Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve got a website, or you manage a website. Either way, you’re likely concerned about keeping your site’s rankings up. You’ve heard some of the recent horror stories of big, well-established websites receiving major punishments following Google’s Penguin and Panda updates, and if you’re like the rest of us, you’re probably just trying to avoid that.
If you’re worried about Google penalties, the biggest thing to remember is that Google is working to provide its users with the best, most relevant results to their searches. This means Google wants to rank sites that put user experience at the top of their list, and that provide information their users are actually looking for. Anything that gets in the way of excellent user experience could get you penalized. If you want to stay on top of what Google is looking for, you can check out their current webmaster guidelines.
While manual penalties, where a Google employee manually penalizes a site, do happen, the most common and most devastating type of penalty comes from Google’s algorithm. What happens is that Google makes an update to their algorithm, which changes how they rank sites, and as we saw with past Penguin and Panda updates, the results can be pretty dramatic if you’re not doing everything right.
On the positive side, you really don’t have to be held at the mercy of Google, waiting for the day that you accidentally step out of bounds and get penalized. There are actually tons of steps you can take to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your website playing by the rules. As long as you follow these steps, you should see a positive rise in both your rankings and your traffic. Here are 7 things to keep in mind when trying to avoid Google penalties:
#1 Does your site perform well?
One of your best defenses against any Google penalty is to simply have a website that performs well. You need to make sure you have very little, if any downtime, and your site needs to be fast. Like we said before, Google’s first priority is user experience. So that’s what you need to be focusing on. Would your site user appreciate a site that loads quickly, is always up, and functions with no glitches? Um, yeah. That’s the kind of site that Google is going to rank more highly. If your site is glitchy, or down a lot of the time, you’ll be penalized. Google doesn’t want to recommend links that are down any more than users want to click on a link only to find a 404 error.
#2 Is your site mobile friendly?
If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a million times. More than half of all internet traffic is mobile. Whether people are using their tablets, their smartphones, or even their Apple watches, they want to be able to see your site, and they want to see it quickly. So, not only does your site need to be mobile responsive, it also has to have a fast load time, and be optimized for mobile viewers. Make sure your pictures aren’t too big to scroll past, and if your mobile site is too cluttered, take out menu options that don’t apply to mobile viewers. Have an extra minute? You can check Google’s mobile-friendly tool to see if your site is optimized for mobile users.
#3 Watch your links
Alright, this tip is going to be split into two parts, one about the links you make yourself, and one about monitoring your backlinks. They’re both equally important, but before we go any farther, let’s just get one thing straight: DO NOT BUY LINKS. We don’t think we can make that any clearer. Google will find out that you’re sneakily getting links, and you’ll be penalized. With that said, let’s move on:
- In regards to the links you make to other sites, or external links, you need to be very cautious about what you’re choosing to link to. You should only provide links to reputable, trusted sites that are legitimately relevant to your business. The more irrelevant links that Google sees on your site, the more likely you are to receive a penalty and be sent to cyberspace oblivion. Avoid this by only linking to highly relevant sites that add value to your content.
- So now we turn to backlinks. Sure, you want as many backlinks as you can get, but unfortunately not all backlinks are created equal. If you get a backlink from some highly reputable site, like Moz, then that’s a great thing. But the problem is that some shadier sites can also link to your site, which is not a good thing. So, it’s important that you’re really proactive about checking your backlinks, and taking out the bad ones. The best way to do this is through a link audit, which will show you who’s linking to your site. Once you know how many backlinks you have, and from where, then you can go through and remove the ones that are unnatural or shady. If you’re not sure how to go about that, check out these backlink cleanup tips.
#4 Don’t duplicate content
This is another one that we feel strongly about, but don’t want to torture you with again. If you’ve read any of our other blogs, you should know that duplicate content is frowned upon. Google can spot it from a mile away, and will automatically penalize you for it. So if you’ve been copy pasting your product descriptions, you need to get out of 2008 and get with the times. This will only hurt your site rankings, and seriously decrease the traffic you get.
#5 Use smart anchor text
For a while, people were keyword stuffing their anchor text. While that seemed like a good plan, Google has decided otherwise. Following the Penguin update, many sites that were using keyword-rich anchor text were hit pretty hard when Google started penalizing for this. Google sees keyword stuffed anchor text as unnatural, and a barrier to quality user experience, so you need to as well. Choose instead to use a natural phrase as anchor text. You can still use your keyword, just make sure you’re not using it over and over, and you’re using it in a phrase, rather than just by itself.
#6 Build memorable brand signals
One of the ultimate ways to ensure that your site stays safe from penalties is to keep building your brand. A company brand conveys trust and credibility, all things that Google is searching for to deliver to its users. When Google respects your website, they think a little harder before penalizing you. But how do you build a brand?
First of all, you need a logo, and you need a color scheme that you maintain throughout all of your pages and social media accounts. Anything you can do to ensure you’re immediately recognizable to an online user, whether they’re coming to your site from Google or Linkedin, will make your life a lot easier, and can bump your rankings. Once you’ve got your logo and colors down, here’s what you need to do:
- Claim online local listings and implement NAP to show Google your business really does exist.
- Maintain social media profiles on all major sites like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and Linkedin. Make sure you’re regularly updating and posting information relevant to your company and brand.
- Build backlinks NICELY, using your brand name as anchor text. It’s fine to use your brand name as anchor text because it’s not an unnatural way to link. Google accepts that people need to link to other businesses, and using business names as the anchor text is the best way to do it.
#7 Use guest bloggers with extreme caution
Finally, we’d like to touch on the issue of guest blogging. It’s become a bit controversial after Google’s former head of web spam announced that guest blogging holds considerable risk. Before that, people used guest bloggers as a way to build up a lot of quality backlinks, but following that update, it’s shown that guest blogging isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you want to build links by using a guest blogger, there’s no reason you shouldn’t, but you do need to only pick guest bloggers with content that is EXTREMELY relevant to your site.
Really, guest blogging should be used primarily to expand your audience, and build your brand image, and only secondarily to build links. If you do build links via guest bloggers, you need to make sure that content is relevant to your company blog, relevant to your brand, and relevant to your company’s mission. If not, it’s better to just skip it rather than risk the penalty.
By implementing these 7 tips, you’ll be much closer to avoiding any and all Google penalizations. Above everything, make sure to remember that you’re working in the best interest of your site viewer. The more accessible you make your site to your users, the higher you’re likely to rank on Google.
If you have any questions regarding Google penalizations, or if you’d like some help with your digital marketing strategy, feel free to get in touch.