Getting a Google penalty is one of the worst things that can happen to a website. It means your site will completely disappear from Google’s search results and your organic traffic will dry up. The only way back it to ensure your site meets all Google’s Quality Guidelines and then ask for a resubmission. Even if this is granted, it may take a long time for your site to recover its previous ranking.
In this post, we’ll look at the things which could get you a Google penalty now and at developments which are likely to affect your rankings in the future.
Google’s historically important updates
In this first section, well look at four algorithm changes that Google have introduced over the last few years and how they can affect your website.
The aim of Panda was to make high-quality content rank higher than poor quality content. In particular, it was trying to downgrade thin content with little or no real value whilst removing websites that posted duplicate or copied content from elsewhere on the net.
Panda is still part of Google’s algorithm today and this means website owners have to be very careful of posting pages that have very little content on them or which borrow information from elsewhere. One particular area of concern here is with eCommerce sites who simply republish the product descriptions sent to them by manufacturers. If there are a thousand stores selling the same product with the exact same images and descriptions, it can look spammy. Google is only likely to rank one of these sites, either the one with the earliest date of publication (the original copy) or the site with the highest authority. The rest may be down ranked. Try to avoid this by rewriting the descriptions and adding things like customer reviews. If you scrape content from other sites or copy it, you risk a penalty.
When trying to determine what high-quality content was, Google came up with the notion that if something was high-quality, other sites would link to it. This made them take the number of backlinks a website had into consideration when ranking them.
What they didn’t consider at the time was that SEO companies would use an array of tactics to create unnatural backlinks. Today, these include anything from paid-for links, link swapping, putting links in comments, guest posts, and forums, setting up websites simply to link to others, and various other, unscrupulous means. Penguin was released to find sites or pages with these types of backlinks. If your site has them, you will be penalised. The message is clear. Don’t use them. Google now is only interested in links from high-authority, trusted sites.
Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that some low-authority or even spammy sites will link to you by choice and this can affect your ranking, too. You can check which sites are linking to you on your Google Search Console and ask the owners to remove the links. If they don’t, you can ask Google to disavow them.
A key element of getting ranked in Google is to use keywords. These are important because they inform the search engine about the subject of your content. This way, it knows whether your site is relevant to a user’s query. Unfortunately, many website owners have taken keyword usage too far. They use a tactic called keyword stuffing. In other words, they think the more times a keyword is mentioned, the more likely it will get ranked. As a result, the content’s primary focus is to get the page ranked, not to be useful for visitors. Hummingbird was launched to remove or lower the ranking of sites which do this. This is especially the case if the content is so stuffed that it does not make sense or has no value for the user. Today, a keyword density of over 2.5% is considered spammy. By all means use keywords, but avoid stuffing completely. Google’s algorithms are now so sophisticated, they not only look for the keyword, they also look for associated context words too. So, if you are selling shoes, for example, they’ll also expect to see words like soles, uppers, leather, men’s, women’s, comfortable, size, laced, etc., in the text. This is far more useful to Google than keyword stuffing and shows the importance of writing detailed content for your customers.
With 66% of surfing now done on a mobile phone, Google needed to push website owners to create websites that were mobile-friendly. As a result, the Mobilegeddon algorithm update was designed to weed out non-responsive websites from search results.
If you have a non-responsive website, you may still get traffic, however, it’s likely that you’ll only appear in results for searches done on a computer. If someone searches for you on a smartphone or tablet, you won’t appear. It’s not a penalty as such, but it has the same effect and means you’re potentially missing out on 66% or the market.
- Likely future updates
Whilst the algorithm updates above are already in place, Google will make constant change to its algorithm in future and these may also result in a penalty or in your site losing its ability to rank. Below are two possible changes we think will have the biggest effect in the near future.
Cyber security is a massive concern and often hits the headlines. As a provider of internet services, the last thing Google can afford to do is to send their users to sites which put them at risk. If they do, then somewhere down the line they put themselves at risk of a lawsuit.
For this reason, Google now notifies users if a website is secure. When the site’s URL appears in the browser’s address bar, a green padlock icon is shown, together with the word secure. If the site is not secure, the words not secure appear together with an information icon. Clicking on this will give you detailed information about any security issues. For Google to identify you as secure, you’ll need an SSL certificate. The use of a green padlock icon is having an effect on many websites, especially those that sell online and need to take payments. However, it is looking more likely that Google’s algorithm will start to take SSL into account so that those with SSL will rank higher than those without. Indeed, for security purposes, it is conceivable that, at some stage, non-secure websites will be penalised.
In the UK, it is the law that business websites should be accessible for disabled users. Failure to meet certain design standards can result in your company being sued for discrimination. Similar laws are in force all over the world. According to Eve Andersson, Google’s Director of Accessibility Engineering, part of the search engine’s core mission is to catalogue the world’s information and make it available to everyone. This is why Google has already made Android completely usable by voice and has developed Android eye-tracking capabilities. The downside for many disabled users is that, after they leave Google or Android and land on the average website, accessibility is limited. There may be larger font sizes or easier to read colours, but much of what could be done, such as voice search, isn’t there. In an age where there is much effort to improve equality and remove discrimination, Google will not want to see the internet getting left behind. It can only be a matter of time before this shows itself in its algorithm. The argument will be, that if you do not make your site accessible, you are discriminating. The consequence may be a penalty or lower rankings. After all, the technology to put this right is already out there; if you are on WordPress, for example, you can do it with just a couple of free plugins.
From reading this post, you should now be aware of the four algorithm updates that have resulted in many websites receiving Google penalties in the past. This should have given you a better understanding of the best practices to follow to avoid a penalty of your own. In addition, you should also understand how important security and accessibility are to Google and how it may use its algorithms to enforce tighter security and improved accessibility in the future. By acting now, you can put your website one step ahead of your competitors and make things better for your users at the same time.
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