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5 Reasons Google is Penalizing Your Website and How to Fix It.

Posted Jan 26, 2018 | Updated 6 years ago

Google is refining the quality of its search results. Algorithmic penalties stem from the changes that Google makes each year to continue providing users with better search results. For example, when Google’s Penguin update was released 6 years ago, over 3% of search queries were affected. When there are literally a trillion searches per day, 3% is a big deal.

RankBrain, which was pushed into effect in 2015, now takes ambiguous search terms and uses artificial intelligence to populate the most relevant search results. Why is this such a big deal? When 15% of daily search queries are new to Google, the artificial intelligence behind RankBrain will still populate relevant results.

Learn the secret to staying on top of Google’s Panda release

So, what do you need to know about for search engine optimization in 2018?

Below are some common examples of, and solutions for, practices that will get your website penalized. If your website currently has any of these, you need to talk to your website manager and develop a plan of attack to clean it up.

Does your current website have:

  • Purchased or Rented Links
  • Hidden Links
  • Links to Suspicious Sites
  • Internal 404s (broken inbound links)

Having inbound and outbound links can help your SEO, but trying to “work the system” by purchasing links, hiding links, or placing duplicate links all throughout the content will put you further behind. Your outbound links are only helpful if they are relevant – such as links to your active social media pages – or if they are authoritative.

Google determines which websites are authoritative. If it is a link to an article published by a university, it will be authoritative. If it is an outbound link to cousin Joe’s moonshine company, it likely will not be seen as authoritative and your website is going to be dinged by Google’s crawlers.

If your website links to relevant articles, or to a separately housed CRM platform, you are utilizing outbound links. On the other side, if a different website links to a page on your site, then that is an inbound link. The more relevant and quality inbound and outbound links are on your website, the happier Google crawlers will be.

Does this mean you should start hyperlinking every other sentence on your website? NO!

It is very important that your inbound and outbound links are relevant and quality. You want any links to be relevant to the products and services you provide or to anything directly related to your business. You also want Google to have given those websites high-quality scores. You do not want to be associated with the slum of the internet. Quality websites get updated regularly, provide useful content for searchers, and have high domain authority scores, among other positive attributes.

2. Keyword Issues

Does your current website have:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Unnatural sounding keyword placement
  • Inflated or irrelevant keywords
  • A lack of long-tail keywords
  • Un-optimized keywords for voice search

Your keywords are specific word groups on your web pages that work to get your website (and individual web pages) found on the vast internet. Search engine algorithms look for specific keywords related to the intent of the search query.

Overused keywords are now a big “no, no” in the world of SEO. This keyword stuffing makes it hard to read the content as a human and search engine crawlers will mark the page as having poor user experience.

One best practice is to optimize your keyword density, which is found by dividing the total number of words on a page by the total number of keywords on the page.

How many keywords are ideal for a web page? 1-2 keywords per 100 words of text.

So if your page has 300 words (the minimum number recommended) then having 4-6 iterations of your keyword will help Google associate your page to that subject and pull your website into search engine results pages (SERPS). Fortunately, Google is smart enough to recognize variations of a single keyword, so don’t be afraid to switch it up.

Another best practice is to utilize long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords will offer a more clearly defined phrase that crawlers will pick up for search queries. This is especially relevant when dealing with voice controlled devices. You should shoot for these to be 3 highly descriptive words. In this age of voice controlled devices, ensure your keywords are relevant to desktop searches as well as to voice controlled searches. 

Solution: Ponder, “How would my target audience ask for the kind of product/service I offer?” Discern the answer and use those keywords at the proper keyword density.

3. Poor Content Readability

Does your current website have:

  • Spun content

  • Hidden content

  • Content cloaking

  • Content with a poor readability score

If you are using a content spinning program yourself, or if you have hired a black-hat SEO expert, then end your subscription and fire your “expert”. Content spinning seems like an ingenious solution to the biggest problem of content marketing – that it takes so much TIME to write the content. So a program that will generate hundreds of versions of a blog post that can “trick” search engine crawlers into seeing “new” content seems like a dream come true!

But what you get ends up being content that sounds robotic. Google’s AI has gotten very smart and has caught onto this scheme. It will cost you.

Avoid “content cloaking” as well. This practice of masking keywords worked in the late 90s and early 2000s, but not today. Why is hiding keywords a bad idea? Well, again, Google’s crawlers have picked up this scheme as well. If you are hiding keywords like competitor’s brands or unrelated keywords that rank high, you could have some legal compliance issues knocking on your door.

Solution: Adopt a long-term SEO strategy. Authentically write and publish content relevant to your brand and your business.

Plus, be transparent on your website. If you want a page to rank for a certain keyword, then place the keyword in your headers, on the page, and in the image alts. Don’t try to hide them.

4. A Lackluster Design / Structure

Does your current website have:

  • Unresponsive design
  • Lack of visual hierarchy

  • Poor use of H1 – H6 tags

Responsive website design – where your website’s content automatically resizes to fit various screen sizes – plays a significant role in your search engine rankings. It is crucial to have a mobile friendly website, especially as the majority of searches are now done on mobile devices.

Additionally, H1 – H6 tags, the headings of the page sections, need to be utilized properly. Here is how you should use each:

  • H1 to mark your main topic heading.
    • Limit to one per page.
    • If this were a book, H1 is the book title.
  • H2 to mark the topics.
    • Limit to relevant subheadings.
    • If this were a book, H2 is the chapter titles.
  • H3 through H6 as labels supporting the visual hierarchy of your page.
    • Construct your page like you would construct a family tree.
    • An h4 should not directly follow an h2
    • An h3 beginning a new section, can follow an h4 as it closes the previous section. (W3C)
    • If this were a book, these would be the subheading within the chapters.

Ensuring your content has a visual hierarchy to guide the reader through the content is important. Use headings, sections, and plenty of white space to guide your reader quickly to the information they are interested in. Your primary goals are to keep the user from being overwhelmed and to give the reader what they are looking for.

Be sure your content reflects current customer’s needs and answers potential customers questions. Limit the number of choices they can make on one screen; the more different directions there are, the more frustrated your user could become as they search and search for the answer to their question and are unable to easily find it.

Solution: Hire a reputable website development team to audit and design a responsive website.

Can’t find the time to do a content and design overhaul?

Get support from our marketing team.

5. Other Opportunities for Improvement

Does your current website have:

  • Error codes

  • Hreflang

  • Hacked pages

  • Slow page load speeds

  • Comment spam

  • Perfection

Beyond 404 errors, Google will penalize your site for having 302 errors and 500 errors. Check for errors with this tool. You can also check for errors with Google’s Search Console.

Is your website designed to be multilingual? Then ensure you have the hreflang accounted for. This will inform Google’s crawlers that this is the reason there is duplicate content.

Being hacked will also negatively impact your SERPS rankings. The impact of being hacked is similar to the effect going bankrupt has on your credit – not good things. If your website has been hacked, check this guide for what to do to improve your tanked SEO.

Slow page speeds also ding your site’s search engine visibility. You can resolve this by optimizing image sizes. 80-100 Kb is ideal for images that stretch the entire page. Smaller images placed in the page should be 20-30 Kb.

You can check your page speed with Pingdom’s tool. Scroll halfway down the results page and you will see a “load time waterfall” that indicates where the lag in page load is happening. This is important because it may not be an issue with your website; it could be an issue with the server your website is hosted on.

If you operate a blog on your website, check for and clear out comment spam. If you don’t have time to monitor the comments, then you can switch off the entire commenting feature altogether.

You may not believe it, but there is also a penalty for over-optimization. Yup. It’s like being back in grade school. You don’t want to be perfect because the rest of the class will see you as the teacher’s pet and not want to be your friend. In the same stroke, you don’t want to be the smelly kid that just rolled into class without concern for their appearance. That’s an easy way to repel your crushes.

The moral of the story is to get your website’s act together. Remember, the purpose of your website is to attract customers – human customers – while also keeping Google happy.

Don’t just hire the cheapest SEO expert you can find. To avoid a bad case of getting what you pay for. Devote the time to, or hire a reputable company to, comb through your website and resolve the issues causing Google penalties the right way. It will take resources, time, and effort, but the end result is well worth the investment.