We’ve all heard stories about different business tycoons around the world going bankrupt overnight.
You know, the “once a millionaire, now a homeless beggar” kind of stories.
It happens all the time.
If you’re a niche marketer, though, you could easily end up in a similar situation (or even worse) if you don't act quickly.
If Google decides to pull the plug on your search engine traffic, it’ll be almost impossible for you to recover.
THIS happens when Google penalizes websites that violate its search engine guidelines.
It has happened to hundreds and thousands of websites over the last 3-4 years, and it can easily happen to you as well if you’re not careful.
The message is loud and clear from Google - “Follow our guidelines” (or face the consequences).
But don’t worry, I’m here to help.
In this post, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about avoiding a Google penalty today, tomorrow, or any time in future.
Yes! I’m that confident.
Seriously, it’s no rocket science.
I’ll just tell you how you can keep within the limits of Google’s search engine guidelines and stay away from trouble.
If you stick to the tips I’m going to share, you’ll never have to worry about Google penalties again.
(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 220 profitable buyer keywords click here or the image below)
What You'll Learn in this Post
- What exactly is a Google penalty so that you know how to avoid it.
- Why Google penalizes websites and what you can do to minimize that.
- The different types of penalties and why they are important.
- Why ignoring mobile visitors might cost you big time.
- Why guest blogging might get you into trouble if it's your only strategy.
- How your backlinking strategy is moving you closer to a penalty.
- Why your brand image is crucial to your rankings.
- How to clean up your link profile if you've already messed it up.
What Exactly is a Google Penalty (And Why You Want To Avoid One)?
To understand why Google penalizes websites, you need to understand Google’s philosophy.
Here’s the first of the ten values Google believes in, as listed on its corporate website.
“Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.
Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting.
And when we build new tools and applications, we believe they should work so well you don’t have to consider how they might have been designed differently.”
If you read that closely, you’ll see that Google’s primary focus is providing uncomplicated, highly relevant and top quality services, including search results, to its users.
So when you, as a blogger or niche marketer become a hurdle in that objective,.
And try to work around Google’s recommended practices to rank higher in its search results, it responds by penalizing you and decreasing your search rankings
Or, in extreme cases, completely de-indexing your website.
In reality, though, it just puts you at the right place, because it thinks you’re either not relevant enough for its users, or do not have the required quality that the users are looking for.
For example, when Google first introduced its infamous Panda update, it targeted websites that had low quality, duplicate and thin content.
The biggest targets were content farms, like EzineArticles, ArticleAlley etc., that hosted thousands of duplicate, low quality and spun articles.
EzineArticles, and many other similar content farms, came crashing down in search rankings in a matter of hours.
The snapshot below, shows the drop in search engine traffic to EzineArticles. As soon as the Google Panda update went live, the results changed dramatically.
"Link farming is an almost surefire way to get yourself into some big trouble with the engines" - Scott Willoughby (Moz)
Types of Google Penalties That Your Site Can Be Hit With
There are two ways Google penalizes websites – manual and automatic (or algorithmic)
a. A manual penalty happens when someone at Google manually reviews your website, decides that you’ve violated Google’s search engine optimization guidelines and penalizes you for it.
When a website is penalized manually, its owner gets a notification from Google Webmaster Tools.
b. An automatic or algorithmic penalty happens when Google’s predefined and automated search engine algorithms detect violation of Google’s SEO guidelines, and penalize websites for it. The effects of these algorithmic penalties are widespread and impact thousands of websites.
Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird were all algorithmic updates that were implemented by Google on thousands of websites at once.
Moz has maintained the complete history of Google algorithm updates, if you want to know more about the changes each algorithm brought.
The extent to which you lose your rankings, as a result of a penalty, depends largely on how badly you violate Google’s guidelines.
But you can get an idea of the severity of a penalty by analyzing some of the major symptoms.
Based on these symptoms, if you realize that your website has been penalized by Google, you’d need to take several measures to recover from it (it’s not easy).
But this post is about avoiding a Google penalty in the first place. So I’ll stay focused on my topic right now.
Why Google Penalizes Websites (& What You Can Do To Avoid Them)
There are many reasons why Google may penalize websites, and it’s sometimes really hard to actually predict the next thing on Google’s radar.
But there are certain things that are just bound to get you penalized. So you should stay away from them even if they look profitable in the short-term.
Here are some of the main reasons why websites get penalized by Google.
A link farm is usually a group of websites that is created solely for the purpose of exchanging links with each other.
Their objective is to get many links pointing to each other and increase their PageRank. In their pursuit for links, link farms don’t even mind getting backlinks from completely unrelated websites and blogs.
Google doesn’t like this, and its algorithms are smart enough to detect link farms easily.
Once you’re caught, you’ll get smacked by a severe penalty.
Another practice that can get you penalized by Google, is using excessive keywords on your webpage and hiding them from your website visitors by using the same font color as the webpage.
The objective is to use these keywords to get the webpage indexed by Google, without the actual readers seeing it.
Again, this is an open invitation for a Google penalty, and something that Google’s algorithms can easily detect.
Using unauthorized automated programs for website and page submissions, and for checking search rankings can get you penalized by Google algorithms.
Automated submission programs put heavy load on Google’s search engine and impact its user experience. As a result, Google cracks down on any website involved in these practices.
Excessively and unnaturally using the exact same keyword in your content, or using keywords that are not in context of the webpage, is a clear sign of ranking manipulation.
And Google algorithms make sure such pages don’t go unpunished.
“Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results.
Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.
Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.
If you’ve copied your content from some other website, or if you’re using several spun versions of the same content throughout your website, you’re inviting trouble.
Google does not index duplicate pages and makes sure that only original content shows up in its search results.
So any attempt of manipulating Google search bots won’t lead you anywhere.
How To Avoid a Google Penalty So That You Rank Well Forever
Now that you have a fair idea about Google penalties and why websites are penalized, let’s have a look at some of the immediate changes you should make to your SEO and content marketing strategy.
Again, the central idea behind all these changes is that Google wants to provide highly relevant and useful search results to its users. You need to help Google do that.
Here’s how you can do it.
1. Switch to Responsive Website Design to Rank Higher in Mobile Search
With almost 50% of web traffic, and more than 50% of all Google search queries, coming from mobile devices, you can no longer ignore responsive web design.
In simple words, a responsive website adjusts its dimensions according to the device it’s being viewed on. So when a mobile user visits your blog, he won’t have a problem reading your content or navigating your website..
Google wants every website owner to either create a mobile friendly version of his website, or use a responsive website design (learn more about the differences between the two).
Becuase it not only helps in improving the user experience, but also improves the overall performance of your website on mobile devices.
Last month, Google released it’s much awaited mobile friendly update, Mobilegeddon, which officially kicked off Google’s crack down on any websites that do not support mobile visitors.
As it turned out, though, this was just a soft update to give website owners another chance to shift to mobile friendly website design.
But I’m sure the next update will be deadly.
So if you’re not using a responsive blog theme yet, I strongly suggest you make the shift before Google penalizes you and demotes you in mobile search rankings.
To check whether your website design supports mobile visitors, you can run the Google Mobile-Friendly Test.
"In this new era of SEO, it’s no longer possible to ignore mobile searchers and mobile sites, and compete with those who don’t." - Bryson Meunier (Search Engine Land)
2. Use Guest Blogging Sparingly to Avoid Future Penalties
I consider myself one of the biggest advocates of guest blogging (I’ve written more than 100 guest posts on top-tier blogs in the last one year).
Guest blogging has helped me build my brand image as a content marketing consultant and a freelance blogger, and has connected me with some of my most profitable clients till now.
However, if you’re using guest blogging purely for link building, I suggest you stop and review your strategy.
Last year, Matt Cutts caused panic in the SEO industry by hinting a crackdown on backlinks from guest posts. That led to a heavy penalty to guest blogging network, MyBlogGuest, and several others.
Matt confirmed this penalty on his Twitter account as well.
So, is Google against guest blogging?
It’s against spammy guest blogging which is done for the sole purpose of getting backlinks, even from irrelevant websites.
If you’re guest blogging selectively on high authority and relevant blogs, you have nothing to worry about.
Relevancy is the key, however.
For example, if you have a niche blog in the health and nutrition niche, most of your guest posts should be on high authority blogs in the same niche (not on real estate or internet marketing blogs).
Secondly, make sure guest blogging is not your primary back linking strategy. In fact, it should not be more than 20-30% of your total backlinks.
Google also gives 5-10 times more ranking power to natural or contextual backlinks, which are used within the post content, as compared to author bio links.
For example, here’s a natural backlink, to one of my blog posts, on Neil Patel’s blog.
And here’s a typical author bio link from a guest post.
Google clearly recognizes these links and knows they’re coming from guest posts.
So you need to make sure that the majority of your guest blogging links are used within the content of the post.
But still, too many guest blogging links coming from the same source can eventually get you into trouble with Google.
So here’s my advice, when you’re guest blogging, only go for the most high authority and relevant blogs in your niche, and try to get contextual backlinks.
"In the end, if you are using guest posting to rank for specific head terms, I don’t think it will be a good long-term strategy." - Neil Patel (QuickSprout)
(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 220 profitable buyer keywords click here or the image below)
3. Forget PageRank, Focus on Linking Domain Relevancy
The PageRank (PR) of the linking domain used to be one of the primary factors Google considered when calculating the strength of a backlink.
That’s not the case anymore.
According to a former employee of the Google webspam team, linking domain relevancy (LDR) is the new PR.
Instead of PageRank, Google is now emphasizing more on whether the linking domain is in the same or a closely related niche.
As I explained in the last point, if you’re running a blog in the health and fitness niche, most of your backlinks should come from within this niche or a closely related niche.
Google penalized websites heavily in its Penguin update, whose link profile contained irrelevant links, even if they were from high PR websites.
You’d always have some links from irrelevant websites, for example directories and news websites, but if you have a natural link profile, the majority of your links should come from the same niche.
This analysis of Google’s Penguin Update by Micro Master shows that websites with no backlinks are almost 50% more likely to get penalized.
As opposed to that, if a site has 100% relevant backlinks, a Google penalty is highly unlikely.
So here’s the verdict – make sure the majority of your backlinks come from within your niche or blogs in a closely related niche.
Irrelevant backlinks, even with high PR, will only increase your chances of getting penalized.
"Link building has changed from an almost purely technical process into something that resembles a relationship management campaign" - Andre Weyher (Ex-Google employee)
4. Diversify Your Anchor Text for a Natural Link Profile
Since the Google Penguin update was first launched, SEO experts have been advocating the use of natural anchor text instead of keyword rich anchors.
Google wants your links to blend in naturally with the content of your page and the pages that you are linking to. If you’re using keyword rich anchors unnaturally, just because you want to rank on a particular keyword, you’ll get in trouble with Google.
The best way to avoid a penalty on this, is to diversify your anchors into natural, branded and generic keyword anchors
- Natural anchor text: These can be keywords, your brand name or URLs, but they flow naturally with the rest of the content. For example, look how I’ve linked the keyword “diversify your anchors” naturally, above. It doesn’t impact the flow of the post.
- Branded anchors: Branded anchors are simply direct mentions of your brand. The more you have them, the better. But again, they should feature naturally in your content - Don’t over optimize. For example, NicheHacks and Stuart Walker are branded keywords for this blog. Naked URLs or URL mentions of your brand also act as branded keywords. For example, NicheHacks.com or http://nichehacks.com
- Generic anchors: Generic anchor text or noise anchors are generic terms like “Click here”, “Read this”, "Read more” etc. You need add them to the mix as well, to create a natural looking link profile. Just look at the top 10 links of Neil Patel’s blog, QuickSprout.
You can see a nice combination of branded anchors, URLs, variations of the main keywords and a few generic keywords.
Aim for something like this.
Overall though, you need to mix up all kinds of keywords to build a natural link profile. Your focus should be on building branded and URL links.
Stay clear of using too many keyword rich anchors in guest posts or while creating your own content, and try using as many variants of your keywords as possible.
"The objective is not to "make your links appear natural", the objective is that your links ARE natural" - Matt Cutts (Google)
5. Clean Up Your Link Profile Before a Google Penalty
Have you ever had a detailed look at your link profile?
Do you have any idea how many spammy or poor quality links are pointing to your website?
When it comes to building backlinks, more is not always better.
In fact a poor quality link profile will almost certainly get you penalized by Google.
Google considers two factors crucial when reviewing your link profile, and I’ve discussed both of them in detail in the previous two points.
- Link relevancy – Whether your links are coming from a relevant and high quality site, or an irrelevant or spammy site.
- Anchor text – Whether your anchor text is natural or stuffed with keywords.
If you’ve already built lots of spammy or keyword rich anchor links, you need to clean up your link profile before Google decides to penalize you.
Here’s how you can do it.
- Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account
- Select your website.
- On the main dashboard, click on Search Traffic --> Links to Your Site
- From here, click on “more” under the “Who links the best”
- In here, click on “Download latest links”
This will download the list of all the links that Google is using to rank your website. You need to monitor this list closely for low quality and spammy backlinks, and links with optimized/keyword rich anchor texts.
Highlight any low quality or potentially harmful links that you identify, and send an email to the website owner requesting him to remove the link.
In many cases though, you won’t get a response.
So you’ll need to remove those links from your profile by using the diavow tool.
If you’re not sure how to find and remove low quality links, read this detailed post for more insights.
This exercise will initially take your time, but if you regularly clean up your link profile every 2 months using this method, you’ll be safe from any Google penalties resulting from a poor link profile.
"We've learnt that the best way to identify spammy links is to manually review each and every one of them" - Lewis Sellers (Moz)
6. Focus on Building Brand Signals to Get in Google's Good Books
What are the key traits of a successful brand?
Trust, quality and consistency.
This is what Google loves as well, and that’s why establishing yourself as a brand in Google’s eyes is one of the best ways to avoid penalties.
Brands rank much better in Google search and rarely get penalized. But even when they do, Google allows them to recover pretty quickly.
For example, in 2005, Google penalized brands like Forbes, Washington Post, Internet Explorer and several others when it found out that they were selling links to others for the purpose of helping Google rankings.
But as soon as these brands fixed that problem, their previous PageRank and search rankings were restored.
This wouldn’t have happened if they were normal websites. Ask anyone who’s been hit by a Google penalty, just how difficult it is to fully recover from it.
So how exactly do you tell Google that you’re a brand?
- Have a Professional Website (This Tells Google You Are Legit)
Have a professionally designed blog and website that has all the major brand signals like a well-designed logo, trust symbols like testimonials and mentions, a physical address and a 1-800 contact number. If applicable, adding ecommerce features to your website also adds credibility. And again, make sure your design is responsive.
- Make Your Brand Searchable (Real Businesses Have A Brand)
Focus on building links with branded anchors, as discussed in the last point. Promote your brand name in your content and social media interactions. The more people search for your brand in Google, the more it realizes that you’re a brand.
For example, look how people have consistently shown interest in the term Copyblogger, which indicates to Google that it’s not just a blog, it’s a brand.
- Build Your Social Media Following (To Show Google You Have Real Fans)
The size of your social media following gives a strong indication to Google whether you’re a genuine brand or not. Most brands have loyal followers who engage with them regularly on social media. So the more followers you have on Facebook, Google+, Twitter etc., the better for your brand.
"Think logically, why would a German website have backlinks from websites written in Korean, Chinese, or Russian?" - Felix (KISSMetrics)
7. Avoid Fake Social Signals Like The Plague
I’m sure you must’ve seen websites that get 6000 to 7000 Tweets and Facebook shares on every post.
No, I’m not talking about Mashable and Huffington Post. Those are genuine websites.
I’m talking about the newbie sites that work around different social networks and plugins to show inflated social media numbers.
Well, if you’re one of them, Google might soon hunt you down.
Google is increasingly using social signals to determine the popularity and legitimacy of websites. So when it finds out that all of the 250,000 followers, on the Twitter account that’s associated with your website, are fake, it’s going to come down hard at you.
Buying fake social media followers is not a smart idea any way.
For example, if you‘ve purchased 100 thousand Facebook page likes, but your page doesn't have any user engagement, Facebook will use this reduced engagement level to decrease the organic reach of your Facebook posts as well.
And trust me, when you purchase followers, they’re almost always fake.
It’s even more dangerous if you try to manipulate Google+, because that’s like messing around in Google’s own backyard.
And how exactly do you identify fake followers?
Let me ask you.
A Twitter account or a Facebook page has 100 thousand visitors but not a single RT, Like or comment on any of its social media updates.
What does this sound like?
Fake of course!
Most experts believe social signals will have a key stake in future Google penalties. So if you’re planning to build an inflated social media following, it’s better to stop right now.
Read this post if you're willing to invest time in building your social media following.
8. Work on Building Your Site’s Trust and Never Get Penalized Again
I mentioned earlier that Google loves brands because brands are trustworthy.
Google considers trust a key factor in determining a site’s rankings and whether a site should be penalized or not.
If your site has a strong trust rating, Google might well ignore some of the other loopholes in your SEO strategy. Because ultimately it aims at promoting websites that people trust.
In simple words, and without going into the technical complexities, here’s what Google’s algorithm looks like.
Relevancy + Authority + Trust = Rank
You can get a fair idea of your site’s trust ranking, by using Majestic SEO
Ideally, your website’s Trust Flow should be at least half of your Citation Flow.
To increase your trust levels, you need to strengthen your brand image. So much of the steps I discussed in the last three points are relevant.
Plus, look to get natural backlinks from websites that have lots of .edu and .gov backlinks. At the same time, try getting natural .edu and .gov backlinks yourself.
The higher your trust ranking, the better your chances of avoiding Google penalties.
(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 220 profitable buyer keywords click here or the image below)
What You Need To Do Next
Google is getting smarter with every passing day, and manipulating its algorithms is not as easy, or profitable, as it once used to be.
And the danger of getting penalized is just too much of a risk to try any adventures.
Thankfully, though, ranking well in Google search through legitimate ways is much easier now because of these algorithmic improvements.
You just need to move according to Google’s guidelines, focus on creating great content and establish yourself as a brand.
The more value you create, the more backlinks you’ll attract.
Take NicheHacks as an example.
Over the last 1 year, Stuart has shifted all his focus on creating absolutely mind blowing and unbelievably useful content.
This has brought countless new visitors, hundreds of new subscribers, and above all, strengthened the brand image of NicheHacks as a high quality content provider on all topics related to niche marketing.
There’s no reason why you can’t play according to Google’s guidelines and not make it big.
So make sure you change your mindset about SEO and start implementing the tips that I’ve shared in this post to avoid any possibility of getting penalized by Google.
Are You Safe from a Google Penalty?
I've just told you everything I knew about avoiding Google penalties.
It's time for you to take action.
How many of these mistakes are you committing right now?
Have you ever been penalized by Google?
Or do you know any other measures that should be taken to avoid Google penalties?
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.