What are Google Penalties and how to avoid them in SEO?

What exactly constitutes undesirable actions in the eyes of different search engines is not fully documented. Yet, search engine optimization (SEO) experts have found out what is considered unethical/ undesirable. Some insights have also come also from people within Google, particularly Matt Cutts, the head of Google's Webspam unit. 

By common sense, the SEO actions that are deceitful and excessive are not liked by search engines because these go against search engines' aim of serving the most appropriate results in response to search queries.

We had earlier posted a summary of Google's website rating guidelines (discussed below in brief). These guidelines indirectly - but clearly - tell us what are good and bad actions relating to search optimization of websites.  

We have talked of good SEO actions numerous times. In the present post, let us talk about the bad SEO actions - the ones known to invite penalties from search engines. Some of these actions look innocuous  and harmless, but search engines tend to penalize websites for such actions because unethical SEO guys use and abuse these actions. That's why it is important for bloggers and other website owners to be aware of such actions and avoid them.


WHAT IS GOOGLE PENALTY?


Google penalty is downgrading of a website or webpage on Google search. It can be in the form of de-indexing of a page or less importance being given to the page so that it goes down in search results. 

Google penalizes websites when its algorithm finds something fishy about the website/ webpage. Google also regularly carries out manual review of websites and imposes strict penalties when it discovers wrong actions.

In most cases, Google penalties occur due to black-hat (=wrong) SEO actions taken by the blogger/ website-owner. So, if you do not take any such action, the chances of your getting a penalty are low. 

However, sometimes competitors can take such actions anonymously so as to pull down your blog/ website. For example, the competitor may post comments on shady sites on your behalf.  

It may also happen that if you kept sending emails to recipients who do not want your email, they may report negatively about it in thier social circles or to search engines. That would raise a red flag about your actions.

Sometimes, a Google penalty can occur due to Google changing its policies about what is an undesirable SEO action. In this case, innocent and well-meaning websites/ blogs too suffer. That is unfortunate but a part of one's web life. 


WHAT ARE THE MAIN ACTIONS THAT GET GOOGLE PENALTIES?

Let's quickly see what actions (deliberate or by mistake, it doesn't matter) are likely to get a slap from search engines:

When links come from shady sites. Shady sites may link to you by posting comments on your site or send backlinks to your site. The shady websites can be spamming sites, useless sites linking to good sites for improving their credibility, sites promoting unacceptable content (e.g. porn) etc. Such links are not liked by search engines because these sites have very low reputation.

When cross-linking gets excessive. Search engines do not like multiple sites being opened to promote one another. 

Excessive and unnatural cross-linking also happens when you participate in link exchanges or link farms: a platform registers a number of bloggers/ website owners and rewards them when they send link to or comment on other sites on the platform. This way, hundreds of sites get links and comments from hundreds of other sites. 

Private blog networks or PBNs. In these cases, a network of websites is created by a SEO operator by buying websites and blogs that are no longer updated but have their reputation intact because of earlier postings. These are then used as link exchanges. The PBN operator sells membership to new website owners and promises links from such old blogs/ websites. 

Since PBN websites are kept alive with new content and are carefully chosen for sending links to related websites/ blogs, it is difficult for search engines to discover them through automation. However, when PBNs are discovered, they are likely to get severe penalty. 

Deceptive links. Links made just for search engines and not to help visitors in getting good references come in this category. Some people think that hiding links by making the text very small or in background color would get them 'link juice' without irritating visitors. But this is highly despised by search engines. 

Similarly, linking without relevance (as is mostly seen with text links), links pointing to advertisements, too many links, anchor text that are unnatural and do not flow with the rest of the content, etc are recipes for getting penalties from Google and other search engines. 

Links meant to manipulate. When links are given so as to seek favor or when links are solicited, that also raises eyebrows of search engines because that such linking is also artificial and undesirable.

Bad external links. This might not be too much a bother when there is a genuine purpose, but are likely to incur Google penalty when they are meant to impress search engines. For example, if you maintain a directory on your blog, there might be all types of links on the directory page; perhaps Google will understand that. However if you have a blog on which you have numerous links to all types of unrelated sites, that raises suspicion - especially if the links are to shady sites. 

What you can do when you need to give links to bad sites (e.g. when you want to caution your visitors against such sites) is to no-follow such links. If this concept is new to  you, it works like this: When you give a link to another webpage, it means that you endorse that link or webpage. Such links are called dofollow links. On the other hand, when you add rel=“nofollow” attribute in the HTML of the link, it becomes nofollow link (e.g. <a href=abc.com rel="nofollow">) and search engines do not consider it as an endorsement.

google penalty
Google is watching yourbad SEO actions!


HOW TO AVOID GOOGLE PENALTY


Surprising as it might look, Google loves search engine optimization! It likes people taking such actions on their websites that would make the websites relevant to search queries - and ethical SEO actions come handy for that.

Google keeps giving guidance on search engine optimization, and its latest SEO guidelines are linked here. The linked article also guides how and when to hire an SEO expert. Coming directly from Google, these are the most authentic set of guidelines and you should go no further if you are seeking information and actionable points on SEO.

Another epic set of guidelines from Google are its 'search quality rating guidelines'. These are meant for quality rating carried out internally by Google and are not directly SEO guidelines. Yet, they provide a minefull of insight into how Google thinks about SEO. In the post linked here, Top Blogs has made a focused and actionable summary of these excellent search guidelines.

These linked articles explain what to DO - and we need not repeat that here. They also gives best practices to specific aspects and also what to avoid. However, they do not talk about penalties that might arise due to wrong use of SEO actions and how to avoid these penalties. These are nothing but the opposite of what constitutes penalties. Let's quickly visit them:
  • Do not put external links of this type on a web page: 1. links that are unrelated to the subject; 2. links to shady sites.
  • Do not put links that are unnatural: 1. hidden links; 2. links that point to unrelated pages; 3. links that take visitor to advertisements.
  • Do not go for this type of linking: 1. when links from first site promote a second  site and the other way round; 2. circular or complicated routing of links among different sites; 3. many sites promoting one site (including PBN networks); 4. many sites promoting each other as part of a link exchange or link farm.
  • Take care to: 1. not have too many links on webpages; 2. not repeat exact anchor text within the same webpage; 3. not get backlinks from shady sites.
  • Audit your site once in a while for link reputation, and remove bad links. A simple way to audit links is to register your website with Google Search Console, copy links and manually check them for being genuine and relevant. Remove all suspicious or irrelevant links.
  • Finally, detox your website or blog by continuously writing good, useful content. This will help Google or other search engines to not penalize your site when others hurt it by way of black-hat SEO on your behalf.