Top 10 Reasons Why Your Domain Might Get Penalized by Google
I was inspired to write this article because of a question a student, Aishani Mitra, recently asked in my free Digital Marketing 101 class.
I’ll tell you a quick, interesting story about Black Hat SEO but if you want to just get to the list scroll down a few paragraphs 🙂
I’ve been doing SEO since 1995 (when I was only 11 years old) when I built a website for my dad’s business. Back then, almost anything went. It was like the wild west of SEO. Not any more.
Black Hat SEO is a term that was coined in the late 90s during the early days of the Internet. The most famous example was during the dot com boom when website owners rushed to increase pageviews (or “eyeballs”) to their site. Everyone was very focused on getting traffic–at any cost.
One tricky way they attempted to do this was by placing thousands of keywords–some irrelevant to their core offering–on their website in white font color on top of a white background. The keywords were invisible to the visitors but the search engines picked them up and for a short period of time, they would rank on the first page of Google for thousands of related and unrelated keywords.
Of course, this was a terrible experience for the visitor and it reflected on Google’s core product: its Search Engine. So Google quickly took action to penalize domains that engaged in this search engine manipulation. Google updated its algorithm, which essentially prevented websites that engaged in these types of practices from ever showing up on Google search engine results page (SERP) ever again.
And today, Google has vastly expanded its list of Black Hat SEO tactics that could result in a domain penalty. Here’s a list I put together help people starting out with Digital Marketing understand what NOT to do.
So today the general rule of thumb is to just not do anything that seems unethical. Be transparent, honest, and do what’s right for your visitors. Always ask yourself these three things to help you determine if what you’re about to do is unethical: Is it helpful? Is it relevant? Is it engaging? If the answer is yes to these three questions, then you’re most likely fine.
1. Paying for backlinks
If you buy links from someone online promising to help you rank on the first page of google, nothing may happen. But there is evidence to suggest that Google and other search engines will take notice. Keep in mind that Google tracks everything visitors do on your website and that includes where visitors are coming from. And if Google notices that particular websites are linking too often to other websites, it may become suspicious. Moz actually tracks “Spam Scores” of websites. The largest contributor to a high spam score is many outgoing links; this is an indicator of a backlink farm (someone who gets paid to post links on their site).
2. Bartering for backlinks
One seemingly easy way to get a lot of backlinks is to trade. But it could be perceived by Google as an attempt to game the system. There are, however, a few good reasons to swap links. For example, if you are featured in a major publication, you may want to feature on your Press page on your website and link to it. Or perhaps you have fellow industry experts that you collaborate with on a regular basis and you link to each other. Those are considered legitimate link swaps and you likely will not get penalized.
3. Copying content
This includes plagiarized articles–or even paragraphs–that you copy from someone else. But this also can include copy that you copied from another website or blog that you own because Google doesn’t know that you own both sites.
4. Hiding links
This is similar to the Black Hat SEO tactic I mentioned in my story above. But this also includes making links the same color as text. The reason behind this one is that Google thinks you’re trying to hide links. Again, the general rule of thumb is just don’t do anything that seems unethical. Be transparent, honest, and do what’s right for your visitors.
5. Keyword stuffing
Adding too many keywords to your content can be bad. While there’s no magic number to how many keywords breaks the rules, you should keep in mind my general mantra: do what’s right for your visitors. Are you being helpful? Is it relevant? Is it engaging? If yes, then it’s most likely okay.
6. Including too many H1 tags
H1–or Header 1–tags are specified in the code and Google references them on your page to help determine what your page is about. If you use too many H1 tags, Google perceives it as suspicious and may penalize you. Aim to have just one H1 tag on each page.
7. Too many broken links
Broken links are links that result in an error 404 page when clicked; I’m sure you’ve experienced this in the past and it’s not only frustrating for the visitor but also a ranking and penalization factor. It’s a good idea to check for broken links at least a few times a year and to fix them immediately. They can be caused when you delete a page on your site and forget to update all the links that point to it. It can also be caused when someone else on another website that you don’t even own takes down a page or its entire site. And if you’re linking to that site, it will result in broken links. You can run your site through a free broken link checker to see how many you have.
8. Links in the footer
If you’ve ever paid a developer to design and build your website, you’ve probably noticed that they included a “designed by X” link in the footer so they can get traffic and a backlink to their site. Google doesn’t like this so be sure to remove those from your site.
9. Too many affiliate links
If your entire website is covered with links out to affiliates, Google may penalize for this. While Google is not necessarily opposed to affiliate links, it does consider too many of them to be malicious and will derank you and possibly penalize your domain.
10. Slow page load time
If your website is slow to load (over three seconds), Google may derank you or penalize your domain. Generally, your website must be very slow (over 10 seconds) for Google to get upset about it. This is an easy one to fix because it’s almost always caused by large image file sizes. And that’s an easy thing to fix by reducing the file size in Photoshop. If you don’t know how to use Photoshop, I recommend paying $5 through Fiverr to have a professional do it for you. You can check your website load time by running it through a free website page speed test.