Often, when we talk about SEO, we frame it in positive terms: What can you do to boost your website’s search engine visibility? How can you improve your rankings? How can you win the favor of Google’s algorithms?
There is some merit to looking at things from the opposite vantage point: What causes you to lose Google’s favor? What causes you to incur Google penalties?
Indeed, some business owners may not know that Google’s algorithms do, in fact, actively punish certain SEO behaviors. In this post, we’ll outline some of these behaviors. Obviously, the main takeaway is that these are things to avoid, as engaging in any of these strategies could run you afoul of Google’s displeasure.
What Does Google Penalize?
1) Cloaking and sneaky directs.
An important baseline concept is that Google wants to provide its customers (search engine users) with a satisfying product (access to relevant, helpful, high-quality information). So anything you do that gets in the way of that, like trying to deceive search engine users, is almost sure to result in a penalty.
Some common forms of this are cloaking and the use of sneaky redirects… basically, promising search engine users one thing, but then taking them to a website that gives them something completely different. A good rule of thumb is to always offer truth in advertising; what you promise in the SERP, that’s what your content should ultimately deliver.
Note that cloaking can also apply to images; for instance, hiding one image behind another, or serving an image that automatically redirects to another.
2) Hidden text and keyword stuffing.
SEO practices have long hinged on the use of keywords. We certainly recommend the inclusion of well-researched search terms and phrases. This is a strategy we use on behalf of our clients.
But again, it’s important to think in terms of relevant, helpful results, and also truth in advertising. The keywords you employ should be naturally and judiciously worked into the content. Keyword hacks, which devalue the content, can incur Google penalties.
One example of this is using hidden text. This usually means invisible text that’s included somewhere in the coding of your site. And stuffing too many meaningless keywords into your content can impact not just SEO, but user experience in general.
3) Content without any value.
There’s an old saying that content is king; the implication is that serving search engine users good, high-quality content is really the best way to win Google’s favor.
This may be a little simplistic, but it’s certainly true that Google’s algorithms reward good content… and penalize bad content.
Some common examples include:
- Content that’s too thin or skimpy to offer any real value
- Automatically generated or “spun” content
- Content scraped from other websites
- Doorway pages
- Low-quality content, most often found in guest posts
So long as you’re developing content with the ultimate aim of giving the end user something original and something substantive, it’s usually not too hard to avoid this particular penalty.
This one’s fairly self-explanatory, and indeed, nobody can really claim ignorance here; Google wants you to provide substance, not empty sales pitches. We all know spam when we see it, and it’s something we should always steer clear of in our own content undertakings.
5) Bad links.
One of the most effective SEO strategies is to earn backlinks to your website. These links, when they come from credible and relevant sites, signals to the algorithms that your content is perceived as valuable.
The problem comes when those links aren’t credible, or when they aren’t even earned. For example, if you pay for links, or get them in a link-gathering scheme, Google may flag your site for unnatural links.
This can be a steep SEO penalty… and in fact, it’s the most common Google penalty by far.
Incidentally, the inverse is also true: You don’t want unnatural links to your site, but neither do you want unnatural links from your site. In other words, it’s probably a bad idea to start a link selling business.
6) Outdated information.
Finally, a failure to keep your online info current can sometimes result in Google penalties.
The most common example of this is outdated job postings. Make sure you take down dated listings, or make amendments to keep them current. If you don’t, you may wind up with a slap on the wrist from Google’s algorithms.
More Questions About SEO Rewards and Penalties?
There’s much to consider as you think about staying in Google’s good graces. Awareness of these common penalties is a good place to begin.
If you have any additional questions about building a strong SEO strategy, we’d love to chat with you about it. Reach out to the team at enCOMPASS Agency whenever you’re ready to talk.
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