Mistakes that will penalize your website

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In this blog, we'll discuss how to avoid Google penalties so something like this doesn't happen to your website's organic traffic. And let's say heaven forbid that the Google ban hammer has already hit you- we'll tell you how to recover from it. 

But before we get started, you might ask what a Google penalty is. This occurs when your blog or website does something to piss off the almighty Google, and your search engine rankings and traffic fall off a cliff. But these drops don't have to be so dramatic. A penalty can cause even gradual decreases in traffic. 

If you're serious about growing your organic traffic on Google, it's in your best interest to be aware of the various types of Google penalties. You can only avoid what you're aware of. 

The first step in dealing with Google penalties is figuring out if you were actually penalized in the first place. There are a lot of false alarms, and you want to make sure you're not overreacting. For example, your website might just be detrending. Let's say you have a website in the keto diet niche, and it's been losing traffic over time. If you type the keyword keto diet into Google trends, you can easily see that this topic has been losing traction since 2019. So your website might still be in Google's favor and unpenalized, but fewer people are searching for it, so it looks like Google broke up with you. 

One of the other false alarms occurs because of typical fluctuations in Google's ranking results. There's a keyword domain value. As in, how much is the domain worth? It's got a ton of search volume. Rankings fluctuate; it's normal. But because of the search volume on domain value, this can make a big impact on traffic. And when this happens to you, it may sometimes seem like you're penalized, but you're really not. 

Another false alarm is seasonality. If your website is about outdoor sports, you're gonna see a lot more search volume in the summer months. If you're in the education niche, your traffic might spike when college applications are due. After the spikes in traffic, it may seem like your traffic's getting wrecked, but there's a logical seasonal explanation for it. 

That said, there are two types of actual Google penalties that you need to look out for- manual penalties and algorithmic penalties:

Manual penalties

A manual penalty occurs when Google finds out that your website is doing something that is blatantly against their guidelines. And what's happened is that an actual human from the Google spam team has reviewed this violation and manually placed an action on your site, "manual action." 

Now, there are various types of manual penalties that you can get dinged by. Log into Google Search Console,  Security & Manual go to Actions section, and click on Manual actions. If you do have a manual penalty, then there's actually a bright side to getting spanked by it, and it has nothing to do with S&M. 

At the bottom, the most important step is to submit a reconsideration request. Please note you'll never recover from a manual penalty unless you go through the Google system and submit a reconsideration request. Even if you fixed everything perfectly, you still need to let Google know that you want someone to review it and then wait for their reply with your fingers crossed. 

Algorithmic penalties

Algorithmic penalties are different. There's no actual notification letting you know you got penalized. There's no manual action to tell you to fix your links. So, figuring out if you have an algorithmic penalty is a bit more complicated. Let's say you had a website that lost traffic on a specific day. 

If you get hit with the algorithmic update penalty, try not to freak out and immediately make big changes to your site. First, Google often rolls back the changes they've made. Google commonly tests new ranking factors, and sometimes they don't work as expected, so they roll them back, and rankings return to normal. Second, no one knows what Google changed right after an update. You need to let the dust settle and give the pros time to analyze what changed. Back in the day, it was a lot easier to figure out what 'Algo' updates were all about. Penguin was about backlinks. 

These days, it's much different. How to fix algorithmic penalties depends entirely on what kind of penalty you got. So let's jump into that now. The first and most common algorithmic penalty you'll experience occurs on a Google core algorithm update. 

Since 2013, Google has been releasing core algorithm updates which basically wrap a whole bunch of other minor updates into a single release. Because of this, if you got hit during the core update, it really could have been because of anything. Your links, your content, your site speed, everything is on the table. So what do you do if you're hit and you're sure it was on the date of a core update? You need to do a complete website audit. During core updates, it's very unlikely to get any help from Google on what they focused on. 

Besides, they tweak so many things in these updates that they probably don't even know. You need to assume that it could have been anything and everything that was the cause of your ranking drop. 

Here's a list of things to take a look at:

  • Is your site mobile-friendly?
  • Is only one version of your site indexed?
  • Is your site fast enough?
  • Are you passing core web vitals?
  • Do you have schema errors?
  • Have you fixed zombie pages?
  • Do you have indexing issues?

Check your content quality: 

  • Is your content optimized?
  • Is your content thin or low-value?
  • Have you properly covered your topics in full?
  • Is your link profile spammy?
  • Is your anchor text over-optimized?
  • Do you have broken links?
  • Is your bounce rate too high?
  • Have you been hacked?
  • Are you getting negative SEO?
  • Have you properly established E-A-T?

You want to start crossing these checks off one by one. 

Especially, cross this damn backlink audit off your list so you can move on to the other potential issues. This is just a subset of the items that you should check in a complete website audit. 

If your links aren't diverse enough, you'll create a footprint that looks unnatural as well. Let's say all the links you're building are from link insertions. That is, you're emailing people and asking them to update articles with a link to your site. Well, according to Google documentation on link schemes, any behavior that manipulates links to your site is considered a link scheme. In the natural world, people updating articles to point links to new sites is pretty rare. 

The next algorithmic penalty has never been announced or even named. It's an algorithm that looks at your ratio of informational versus commercial content, and it applies especially to affiliate websites. 

Google puts out these product review updates with huge release notes on how they want you to write affiliate product reviews. Depending on your specific niche, a different ratio will be optimal for you. 

Now we get into the manual penalties you can encounter. There are 14 different types of manual penalties you can get, but we've narrowed it down to the five that you're most likely to encounter in your lifetime. Starting with unnatural inbound links. As you know, you get a notification when you receive a manual action, and the unnatural inbound links one looks like this. Some things to point out. In the first sentence, they say that your site has a pattern of links that are unnatural. But according to the link schemes guidelines, anything you do to build links is unnatural. 

Then how are you supposed to compete in an algorithm where backlinks get results? It's actually pretty easy. You just don't build links that are blatantly obvious that you built them. For example, scholarship link-building was a technique that used to work well back in the day until Google smashed it because the only reason anyone would ever run a scholarship campaign was to build links to their site. 

Get more links from Ahrefs, Semrush, or whatever you got. Then start to audit your link profile for artificial links. By Google's definition, all links you would've built are artificial. Contact the site owners to get those taken down, disavow the rest, then submit your reconsideration request. Bear in mind they never mention anything about unnatural anchor text explicitly, but that is definitely a reason you can get hit by this penalty. So make sure you have a natural anchor text distribution. If you want help with recovering from unnatural links penalties, use the link audit service from Authority Builders. 100% success rate or your money back. Next, we have thin content with little or no added value. This manual action is definitely briefer, but their message is clear. 

They don't want you to have a large percentage of low-quality pages. That could mean thin pages with not much content, but most likely, you got hit by one of the following. Cheap AI content. As of today, most GPT-3 AI content generators are hard to detect. Third-party tools can detect the GPT-2 ones, so you can bet your buns Google can detect it too. Scraped content. If you stole or borrowed a bunch of content from other sites, you could get dinged. And thin affiliate pages. We're talking about pages that are mostly images that just look like a doorway to another page. Google hates these. 

The next one is that over which you don't have much control over this, is the site abused with a third-party spam manual penalty? Yes, that's right. If your users mess around on your site, you'll get a second kick in the (beep) too. This can show up in the comment section of your blog or forum if you have one. It can also happen if you get hacked by someone who's building pages with a bunch of casino links. Luckily, Google will only penalize the portion of your site with spam. They're good about that. To clean this up, you need to delete the offending content, definitely beef up your security, and change your user-generated content settings. And, of course, send a reconsideration request. 

The next manual penalty is called the spammy-free host. This one is super rare. This one happens when you've cheaped out on your hosting service to such a degree you went with a host that's so bad that all the websites hosted alongside you are absolute spam. Google says this penalty happens only to free hosts, but it can indeed also happen on the super cheap hosts as well. To get it fixed, get off your terrible host. For beginners, SiteGround is suggested. And when you level up, you can go with WPX. 

The next one is spammy structured markup. If you're gonna get one penalty, this is the one. It's super easy to trigger if you put schema markup on your site. The notification tells you you got hit because you may have marked up content that users can't see or marked up the wrong content. But the more likely scenario is that schema syntax has changed and what used to work before doesn't work now. To fix this one, you have three steps. First, brush up on the schema guidelines, then implement the fixes and check them over with the structured data testing tool. 

In the end, you need to follow the steps mentioned above if you don't want your website to get penalized.

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