One day you’re ranking at the top of relevant search engine results pages (SERPs).
In the blink of an eye your entire website seems to have completely vanished from Google.
You try every variation of your domain name in the search box.
Your website is no longer indexed in Google.
What could have caused this major problem? What can you do to get back on top?
Google’s mission statement is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Operating with this mission in mind, Google protects relevance with a two-pronged approach:
- Constantly tweaking their search algorithms.
- Employing human quality search raters to constantly evaluate and ensure that their search results are of the best quality. Google uses the data collected from these quality search raters to determine how to improve their algorithms.
Those that try to game Google typically end up receiving a manual action notice and seeing their site downranked – or, even worse, deindexed from the search giant.
Don’t agree with Google’s rules? Too bad. You still have to play by them if you don’t want to get deindexed by Google.
To put it simply, don’t do these 16 things if you want to find continued ranking and SEO success!
In a nutshell, cloaking is the act of showing search engines one thing and your visitors another. For example, promoting your website as one that shares book reviews but it secretly links to pornographic content.
Cloaking is done by delivering content based upon the IP address or the user agent. If a search spider is detected, the ‘clean’/’legit’ version of the site is displayed, but if it’s a human searcher is detected, the real version of the website is instead displayed.
The related Google penalty can be levied in two forms:
- Partial, which only affect portions of your site.
- Sitewide, which affects your entire website.
Cloaking can also be applicable to:
- Websites that show content to Google but restrict it to viewers in accordance with Google’s First Click Free policy (not applicable to websites that require registering or signing in to see the full content).
- Images, such as images that are obscured by another image, different from the images served and that redirect users from the image.
Google wants to eliminate any webpages that uses tricks that are against its webmaster guidelines.
According to Google, using any of these techniques could result in your website being deindexed:
- Automatically generated content
- Participating in link schemes
- Sneaky redirects
- Hidden links
- Scraped content
- Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
- Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
- Sending automated queries to Google
3. Spammy Structured Markup
Google is always trying to make sense of the content of a page and adding structured data makes that easier.
If you markup wrong or misleading content, or make the markup content invisible to users (among other spammy structured markup mistakes), you will get penalized.
Follow Google’s structured data guidelines to avoid getting hit with a Google penalty!
4. ‘Free Hosting’
Don’t get drawn in by the promise of “free hosting.”
There is no such thing as free web hosting!
Instead of what you were promised, you will experience spammy ads and bad service.
Google has threatened to take action on the “free hosting” scam as a whole.
Want to prevent this penalty? Always use reliable, SEO-friendly hosting. If you’re paying for it, that’s a good sign!
5. User-Generated Spam
User-generated spam is created by people or bots that leave comments linking back to a website on forums, comment boxes, and user profiles.
You can suss out spammy comments by considering weird usernames/emails or content that seems out of place/unrelated to the topic at hand.
To prevent a related penalty, it’s a good idea to remove all spam comments (check out Akismet if you use WordPress) and manually moderate the content appearing on your website.
6. Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing is another prehistoric SEO tactic that involves inserting or loading webpages (including meta tags and meta descriptions) with keywords and numbers to manipulate a website’s rankings on Google.
The scope of keyword stuffing is wide enough to include:
- The addition of unrelated keywords. For example, your website is about coffee presses but you add irrelevant keywords related to blogging in the hopes it gets more traffic. Google will take action on this type of keyword stuffing.
- Repetition of keywords. Google is on alert for the unnecessary repetition of keywords. This also includes using every variation of keywords available. For example, this would be considered spammy repetition: We sell authentic Kenyan coffee beans. Our Kenyan coffee beans are roasted to perfection to bring out the aroma. If you’re thinking of buying Kenyan coffee beans, don’t hesitate to call our Kenyan coffee bean plant.
OK, it’s not exactly the same thing but… remember this joke?
- Hidden text. Another old-school SEO tactic is to put keywords on a website in either a font that:
- Matches the website’s background.
- Is too tiny to be read.
In either case, when Google notices the deception, you will be penalized.
7. Thin Content
As many writers and content creators can tell you from experience, creating useful quality content is no easy task!
Google tries to provide users with the most relevant content to match their queries and rewards websites that are able to do.
Trying to game the system, many take the shortcut of literally copying content (also known as duplicate content) from high-ranking websites or getting machines to “rewrite” the content (also known as spinning articles).
According to Google, thin content is defined as having little or no original content. Having thin content can result in Google deindexing your site.
8. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is when people copy content from other websites and try to pass it off as their own.
Duplicate content doesn’t always mean reusing content from another website — you can also trigger a duplicate content penalty by creating multiple pages of the same content (location-specific landing pages, product pages, etc.) from your own website.
Here are Google’s suggestions for how to fix your duplicate content issues.
9. Write Content Using a Machine
Many website owners can’t be bothered to create their own original content, so they sometimes take shortcuts, such as plagiarizing content or spinning/rewriting articles, which goes against the original publisher’s intellectual property rights.
Yet other companies are more tech-savvy in their approach. Instead of plagiarizing or paying humans to write spun articles, they use computers to do so. The computer programs used essentially do the same thing as human article spinners.
Thanks to recent advancements in technology, machines are able to create relatively good content, although you can still tell that it was in fact, written by a machine.
Machines are getting increasingly smarter at writing content, as this Copyblogger article explains. It’s fair to assume that creating good content using machines isn’t outside of the realm of possibility in the foreseeable future.
10. Doorway Pages
Doorway pages (also known as bridge pages, portal pages, jump pages, and gateway pages) are pages created to rank for specific search queries.
According to Google, these doorway pages can lead to multiple similar pages in the search results, where each page just links back to the first page.
An example includes webpages created for affiliate traffic where, once visited, there’s no content.
Another example? Pages designed to rank for generic terms that contain very specific content. This ruins the user experience (a multi-faceted/important ranking signal) because it takes the user to different intermediate pages when they will eventually be directed to the same main page.
Some users are concerned about how Google wants to “own” doorway pages because their umbrella (or index) pages have been penalized.
On a related note, The New York Times recently published an article called “The Case Against Google,” which made claims that the search giant is becoming too big and powerful.
11-16. Unnatural Links to/from Your Website
An important component of SEO is a good link building strategy.
Link building is important because of its relation to how Google distinguishes website authority. In essence, the more links pointing to a website (vouching for it), the more Google considers the website as a useful resource.
However, many websites vying to rank on search try to manipulate this for quick (but unsustainable) gains.
Google started discrediting certain link building methods and rolled out updates (Google Penguin is mostly responsible for penalties related to links) to penalize websites using these manipulative SEO tactics.
Google will take manual action on your website if you’re guilty of:
11. Buying links.
12. Linking from Forum Signatures. This tactic does not work as it did before since many forums have disallowed linked signatures and links from forum signatures are considered no-follow. A study from Ahrefs showed that a reduction in links from forums actually contributed to an increase in traffic.
13. Spam blog commenting.
14. Low-quality guest posting.
15. Link exchanges, such as link farms, private blog networks, and link directories.
16. Paid links.
You’d be surprised by the number of websites still doing this!
In many cases, your website will benefit greatly from removing low-quality links. Reach out to website owners to remove spammy backlinks and if they don’t respond, disavow those links yourself on Search Console.
In terms of internal links, excessive use of anchor text on links is also a cause for concern with Google.
Internal links are supposed to demonstrate that your website produces relevant content and helps with the internal linking structure. Overusing and abusing internal linking makes the site seem over-optimized and spammy.
Anyone can understand the advantages of having their websites rank in relevant searches: about 71 percent of search traffic goes to the websites on the first page of Google search engine results.
However, some people will resort to desperate measures and dirty tactics to claw their way to the top, which usually blows up in their faces.
Instead of ranking, Google will remove websites that use manipulative tactics from the search results.
When you want to rank on the search engine results page, do it the right way:
- Provide relevant content.
- Don’t aim to over-optimize your keywords or links.
- Don’t resort to dirty tactics.
SEO takes time — there are no shortcuts!
More Google Penalty Resources:
In-Post Photo: The Next Web