Google is the most popular search engine in the world for a reason – it is dedicated to providing superior search experience to users. In its bid to do so, the search giant constantly alters and updates its algorithms to penalize and weed out websites that, it believes, will offer poor value and experience.

The effects of this penalization can be devastating. Of course. You lose traffic, you lose customers, you lose conversions. But what’s worse is that the effects of such penalization can be lasting. You can suffer backlash for months, even years. Imagine the horror.

So without further ado, here are 10 tips on how not to get penalized by Google and what to do if your site has been penalized:

1. Don’t be dishonest with your content

Good content is the single, most fundamental metric on which Google’s decisions about the quality and usability of your website are based. So what is good content? It is content that is original, fresh and helpful to users. And what is bad content? Bad content is – a) duplicate, b) spun, c) stolen, d) hidden, e) irrelevant or f) value-less.

Thus, to avoid being penalized stay away from low-quality content on your website. Allocate content creation to a dedicated team and give them access to tools such as CopyGator or Copyscape to ensure the originality and uniqueness of content. Advise your content team against spinning of content (Google will see it – doesn’t matter how cleverly it’s done) as well.

Dishonesty would also include scraping content from other websites. Google recognizes scraped content as duplicate as well and will punish you from using it. Thus, don’t pull content from other websites and, as a final precaution, protect your own content from being stolen. You can use Copyscape and other tools for the same.

If for some reason, you must publish the same content across different websites (say the same “About Us” section for your company websites catering to different localities or languages) use the “Hreflang” functionality to notify Google of the same content.

2. Don’t be dubious in link-building

The temptation to engage in “speedy” link-building strategies can be strong, especially because SEO traditionally relies heavily upon the number and quality of outbound links to your website. However, you are risking your rank and reputation with Google by:

  • buying links (even renting links on a monthly or period basis).
  • exchanging links with other webmasters for link-building.
  • accepting links from suspicious or bad-rep websites (hacking websites for instance).
  • or even, accepting links from websites in a different language.
  • smuggling links by placing them in script files.
  • hiding links by using background color as a camouflage.
  • over or under-populating your website with outbound links.

Link-building should be natural for it to be effective. Link yourself to high-quality, relevant and authoritative websites, even if it means having fewer links than you previously had. With links, quality trumps quantity.

3. Don’t forget XML sitemaps

XML sitemaps are your best friend. Why? Because they help Google’s search bots understand and correctly navigate your website. And what happens when you refuse to help Google’s search bots? Well, you hurt your chances of ranking high. Also, you increase your chances of being penalized.

4. Don’t abuse H1 tags and anchor text

You can help Google understand what your site or page is about by appropriately using H1 tags. However, use H1 tags to manipulate your SiteRank (by over-populating the tags with keywords) and you’ve got a problem. Google will interpret it as a black-hat SEO and punish you.

Same goes with anchor texts. Stuffing them unnaturally with keywords will do more harm than good. Google in fact, rolled out a special Penguin update back in 2012 to actively penalize websites that abused anchor text linking.

Instead, use the H1 tags and anchor text to include only the keywords that come in naturally. Ensure the anchor text you use is phrased in plain English and is relevant to the page you’re linking to. Do not keep it generic.

5. Don’t abuse keywords

Ah! keyword abuse – this is a classic case of too-much-of-a-good-thing-is-bad. Don’t stuff keywords in your content, the domain name, meta description tags and as you know by now, the H1 tags and anchor texts. For content, it is a good idea to maintain keyword density that falls between one and five percent. So, for a 100-word content piece, use anywhere between five and 15 keywords. For other aspects of your website, use keywords only where they come naturally and are relevant.

6. Don’t let your website crash or time out

Google may actually de-index your website from its database upon finding it down or dead. Keep up with your site’s maintenance to prevent such unfortunate turn of events. In addition, clean out all dead or broken links, 302 redirects, 404 errors and 500 errors from your website to stray clear of penalization altogether.

A website ridden with one or more of these errors spells a poorly-managed and low-quality website to Google. And who’s to say you won’t be penalized for not taking care of your website? Use regular site checks and maintenance as circumspection.

7. Don’t let your website be slow

How long does it take for your website to load? Users abandon websites that don’t load within three seconds. Think that’s harsh? You should know what Google does – it actively down ranks you and other websites that frustrate visitors by taking forever to load. So buckle down and speed up.

8. Don’t get spammed

Have you incorporated a “Comments” section for your blog, website and other online content channels? If yes, you can get penalized for others spamming it. This is because spammy comments are irrelevant to your content, offer no value to users and are ridden with cheap-links to other, often non-related websites. They bring down the overall quality of the content experience for your visitors, which is something Google just doesn’t tolerate.

The solution? Incorporate spam-detection filters, moderate comments or completely remove the section to prevent being spammed.

9. Don’t manipulate ads

Don’t manipulate paid promotions by disguising sponsors as neutral third-party content sources, using advertorials and the like. These tactics diminish credibility and affect your PageRank. You also don’t want to saturate your website with too many advertisements, even affiliate links.

10. And finally, don’t forget mobile

Google has already announced that mobile friendliness will become a larger denominator in its search and ranking algorithm starting April 21, 2015. If you haven’t jumped on the mobile-friendly bandwagon yet, now is the time. Use the Mobile-Friendly Test to access where you stand and adjust accordingly.

What to do if your website has been penalized by Google?

(You can check whether Google has penalized your website or not.)

If your website has been penalized by Google then don’t panic. Popular websites have been penalized before. However, there are few actions you can take.

First of all, try to identify the reason of your penalty. Usually, you will find this in your Google Webmaster Tools.

If you think there are low quality links that are the cause of the penalty then you can use Google’s Disavow tool. This tells Google to not take these links into account when it assesses your website. However, it’s best if you remove all the low quality links.

After you clean up your website by following the above tips, you can send a Reconsideration Request which can be found in your Google’s Webmaster Tools. But do note that this can take a while.

Alternatively, you can hire someone from Fiver to do the job for you. But make sure you read the reviews first before you proceed.

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