No one wants their website penalized by Google or other search engines.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to know what you're doing wrong.
In this article, we'll discuss some of the most common SEO mistakes small business owners do that can result in an SEO Penalty and how to avoid them.
What are SEO penalties?
SEO penalties are essentially a punishment from Google for breaking the rules.
There are two main types of Google penalties: manual and algorithmic.
Manual Google penalties are usually given when you have been reported to Google for breaking their guidelines in some way or did something that was plain spam.
Algorithmic Google penalties (or filters), on the other hand, are usually given near Google Algorithm updates when you are doing something that does not fully align with the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
This doesn't show up in your Google Search Console as a manual penalty, but it affects the rankings of your website.
The good news is that Google penalties are completely avoidable!
There are a lot of old search engine optimization tips and tricks online that can get your website penalized in Google.
If you stay away from these, the chance of getting google penalties is close to zero.
How do I check my Google Penalties?
If you think you may have received a Google penalty, the first thing you should do is check Google Search Console.
This is a free tool provided by Google that allows you to see if there are any errors on your website.
You should go to the Manual Actions sections, and if you see any messages from Google in Search Console, it's likely that you have received a Google Penalty.
If you don't see a message in there and your positions and traffic dropped it could be an algorithmic penalty or filter that is affecting your website.
If you have received a Manual Google Penalty, don't worry too much as most of the time it is reversible.
The search engine giant will let you what kind of actions you need to take in order to recover from it.
One of the most common reasons small businesses receive an SEO penalty is because they have bought spammy links from untrusted sources.
Sellers on Fiverr and on other websites offer "high quality" backlinks for a low price.
If you see something that is "high quality" and is low in price, it generally means that it is not true.
These sellers have a huge network of PBNs and place your link on websites that are overused and spammy, which can lead to your website getting penalized and your search engine rankings dropping.
They also promise and guarantee to raise your search engine rankings by buying their links, which is of course cannot be done.
If you do choose to buy links, make sure that they are from a trusted source and that the link is relevant to your website, this way you can avoid Google Penguin penalties.
You should avoid this search engine penalty at all costs as it will cause all of your search rankings to drop, causing your website traffic to stop as well.
Which will mean leads and calls stop coming in too.
2. Don't over-optimize Anchor Text
An Anchor text is a piece of text in a hyperlink that is used to link to your website.
If you use too much of the exact anchor text, it can look spammy to Google and result in an SEO penalty.
Using the same anchor text over and over again is fine if you are using your brand name as an anchor, or a branded URL.
Problems start to happen once you being to add your keywords into anchor texts and all of them are similar or all of them include that particular keyword or something that is similar to it.
To avoid this, make sure to vary your anchor text and don't keyword stuff them. Make sure they are natural.
You don't have to add your keyword to each, you can use topically relevant ones.
Link schemes are when you exchange links with other websites in order to boost your search rankings.
This is a big no-no in Google's eyes and can result in an SEO penalty.
If you're ever asked to participate in a link scheme, just say no.
Although there are instances where a link exchange can benefit your website, usually the ones that reach out to you by email will be spammy, non-relevant websites and will decrease your site's ranking instead of increasing it.
4. Avoid Duplicate Content
Although you cannot get a manual penalty for Duplicate Content, it still can give your website an algorithmic filter which will hold back its rankings.
This is when you have the same or very similar content on multiple pages of your website.
Google doesn't want to serve a website to its users that have the same content on a ton of pages.
To avoid this, make sure to only have unique content on each page of your website.
If you do have duplicate content, use a canonical tag to tell Google which version of the content is the original.
5. Avoid Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing is when you stuff too many keywords into your content in an attempt to rank higher on Google.
It was a working technique back in the day. SEOs and website owners would place a ton of keywords on a page to make it rank higher on Google.
However, nowadays this will actually result in an SEO penalty.
To avoid keyword stuffing, make sure to use keywords sparingly and only use them where they make sense.
You can also use a tool like Surfer SEO, which tells you how many times (backed by data) should you use your terms in your content. This helps you avoid google penalties.
6. Avoid Poor Quality Content
In general, you should avoid publishing any low-quality content on your website.
This includes things like typos, grammar errors, and duplicate content.
Publishing poor-quality content can lead to your website being filtered out of the Google index.
To avoid this, make sure to proofread your content and only publish high-quality content that is original.
Every time you write an article or a piece of content for your website, make sure you do research and try to answer questions that other website owners don't.
This will make your website seem more useful in the eyes of Google.
Hidden content is when you deliberately put content on your page that is not visible to the user to get better rankings in search engines.
This can be things like white text on a white background or hidden divs, and headings to be able to stuff more content without disrupting the user experience.
Google does not like hidden content and if you use it, it will result in an SEO penalty.
To avoid this, make sure all the content on your pages is visible to the user. If you need to hide something, it is always better to delete it instead.
It is very hard to do this accidentally unless you hired a developer or a website designer that hid stuff on your website.
8. Fix Your Hacked Website as Soon as Possible
If your website has been hacked, it's important to fix the issue as soon as possible.
A hacked website can lead to an SEO penalty since Google doesn't want to show a website in its search results which can bring harm to its users.
The first sign is when you search for your website and you will see a ton of pages in the google search results for your domain that you didn't add to your website. Usually, these have Chinese characters in them.
To fix a hacked website, you should first change all your passwords and then scan your website for malware.
The best is to hire a professional to fix your website. Even if you manage to fix it yourself, there could be snippets of code or files remaining on your server that could let the hacker in again.
Once you have cleaned up your website, you can submit it to Google for review.
9. Avoid Doorway Pages
Doorway pages are very similar pages that are created to rank for similar terms.
A common example of this is creating a thin content, doorway page for ranking in every city that you serve.
They are usually low-quality and don't provide any value to the user.
Creating doorway pages can result in an SEO penalty.
To avoid this, make sure all the pages on your website are high-quality and provide value to the user.
10. Don't Cloak Pages
Cloaking is when you show different content to Google than you do to the user.
This is usually done when spammers try to show phishing pages to users, but normal content to Google so it ranks.
Nowadays, it is very hard to fool Google with cloaking and if you decide to do it, you will receive a penalty.
To avoid this, make sure to always show the same content to Google as you do to the user.
11. Avoid Bad Neighborhoods
In SEO, bad neighbourhoods are servers or IP addresses that are shared by a lot of websites that are penalized by Google or doing spammy activities.
You see, when you purchase a cheap shared hosting, you will share the same server IP address with a lot of other websites.
By default, this wouldn't be necessarily an issue, but if you have a ton of spammy websites on that IP, Google will eventually catch up and filter your website, even if your site is legit.
To counter this, make sure you use a web hosting company that is legit and isn't very cheap. We personally recommend WPX.
Stay away from web hosting companies that offer $5 website hosting for a year. These are used by spammers who host their PBNs there.
12. Using a Spammy Free Host
Just like being in a bad IP neighbourhood, using free hosts can cause algorithmic penalties.
A lot of these free hostings are spammed to hell and are used by people who abuse it.
Also, these spammy free hosts put Ads on your website to cover the hosting costs. These Ads often have phishing offers in them or lead to spam websites.
If you don't have money for legit hosting, get a WordPress blog or free Wix website instead.
13. Avoid Thin Content
Thin content is content that doesn't provide much value to the user and it is very short in length.
It can be things like short blog posts or product descriptions or pages created just to gain an SEO advantage.
However, this doesn't mean that all of your blog content needs to be several thousand words.
Your posts should be as short as possible and as long as they need to be.
If you can answer a question in 500 words, it is fine, but if it takes 2000 words it is also fine.
Just make sure you don't have a ton of thin pages on your website as it get can get you an algorithmic penalty.
14. Mismatching AMP Content
If the content on your AMP pages doesn't match the content on your regular pages, it can lead to an SEO penalty.
To avoid this, make sure the content on your AMP pages is the same as the content on your regular pages.
AMP doesn't have that much of an effect anyway nowadays, so we don't see a reason for using it.
15. Avoid Having Cloaked Images
Cloaked images are images that are different for your users and for Google. This could be like showing an ad to your users and a stock image for Google.
If you are using cloaked images, it will lead to an SEO penalty.
To avoid this, make sure all the images on your website are visible to the user.
If you have unnatural links from spammy websites, it can lead to an SEO penalty.
To avoid this, make sure you get links from credible websites.
This usually happens when you are buying links or you are taking part in link-building schemes.
But, in some cases, you can receive a lot of spam links from other websites as a part of a negative SEO attack.
This happens when someone (usually a competitor) blasts your website with thousands of links, that have spammy anchor text to get your website penalized.
Google is now pretty clever about recognising these situations, so it won't harm your website, but we still recommend disavowing the links that you have received in a negative SEO attack.
Avoiding Google penalties is not a hard thing to do at all if you follow the guidelines.
If you think something is spammy or looks too good to be true it is best to avoid that technique.
We hope this article has been useful for you!
If you need more help with understanding Google Penalties don't hesitate to contact us!