSpeed insights tool. The Mobile Friendly update was designed to reward mobile-friendly pages.

Video Carousels  

June 14, 2018

Optimize your Video metadata, this can boost your ranking in search results.

Snippet Length Drop  

May 13, 2018

Audit your Metadata: Descriptions, header tags, alt tags, 4XX errors… I’d suggest using a tool like Screaming Frog or SEMrush’s audit tool.

The snippet length went from 300+ back down to an average of 130 characters.

optimizing meta tags
optimizing meta tags

“Maccabees” Update 

December 14, 2017

This update targeted the black hat tactics and websites that overuse ad postings and use the low-quality content. If you aren’t paying for BlackHat services, I wouldn’t worry about this update.

Intrusive Interstitial Penalty  

January 10, 2017

No one wants your pop-ups. Review your pop-up strategy and ensure it isn’t too intrusive.

Panda  

Ongoing

Create original content on a scheduled basis, while avoiding keyword stuffing. Panda update focuses on quality of content. Low-quality content, aka content farms, which rely on “spun” content had long been a blackhat technique in boosting page-rank. The arrival of Panda rewarded sites with high-quality, original content.

Penguin 

ongoing

Penguin update focuses primarily on the links. Buying links or obtaining them through link networks designed mainly to boost Google rankings can hurt you badly. The moral is, create good backlinks.

Google has changed its practice from penalizing a domain, now it can affect specific pages, updated in real-time. So you don’t have to wait weeks for a penalty to be removed or added.

Hummingbird

ongoing

With the rise of voice search (e.g., Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant) this algorithm looks at Search intent of long tail searches, focusing oh how we actually ask questions, which can be different than how we write them on a keyboard (e.g., “How cold is it outside?”, “Where can I find Sushi?”). These types of searches use semantic search values and knowledge graphs. Adding local schema settings, signing up for Google My Business, adding onsite reviews will help with your page rank. Hummingbird also incorporates Panda, Penguin and Payday algorithms & ranking factors, designed to fight spam.

checking updates
checking updates

Other notable updates:

Mobile-friendly 2  —  May 12, 2016
RankBrain*  —  October 26, 2015
Panda 4.2 (#28)  —  July 17, 2015
The Quality Update  —  May 3, 2015
Mobile Update AKA “Mobilegeddon”  —  April 22, 2015
Pigeon Expands (UK, CA, AU)  —  December 22, 2014
– Pigeon designed to improve local results
Penguin Everflux  —  December 10, 2014
Pirate 2.0  —  October 21, 2014
– Pirate designed to fight copyright infringement.
Payday Loan 3.0  —  June 12, 2014
Page Layout #3 (Top Heavy)  —  February 6, 2014
– Top heavy was designed to demote ad-heavy pages
Hummingbird  —  August 20, 2013

Other Google Penalties:

  • Unnatural links from your site
  • User-generated spam
  • Hacked website
  • Spam structured markup
  • Hidden text of keyword stuffing
  • Thin content with low or no added value penalty
  • Cloaking or sneaky redirects

The moral of the article is, if you are constantly updating your website, it must be regularly curated and audited, avoiding costly penalties.

Isaac Adams-Hands

Full Stack Developer, Digital Marketer, and InfoSec enthusiast. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Western Sydney and his Business Diploma from Georgian College before joining various marketing positions in search portals, e-commerce, higher education, and addiction recovery services.

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