Forty (40) Reasons <small>Why Google Might Penalize Your Website</small>Content Is Adapted from: Neil Patel Shared for educational purposes.

Google has an specific mission: to supply users with access to accurate, unique, and quality information.  Google continously finesses its PageRank (PR) algorithm so that the best websites on the Internet get the exposure that they deserve. Unfortunately, there is also a flipside: a Google penalty.  That is the consequence of Google taking issue with something improper within your website. 

What Is a Google Penalty?

Google has occassionally varied its webpage ranking algorithms since circa December 2000.  That is when Google released its toolbar extension.  At the time, the toolbar update represented a change that would create the SEO industry as we know it.  In fact, it was the first time PageRank was published in a meaningful or usable form.  Over the next decade, Google continued to refine the quality of its search results. Over time, eliminating poor quality content and elevating good content to the top of the search-engine result pages (SERPs).  That is where penalties arise.

Recognizing a Penalty

Penalties can be automatic or manual.  With manual penalties, you will likely be informed.  If automatic, with cause being algorithmic, penalties may surprise even the most experienced SEO professional.  For algorithmic driven penalties, here are some clues.

  • Your website is not ranking well for your brandname any more.  Even if your website fails to rank for much else, it should do well with your brandname as a keyword.
  • Any page one (1) positions that you had are slipping away to page two (2) or more, without action on your part.
  • PageRank for your website has dropped from a respectable two (2) or three (3) to a mere one (1) or less.
  • The entire website has been removed from Google's cached search results overnight.
  • Running a website search – keyword – yields no results.
  • Your listing – when you eventually find it in Google – is for a page in your website other than the homepage.
Why Has Google Penalized My Site?

While Google does publish some clues about algorithm updates, Google rarely exposes reasons for changes.  Fixes can be challenging.  Here are fifty (50) items to contemplate:

  1. Buying links. Some people swear that it doesn’t happen, but actual evidence is mixed.  Buying links may be interpreted as an attempt to manipulate PageRank, and therein lies the controversy.  If you have bought bad links, doing so could have caught up with you - adversely.
  2. Excessive reciprocal links. Swapping links was once an innocent marketing tactic until it became abused.  If you have exchanged lots of links with other websites, it may be seen as manipulation efforts.
  3. Content theft.  If you do not steal website content, someone else could steal yours.  This is problematic, because having content removed might involve filing multiple DMCA takedown notices or pursuing legal action.  If you are penalized for content theft, ask Google to remove the stolen content.
  4. Duplicate content. Hopefully this one’s obvious: any duplicate content on your site makes it less useful in Google's view, and that could result in a penalty.  Make sure your content is unique and well-written.
  5. Overusing H1 tags. Correctly structuring content helps with SEO.  The H1 tag helps Google to understand what the page is about. Excessive H1 tags could be seen as an attempt to pump Google’s listing with keywords.
  6. Internal Error 404s. Google wants to know that you tend to your content and weed out any errors and problems.  If you are delivering 404s inside your own website, it is a sure fire signal that your users are not getting the information they ask for.
  7. Few outbound links.  Google prefers website content that references other website content of a similar standard.  If you don't include outbound links, it might appear as efforts to attract unnatural web-traffic.
  8. Domain reputation. You may have purchased a domain with a negative history, which might cause difficulties when building a fresh website around it.  Unfortunately this is often a deadend.  You should cut your losses and buy another domain.
  9. Links from websites in another language. This one seems unfair, right?  You have got a legitimate link from a client in another country, yet it is technically counted against you.  Well, Google's reasoning is sound: users generally tend to prefer one language, so linking to websites in another language is not that useful for them.
  10. Keyword stuffed content. There are all kinds of weird and wonderful ‘rules’ about keyword density in content.  The truth is that none of these rules are proven, and a very high keyword density is a flag for poorly written content.  If Google detects an unusual frequency of keywords in a page, it may penalize you.
  11. Footer links. Some website designers use footer links as a navigational aid; some try to manipulate PageRank by using the footer as a place to pass link juice unnaturally. 
  12. Site-wide links. We all need to link pages together, but Google is constantly scanning those links for unnatural patterns. A classic example is a web developer credit in the footer of a page.  Don’t just nofollow: remove them entirely.
  13. Hidden links. All of the links on your site should be visible and useful to users.  Anything that is hidden is considered suspicious.  Never make a link the same colour as the background of a page or button.
  14. Broken external links. If you don’t keep links up-to-date, Google will assume you don’t care about the user experience and are happy to pack visitors off to various 404 error pages. Check links periodically and pull the duff ones.
  15. Scraped content.  Sometimes website managers pull content from other websites in effort to bulk up their own websites.  Often, this is done with in good faith or an innocent error.  Google however sees it as duplication.
  16. Overusing meta keywords. Meta keywords have been a topic for debate for some time. They are way too easy to manipulate. Make sure you use no more than five per page.
  17. Slow speeds. If your site’s slow to load, your users will get frustrated. Many, many factors affect hosting speeds, so this is quite a tricky problem to assess and troubleshoot.  Use a caching plugin or a CDN right away. You could also move your site to a data center closer to your most frequent visitors: that’s a little more involved.
  18. Missing sitemap data. Google uses the XML sitemap to parse your website's structure and learns its heirarchy.  Ensure that your XML sitemap is always available and current.  You can submit your sitemap to Google in your Webmaster Tools account.
  19. Hidden content.  Less ethical optimization methods include disguising textual content on a website by manipulating its visual theme or weighting.  This is a serious no-no.
  20. Black hat SEO advice. If you publish information about manipulating SERPs using black hat methods, expect to be penalized.
  21. Hacked content. If your website has been hacked, Google will quickly remove it from SERPs. Act quickly to contain hacking attempts and restore sites from backup if the worst does happen.
  22. Speedy link building. It’s natural to want your new website to rank quickly.  Don't overdo it.  Lots of similar links pointing to the same place is a sign of automation.  Don’t artificially bump your link velocity: make gradual changes over time.
  23. Spam reports. Google has published an online form for spam site reporting. Your website might have been submitted as a potential source of spam, genuinely or maliciously.
  24. Anchor text overuse. Once upon a time, SEO experts worked on linking certain keywords in order to reinforce their authority. Since the 2012 Penguin update, the over-use of anchor text linking is strongly discouraged. Switch out your forced, unnatural keyword links for honest links phrased in real English.
  25. Error codes. Aside from the obvious 404 error, there are a range of others that Google really hates to see.  302 (temporarily moved) isn't ideal; if you use a redirect something, use 301.  Also, if you see any 500 errors, deal with the root cause as soon as possible. 
  26. Duplicate metadata. Some blogging tools and CMS platforms make it all too easy to create duplicate metadata by accident. While metadata isn’t a cause for a penalty on its own, it can be a sign of a duplicate content issue on your site. In any case, it’s undesirable; try to deal with it.
  27. Malicious backlinks. Your website NEVER deserves this penalty – but it is something you should know about. If you’re really unlucky, an unethical competitor may try to shove your website down the SERPs by getting it penalized. The most common cause is a malicious backlink campaign.
  28. Targeted keywords. Google is battling keywords that frequently appear in spam websites. ‘Payday loans’ is an example of a keyword that has already been targeted, although some people feel that it could do more. If you legitimately operate in an industry that is filled with spam, expect challenges.
  29. Website timing out or down. When a website goes down, everyone gets upset: the visitor, the webmaster and the search engine. If Google can’t find your site, it would rather de-index it rather than keep sending visitors to a dead end.
  30. Keyword domains. While domain names aren’t that risky in themselves, domain names with keywords in might be. Consider the anchor text linking issue: if we repeatedly link to that domain, Google might see that as anchor text manipulation. If you do use an exact match domain, make sure it has plenty of great content on it, otherwise Google will assume you’re trying to fool people into clicking.
  31. Robots.txt flaws. The robots.txt file should be used to tell search engines how to deal with your site.  While there are legitimate reasons for excluding pages from robots.txt, do it sparingly: excessive blocking could be the cause of your penalty.
  32. Links to suspicious sites. Never associate yourself with a website that is doing something ethically or legally dubious. Hacking, porn and malware-ridden websites should be avoided.  Also, try to remove links to other sites that have been penalized in the past, assuming you know about it.
  33. Landing pages. Businesses sometimes try to use multiple landing pages in order to improve their position in SERPs. Some companies also try to improve their position by creating lots of one-page websites optimized for a single keyword, then funneling users through to another site. Google considers this kind of thing to be bad practice.
  34. Over-optimization. Google does not like to find too much of a good thing.  An over-optimization penalty usually means you have gone a step too far to obsessively out-SEO everyone else in your industry.  Publish more natural content.
  35. Too many outbound links. When linking to other websites, keep it natural. A high quantity of links is a sign that you’re swapping links with people for the sake of mutual SEO benefit.
  36. Redirection. If you have received a penalty on your website, using a 301 redirect could transfer the penalty.  Further, the penalty could linger if you remove the redirect later.
  37. Poor mobile websites. Google can normally detect a valid link between your mobile website and your website.  If it is poorly designed, it may not.  Make sure the mobile website is sent to a device where the user agent is set to mobile.
  38. Prominent ads.  Advertising is OK when a secondary concern.  Advertisements should not dominate page content.
  39. Using a content farm.  Over the years since Panda was phased in, it has been ill-advised to buy content from a ‘content farm’.  Have a professional write quality content.
  40. Beware of quick fixes.  Never hire an entity claiming to have guaranteed methods to put your website at the top of the SERPs.  There is no such guarantee.  The only path to rank well is lots of work over time.
Adapted from Source: Neil Patel

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