Every second, Google experiences more than 40,000 searches. It is one of the most accessed websites on the Internet and controls the destiny of many businesses. The last thing you want is to get on the search engine’s bad side.
Periodically, Google launches a new update to its algorithm to categorize content it finds online. Unfortunately, this often leads to popular sites being penalized.
Today, I’ll go over 13 of the worst types of Google penalties you need to avoid at all costs. Getting hit with any of these has potential to devastate a website’s performance.
1. Keyword Stuffing Your Content
Back in the early 2000s, it was common for website developers to use as many keywords in an article as possible to increase visibility during a search. However, Google’s algorithms made this practice obsolete.
Thousands of websites across the Internet lost an incredible amount of traffic because of keyword stuffing. The search engine now looks for quality of content over specific keywords.
Don’t get me wrong, keywords are still important. But it’s how they’re used that makes the difference. You can no longer have a 50% keyword rate in your content.
In fact, many experts suggest anywhere from 0.5 to 2.0% keyword use rate today.
Perhaps the best way to avoid this penalty is to write naturally regarding the topic of your keyword. Don’t try to force phrases and words into content hoping to score well with Google.
Remember, it’s all about quality content.
2. Lack of Sitemap Data
This is more of a poor practice on your part rather than a penalty from Google. Sitemaps tell search engines how to find your content.
Without a sitemap, the search engine has to find your website through other means such as backlinks from other websites.
It’s like trying to get your mail if you don’t have an address. The post office can’t send your birthday cards if it doesn’t know where you are.
Make sure your sitemap is ready and registered in Google. You can easily do this through Google Webmaster Tools.
If you’re using WordPress to power your website, plugins like Yoast SEO will construct and automatically update these sitemaps so Google always knows where your content is as you publish.
3. Scraping Content
A poor practice that will bring the Google justice hammer down on your site is scraping content. This is when a website owner will try to bulk up his or her site by pulling in entire clips of content from another.
It borders on plagiarism and is frowned upon by the massive search engine.
And this could be completely innocent. Perhaps you want to highlight a post you like from someone else. The best thing to do in this case is write your own synopsis while providing a link.
Unless it’s a brief quote, don’t copy content from other websites.
Otherwise, avoid scraping content at all costs. Besides, you could easily anger the original author to the point of filing a lawsuit.
4. Comment Spam Links
Backlinks are still a way that Google uses to identify popular content on the Internet. It’s like giving a vote to the website that it’s a quality article. However, commentors will often spam links to get the search engine’s attention.
And not all of these links are relevant to the article’s topic.
The end result is Google lowering priority of your article because it appears it’s trying to manipulate search priority with the spam link.
This is why most site owners will put in a system to reduce comment spam.
If you’re unable to moderate the comment section, you can either install a plugin to do it for you or switch it off. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for spam bots to identify your comment section and begin posting en mass.
5. Low-quality Backlinking
The higher quality of the sites from which you receive a link, the better. Getting an overabundance of links from poor websites can affect your search engine page rank.
From Google’s perspective, it may look like you’re trying to game the system by posting links on random sites.
Unfortunately, you cannot control who you get a backlink from. Perhaps a new developer is trying to boost his or her own page rank by linking to more popular sources.
A way to get around this is to use the Google Disavow Tool. It’s among some of the best SEO tools to help clean up things like poor backlinks.
Essentially, the disavow tool tells Google the URL of the backlink should not be used to gauge your own search engine ranking.
6. Poor External Linking
So the primary focus of the Google search algorithm is to identify quality content. Part of this process is in regards to relevant linking. Which means the links within your content need to have relevance to the topic at hand.
Linking out to websites that have nothing to do with the content will surely suffer a Google algorithm penalty.
For example, you wouldn’t link to a camping website if your article’s topic centers around places to eat in town. Like the comment spam links, these can easily drop your priority in the massive search engine.
This is another penalty that is easy to avoid. Just link to content that accentuates your article. Think of these kinds of links as expansions of your content.
7. Avoid Private Networking
It’s often a common practice for a website owner to operate many websites which link back and forth to each other. This is in the hopes of generating more link juice according to the search engine algorithm without working to get quality backlinks.
It’s an extremely poor practice, and when Google catches up with it, all websites affected will suffer a penalty.
This is because the search engine will assume that you’re trying to artificially boost a website’s visibility.
It’s OK to have an occasional link from one site to another. Just make sure that it’s both: a) relevant to the topic, and b) not a common practice.
It’s always better to use backlinking tools and create a natural and external network.
Besides, incoming links from an authoritative site are far better for SEO than trying to inflate popularity with your own secondary website.
8. Cloaking Your Content
One of the more severe types of Google penalties comes from those who try to cloak content. This is when you show an entire article to Google but force users to register or pay for the full content.
You’ve probably seen this yourself during Google searches. It happens when you’re looking for specific content, see something you like in a link’s description and click to visit. However, the content is locked behind a paywall or subscription form.
Google will penalize this content making it less visible in search results.
So, how does this affect sites which focus on premium content for sale or subscription? At first, Google launched a “First Click Free” platform. This allowed visitors to read the content in full upon their first visit.
However, changes have been made to this platform and no one knows for sure how FCF’s successor will directly affect subscription websites.
The best course of action is to make sure Google crawls the same content users can see on your site for free.
For instance, if you offer the first paragraph without a subscription, make sure that same paragraph is the only thing crawled by Google.
9. Website Hacking
Hacked websites are a common theme on the Internet. From phishing pages to outright malware, anyone is a target. And Google will immediately flag anything it finds which is unsafe for users.
I’ve seen actual college site on the Internet lose credibility with the search engine simply because a phishing page was identified.
This easily demonstrates the importance of creating a secure website for visitors, whether they are search engine bots or human.
If you use platforms like WordPress, you can get free security by using Wordfence. It’s a powerful tool to keep troublemakers from hurting your search engine rank.
10. Overall Content Quality
Perhaps one of the most potent changes to Google’s algorithms is the search for quality content. The search engine focuses on delivering as accurate of results as possible to searchers.
And thin or “fluffed” content doesn’t make the cut in most cases.
Each line of your text needs to have a purpose in regards to the topic. And a lot of developers will try to throw in as much as possible to meet certain word requirements.
Instead of appearing higher in search results, these low-quality pieces experience the opposite effect.
In reality, a shorter and more quality-focused article performs better than a longer low-quality piece.
11. 404 Errors
The dreaded 404 error is not only bad for demonstrating quality to visitors, but it also hurts SEO. This error appears when a page or post a visitor is viewing from Google cannot be found.
Sometimes this happens because of a change in linking structure, deleted content without a redirect or other drastic problem.
Without fixing these errors, Google will begin penalizing your site.
Luckily, this isn’t an overly difficult problem to fix depending on the circumstance. Something as simple as a redirect could rectify the issue.
On the upside, Google will warn you of 404 errors in the Search Console platform I mentioned earlier. This gives you an opportunity to fix errors before you are penalized.
12. Non-Mobile-Friendly Layouts
And Google understands the importance of hand-held technology.
A mobile-friendly website performs better in search results as it enhances the user experience. And if you don’t have a layout which looks good on smartphones and tablets, the site is penalized in search results.
If you’re not sure about the mobile performance of your pages, use something like PageSpeed Insights. It’s a free tool from Google which will show you performance issues on both desktop and mobile platforms.
Using this information, you can make changes to streamline your page’s accessibility.
13. Problems with Robots.txt File
This is another that isn’t necessarily a penalty but a poor practice. Problems with the robots.txt file can cause mayhem for the Google search engine crawler.
In some cases, users will inadvertently “tell” the Google crawler not to index certain posts or pages. This often results in content not being indexed in the search engine.
For instance, something like this in the robots.txt file will cause Google to ignore all of your content:
User-agent: * Disallow: /
This tells all robots to not visit any of the website’s pages. As a result, Google will adhere to your wishes. Which means none of your content is displayed in search results.
It’s probably a good idea to periodically check the robots.txt to make sure all is well. In fact, Google will tell you if the robots.txt file is a problem in the Search Console of Webmaster Tools.
And One More Bonus Penalty!
14. Secured Websites
No list of penalties from Google is complete without mentioning secured websites. Google holds the “https” prefix in such high regards that secured sites are often top of the search results.
This is outside how Google Chrome informs users that a site in “Not Secure.”
In today’s day and age, it’s a necessity to have an SSL on your site if you want to be seen. It plays an instrumental role in how the search engine as well as visitors trust your content.
Recovering from Google Penalties
Some of the minor types of Google penalties are easy to recover from. However, others may take months if not longer to regain lost traffic. It all depends on what the penalty involves.
For instance, saturating content with keywords can easily be fixed by rewriting the article. Not having a secure website is fixable with an SSL certificate.
It all depends on the penalty and how it affects your website.
Just keep in mind that Google will often penalize a website without warning outside of what’s available in Search Console. You won’t know anything is wrong until traffic to the website sharply drops.
Always keep a vigil on your Search Console data. You can also use SEO audit tools to see what kind of penalties your site has accumulated.
Adhere to Google
Making sure you avoid this list of Google penalties vastly improves your chances of being a success. And even though there are plenty of other search engines to appease, Google is by far the largest.
It has the greatest impact on online activity.
Take measures to protect your site and avoid Google algorithm penalties. Taking the wrong course of action can easily decimate website traffic.