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Proper SEO Tactics to Stay Out of the Google Penalty Box

SEO techniquesThe Chicago area offers various sports teams, one of which is the recent Stanley Cup Champions the Chicago Black Hawks. For those who may not follow sports, the Blackhawks are Chicago’s professional hockey team and three-time Stanley Cup winner in the past six years!

Now, I know some of you may be thinking “why is he talking about professional sports, I thought this article was supposed to be about SEO?” What better way to explain Search Engine Optimization (SEO) than to combine it with sports, specifically hockey.

SEO requires certain best practices or white hat techniques that will allow users to avoid winding up in Google’s “penalty box.” Just like the penalty box is not a place any player wants to be in during the game, it’s definitely not a place your business wants to wind up. How can a business avoid the penalty box? The answer is simple: just follow the rules.

These rules are defined by Google and implemented via algorithm updates. Google penalties are usually a result of these algorithm updates, with the two most recent updates being named Penguin and Panda. With every new update, Google tightens its standards for quality content and websites. A violation of the algorithm requirements can result in a penalty against your website; penalties range from a drop in your rankings (the equivalent of a hockey minor) all the way to a semi-permanent expulsion from Google’s index (a game misconduct).

The Penguin Penalty

The Penguin update was originally introduced in an attempt to combat web spam by demoting websites that engage in it. When a site’s link profile includes a lot of backlinks, it’s considered unnatural or deceptive. Google takes that as a sign that the site is trying to manipulate search rankings and penalized the site. Google hasn’t released a Penguin update in some time, but rumors say that another refresh is coming in early 2016.

Avoiding the Penguin penalty is pretty straightforward: do not buy or sell links, participate in link farms or any other type of unnatural linking for your site. Monitor backlinks on a tool such as SEO Moz regularly, and remove links that you feel could be hurting your site. Link building today is all about quality over quantity, so old links to sites that have nothing to do with a businesses’ core product are doing more harm than good.

Manual Action Penalty

These are penalties that aren’t related to Google algorithm changes like Penguin or Panda. They are named manual because a quality rater at Google has manually reviewed a site and is punishing it for a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines or for using black hat SEO tactics. Unlike some other penalties, if you receive a manual penalty, Google will notify the site’s moderator via the Search Console. This is done in an attempt to allow the site moderator to address it immediately.

To avoid a Manual Penalty, get familiar with Google’s webmaster guidelines for quality, design and technical specifications. You also need to make sure your site does not contain any of the following:

  • Hidden text
  • User-generated/comment spam
  • Cloaking or sneaky redirects
  • Spammy structured markup
  • Unnatural links from your site

In the world of Google, both the Penguin penalty and a manual penalty can result in a game misconduct or a semi-permanent expulsion. This is because Google views certain website activities as a deliberate attempt to manipulate rankings, or knowingly breaking the rules they set forth. Expulsion is not a definite outcome of a Penguin or manual penalty, but why risk even the possibility?

Google Panda Penalty

Google’s Panda algorithm update was introduced to start putting more of an emphasis on website content and the user experience versus how many times a specific keyword was included on a specific page. The algorithm finds the low-quality content sites and penalizes them and/or prevents them from showing up on the top of Google’s search results. By moving the low quality sites down it provides a better user experience for searchers by returning relevant, high value content for their search inquiry. The hardest part about avoiding a Google Panda penalty is that, unlike the penalties above, there are no straightforward do’s and don’ts.

In addition to sites with low-quality or thin content, Google Panda affects websites for a bunch of other reasons. Issues like slow page load times, a high ad to content percentage (i.e. more ads on a page than content) and security-related concerns can put a website in the Panda Penalty Box.

How can a Panda penalty be avoided? Here are a few things you can do to try and minimize the chances of your site getting a Panda penalty:

  • Build content that users will love – Write for your visitors, not for Google.
  • Do not overuse keywords – Use a variety of keywords and use them naturally.
  • Remove bad content – Remove content that is irrelevant or has no value to your site.
  • Speed up your site – Slow load times make for a bad user experience.
  • Fix broken links – Find a relevant live page to link to or delete the link.

To help you monitor what is going on with your site, mRELEVANCE’s SEO specialists suggest consistently visiting the Google Search Console. This website dashboard provided by Google shows you all the vital information associated with your site, including notices of penalties, site query drops, crawl stats, errors and incoming links. This dashboard should be a starting point for resolving any penalty.

Some of these penalties can be devastating to a website’s rankings, which can affect sales and business success. If you find your site penalized consistently or you’re confused and annoyed by all of the rules for proper SEO, give the experts at mRELEVANCE a call at 770-383-3360 or visit