Google has some pretty simple rules. They want to see sites that produce high-quality, educational content that carries the authority of lots of other sites suggesting that the content is thus. The primary objective of the search engine is to deliver results that are just what the searching was looking for, as fast as possible.
Consequently, they take a dim view of people who try to trick them into thinking their site fits the bill. If you are caught trying to alter the results of their algorithm, the make-up of which is top secret, you can suffer penalties as minor as dropping a half dozen places for a phrase to the kill shot ban that removes your entire site.
Getting banned takes some pretty silly, repeated behavior, but a number of seemingly harmless things, some of which are promoted in the name of SEO expertise, can get you penalized enough that you might as well be banned.
Below are a handful of practices that can trip site owners up.
1) Links to and from a bad part of town – If Google has banned a site, they sure as heck look twice if you and that site seem chummy. Having links to and from what Google calls “bad neighborhoods” can get your site penalized without you knowing it. Use this bad neighborhood text link tool to see if you are doing this one and of course remove those outbound links to these sites if you find them.
There is a proper way to create redirect when you move a page so that Google knows it’s a permanent move. Using what’s known as a 301 redirect, you get the benefit of the page’s standing without being penalized by Google.
3) Lots of new links – If your site has a couple dozen links to it and all of the sudden you get several hundred, Google is going to look to see what’s up. If they find there’s a natural reason, they may let it slide, but often they issue a minor penalty because they see that as unnatural behavior. Sites that already have lots of links can gain larger numbers of new links without being scrutinized.
4) Overdoing keywords – Placing your keywords in titles, meta data and throughout the content is a practice that helps search engines better understand what the content is about. Stuffing words in over and over again will get you penalized and probably produce content that’s not very readable.
Write all of your content for eyeballs first and then go back and do a little editing to include SEO elements. There’s a nice tool called Scribe that can do this analysis for you.
5) Buying and selling links – Another practice that falls squarely in the unnatural to Google camp is buying or selling links. If you have a page that ranks well for just about any popular term you can expect to receive email solicitations from people who want you to place a link to their site for $100 or something. Don’t fall for the temptation. While Google can’t tell if you’ve received money for the link, there’s a good chance that the linking site will show up in the bad neighborhood list pretty quickly.
The flip side, buying links will usually land you in the Google penalty box as well. You can probably get away with a few of these but any large amount will trip the Google sensors. It’s so much easier to get high quality links by participating in social media anyway.
Bonus – Slow loading sites are starting to get penalized and Google has produced some nice webmaster tools that can help you speed up your site – start with the performance video from Google and then make sure you visit Webmaster Central. Slow loading sites also damage the user experience.
Ban vs. Penalty
Think of penalties as set backs, although some can be harsh enough to move your listings back far to make you non-existent. A ban is the removal of your site from the listings.
The easiest way to see if you’ve been banned is to search Google with site:yourdomain.com. If you don’t have any pages listed, you know you’ve been banned.
Either way, it would be nice if Google sent you a letter telling you that you’re site was penalized or banned and why, but they don’t. If your site has been banned you can, and should, fix the problem and then request reconsideration of your site.
Image credit: Ed Yourdon
John Jantsch is a marketing coach, award winning social media publisher and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine.