Google penalties are SEO’s red card. Learn what these are, how to identify if your site was penalized and how to recover!
You create a website. You write good articles. You choose keywords relevant to your business. So, you start converting visitors into leads and nurturing the user through email marketing. As a consequence, you close several businesses.
Good job, you are on the right track!
At this time, you already understood how Inbound Marketing techniques and content generation are efficient, which is reflected in the financial health of the company.
But, one fine day, you perceive that visits to your site fell.
When verifying in Google, a diagnosis: some of your pages lost positions. Or worse, they simply disappeared from the search results.
Do you know why this happened?
Your site was probably penalized by the search mechanism, which ended in the breaking of your sales funnel chain, hurting the performance of the business as a whole.
It is a sad story, but it happens.
But do not worry. For all evil, there is a solution.
In this article, you will know what Google’s penalties are, how they impact your SEO strategy and what to do to combat them.
What is a Google penalty?
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As in any other area, a penalty is intended to punish a mistake, failure, or bad faith attitude.
In the world of sports, a penalty is applied to an athlete who breaks the rules established in the regulation, using illegal resources to improve their performance, such as the use of illegal substances or violation of the regulation.
It is exactly the same in the digital world.
As one of the main tools for acquiring traffic on the internet, the search mechanisms have rules to position the best pages at the top of the results pages, also known as SERPs.
It’s simple: when they are raped, there is retaliation.
That’s the way developers have found to avoid using techniques that hurt user experience and focus only on earning profits.
Practices that violate google’s good behavior guidelines are called black hat , a topic that will be addressed later.
How to recognize if my site was penalized?
There are two types of punishment applied by Google: the manual and the automatic.
In the first case, you receive an alert explaining the reasons, since it is an individual action by a collaborator of the company.
However, it is necessary to highlight that the search engine covers all online content, therefore, Google will not always warn if your site suffered a punishment.
Many times, the bot only applies the punishment without giving many explanations. Those are the automatic penalties.
The first precautionary tip is to keep an eye out for metric analytics platforms like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tool .
By means of these, it is possible to identify sudden drops in positioning in the search results.
That is the first symptom of a penalty.
However, in a more direct way, there are 3 simple ways to recognize when a site or page was penalized. These are:
- Alerts on Google Webmaster Tools;
- Decline abruptly in the positioning of the SERPs;
- Difficulty indexing pages in search results.
Despite that, you regularly analyze your numbers , you certainly perceive when that happens.
This is because penalties directly impact an essential metric for any digital strategy: traffic.
It is worth remembering that the algorithm responsible for identifying and applying punishments is updated frequently , that is the case of Panda, Penguin and others .
Therefore, it is important to be on the lookout for each revealed update as it introduces changes and may be the reason for the problem.
Now, we move on to the practical part of identification. When you notice a sudden drop in the number of visitors to your site, take the following steps to ensure:
Enter the search engine and, in the search field, do a specific search, exactly as described in quotes:
If your site appears in the results, it means that it was not penalized. That is good news.
In case it doesn’t appear, there is still a chance that you have manually de-indexed your site by accident .
In this situation, go to your WordPress (or to the CMS platform) and make sure to remove the de-indexing, as that will not bring any benefit to your business.
If that’s not your problem, it means that your site was removed from search results by the Googlebot.
But you need to despair. Continue accompanying the article to find the solution.
Once this is done, search for the name of your site on the platform, without specifications in the search. Thus:
If your page appears below other pages (even your own social media pages), there was probably a less serious punishment.
2. Check the Webmaster tool
When your site continues to be indexed, but still has a significant drop in traffic, other problems may be the cause.
To verify, enter the Google Webmaster tool and enter the “Tracking errors” tab . You will need to have the Google Analytics code installed on your site.
The same tool will diagnose possible tracking problems and you will feel more comfortable to correct them.
3. Look at your main keywords
Every site has some pages that are more important than others. That is, those that generate more traffic to the site through search mechanisms.
Probably, they have a good positioning for some specific terms. So, try looking for it in an anonymous browser window .
If there was a discrepancy between the current and previous positioning, you probably suffered a punishment.
Now, you understood that there are different penalties for entire domains and for individual pages.
4. Check for Googlebot updates
As I said, the Google algorithm frequently receives updates. So if you notice a drop in the performance of your pages, look for information about them.
These may bring new specs that you were not aware of, and this may be the reason they have fallen.
What are Google’s penalties?
There is no manual that explains in detail what Google’s penalties are, even though the guidelines play a role of reference to the possibilities.
However, some claims are common by website administrators. Depending on the level of severity, these are:
- PageRank reduction
- Loss of 30 positions in search positioning
- Loss of 50 positions in search rankings
- Loss of 950 positions in search rankings
- De-indexing the search engine page
- De-indexing the search engine domain .
In addition to that, Google puts some impediments to single pages or entire domains, like:
- Difficulty indexing new site pages
- Difficulty positioning new content well in SERPs.
Why did Google penalize my site?
In most cases, if Google applied any punishment on your site, it is because it identified the use of illegal techniques to improve search engine ranking. That is, the black hat.
But, before talking about these, we will bring a specific case: Google Sandbox
Every day, new sites emerge that must be indexed. And, many times, they stay online for a year, when they are abandoned by administrators after their expiration.
Thus, relatively new domains have greater difficulties in being indexed and well positioned.
This because the age of the domain is one of the 200 positioning factors .
It is important to be very careful when trying to speed up the optimization process through backlinks.
When a young domain has many references on other sites, in a short time, the bot distrusts the use of black hat and ends up making things difficult for positioning.
That is valid for registered sites, mainly, less than six months ago . After a year of its existence, things begin to improve.
What is black hat?
You probably already saw old west movies starring Clint Eastwood or some other Hollywood star, am I right?
Then you must have noticed that one of the most present symbols was the cowboy hats. While the good guys wore the characteristic white hat, the villains always had black heads.
In SEO strategies, the reference of cowboys from such films is used. While the recommended techniques were named White Hat , the prohibited ones received the black hat wedge .
But, like movies, there is also a sheriff in charge of maintaining order in the digital environment. This is the algorithm of Google (or Googlebot), which monitors and punishes pages that use the black hat.
And this is a rigorous police officer. Even if you’re on the side of the heroes, a hesitation and bang! Your page can be removed.
What are the known black hat techniques?
Do you intend to become a digital cowboy? So you better know the rules of the game, buddy. And of course, always go for the white hat!
But did you know that you can be wearing black hat and not know it?
In order not to be confused by the “SEO police”, know, below, some of the black hat techniques that you should not apply in any way:
It is considered one of the worst actions of a webmaster, the full or partial copy of a content is considered a serious violation of Google’s guidelines.
Plagiarism is certainly not recommended, as the bot easily identifies that practice (even with some word alterations) and will certainly harm the page’s ranking.
How to avoid it: Produce original content. Texts can be produced based on other articles, but never copy the identical information. For this, the use of different references is recommended.
As we know, keywords are one of the most important criteria for ranking on Google.
Thinking about it, some black hat webmasters insert relevant terms hidden between the pages, which does not benefit the user at all.
They can come from outside the page through CSS, camouflaged in the same background color, hidden behind other elements (such as images and plugins) or formatted in a minimal size.
How to avoid it: put all your keywords in the body of the text, in a visible way. If Google identifies any word covered by the HTML or elements of the page, it will be suspicious of the site.
Ah! The coveted first search result for that all-important term.
Undoubtedly, positioning at the top of searches for long-tail keywords is the dream of many digital entrepreneurs.
So is it a good idea to repeat the keyword in an article multiple times? Is it possible to insert them in the tags, metatags and in the alternative text of the images?
The answer is definitely NO.
That is a practice that can lead to punishment, seen as black hat by search engines.
How to avoid it: use keywords naturally and fluently. A good alternative for repetition too much is the use of similar terms, since the algorithm considers semantic search, which identifies them.
Camouflage (cloacking) and unrelated URL’s
In a real war, camouflage is one of the most important aspects of victory.
However, for search mechanisms, this technique is extremely harmful.
The main objective of an article is to fulfill the promise of the title and be useful to those who enter.
Camouflage (or cloacking) is the use of illegal techniques that appear one way for search mechanisms and another for the user, using IP delivery.
In addition to that, inserting a title (or changing a URL) that has nothing to do with the text, just to rank in search engines, is also a terrible idea.
In addition to the user’s residence time , another extremely important factor for positioning, to be minimal, the Googlebot can identify and penalize the page in question.
How to avoid it: Your texts must contain a title and a URL that match the content, as well as tags and metatags. On top of that, don’t try to take advantage of HTML resources to circumvent the algorithm.
Linkfarm and PBN’s
Remember that group of friends at school who always did assignments together to get the best grade? With Professor Google, that doesn’t work so well.
The linkfarm or link farm, is a black hat technique in which a company offers links on its blog in exchange for a reciprocal action by the beneficiary.
At first, that may seem like an interesting practice, as it carries references on both sides. But the bot does not see it favorably and, when it identifies it, it can generate punishment.
Another activity that is considered unethical is participation in PBNs or Private Blog Network.
In short, they are sites that sell links . The managers of companies of this type are attentive to the recently expired domains, and buy them to inherit their authority.
In some cases, they are hacked idle pages. Yes, you read well.
Obviously, it is a mistake to participate in those networks. That’s because Google will probably punish the pages that are anchoring the link (wasting all the investment). And the worst: it can direct its eyes to your site.
How to avoid it: links must be conquered naturally, so there is no better way than to invest in the quality of the content. Another recommended practice is that of guest posting, which is the dissemination of texts on blogs of other companies as a guest.
Doorway Pages and unrelated keywords
You cannot fool Google.
In attempts to “circumvent” the Googlebot, some site administrators initiate text appropriately and insert black hat elements throughout the text (such as repeating a keyword unrelated to the text).
Doorway Pages, in turn, redirect the user to a new page in the middle of reading or open unwanted pop-ups.
It is clear that this makes the user feel furious, since he cannot find what he is looking for when entering the landing page.
How to avoid it: never use redirection to take the user to another page, interrupting their experience. This will certainly reduce the authority of your page.
We know that a website is a terrain where interaction counts a lot. But that does not mean you can abuse.
Another well-known black hat technique is the comments on sites, forums and social networks of great players or pages with a good domain authority, inserting links from the site itself.
In theory, it would function as a small “theft of authority”.
But the truth is that, in addition to the fact that this practice is frowned upon, many sites put the label of “nofollow” to indicate to the Googlebot that it is not reviewing authority for that link, as is the case of Wikipedia , for example.
How to avoid it: The interaction is very well seen by Google, since you do not have unethical objectives. Therefore, you can (and should) continue commenting on your favorite sites, as long as they are not identified as spam.
That is one of the most popular black hat techniques.
Imagine that a competitor goes to your company’s Fanpage and makes a bad evaluation of your product or service, in addition to writing some negative comments denigrating the corporate image.
With negative SEO it is the same thing . However, it is generally used in Google My Business or Google+ , as both influence the positioning of the page.
When detected, this practice can have the reverse effect and end up harming the attacking company.
How to avoid it: Consciously use Google My Business and never use it to decrease your competition. A fair market is one of the main objectives of the search mechanism.
Techniques that are not black hat, but harm SEO
There are some contradictions that must be avoided by webmasters to maintain the good positioning of the page. They function as a kind of SEO “fair play”.
These do not necessarily generate a punishment, but if you have trouble positioning, these may be the reason.
Here are some of them:
- Poor content
- Satin content
- Excess headings
- Excessive error pages on the site
- References of sites in other languages
- Links of pages at the foot of your site
- Use of hidden links
- Broken external links
- Excessive use of the same anchor text
- High page load time
- Links rental
- Sudden emergence of many links pointing to your site
- Excessive use of metatags
- Excess plugins
- Off-air site
- Outdated site
- Content that uses black hat
- External links to suspicious sites
And perhaps, the most important of them:
- Sites without responsive design
My site was penalized by Google. What can I do now?
Was your site penalized? Calm down, you don’t need to despair. Although the penalties are severe, there are some methods to try to recover the fall.
The first thing to do is to check Google’s webmaster guidelines , which work as a good practice guide to rank well in the search engine.
Make sure you are not using any of the black hat techniques. Also try to reformulate your articles, always remembering to format them according to the recommended techniques. If possible, also check the quality of the content.
Again, it is important to highlight the most valuable advice for anyone working with Searching Engine Optimization: focus on the user.
Put yourself in his place and simulate his behavior. Are your articles useful? Do the links take you to pages that can answer your questions? Is the scannability conducive?
Anyway, the solution
After you have corrected all the flaws and possible illicit applications on your site, you should make a request for reconsideration on Google , in case it was due to manual penalties.
In case your problem is due to automatic punishment , the secret is to have patience, because Google will have to identify the changes to optimize the pages again.
Don’t panic . Even large sites suffer penalties in search mechanisms.
And remember: always be on the lookout for updates to the algorithm, as these may bring news that you did not yet understand.
In this article you learned about Google penalties, how to avoid and correct them. In short, it’s all a matter of applying the right techniques and providing the best user experience.
So if you want to apply SEO practices in your digital marketing strategy, also read this material . It will certainly be very useful for your business.