Over the years, Google has introduced a number of penalties both manual (meaning that an actual Google employee looks at your site and determines that a manual penalty will be applied) and algorithmic (meaning that Google’s algorithm automatically applies a penalty without individual oversight). These penalties can either push your site further down the rankings, or drop your site from the search results completely. Based on the nature of the penalty your site could be penalized until you address the issues and submit a reconsideration request, for a certain period of time, or indefinitely.
In this section we will review the most common Google penalties that relate to the on-site technical issues.
This is the practice of showing different content based on the user agent. Typically, in SEO that would mean showing the search engine spiders one set of content and showing actual site visitors a different set of content for the same page. While this problem isn’t nearly as common as it was a few years ago, this is still important to keep in mind. Google needs to be able to clearly crawl everything and if they feel that your page is engaged in deceptive practices, you could get penalized.
Doorway pages are pages that have typically been created for SEO purposes, to focus on a specific keyword, do not offer significantly different content than other pages of your site. Here is what Google has to say:
“Doorway pages are typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination. Whether deployed across many domains or established within one domain, doorway pages tend to frustrate users, and are in violation of our Webmaster Guidelines.”
One of the most common implementations of Doorway pages are those that target a specific city. For instance, a site that creates a different page for every city or zip code that they serve. When those pages feature essentially the same content with the only real difference being the city name or zip code that is used throughout the content. That is a doorway page.
Hiding content on your page that isn’t obviously there for users and is likely only on the page for SEO purposes is against Google’s guidelines and can result in a penalty. However, based on how this is used, it can be perfectly acceptable. What is important here is that there is some sort of text that is clearly visible to users and some sort of call out that allows users to reveal the full text. This is a perfectly legitimate use of hidden text and it can allow you to preserve the intended design and user experience for your page, while still receiving the SEO benefit of offering keyword rich text. There is more information about how to properly implement this in the “Expandable Div” section from earlier in this course. What you want to really avoid is just stuffing a ton of hidden text behind a picture or pixel, or putting white text on a white background… that stuff is old school black hat and will get your site penalized.
The page layout algorithm update that Google introduced in 2012 targeted webpages that featured too many ads above the fold. The idea behind this penalty is that users are often frustrated by webpages that make the main content difficult to find or hide the main content below the fold in favor of heavily featuring ads. Just keep the main body content the focus of the page and you will be fine.
Just like Google uses your backlink profile as an indicator of the popularity, importance, relevance and quality of a your site, they also consider who your site links out to. Google’s goal is to help disseminate information to users. If your website offers valuable information along with links to other relevant and high quality resources then your site will benefit. However, if your site points links out to other sites that are affiliated with off-topic sites, or sites in industries that are known as “bad neighborhoods” like adult content, gambling, or pharmaceutical spam sites, then that will hurt your SEO. So be careful who you link out to. These may not be links that you have intentionally added to your site. These links will often find their way onto your site in the form of comment links, or even as the result of getting hacked. However, because these types of links can be seen as breaking Google’s guidelines, your site could get penalized. The best way to keep an eye on this is to periodically run a link report for your own site and see if you can find any outbound links that you don’t recognize. You may also want to no-follow any comment links and watch your blog comments for spam.
Google is not a fan of affiliate websites. It’s not that affiliate sites are inherently all evil, however affiliate sites have long been at the center of the fight against web spam. Therefore, if your site is going to participate in any kind of affiliate programs, make sure that those links are no-followed and that the affiliate ads do not become the main focal point of your pages.
Since Google introduced their Panda Update in 2011, “thin content” has become less and less effective on the web. In fact, having too many pages of thin content on your site can actually get your entire site penalized. Google wants to reward sites that are high quality information resources. Therefore if your site has a bunch of pages with less than 400 words of content, it can be assumed that your content isn’t going very deep into the subject matter. More and more of the top pages in search results are featuring 800+ words of content. Make sure that your content is offering a high quality and encyclopedic exploration of subject matter. If you do have a lot of pages with less than 300-400 words of content, consider consolidating them into fewer pages with more robust information or just getting rid of those thin pages completely.
We know that the backlink profile of a website is a major ranking factor. However, Google has also made any link building that is done for the purposes of manipulating their search results, strictly against their guidelines. So, everyone does it because it is necessary to get top rankings, but by doing it you are breaking the rules. The key is to not get caught.
What Google wants is to reward sites that have a great natural backlink profile. That means that people have decided on their own to link to your content because they just really liked your content. Those are the types of links that Google wants to see and use as the basis for high rankings. The thing is, this type of natural backlink profile will look organic. Think of it this way, if you’ve ever seen an EQ on a stereo, and the little light bars go up and down as the music plays. Well, a natural backlink profile will typically stay within somewhat recognizable patterns, but unnatural backlink profiles will look way different.
For instance, a natural backlink profile will have lots of varied anchor text, coming from a mix of lots of different types of links. But an unnatural backlink profile may only have a lot of directory, and social and comment links, all with suspiciously targeted anchor text. That type of pattern is easy to spot and it shows Google that the only person linking to your site is you… even though you’re doing it from aroud the web.
So, when you’re doing link building, make sure that you diversify your links. Create wild organic patterns and don’t over optimize your anchor text. Keep your links coming from relevant pages and real conversations.
Now that you know how to make your website
Next In the next course “Keyword Analysis” you will learn how to identify exactly what words and phrases your target customers are using when they search Google for products and services just like yours. You will also learn how to identify profitable niche markets and learn from your competitors to get ahead.
When it comes to search engine marketing, everything starts with keywords… so let’s dive in and get you saying all the right things with some awesome