48 Major Google Penalties You Can't Ignore! And How to Fix Them
If your website is penalized by Google, then it is difficult to identify the problem. Google does not notify website owners of penalties. With the new Google core algorithm updates going into effect each month, it is difficult to understand which of the new updates have had an effect your website.
The best way to clearly identify a Google penalty is by watching rank in search and traffic per page. You can also recognize a penalty if you search for the core keywords of your website's niche and your website does not show up in search results.
There Are No Magical Solutions to Prevent these 48 Google Penalties
Many SEO companies use black hat, gray hat, and even old white hat techniques to artificially manipulate website rank on search engines. Over 90% of these systems fail because they are based on finding loopholes within the core Google algorithm and then exploiting them for quick, albeit short-term, results. As soon as your page rank suffers, these SEO companies simply find a new loophole. By the time they have hundreds or even thousands of your hard-earned dollars your contract is ended and your search rank bottoms out.
Instead of relying on other companies to market your website the wrong way, find ethical companies who strictly adhere to Google guidelines and use Google-approved marketing and website building techniques. Alternately, do the work yourself. If your website is already suffering from loss of rank or traffic, then dedicate yourself or your team to checking your website for these 48 most common Google penalties and then fixing them in Google-approved ways.
Advertorials are pop-up, pop-under, contextual pop-up, or automatically playing video ads which litter most commercial websites. These are often used to aggressively manipulate page rank or profits. Google's Penguin 3.0 and Pagerank #3 updates are actively seeking to lower the search rank of or ban websites which use these, especially excessively.
Reducing and eliminating them on your website is the safest course of action. If you do plan to use such advertorials, then beware of their page prominence and make sure your informational text takes precedence. Clearly identify all ads or paid-for links as such. Strive to make your content reach the hearts of your readers and they will be more motivated to buy the products advertised and in line with the niche of your website.
2. Anchor Text
Anchor text is overused and improperly used to manipulate page rank and trick readers into clicking on affiliate or spam links. Monthly updates related to Penguin in 2012, 2013, and 2014 make an ongoing effect of eliminating websites which unnaturally use anchor text and their links. Use real text, not keywords, in anchor texts and apply "no=follow" attribution where appropriate. Make sure all sparingly used anchor texts flows with the grammar and context of the article and the links are directly associated with the articles subject.
3. Broken Links
If there are outgoing links on your website that send readers to pages with 404 errors or alternate content (even redirects), then your website may suffer penalties and rank. Leaving the 404 errors or empty links on your site leaves Google bots open to assume your site is not moderated and your website is just there to manipulate its way onto search results. You need to perform a monthly clean up of all outgoing links on your website and remove any which lead to 404 errors, redirects, or unrelated content. There are several programs, tools, and websites, which are free or paid, to easily perform a monthly clean up.
4. Building Links Too Quickly
Another SEO SERP scamming technique is to purchase incoming links from a service. Google sees these automated services as a scam to their search engines and a clear sign of an SEM (search engine manipulator). To solve the erroneous link-building issue, get those links disavowed immediately and stop using the service. Distance your website as far from such companies as possible and remove all sources of incoming links garnered in such a fashion. Instead, allow links to build up naturally through real social media shares by your readership and you.
5. Buying Links
You will get caught eventually if you buy any kind of incoming links. Buying links differs from link-sharing services in that you purchase the ability to have your links displayed on other websites and blogs individually. Purchasing links is still wrong, whether done en masse or done so privately between you and other site owners. So disavow those links as quickly as possible and stop the practice. However, links in signature lines and a single link in a guest post is still a good practice.
6. Comment and Forum Spam
Spammers, program bots, and the uninformed tend to use comments and forums as a way to promote their website or affiliate links. Often times these can be hard to detect when traffic to a website soars. So, aggressively delete spam comments and forum posts and increase the security of your website. It is also a good idea to turn off posting abilities for older posts and forum threads. Most real readers of your content will come within the first 30 days of the post's or thread's publication and most spammers and bots will find it long after.
7. Content: Directories, Farms, News, and Presses
Content farms can include press release sites, news sites, article directories, and many older content databases. Most content-farm content is plagiarized, copied, spun, duplicated, thin, poorly written, or outdated. Most farm-type articles are barely able to pass a copy checker with a 30% difference. Google is in the process of either shutting these content farms down or slowly removing them from search visibility.
Sadly, many website owners take a huge hit due to their website's link association with these sites, even if "no=follow" attribution has been applied. It's time to remove articles, check website content, and disavow any incoming or outgoing links to these sites.
8. Domain URLs with Keywords
Do not be quick to turn keywords into the URL of your website, or even the name of your website or business either. Search engine manipulators often use this keyword-URL technique to exploit older loopholes in the Google Algorithm and Google is cracking down on them. A penalty or even URL deletion from search results may happen if you do. Simply follow the same steps you would take in number 46 on this list.
Timeouts can mean rank loss or even removal from search altogether. If your site is down or repeatedly goes down during peak service times, then it may be a good idea to do something about it.
First, move to a dedicated server with a higher bandwidth and server speed. Then, perform regular monthly maintenance and updates during periods of lowest site traffic. Also, test any programs or plug-ins that are running on the website to ensure they are parsing correctly.
10. Duplicate Content
Duplicating content, yours or belonging to someone else, is a very bad idea. Even if that duplicate content has been spun, by hand, by a program, or rewritten in any way, Google's trained algorithm will catch it. Therefore, do not copy anything, whether it be a product description or an attribution, any longer than 52 words. Apply attribution to original content creator anytime you do. Use plug-ins, tools, or programs to check all of your incoming content, purchased content, or published content to make sure it is at least 90% unique.
11. Duplicating Metadata
With the wide variety and ever-diverse range of website tools available it is too easy to accidentally duplicate or even triplicate the metadata. Unfortunately, the Google algorithm cannot differentiate between doing so on purpose and on accident.
Begin by editing your website's source code and deleting any duplicate metadata or plug-ins which may duplicate metadata in the future.
12. Error Codes
Error codes include 404, 302, 301, and any 500s. These error codes are bad for website reputation, both with human visitors and search engines. Error codes happen for a variety of reasons including moved content, deleted website pages, bad coding, and sever errors. However, Google sees them as a potential spammer activity when their algorithm regularly checks for updated content. Google will lower the search rank of the sites with unresolved error codes.
To fix error codes use a program or install a plug-in to check for these error codes. If you need to move content, use a redirect or 303 code. If you have deleted content, use google.com/webmasters/tools/removals to have the URL manually removed from the search engines. Then, deal with all 500 error codes as swiftly as possible using guidelines you find within Google's website. Make all of your content visible and accessible to your human readers and swiftly fix any problems which could result in error code issues.
13. Excessive Outgoing Links
Too many outgoing links are just as bad as too few. Remember to cite the most trusted and credible sources of your articles and properly attribute any quotes, but don't list every single article you can find on the topic. Listing numerous articles about the topic is seen as a page rank manipulation tactic and falls under the same criteria as link swapping and renting. Perform a clean up and use anchor text that reflects the original article you referenced.
14. Excessive SEO
SEO is old school and gray or black hat. What website owners have been taught about SEO since the beginning of the search engine known as Google is no longer relevant to the current Google algorithm. Further, anyone still using those techniques may find themselves with penalties or rank reduction in the coming months with future Google algorithm changes.
Remember to design your website or blog with your readers in mind and with the idea your site is a virtual magazine or catalog. Any SEO tactics, such as keyword placement or metadata stuffing, should be removed from your website. Write naturally as you would for print newspapers and magazines for real rank in search.
15. Excessive "Robot.txt"
Blocking pages and text within your website is a red flag to Google and can get you penalized. Google understands that some content on your website is private and for internal use and allows the blocking code. But using "robot.txt" excessively to hide content from crawl bots will get your site penalized.
16. Excessively Linking to Affiliates
Affiliate links are still going strong, but Google is cracking down on websites who use them excessively. Linking to the same company multiple times per article or using multiple affiliates per website can raise red flags for the Google algorithm. Unfortunately, excessive affiliate links is another department where spammers and black-hatters have overdone linking.
The solution is to stick to no more than one or two products per article and preferably in the same niche as the general website content. Also, use the "no=follow" attribution and fully identify any affiliate links using anchor text. Perform a clean up to remove any previous bad habits and make sure all affiliate links, old and new, use real words and phrases to describe where the link goes, not keywords. Write your content to motivate people to buy the product, don't trick them into clicking.
17. Footer Links
Using cheap or free website templates comes with the price of hidden or non-removable footer links. Footer links are often used to insert the coders website URL or affiliate links of choice. Any links, besides those of your home page and copyright, are seen as SERP manipulation tactics. At the very least, your site will suffer through lower search page rank. If the coder or template designer has a bad reputation, then your website might take an equal penalty.
Place all links and disclaimers in the body or tab section of your website and clean up the footer of all other links. If you cannot edit the footer section, then immediately replace the design with one that allows you access to edit all parts of the code.
18. Forum Link Reciprocity
Linking to forums, other than your own carefully guarded and managed ones, can be a serious problem in SERPs. On your own forum remember to do monthly deep cleaning of spam, unnatural links in comments and signature lines, and close down any old threads to prevent spam-bot post. If the forum you want to link to is not your own, get in touch with the moderators and find out how often the forum threads are cleaned and closed as well as their member terms and conditions and their forum's posting policies.
Remove any forum links you used in the past and disavow any links you receive from forums that you did not authorize. Use the "no=follow" attribution whenever possible.
19. H1, H2, and Other Header Tags
Header tags became popular when some SEO manipulator realized they provided a loophole in search engine ranks. Self-proclaimed SEO gurus all began suggesting and even using header and sub-header tag codes to boost keywords, keyword stuff, and otherwise alter search results using keywords. It wasn't just the H-header tags which got used, all header tags became a target for keyword or keyphrase spam.
Avoid header tag usage. If you need to edit the design of your article posts, then use a website design program which edits the headers site-wide instead. Never use headings or subheadings to manipulate rank in any way and change all old articles if you did.
20. Hidden Links
Hidden links are also forbidden by Google's terms and conditions. Just like hidden text and hidden domain names, hiding any kind of links within text, images, script, or by text color, can cause penalties and loss of rank. Make sure your website's links, both past, present, and future, are clearly marked, properly attributed, and made for human readers.
21. Hiding Sponsor Data
Hiding your sponsor data is a big red flag to Google search bots too. Most non-product based websites rely heavily on sponsors to keep their bills paid. Getting a sponsor for your website is not a bad idea and Google has no problem with sponsors or sponsored articles. It is when website owners try to hide the data from bots or human viewers that Google has a problem.
Avoid over posting links or sponsor types. As with other affiliate links, use the links sparingly and appropriately within the content. Also, clearly mark all sponsored links and activity and use the "no-follow" attribution. Keep all sponsor links visible to human readers and anchored with appropriate text, not keywords.
22. Hiding Text
Hidden text, text that is behind graphics or the same color as its background, is a clear red flag for SERP manipulation. Any text that is invisible to human readers is a clear violation of Google's guidelines. If you have not intentionally added hidden text to your website, then at least check to make sure your marketer, coder, or designer has not done so. Remove it or change designs, if necessary.
You must include the HREFLANG code in your website's language code section if you intentionally republish your blog in another language. The code HREFLANG tells Google that your website has not been scraped and intentionally republished in another language to scam search results. Better yet, skip republishing your site in other languages and use a translator system or program to translate your page for other language readership.
24. Keyword Stuffing
Old hat SEO techniques included careful and overzealous keyword placement. Often content marketers proposed that a certain percentage of the text had to be made of certain well-researched keywords carefully placed in headings, subheadings, paragraphs, and summaries. Heed this articles warnings and have your content rewritten and replaced with naturally occurring text if you engaged in the keyword stuffing practice in the past. Write your content as though it were being published in esteemed offline journals and Google will love you more.
25. Landing, Doorway, and Funnel Pages
Black hatters, spammers, and misinformed product marketers often use landing pages and funnel pages as doorway links to their website or product. The efficacy of landing, doorway, and funnel URL page types pages is often short-lived in search results. The only purpose of these pages is to garner massive traffic from search engines and funnel it to a sales page or website. Google is slowly phasing these out as it catches them or black-lists the keywords most marketers use on them. Avoid the practice of using alternate ULRs as doors ways to your main URL or product and find other avenues to sell new products or advertise for traffic. Expect eventual penalties if you do use funnel pages, landing pages, or doorway pages.
26. Loading Speed
The loading speed of your website is indicative of core coding issues that need fixing. Further, a slow loading website is very off-putting to both human readers and search bots. Improving site speed will reduce bounce rate and increase search rank.
To improve your website's loading speed fix any core issues immediately. Employing a new design and reinstalling plug-ins may work and is a great idea to do every year. Stay away from too much java script or other visual codes, which can slow website speed anyway. Also, updating your website and troubleshooting for problems monthly will help you stay on top of core issues before the search engine programs catch them. Further, consider using a faster server or domain host and use a cache plug-in or CDN to assist browsers in correctly storing your website's cookies.
27. Malicious Competitor Backlinking
Some competitors use unethical tactics to take down their competition. These tactics include malicious hacks, bad neighborhood campaigns, and backlink campaigns.
Google is working on a solution to curb malicious backlink hackers. Your best remedy is to perform monthly incoming link checks, and other monthly scans mentioned in this article. For Google Notice reports, have evidence ready to support your case that the perpetrator is not you. Unethical companies who engage in this malicious reporting practice will eventually be removed from search by Google.
28. Malicious Site Reporting
If your website was genuinely or maliciously reported as a source of spam, stolen content, or for other malicious activity, then do not despair. Google's webmaster tools make it too easy to report other businesses for illicit activity and many competitors take advantage of this loophole to take down their competition.
Figure out if the cause for concern was malicious or genuine, and then take necessary actions to clean up your site and clear your website's reputation. First, make all effort to apply the information found in this article. Next, use a spreadsheet to record all the progress and changes your team has made to be Google compliant. Finally, re-file a petition after reviewing Google's terms and conditions. Include in your petition all documentation and records of changes.
29. Manipulating Rank Via Networking
Using social networks to gain traffic, readership, and clients is one of the best marketing moves any business can utilize. However, social networking or any online networking, has a dark side. Search rank manipulators have found ways to use social networking to artificially manipulate their website's search rank.
Use caution when utilizing networks, especially blogger networks or social media. Before using a network, research its reputation with Google. Next, find out both the good and bad ways people use social media to garner rank and traffic. Err the side of caution. Finally, discontinue and disavow links if your rank begins to drop within a month or two after utilizing them.
30. Manipulative SEO Tactics
Advising, promoting, or using black hat, gray hat, or old white hat techniques on websites and for rank building can and will get your website penalized by, or banned from, search engines. Most SEMs (search engine rank manipulators) are repeating ideas they heard elsewhere that might have temporally worked for somebody. Giving or using such advice is worthy of swift penalties. Immediately remove such advice and tactics from your website and marketing campaign.
31. Missing or Incomplete Site Map
Site map data is used by Google's crawl programs to correctly identify and catalog your website. Websites without them are seen as either new or spam sites. Spammers move their sites so often that the job of installing a site map and publishing it via Google's Business Tools is too time consuming.
Stay ahead of the spammers and set your website apart as the professional place it is by taking the time to install a site map program or RSS/ATOM feed. Then, submit the map or feed to Google via your account on Google Webmaster Tools.
32. Outgoing Other Languages Links
Outgoing links to other languages is bad for your website's search rank. Google Search will assume you are trying to manipulate the search engine. So, apply appropriate attributions and remove any erroneous foreign language links on your site.
Not only can stealing content result in a penalty, but if your content is stolen, and you do not take quick action, you may face a penalty too. Scraped content is plagiarized content, this means content that is pulled without the original owners knowledge and republished without attribution. Keep an eye on your content and swiftly file DMCA reports. Band together with other website owners against sites who are repeat offenders.
34. Prominent Advertising
If there are too many advertisements, especially if these take precedence over content above the fold-line, then your website will be penalized by Google's Update Pagerank #3. It does not matter if these ads are textual, in-line, banner, sidebar, footer, pop-up, or affiliate links, Google prizes information over your income and will hand penalties to site owners who let advertisements overshadow the information their website presents.
Pay attention to the rules and guidelines Google suggests for its product Adsense. Also, fill at least 50% of the area above the natural "fold-line" of the website with text and visual data and less than 30% with advertising or links. Allow 20% of the area above the fold line to contain headers, tabs, and "white" space for easy navigation. Further, your readers will be less likely to glaze over the advertisements if the advertisements are orientated to your niche and fall in comfortably with your design.
35. Reciprocal Linking
Link reciprocity is still a good idea, but many still use it to manipulate SERPs. Therefore, use caution when swapping links to and from other blogs or websites. The best method of link swapping is still guest post swapping. If you have shared excessively in the past, then make a concerted effort to take down links and disavow incoming links. Weed out your link reciprocity venues to make the incoming and outgoing links look natural to Google's algorithm.
36. Redirect Clean Up
Avoid using redirects (301s) if at all possible. Unfortunately, due to SEMs moving their websites every time they get a penalty or ban, redirects are now seen by Google search bots as a red flag deserving a penalty.
Instead of using a redirect after removing content, have the old URL removed from Google using their Webmaster Tools and allow the new link to gain momentum all on its own. If you have used a redirect in the past, it is better to start over by using the same procedure and have both old links removed from search results.
37. Renting Links
Rented links are still purchased links. Some web marketers think that if they move these rented link spots or have their rented link spots moved around, then they won't be caught and they are safe. Paying for links is the same thing as renting and is against Google's terms and conditions. You will eventually get caught and penalized or banned for engaging in link renting or buying.
38. Scraped Content
Scraped content is pulled from other people's websites, usually without permission, and reused as-is with attribution to the original creator. While people do offer their content in good faith and reuse it with good intentions, doing so is an automatic penalty. Google wants all results in their search engine to remain unique and present new information to their readership.
Remove all duplicate or partially duplicate content if you have engaged in the practice in the past. Write fresh excerpts, teasers, and brand new full-length content. Either disavow the links and articles, get article pages removed Google Tools, or file DMCAs if your content has been reused by others. Consistently monitor the internet using programs, plug-ins, or tools to catch thieves of your content too.
39. Smuggling Links
Link smuggling falls right in line with hiding text and the websites domain name into the background or coding. Old hat and black hat SEO marketers erroneously believe that they can hide their own domain URL (or the URL of others, affiliate links, or landing page links, etc.) into the coding, metadata, script files, third-party scripts, script pages, or encoded scripts to fool SERP results. Google's updates of 2013 and 2014 all penalize and remove sites they find smuggling links during their monthly bot crawl programs following the monthly algorithm updates.
Start by cleaning up your script. Look for ways your SEO manager or a hacker could put URL riders into your website's coding or script pages. Perform a manual clean up by the end of each month to prevent search rank drops during next month's Google Update roll-out bot-crawl.
40. Spamming Metadata
SEO spammers of the recent past believed that every possible combination of the keyword phrase had to be in the metadata or used as a keyword on the website. The 2014 Google updates put a stop to spamming metadata with keywords and keyphrases. Now only a single reference to the website's core keywords needs to be in the metadata section.
For instance, if the website is about marketing, then the word "marketing" needs only a single reference by itself. The key-phrases "website marketing, blog marketing Google marketing, online marketing, business marketing, marketing strategies can all be edited down to "marketing, website, blog, Google, online, strategies."
In a fantastic business move by Google, their search algorithm is becoming more like an artificial intelligence and now makes correlations between the words in searches and within websites. Perform a clean up of your metadata, keywords, and old content and carry on.
41. Spinning Content
Spun content is lightly rewritten using software or diligent writers to present multiple copies of the same article with a minimum of a 30% difference. Many spinners steal content and spin it lightly to achieve "new" content which is 30 to 60% different from the original. Google still wants around 90% to 100% unique content on their search results.
Avoid penalties for content spinning by refusing to buy cheap content, refusing to use content spinners, refusing to republish spun content, or engaging in the practice in any way. File DMCAs where applicable. Remove any instances if you have used spun content in the past. Remember to remove the content and disavow URLs of any spun content that is even 10% alike.
42. Suspicious URL Linking
Guard your associations on the internet well when it comes to linking to or from any other website. Just as buying or renting links is harmful to your online reputation, so are the places you link to or from for free. Google Search takes into account the reputation of all your online associations in making a decision on your rank and search visibility. Therefore, if any one of your associates engages in penalty worthy behavior, your website may lose rank and visibility too.
Perform monthly background checks on all the places your domain links to or from. Use tools, like Bad Neighborhood Watch and other websites and plug-ins, which can search your site and grade all outgoing and incoming links and their "neighborhoods." Perform a monthly cleanup by disavowing links or removing them if their standards are not as high as yours.
43. Targeting Keywords
Among the many Google algorithm updates, including Payday Loan, Panda, and Penguin, is a recurring theme of blacklisting certain words from search results. These keywords include obscenities, adult language, sexually explicit material, payday loans, real estate, and many other keywords overused by search engine manipulators. As a website owner it is your duty to make sure your website does not use words Google has banned and remove any from your current content and metadata. If your website niche is based on words on the Google keyword blacklist, then you may want to worry about garnering traffic from sources other than Google Search.
44. Too Few Outbound Links
Having too few outgoing links on your website is just as bad as having too many. Remember to add the references you used to research your articles and link to your resource material. Only use resources sites whom you trust that also have a good reputation with Google. Allow your articles to naturally link to your sources, but feel free to use any format you desire, as long as you keep it constant within your site.
45. Unnatural Link Repetition
Unnatural linking patterns include placing links strategically within text on every page. Unnatural link repetition was a tactic used maliciously by rank spammers with the strategic keyword phase of SEO. Other than the signature or bio line on articles, links should flow naturally with text. Placing a link to your affiliate or sponsor at the end of each paragraph, or only on the first and last paragraph, sets up a red flag for the search bots crawling your content.
Remove unnatural links immediately and begin making your link usage flow naturally within the content. Keep in mind the other advice given in this article about linking and affiliates.
46. URL Reputation
URLS (the website domain address) is a tricky penalty problem. Google may lower the search rank of websites whose URLS include keywords, have been used by spammers, or that may be one or two characters different than poorly ranked or banned websites. Be very careful when purchasing your domain URLs. It is very hard to find out, and even harder to fix, a ranking problem if your website is suffering from a penalty due to domain association.
Start by carefully researching the name of your business or website URLs and make sure they are not like others already on the internet. Use your business name as your URL and buy it from a reputable domain licensing company. You will need to disavow and have all links to old content associated with that problem URL removed from Google search before republishing the content with your new domain name.
47. Website Hacking
Website hackers insert codes, links, and other malicious data to either create security breaches or to artificially rank their own third-party website. Google's algorithm will lower search rank visibility or refuse to accept any hacked websites. Most free or cheap website templates and designs already include hacked coding to provide the creator with either traffic or income.
To resolve a website hacking issue use plug-ins or other programs to regularly scan your website for malware, spyware, hacking attempts, and adware. Also, scan and manually look for codes or links inserted into any coding, templates, skins, or other designs you add to your website, before using the code or design. Regularly back up your website after you clean it so you are able to restore it to an earlier version if it becomes hacked.
48. Website Mobility
Google estimates that 50 to 80% of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices. As part of Google's core updates in 2013, 2014, and 2015, their algorithm is now geared towards providing users with a better experience on mobile devices. To prevent a penalty or loss of traffic, make sure your website design and marketing plan includes an easily usable and streamlined mobile version or application of your website.
Do not rely on plug-ins to fully or correctly parse or display your website across mobile devices. Instead, create a sub domain or alternate domain version of your website specifically geared to correctly display across a variety of mobile platforms and carriers.
Avoiding Future Penalties
To avoid gaining further search rank penalties, regularly review Google's terms and conditions and stay up to date on all Google algorithm updates. Google updates their search algorithm every month around the fourth of the month and search bots get around to scanning and re-indexing sites about two weeks later. Staying informed and performing monthly updates and scans is the best way to stay ahead in the search rank game.
If your website has already suffered penalties, keep a catalog of all changes and efforts to comply with the Google Guidelines. Submit this list, along with your re-inclusion application, a few months after you have implemented all changes and compliance updates to your website. If the changes were minor, or it was only a minor SERP rank set-back, then simply wait for the next search bot update to re-index your site to see where you stand.
A tarnished search rank reputation is restored with dedication and hard work. Remember to rely on Google resources and Google compliant sources for trusted information about search engine compliance and rank.