June 12, 2014 | Sarah Danks


There isn’t a week goes by without me reading about some company-or-other that got “hit by Panda,” “hit by Penguin,” or affected in some way by one of Google’s many algorithms (somewhat akin to MetaFilter’s woes).

It’s a scary world, folks, when disaster can strike at any moment. Since it’s #ThrowbackThursday, remember the ever-present fear of the dreaded Sandbox?!

But I digress.

The point is: with Google algorithms (or, as I fondly call them, The Google Zoo) lurking around every corner, how do you know YOUR website won’t be next in getting penalized for something? How do you even prepare for something unexpected? What to do? O, the agony.

Well, I’m here to tell you how to avoid penalties with your website. But first, a real-life penalty story.

Real-Life Google Penalty Story

Here’s an example of a client I had Back When that got hit with a penalty.

They came to the place I worked looking for an SEO person who was worthy of “fixing” their website and restoring their “rankings.” Well, in the meeting they admitted they’d talked to five other SEOs who couldn’t tell them what could’ve possibly caused their penalty and subsequent disappearance from the Google search results.

Whether or not those other “SEOs” were worth their salt or were just scared to ‘fess up, I could tell immediately what the problem was — this website had upwards of 150 pages of duplicate content.

The only difference between all of those pages parading as “unique” was the insertion of different states/cities on each page. This would’ve been right around the time the Panda update was introduced, by the way.

Looking squarely at the client, I said, “if you want, I can tell you what the issue is right now” (with an eye askance at my boss, who hated it when I was forthright with clientele). Of course, they were all ears so with a tacit “go ahead” from the HiPPO I delicately stated the problem.

I phrased it in such a way as to say, “I know what you’re trying to do — you want to cater to all of your demographics.” But I had to level with them and say that “while your intentions are good, Google looks at this as spammy content, ergo you’ve been punished by no longer showing up in their SERPs.

Because of my honesty (along with a dash of how to go about keeping the idea but not all those pages), I won us the client.


How to NOT Get Hit With a Google Penalty.

That’s all great and yadda yadda…but how do YOU keep YOUR website from getting hit with a Google Zoo penalty, right?

Okay, fine, I’ll dish.

Here’s a list of Dos and Don’ts to stay safe from Google algorithm updates:

  1. Don’t acquire mass quantities of links in a short period of time (or, really, at all). Whether you get them for free or pay for them or guest blog and throw links back to your site everywhere you go, don’t do it. Period. I hate link building. Why? Because it’s unnatural.
  2. Do create good content and market it. Share it. Spread the word. Link love WILL happen (albeit much too slowly for most impatient marketers) if you go about it naturally. Sort of a, “if you write it, they will link” type of thing.
  3. Don’t create tons of duplicate content (i.e., the same content with a few words changed here and there to make it “unique”) for the sole purpose of showing up for various keywords/geography/etc.
  4. Do yourself a favor and write content that tells what your business does, how it can help potential customers, etc.
  5. Don’t keyword-stuff. Just. Don’t. E.g., We sell red widgets. If red widgets are what you’re after, you won’t find any better red widgets than right here! To order a red widget today, please fill out our form. For questions regarding which red widgets are the reddest, please contact us.
  6. Do another solid and use descriptive writing that reads well, gets the point across, but still has keywords in it. E.g., If red widgets are what you’re after, you won’t find any better than right here! To order yours today, please fill out our form. For questions about which widgets would be best for you, please contact us.
  7. Don’t fill your website with ads. Nothing says SPAM ALERT! like opening a web page and being bombarded with a myriad of banner ads.
  8. Do opt in to show ads on your site, if you think it’ll benefit your visitors, but please, have a care that not everyone loves push marketing.
  9. Don’t get involved with any other black hat tactics. If it seems spammy, PS: it probably is.
  10. Do adhere to best practices. Always.

So, to sum it all up:

If you don’t want your website to get penalized by one of the myriad Google Zoo algorithms running amok out on the great www, don’t be spammy. It’s really that simple.

If it looks weird to you, it’s going to look weird to your visitors. And, as we’ve learned, it’s certainly going to pique the interest of The Google (not in a good way).

And after reading all of that, the last — and simplest — “do” that you need to implement. DO create a website that connects your business to web visitors who can benefit from its offerings. Write, design and even optimize around what the ultimate business objective is (lead generation, e-commerce, etc.). It’s pretty easy.

Put up a website that meets the needs of its visitors and you have a 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001% chance of getting smacked with a Google penalty. Probably less than that, actually.


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