It’s one of the worst feelings you can experience in the IM and online world..

You wake up in the morning, open up your rank tracking software and it feels like you get virtually punched in the face and knocked out of your chair. You see nothing but red “down” arrows and all of your keywords have fallen significantly or disappeared entirely.

Just like that, your traffic, sales, leads and money is done.

Google just fucked up your day. It happens around the clock, 365 days a year, so don’t feel completely horrible if it has happened to you. Sometimes the smallest mistakes can lead to being penalized, while some other websites ride the edge knowing the day will eventually come.

I see a lot of talk about algorithm changes when Google makes them public. Yes, there are the Pandas, Penguins and Hummingbirds to fear, but if you don’t think Google is running algorithms under the radar to snipe websites that are breaking its guidelines then you need a reality check.

The truth is, Google is always penalizing websites, and don’t think the big guys are safe from harms way, no matter how much they might be spending on PPC with Google, There have been many large websites that lost traffic overnight, with travel giant losing 25% of its traffic. Google nailed them for partaking in a paid link scheme.

It was discovered that Expedia was offering websites money for links containing exact match anchor text. There was a lot of press about this penalty because they sure weren’t trying to buy links under the radar. They were emailing every travel website they could contact and there was no shame in their game.

While I would bet that Google lets some big names slide, they had to make an example out of Expedia simply because it was so obvious that they were trying to game the algorithm. If Google let that slide people would immediately say that Google will not penalize companies spending millions on PPC with them, which Expedia does. Then there are the conspiracy theorists that started saying that Google was going to go after all the big PPC spenders that were also ranking organically to force them to spend more on PPC.

People will always have an opinion when it comes to Google and how it hands out slaps and penalties.

There are also instances of websites being penalized when in truth they did nothing wrong. They were simply victims of negative SEO. I have conducted several audits where the website owner came to me saying that their traffic stopped instantly and they had no idea why. Some of them were small local businesses that weren’t even doing any SEO. The sad thing is that a competitor can really ruin you if they want. It’s unfortunate, but it’s reality and people need to realize they can be penalized for bad SEO practices even if they aren’t doing any SEO.

There are two types of penalties that Google can slap you with:


1. Standard Algorithm Penalty

These are the standard algorithm updates that Google is constantly running and tweaking, including Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc. Since they run these algorithms nonstop, if you are violating their guidelines it isn’t a matter of “if” you get caught.. it’s “when.”

Google engineers are some of the best on the planet, so thinking that you will never get caught is foolish. I’m not saying blackhat SEO and churn and burn won’t work.. because it does. There are SEOs that make a lot of money using these techniques, but they go into each project fully understanding that they will eventually get pinched, and they have a new website ready in the wings for when that does happen.

The only way you know if your website is hit by an algorithm penalty is to track your website traffic. If it suddenly drops off, then you need to look into it more. You won’t get a notification in Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), but you should be monitoring traffic in Analytics daily, so if you get hit you will know right away.


2. Manual Ass Raping

Many people will say that they don’t connect their website to GWT because they don’t want Google to spy on them. I think that is foolish talk. There is so much to gain from GWT insights, including a notification in the event that they hit you with a manual ass raping.

Google has an entire team that looks for websites in violation of their search guidelines. It’s their job to identify websites that are participating in paid link schemes, or doing other shady practices, like using doorway pages, etc.

In Google Webmaster Tools there is even a section “Manual Actions” within the “Search Traffic” column. If you are one of the unlucky ones that Google manually nails, you will receive a notification here and also receive an email. Even local businesses that aren’t building links or doing heavy SEO should link up to GWT. In the event that a competitor fires up GSR and hammers their website with spam and hit with a manual action, they will get a notification and can then deal with it.




So, how do you protect your SEO investment from being ruing by Google?


1. Write Content for Your Readers, Not Google

Posting low quality or thin content on your website is just asking for a penalty. Not only does it have to be quality writing, but there needs to be some meat to it. Think about what purpose your blog content serves. Yes, you can write long-form blog posts that include multiple long tail keywords and rank for organic search strings that pull in traffic, but what happens when those visitors land on your website?

Your content needs to convince them to take action. That could mean joining your email list, clicking over to another page on your website, or making a purchase. Write good content to avoid a penalty, but more importantly write it to convert your website traffic and make money. In the end, that’s what keeps your online business alive.


2. Be Smart About Guest Blogging

Guest blogging quickly became a popular method to get links on niche relevant websites and it’s still a great way to build links with strong metrics. You just need to be smart about it.

The lure about guest blogging is the ability to drop a link in your author bio. If you are going to guest blog, make sure that any links you use in your bio are just brand links. Example: if you run a financial blog named “Financial Tips & More” then you want to use that as your anchor text, and not something like “credit cards with best rewards” or similar. Under a manual review, those exact match keyword anchors will set off an alarm.

Guest blogging is not dead and it never will die. Just be smart. Brand name links are great, especially from strong websites. This helps strengthen your website and enables your own content to start ranking in the search results easier for long tail keywords.


3. Make Your Content Appear Above the Fold

Google has a Page Layout algorithm and a couple of years ago it was updated to penalize websites that were packed with ads on the top of the page. Making your content appear (or at least start) above the fold keeps you out of harms way from this algorithmic penalty, but it also gives your visitors a good experience.

You don’t want to have to make someone scroll down to read content anyway, so this should be a very simple thing to do. I also see a lot of “content gate” plugins that require a visitor to engage with a social media account (usually a follow) in order to unlock the content. Stay far away from these. First, they piss off your visitors and second, they can cause a penalty because the search engine crawl will view the page as thin/no content. If someone wants to follow you on social media they will, and you lure them in with good content, not a forced follow.


4. Protect Your Website with a Security Plugin

If you don’t take precautions to secure your website, it’s possible that hackers could inject it with hidden links that you will never see…but Google will find. I’ve seen so many websites that were hacked and injected with thousands of spammy links. It’s usually common that the links are related to porn or financial services, such as payday loans.

If you are running WordPress then the best security plugin is iThemes Security. They have a paid version with a lot of options and features, but most websites will be perfectly fine just using the free version. Quick tips: never use “admin” as your user name and change the login URL to anything other than the standard /wp-admin path that comes as the default setting.


secure your seo


5. Constantly Review Your Link Profile

This is especially important if you aren’t running a very aggressive SEO campaign. A lot of local businesses build a few links here and there and pick them up through their blogging efforts. These are people that typically wouldn’t be checking their links daily on Ahrefs, OSE, and SemRush, but they should. It only takes a few minutes a day and it will let you know right away if something looks fishy.

If you see a lot of random links coming in from websites you are unfamiliar with (or look spammy) then there is a very good chance that you are the target of a negative SEO attack. Be proactive and stay on top of your links even if you aren’t currently building any.


6. Manually Approve User Generated Comments, User Profiles, Posts, Etc.

If you allow comments on your blog posts then you need to use an anti-spam solution to weed out the spam comments and then manually approve the ones that pass the filter. On WordPress, use Akismet to block the spam and change your settings to require each comment to go into the moderation pool. This way you can make sure spammers aren’t dropping in links that could look bad under a manual review. The last thing you want Google to think is that your blog is part of a PBN.

The same goes for user profiles and guest posts. Review and manually approve everything before it’s published to your website. If you slack on this and allow spam content and links to be indexed then you have nobody to blame but yourself.


7. Avoid “Exact Match” Anchor Text

Building exact match anchor links worked 10 years ago. It worked VERY well. Now that approach will get you penalized very quickly. Some exact match link? Sure, but tread carefully. I would focus on building the majority of links as brand mentions and “more information here” or “from this blog post.” When you are building links on niche relevant websites with strong metrics you are going to benefit.

As your website’s authority increases, so does your ability to rank your content, especially for long tail keywords. If you have a finance blog and 80% of your anchor text is “low interest credit card” you are going to get slapped out of the SERPs.

Diversification is very important if you want to stay under the radar of Google.


8. Disavow Negative SEO Attempts

This final point is simple. If you notice you are under attack, load up the links into a disavow file and send them to Google right away. I have seen multiple websites recover quickly from a negative SEO attack because they were proactive and alerted Google right away. Speed is of the essence in this situation.


The Debate: Reconsider Requests (Good or Bad Idea?)

If you get nailed by a manual penalty then I suggest taking the time to clean up the mess and submit a reconsider request if it’s a website that you have significant time and money invested in. I have seen many websites get the penalty lifted and I have seen some never regain their previous rankings.

If you do get hit, check out this past post I wrote that explains the steps you need to take to have a chance at a positive reconsideration request. It takes time, so if your website is a couple weeks old, then you might want to scrap it and just start over. This is a decision you will need to make yourself based on your available time and willingness to do the manual work required to have a chance at lifting the penalty.


Final Thoughts

Google penalties suck, but they are very real and anyone attempting SEO on their own or paying a company to do it needs to know the risks involved. Don’t think that because an SEO agency advertises “whitehat SEO” that you are 100% safe from penalties. Even though the link building strategies used are not shady, they are still being done to game the system. Don’t let the guru retards try to fool you. Guest blogging, outreach, etc is all done for one reason: LINKS.

Use these tips to help protect your SEO investment, but know that no single website is entirely safe. A penalty can happen at any time. If you have any questions about what I have laid out here leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer your questions. Until next time.. Ciao for now!

Tommy McDonald

Tommy is an SEO professional with years of experience running highly successful SEO companies, founded SerpLogic after noticing there was a major void when it came to options for SEO agencies needing a reliable and professional one-stop outsource solution.You can read all about me in the “About” page here on our blog!

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