Brenda Peterson
Brenda Peterson
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Search engine optimization is an integral part of digital marketing. Without putting enough effort into SEO, it is literally impossible to break through the competition and get decent visibility for your business website on the internet.

It’s no secret that 93% of online experiences start with a search engine. And today, the lion’s share of all search queries go through Google. As a matter of fact, Google holds 80.5% of the entire search engine market. What does it mean for you as a beginner website creator? It means that you don’t want to have any beef with Google! Seriously.

Messing around with the largest search engine in the world in attempts to improve rankings or drive more traffic by resorting to shady practices can get you penalized by Google. And instead of the desired growth, your website will suffer severe repressions.

However, at times, a Google Penalty can actually be inflicted even though you had no intention to violate any rules at all. In fact, you may have no idea that your website has been penalized until you notice that its performance doesn’t live up to your expectations. Therefore, it is imperative to know what actions can result in a Google Penalty and how to stay away from it.

What is a Google Penalty?

Being the world’s most powerful search engine used by millions of people, Google makes every effort to deliver the best user experience and the most relevant search results. However, it would be impossible to achieve this goal without obliging website owners to adhere to strict rules regulating the practices of content sharing and promotion. Most of these rules are widely known to the public, being incorporated in Google Webmaster Guidelines, while some remain a mystery hidden in the depths of Google’s search algorithm.

As for the algorithm, its logic is known to be increasingly complex, and not all of its ins and outs are disclosed by Google. Anyway, the algorithm is there to provide users with the most accurate search results by sifting through the global mass of content and ranking web pages according to their relevance.

But how does Google decide whether your content is relevant? It takes into account many aspects, including:

  • Keywords: their number, relevance, and distribution within your content;
  • External links: how many websites link back to your page and whether they are authoritative enough;
  • Internal links: whether the page is linked to other pages of the website;
  • Content structure: distinctive headings and subheadings, numbered or bullet lists, etc.;
  • Update frequency: how often the page’s content is edited or extended;
  • Meta-tags: the presence of keywords in the page’s title and description.

The list is not exhaustive. You can read more on SEO content and how to create it here.

As long as you stick to the guidelines prescribed by Google when creating and promoting your content, you have nothing to worry about. But if you decide to fall back on so-called black-hat SEO techniques aimed at tricking Google and using workarounds to get to the top rankings quicker, the search engine can catch you red-handed and punish you by issuing a penalty.

Thus, Google Penalty is a form of punishment and preventive measure imposed on websites which use the promotion methods running counter to Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Google Penalty types

There are two ways of issuing a penalty applied by Google:

  • Manual: The penalty is inflicted on a website by a Google employee who spots any suspicious activity on the website’s end. Such a penalty poses a serious danger as your website can literally be blacklisted and excluded from search results. Usually, website owners are handed down a notification informing them about any problems revealed by Google.
  • Algorithmic: The penalty is issued automatically by the search engine in case it detects that a website violates the Webmaster Guidelines. Very often, such penalties result from internal changes in the Google Search algorithm and cause a penalized website to lose current ranking positions if it fails to meet the new requirements.

Algorithmic penalties refer mostly to two Google technologies: Panda and Penguin. The former is primarily concerned with content quality (thin or duplicate content, plagiarism, etc.), while the latter is focused on wrongfully acquired backlinks.

What practices are countered by Google Penalty?

The primary objective of Google Penalty is to combat and prevent black-hat SEO techniques. Any instances of those trigger Google algorithms like Panda and Penguin or draw the attention of Google employees.

Some of the typical black-hat practices that can get you in trouble if detected by Google are:

  • Spawning spyware or malware: Any malicious software that can affect users through your website is a big no. Google penalizes virus hosts severely, so avoid malware at all costs.
  • Cloaking: A baiting technique that consists in tricking Google bots into passing your website for something it is not. This is achieved by using programmed scripts that redirect visitors to another site as soon as they click on the seemingly relevant search result.
  • Keyword stuffing: A quite widespread practice of abusing keywords. If Google notices that the concentration of keywords on a page is excessive, it will decrease its ranking. The same goes for adding a block of unrelated keywords at the bottom of a page.
  • Hidden text: Adding a chunk of keyword-rich text that appears invisible for visitors while remaining “crawlable” for Google indexing spiders is considered a violation.
  • Shady link-building: Google discourages both paid links and link aggregator websites while prioritizing earned links. The search engine is also very cautious about links found in the comments and on public forums. Broken links can be a reason for demoting your website as well.
  • Duplicate content: If two or more pages of a website have identical or largely similar content, Google can impose a penalty for the excessive content spawning.
  • Plagiarism: Stealing or mindlessly copying content from other web resources can be harshly punished by Google.

How to identify Google Penalty and get rid of it?

To find out whether Google has penalized your website, you have two distinctive options:

Use Google Search Console

Google Search Console is a free tool allowing webmasters to monitor their status on the search engine and improve the overall online visibility. It is strongly advised to sign up for the service not only because of the numerous benefits it offers but also due to the possibility of getting helpful notifications from Google. Thus, if your website has any problems, you will get a message outlining the issues and their possible solutions.

If that happens, you must fix the problems and write an appeal to Google as soon as possible. If you prove that the issues were successfully resolved, Google will reindex your website.

Check your traffic and online visibility

You can keep an eye on your website traffic using another Google service, Google Analytics. If you detect a significant traffic drop, identify the date when it took place and check whether Google made any changes to their search algorithm at the time. You can follow the history of updates on websites like Search Engine Land and Moz. If the traffic drop coincides with an update, perhaps your website has been decreased in rankings because it failed to meet the newer search engine requirements. In this case, you need to figure out what exactly is wrong and take corresponding measures to resolve the problem on your end. If the violation is not particularly severe, your rankings should restore over time.

Another way to see whether your website received a Google Penalty is manually checking if it appears in the same positions in Google Search. Just type the keywords your website is targeting in the search bar to get the results instantly.

The morals: don’t mess with Google, folks 😉

Google Penalty is a nasty thing that can negatively influence website visibility. It is mostly imposed upon dishonest webmasters and black-hat SEOs. However, nobody is actually immune to Google protection mechanisms due to constant updates of the search algorithm and changes in the Webmaster Guidelines. The best way to steer clear of it is regularly monitoring the search engine updates and refraining from using any undesired promotion techniques. The truth is, as long as you’re clean, you have nothing to worry about.

Brenda Peterson

Brenda is Technical Specialist at Ning