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A complete list of Google penalties & how to recover from them

Google’s mission from day one has been to provide their users with the most relevant, high quality content.

To do so, Google needs to verify which websites can provide this and which can’t. If you’re on the positive end of the spectrum, great, you’ve made it.

However, what if your website isn’t? Google sees your website as not being worthy of the highly sought after top 5 Google results.

This is where this article will help.

Google wants to provide a search engine that provides users the most relevant search results. To do this, Google frequently updates their algorithm, which is how the majority of websites are caught.

Although your website is currently satisfying Google’s algorithm guidelines, that’s not to say it will in 1,2 or 3 months from now. To enable developers to stay relevant to the content they provide, Google publishes a Webmaster’s Guide that shows how they want developers to develop content on the internet.

Two main categories of Google Penalties

  1. Manual action is when your site has been reviewed by a Google specialist and has evaluated it as in breach of one or more of its guidelines.
  2. An algorithmic penalty occurs when an element in your website triggers an inbuilt safeguard of the ranking algorithm.

Within the sphere of algorithmic penalties there are two further transgressions – Penguin and Panda. Penguin transgressions typically relate to a site that has been over-optimised, while Panda infractions occur when there is a problem with the use of a site, or existence of duplicate content.

It is vital that your website is maintained and scrutinised to remove redundant content as Google penalties can be applied to any aspect of your site, even if the page in question is old. Even if your intention was not to violate the guidelines, due to how algorithm guidelines change over time, your rankings may be penalised as a result.

Penalties may be applied to the entire website or just a few pages. If a large number of pages on your website are in breach of Google’s guidelines, even pages without specific breaches will be penalised for being associated with an untrustworthy site.

Why your site received a Google penalty

404 errors and broken links

Broken links are a sign that your site is untrustworthy. If you have redundant links, consider using a 404 Error to redirect to a home page or a relevant link.

Missing metadata tags

It is important that you use Meta tags to help define your pages to search engines. Without them, the bots that crawl to find information about sites cannot find the information they need to list your website on search engines results pages.  

Keyword over-optimisation and stuffing

Although keywords are vital when writing content to flag for searches, the overuse and artificial placement of keywords can be detected by Google. Refrain from repeating the same keywords in the URL, title, header and alt text. It is especially noticeable when the rest of the content is poorly written.

Excessively using H1 tags

Too many H1 tags can alert Google and instead of helping to identify the content of your web page, you may find yourself penalised.

Duplicate content

Google loves unique content and when it finds instances of duplicated content it will view the entire website in a negative way.  If sections of your website are not easily distinguished from each other, it leads to a negative evaluation.

Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar. Mostly, this is not deceptive in origin. Examples of non-malicious duplicate content could include:

  • Discussion forums that can generate both regular and stripped-down pages targeted at mobile devices
  • Store items shown or linked via multiple distinct URLs
  • Printer-only versions of web pages

Read more

Missing alt text on images

Always make sure that any images you insert into your site, has a corresponding alt text tag. It is a great way to derive more positive ranking, as it helps Google to interpret whether the images you have chosen are relevant to the written content of your site.

Slow loading website

In the serious business of visitor engagement, a slow loading site will not satisfy the patience of most users who will simply go elsewhere for the same information or products. Therefore, with lower levels of user engagement, it translates to low trustworthiness to the Google algorithms. If your site is slow, you may be penalised, as Google is able to determine your engagement with visitors, as well as the site speed.

Tip: Google “website speed test” and see how fast your site loads, is there anything you can improve?

Missing sitemap

Keeping your XML sitemap up to date and relevant to the content is important. Google needs to read the sitemap in order to evaluate it. If Google cannot find it, your site can be bypassed altogether.

Buying backlinks

While having genuine links to other sites demonstrates a high level of engagement and trust in your site and therefore your company, on the opposite end, buying links is a violation of Google’s guidelines and you may be penalised. Alternatively, check out our guide for building backlinks.

Broken external links

Where a website has redundant external links, for example, linking to a site that has been dead for a long time, it will be cause for a penalty. Having broken external links demonstrates to Google that no one cares to update broken information and therefore your user experience score is seriously diminished. You can avoid a Google penalty by regularly updating your external links. Make it a common practice to ensure that all your external links work and are still relevant to your content.  

Using black hat SEO to rank your website

Things like hiding content, buying backlinks, using incorrect meta tags or doing anything that indicate that you are attempting to construct a page only for SEO purposes or to mislead the user is considered a black hat SEO technique. You will be penalised. 

Editors note: Sorry for the shameless plug but I want to note here that Seoz never has and never will subscribe to blackhat SEO methods. Click here to read mead more FAQ’s.

Non-responsive website

Ensuring that your website is properly responsive for desktop and mobile browsers demonstrates that your users are receiving a good experience, and will likely revisit. If you do not have a website that is responsive for smartphones or tablets is something that will reduce your ranking.

Hacked website content

Maintaining high levels of protection on all your systems so that your website cannot be compromised by malware or other cyber risks is vital as your reputation will be ruined if customers become infected by visiting your site. So, now you can see that there are many factors at play regarding Google and the penalties that they can provide. You need to ensure the quality of your website content, the architecture, meta and alt tags are maintained. It all comes down to creating a site that is appealing to users. If it provides a good experience and adds value to the user experience, you are unlikely to get any penalty from Google.

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