Google’s 3 Ranking Penalties (&Tips on How to Avoid Them)

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Tags: SEO


In a time before Google, the word was only associated with a popular canned meat product. Nevertheless, it managed to turn this innocent breakfast staple into a disturbing phenomenon; at least for the SEO community.

Spam content has been the bane of web developers ever since Google released the very first algorithm. As the search engine's filter became more sophisticated, its ability to detect the different spam variations also improved.

These days, it isn't just low quality links. Google's intensive campaign to provide top quality search results possible led to the discovery of other spam types, such as scraped content.

The year 2012 was a trying one for webmasters due to the wave of algorithm updates. Your website may have escaped unscathed, but numerous blogs and e-commerce sites were affected. A host of site owners and managers felt helplessly victimised by Google's constantly evolving arsenal of penalties.

There's no telling whether effectively constructed websites can fall prey to spam. Hence, it's best to learn about these three ranking penalties to protect your online site.

Penguin Web Spam Penalty

This is the most recent one yet, albeit with graver punishments involved. This update was originally intended to reward those websites who strive to have good quality content, while punishing those that, in Google's eyes were spamming in order to improve their SERPS ranking.

Don't be deceived by the small friendly little bird that represents it. The Penguin Web Spam Penalty could very well be an 800lb pound gorilla thrashing away at your site. The following infractions can invoke the wrath of the Penguin:

  1. Duplicate or spun content
  2. Questionable linking practices
  3. Random keyword stuffing on content
  4. Excessive on-page optimisation

To date, two updates have been rolled out since this penalty was announced back in April 2012. The first was in May 2012 and the second was released five months later.

To avoid the Penguin slap, do a thorough site audit. This process helps you locate low quality content and remove it from your website. It is also useful for eliminating spam triggers and improving user engagement. Finally, reviewing your link profile is also necessary to determine and weed out questionable links before they can harm your rankings.


Panda Content Penalty

Panda was initially released in February 2011. Its goal was to penalise websites that scraped content, resulting in duplication issues within search results. Since then, Google has been rolling out Panda "refreshes" once a month.

Usually, the websites hit by the Panda experience a drop of anywhere from 10-50 places. In the worst cases, web pages have completely disappeared from results pages. There have been 24 updates so far, the most recent one being on January 17th 2013. This penalty has the following triggers:

  1. High bounce rates
  2. Low quality content
  3. Keyword over-optimisation
  4. Low average site visits
  5. Internal linking that involves the excessive use of anchor texts

Ensure that your website isn't susceptible to the Panda scare by steering clear of black hat SEO. The latter involves strategies designed to trick search engines. Additionally, you can add social sharing buttons to increase social signals. Check your footer links for excessive use of similar anchor texts and minimise cross-linking on the websites you control.

Unnatural Links Penalty

In the past, site owners have always complained about Google's reluctance to communicate about penalties. However, they relented a little with the emergence of notices for unnatural links. These are statements from Google informing a webmaster that unnatural links have been detected on his site. Since April 2012, over a million of these notices have been issues to those with Websmaster Tools accounts.

Getting an unnatural link notice means Google has stopped PageRank flow to suspicious links on your site. The entire process can result in a significant drop in rankings. Avoid getting the dreaded notification by link pruning. This entails doing a detailed site audit to remove questionable links and building new ones.

Following the guidelines provided above will prevent your site from being overrun with spam content and retain those cherished rankings on SERPS.

About the Author:
Richard Eaves is a Digital Marketing Specialist at Smart Traffic, which is an SEO company based in the UK.
He oversees more than 300 campaigns for clients in Australia, Thailand, and other countries worldwide.

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  • Guest (amir)

    we want to publish some news and content from other sites and reference to source but if we link to that site it be another problem, so what we should do, so Google will understand that we're referencing and don't notice us as content stealers ?



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