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How to Avoid a Google Penalty

I’ve noticed that over the last six months or so I have seen a growing number of SEO businesses that advertise their ability to get Google penalties removed.  Some of them even boast that they can get a penalty revoked in just three weeks, a claim for which I have some doubts.  Although getting a Google penalty removed is crucial to a business, it should be more important to every business to never receive a penalty in the first place. Having completed a number of Google reconsideration requests I wanted to pass on my thoughts on how to avoid ever receiving one of their dreaded penalties. The work to remove a penalty is time consuming and can be expensive.  As we all know, receiving a penalty from Google can have a serious impact on search engine traffic and the last thing you want to have happen to a client is for them to suddenly lose organic traffic.  Whether you have a large number of clients or only one your aim as an SEO should be:  protect your clients from ever receiving a Google penalty.

 What Can Attract a Google Penalty?

Things that were done long ago to improve search engine rankings can jump up to bite you now.  We all know that in the past black hat SEO was rampant.  These included some of the following tactics:

  • Links bought by the hundreds,
  • Spun blog articles with anchor text linking
  • Forum posting with links that were Follow
  • Link exchanges
  • Listings on numerous so called directories that generated no referral

All of these were common practices that worked in the short term however, all of these can now damage a website’s rankings.  Additionally, a number of on-site tactics were prevalent such as:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Invisible text
  • Adding unrelated keywords to content
  • Doorway pages and numerous other tactics to attempt to improve rankings.

Even if you have not received a message from Google or been affected by an algorithmic penalty it is time to clean up what may be a mess waiting to get you.  Links to and from your website can provide the biggest boost to SERP and be where the major problems lie and should be the first area to investigate.

Cleaning Up a Backlink Profile Problem Before a Google Penalty

There are a number of tools available to analyze a website’s backlink profile and include Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer, SEO Profiler, Link Research Tools and several others.  I currently use the four tools listed here to analyze a client’s backlink profile.  The process you would undertake is the same that you would follow in preparing a penalty reconsideration request.  The three part series of articles on Preparing for a Google Reconsideration provides details on the process for preparing for a reconsideration request and will give you the steps to follow in identifying links that can lead to a penalty.  With Google’s recent attention to backlinking it is imperative that an analysis of each client’s profile be conducted as soon as possible and damaging backlinks be removed.  The main difference will be that you will not have to request to have a penalty revoked by Google.  All of the work will be between yourself and those websites linking to yours or your client’s website.

In a short version the process would entail the following steps:

  • Identify links that are possibly damaging
  • Request removal or change to No Follow (request at least twice)
  • If you receive confirmation of links removal or change, check them out
  • Disavow those links for which you receive a negative response or no response to your request

Cleanup work on a backlink profile is something that you cannot do once and forget.  Websites may and generally do link to your site without notifying you.  It is therefore important to undertake this process on a regular basis to discover any damaging links that may have been added and have them removed or disavowed.  Only by doing this regularly can you ensure that your backlink profile does not attract negative attention from the Google Webspam Team!

On-site Cleanup

Once you are finished cleaning up your backlink issues it is time to take a hard look at your website itself.  Check to make sure you don’t have a lot of the issues like those mentioned to attract a penalty.  Do a complete audit of your site to find any coding issues, broken links, missing title, duplicate pages, excessive links and server issues that may cause the search engine spiders to not do a complete check of your website.  Your goal should be to ensure that every page you want indexed is clean of any issues.  It is then time to begin the work of adding quality content that will attract visitors to your site and engage them.  Remember that your site exists for readers, not search engine spiders.  No matter how high you may get your site to rank in the SERPs, if visitors find your site hard to navigate, unrelated to their search, poor quality content and full of coding issues that make their experience unsatisfactory you will have failed in your mission.  The goal is to attract, engage and convert visitors, not to be Number 1 in the search engine rankings!