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Google Penalties and What You Can Do About Them

Google Penalties and What You Can Do About Them

If you've recently lost rank in a Google search that is important to your business, you may suspect that you've been hit by a penalty. Google does in fact impose penalties in order to eliminate spam from its search results. To Google, spam is content it determines to be of low quality, and spammers are those who attempt to promote it by manipulating the results through a variety of activities. Like it or not, Google may see your content as spam, and you as a spammer!

Google imposes penalties in two ways:

  1. Manually, and
  2. Through its algorithm

Manual Penalties

Manual penalties are imposed by Google based on spammy content or spammy links. If you've been penalized manually, you will see a notice in your Webmaster Tools control panel. The "Unnatural Link Penalty" is a commonly seen penalty that gained prominence around the same time as a major algorithmic change (Google Penguin, see below) so some people initially confused the two. Just remember if you have been manually penalized, you'll see the message in Webmaster Tools.

Google Penalties

Websites that are manually penalized are often flagged as spam by Google users, or are competing in a vertical that is very competitive and tends to see a lot of spam. Think "viagra,""payday loans" or "work from home."

If you get the unnatural link penalty warning, you or your SEO company were probably doing some link building that, until about a year ago, was pretty common. The types of links that are a problem are:

  • Links in social bookmarking sites
  • Links in article marketing websites
  • Links in blog comments
  • A high number of links with exactly the same keyword anchor text.

What you can do

  1. Clean up the spam. If you allow user input, such as blog comments, and don't moderate them, you probably have a lot of spam in your blog. Delete those comments and start moderating them.
  2. Improve your page quality. If you have a lot of pages that have low word count (under 300), are heavily weighted to a particular keyword, and offer little value to visitors in and of themselves, a Google employee manually reviewing your site may consider these pages as spam, and issue a penalty.
  3. Use the link disavow tool to tell Google to ignore these links.
  4. File for reconsideration. When you think you've cleaned up your act, let Google know, and they will re-review your site and hopefully remove the manual penalty.

Algorithmic Penalties
In the last couple of years, Google has made some major algorithmic changes to get low quality sites out of its results, and to penalize those sites that are the focus of manipulative activities aimed at increasing rank.

Google Panda
Panda was rolled out about two years ago (Feb 2011),  and was aimed at crushing sites such as low quality blogs and "scraper sites" (sites that copy content from other websites). It is an ongoing class of algorithmic changes that penalizes "content spam."

What you can do

  1. Avoid duplicate content.
  2. Keep page word count up to around 300

Google Penguin
Penguin was rolled out about a year ago (April 2012) and was aimed at penalizing sites for unnatural linking (thus the confusion with the manual unnatural linking penalty). The target of this penalty is non-varied keyword anchor text pointing to a website.  Links from low quality websites are reported to be more of a contributing factor. Site wide links, whether internal to the website or external websites from an external website are a problem when they use the same keywords that the page is optimized for (based on the page title, meta description and page content).

What you can do

  1. Restructure your internal linking
  2. Remove site wide links or take keywords out of anchor text
  3. Ask external websites to change anchor text or remove your link entirely
  4. Use the disavow link tool
What has been your experience with Google penalties? Let us know!

TP Designs promotes websites in the San Francisco Bay Area through PPC and SEO services.