Potential SEO Penalties
Keeping up with search engines' policies can be a daunting task for any business owner. VisionFriendly.com has made it a bit easier by outright telling our clients what can be harmful to a website's reputation and search engine rankings.
SEO penalties can happen whenever a website is doing something to deceive or artificially influence search engines to improve rankings. Basically if it sounds like it's sketchy or deceitful, it most likely is and avoid that.
At any time a search engine can remove your website entirely from it's listings due to a significant enough penalty so always check if your SEO Specialist is participating in any activity that may result in your website being banned.
It is possible to repair damages created by these penalties with additional costs of course. It’s always much more effective to be proactive on penalty prevention and avoid the following penalty causes:
1. Cheap Links
Ever get an email for something like “1,000 links for $10”? Paying for arbitrary backlinks to your website only draws negative attention to the site. These links are generated by a software, strike 1, most of the links are not relevant to your business industry, strike 2, and you can't always get a list of where the links were built so there is no way to undo the damage if you are caught doing this. If it was easy and cheap, everyone would have millions of links. This technique will incur a penalty and a hefty one. It's not a matter of if but a matter of when, so avoid cheap link schemes.
2. Paid links that pass PageRank
Buying links for advertising purposes is fine, but be sure they’re labeled as "sponsor links" and correctly use “nofollow” link attributes. Purchasing links for the sole purpose of inheriting PageRank violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and will also incur a penalty that may make your website disappear from search engine results.
3. Link exchanges
Partnering with other websites to exchange links with each other leaves a very noticeable footprint to the search engines. Not only can a demotion of ranking occur, your site can be removed if too many link exchanges are discovered.
5. Low distribution of anchor text
If you’ve built links using just a handful of SEO keyword phrases as your anchor texts, you run the risk of having these trends identified and penalized. It is always better to have variations and alternate the combination of how the phrases appear in the anchor text to have better coverage of your keyword phrase rather than repeat the same phrase that not every user will search for.
6. Excessive link velocity
Building too many links, too quickly is a sure sign of attempting to manipulate your SERPs. Focus your efforts on acquiring higher quality links. A single high quality link is more successful, less work, and less time than building several low quality links. The logic itself leads you to the right technique anyway.
7. Links from foreign language sites
Since relevancy matters when it comes to links, foreign language links are a huge red flag since the link is not going to benefit your users. Avoid having links in any language other than what your website is written in.
8. Blog network links
Some blog networks were recently demoted in value by Google. Avoid these since they’ll likely be the subject of future Google penalty actions.
9. Sitewide/footer links
When building links from your website and to it, try to have the links incorporated in-content instead of in a sidebar or footer.
10. Links to and from bad neighborhood sites
Avoid Adult (pornography), gambling, and other illicit industries because links from these areas paint your website in the same negative light in the eyes of search engines. Avoid these links at all costs!
11. Broken internal links
Check your site regularly for broken links, too many un-crawlable pages represent a poor user experience, which the search engines may devalue in the SERPs.
12. On-site over-optimization
Using SEO to promote your website is fine. It's when you over-do it and try to cheat the SERPs into thinking your page is better than it is that you get into trouble. Keep your on-page SEO natural and use it to improve the user experience to prevent over-optimization penalties.
13. Website downtime
If your website is down for too long, too often, it’s possible that you’ll incur a search engine penalty. Check with your server tech or hosting company for excessive downtime.
14. Duplicate or scraped content
Taking content from another website won't get you penalized on search engines directly but the value will always go to the original source so you get no benefit. If a website reports that you stole their content, you can be removed entirely from that search engine if you don't rectify the content. Legally speaking, if you are discovered by the site's owner whom you borrowed from, they could have a legal case that could cost you a LOT more than rankings.
15. Low value content
Google and the other search engines have made it clear that minimal content or even worse "Coming Soon" pages will be demoted if found. Pages should be full of content. If you can't fill at least one full page in a MS Word type program, to write about a single subject, you should reconsider having a business. Answer the big questions and you wont have enough room: who is this for, how will it help save money, what options are there, why is this better than the next, how accessible is support, does this work well with anything else...etc. That can easily fill a page to avoid a petty penalty that can cost you rankings.
16. Spun content
When developing content, using an automated software to spin out content will likely be the target of search engine penalties because if a human user can't decipher the content because it was written by a machine (some parts don't make sense), there is a good chance a search engine will not like it either and demote that page or the entire site for the laziness.
17. Advertising real estate
If you choose to include paid advertisements on your website from something like Google Adsense, make sure that these ads don’t take up too much of your website’s real estate. Especially above the fold since Google has explicitly stated that these ads could result in penalties.
18. Meta tag keyword stuffing
This one’s an oldie, but a goodie. While it won’t hurt you to include a few keywords in your website’s meta tags, don’t stuff in thousands at a time. Doing so clearly tells search engines that you’re trying to manipulate the SERPs and they could penalize you for it. More so, keyword tags do absolutely nothing anymore according to Google. People abused the tag so much that Google no longer accounts for it's content except for gauging SERP penalties. Other search engines still use the keyword tag so don't leave it out or blank either.
19. Multiple H1 tags
Follow search engine guidelines, they are there to help you, not warn you. "H" tags or "heading tags" should be used on a single page only once each tag ideally. These tags hold a minor SEO benefit so use the H-Tags to get ranking improvements in the approved manor. However, mis-using these tags is easily detected by the search engines and is best avoided if you want to remain penalty-free.
20. Cloaked pages
All pages of your website should be open and accessible to the search engines. Using cloaks to hide certain pages from users and not search engines goes against search engine guidelines and is a quick way to a penalty if these pages are ever detected on your site.
21. Doorway pages
Similar to cloaked pages, doorway pages cause the search engines to see different content than what’s made available to users is a well-known way to get penalties on your site.
22. Hidden or manipulative content
This penalty is pretty self explanatory, but just in case you haven’t heard it, hiding content on your website that’s the same color as your site’s background is an easy way to get a penalty.
23. Abuse of automated query tools
Automated query tools that ping Google’s API too frequently goes against Google's guidelines. Using a software to get search engine ranking results should not be used frequently.
24. Hacked websites
If your website shows evidence of being hacked, you may find yourself stuck on Google’s blacklist, which will prevent your site from ever displaying in the SERPs but you will be notified if this happens to fix it.
25. Promoting black hat techniques
Finally, if you use a black hat techniques and happen to seem successful in getting a better search ranking, don't blast it to everyone. Someone will see it and report you. So don't use black hat to begin with. Black hat methods are a gamble and there is no telling when search engines will pick up on them and seriously crack down. So our suggestion is, essentially, to keep your nose clean to begin with.