Search Engine Penalty – It Happens

Posted on: June 20, 2013

OK… you are a web master or web designer who has spent many, many hours to build up your site and its ranking in the organic search results. Then one day, you have a shock when you login to your Google Analytics account and seeing a huge drop in traffic that indicates a search engine penalty.

The reason for the drop in traffic doesn’t necessarily matter if it was a manual action taken by Google or if your website failed to meet the quality threshold imposed by a new and unexpected algorithm update. The most important factor is the potential loss of traffic and income your website faces if you fail to take necessary steps to determine whether or not your website is at risk of a search engine penalty.

Search Engine Penalty Prevention

To reduce your website’s risk of being hit with a search engine penalty, there are a few key areas that you should pay attention to.

Area One – Is Your Content Written for Users or Search Engines?

In the early days of SEO, search engines relied more heavily on the number of keyword repetitions present in content than on the content quality when it came to determine which website to place at the top of the organic search results.

As you may have figured out, website owners and early SEO strategists figured this out pretty quick – resulting in websites that were cluttered with keyword-stuffed articles or hidden text displayed with the same color as the page’s background and paragraphs of optimized content buried in website footers.

Although these strategies may have helped your website to again higher rankings in late 1990’s, search engines ranking methods have come a long way since. SEO algorithms are more highly developed and they are always being improved. This was certainly proven by Google’s 2001 Panda update, which targeted low value website content.

So how should you write your website content when considering the new search engine ranking methods? The answer is easy: write for both your readers and search engines.

As a website owner, your first consideration should be writing content  readers will find helpful, as it is the search engines’ intention to reward websites that provide the best possible value for their users. Keeping in mind, their algorithms are not (yet) quite sensitive enough to achieve this all of the time.

However, you may want to throw the search engines a little bit when it comes to determining the subject of your content by including your target keywords or phrases at least once or twice in your body content. Just be sure to make sure it is presented in a natural way. Don’t go overboard though but do make the purpose of your content clear to both readers and the search engines. For example, a 10% keyword density can be a giveaway that you are trying to beat the system.

Keyword density is the percentage of times a keyword or keyphrase appears on a web page in comparison with the total number of words on the page. There is no set percentage value that is recommended – just make sure your content reads naturally.

Area Two – Don’t Get Overly Optimization Happy

Do a  Google search for “website SEO techniques” and you will find any number of lists with specific, easy to implement recommendations on how to make your website’s content more search engine friendly.

Tips like adding your target keywords to your title tags, optimizing your body content heading tags and creating internal links between your website’s pages are all valid SEO techniques.

However, you should keep in mind that  it is possible to go to far with on-page optimization that will result in a site that is oddly uniform with its SEO value.  If you have completed the exact same optimization process on all of your web pages, you have basically  created a digital footprint that search engines may infer you are trying to manipulate algorithms into ranking your site better.

There is no certainty that doing too much SEO will lead to action taken against your site, but it should be noted that Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Web Spam Team, has been hinting about a possibility of an over optimization penalty a long time.  To keep your website better protected from this penalty, focus your efforts on creating highly valuable content and not on meeting a arbitrarily defined SEO standard.

Area Three – Get Your Back-links Naturally

Lastly, one key area that search engines have been cracking down on is link spam. Meaning, low value backlinks created for the sole purpose of improving natural search ranking.

The 2012 Google Penguin update was a major indication that they intended to penalize websites that were trying to manipulate the system by using link schemes.  Since the Penguin’s initial update roll out, addtional Penguin modifications have been released, further indicating that the elimination of any benefit generated by link schemes is probably going to remain a priority for the engines.

With that being said, it is important that you look at the quality of the sites pointing links back at your own web pages.  You can begin by gathering a list of existing back-links using the information provided by Google’s Webmaster Tools program or a third-party system.  Analyze your links and pay particular attention to any created on low quality sites for the specific purpose of building SEO value.

If you do find bad back-links in your profile, you can attempt to remove them buy using Google’s Disavow Links tool if your efforts are not successful. You can also try to outweigh the bad influence by building quality links using natural methods.  Whichever option you choose, make the regular monitoring of your site’s back-link profile a part of your regular SEO maintenance in order to avoid  search engine penalty that could threaten your web based business.