Search engine optimization is a burgeoning industry that continues to experience a fast rise in popularity—due, in large part, to an enthusiastic effort by Google engineers to create more relevant and organic search results for users.
With constant updates and tweaks to its algorithms, Google is attempting to improve how websites are created, developed, and experienced. One way Google attempts to improve the user experience is to penalize sites that knowingly or unknowingly break Google's rules. The usual result is the devastation of the penalized company's Web presence.
Being the recipient of Google's algorithmic wrath can often result in a penalty that makes your site virtually invisible to searchers, undermining your ability to reach your audience or customer base, and effectively eliminating your potential to establish a digital presence.
Luckily, some effective SEO practices can help repair the damage done to a site by a Google penalty, eventually restoring its ranking prominence and visibility.
What types of penalties does Google dish out?
Penalties from Google, according to Dexmedia.com, "can range from moving all or most of a website's pages from the main index at Google to the Supplemental Results, or completely removing a URL from the results," either of which can be extremely detrimental to your site's online visibility. Many of these penalties "simply result in a page not showing up in the first 50 or 100 search results," amounting to virtual online invisibility, Dexmedia explains.
In its never-ending quest to improve site relevance and quality, Google hands down two forms of penalty:
- Manual. Generally the consequence of artificial or unnatural links that lead visitors to a site, Google's manual penalties occur because of a site's not meeting certain quality standards established in Google's Webmaster Guidelines. A manual penalty results from a Google team review of your site, and it usually comes with a notification sent directly from Google.
- Algorithmic. Google's algorithmic penalties are automated, resulting from Google's algorithm updates (such as Panda and Penguin). These "more natural" penalties tend to punish sites for poor quality and often occur with little to no warning, pushing a site's ranking down into the depths of obscurity. The good news, at least according to Google's Matt Cutts, is that algorithmic penalties make it possible "for a site owner to change and modify their site so that it can be re-scored by Google," and it can then be "re-indexed for a better ranking."
So... why does a site receive a penalty?
There are many reasons a site can be penalized. Because of Google's insistence on regular changes or updates to algorithms, it's often hard to tell what exactly led to your site's being muscled out of the top 10 or 20 on the search results page.
Below, I'll discuss four of the most commonly accepted reasons a site may have earned the wrath of Google's algorithm.
- General spamming. A site containing "gibberish, cloaking, scraping content, hidden text or keywords, spam-linking, or other key factors," says Dytek3.com, can be a likely candidate for a spam penalty. Though those factors often earn a site a human review, the presence of one or more of these "spammy" practices can also often catch the eye of Panda or Penguin, gradually pushing the site out of public view.
- Poor content/lack of content. Poor-quality content not only worsens a site's general user experience but also leads to lower search rankings. Such practices as keyword-stuffing, content duplication and scraping content, though seemingly easy and often thought to be harmless, , are often detected and red-flagged by Google's algorithm, leading to dramatically lower site visibility, according to a post on kissmetrics.com.
- Purchased links. The practice of buying links has long been frowned upon by both Google and SEO experts, and many agree that it's one of the primary causes of a Google penalty. A controversial practice, buying links is often an outright attempt to manipulate PageRank.
- Hidden/broken/bad links. Links play an important part in a site's success. Sites that have links that aren't visible and openly accessible to site visitors (i.e., hidden links), will seem suspicious to Google and other search engines, and they can easily lead to a penalty. Broken links, or outside links that consistently provide users with error messages, can often lead Google to assume "you don't care about the user experience and are happy to pack visitors off to various 404 error pages," according to Kissmetrics.com. Links to suspicious websites, including porn, hacking, or malware-ridden sites, says Kissmetrics.com, can also pose great harm to a site's visibility.
My site is penalized... now what?
So your site has been penalized, and you're scrambling for answers about how to re-obtain your prominence in search results pages before forever losing touch with your audience.
There are steps you can take to pull your site out of the darkness and back into the online spotlight, though doing so can be a long, possibly arduous process. Through effective and strategically implemented SEO techniques, you have the potential to begin your site's recovery process and restore your site to its rightful place in Google's eyes.
Create a better visitor experience
Making your site easier for users to navigate not only improves their overall site experience but also works to increase your site's appeal to search engine crawlers, thus beginning your site's long trek out of Google invisibility.
SEO practices such as the construction of an effective information architecture, the improvement of site loading speed, the performance of regular SEO audits, and optimizing your site for the long-click, says Jason Acidre of Kaiserthesage.com, creates a better user experience and search engine indexing capability.
- Architecture. Creating a coherent information architecture, says Acidre, improves your site's navigability and makes your site's information easier to find. Better categorization of topics and information improves the flow and effectiveness of your site
- Site speed. Improving your site's loading speed helps to improve "site activity, conversions and search rankings," says Acidre. Tools such as Google's Page Speed Insights allow provide a site owner with great ways to determine their site's overall performance.
- Long-click optimization. Google tends to reward sites that have content containing information that is more relevant to the user's search query ("long click" refers to when a searcher clicks on a search result and stays a long time on the page he or she was taken to). More relevant content, says Acidre, can also help to improve your site's visitor retention rate. Long-click optimization, he says, also requires "blocking crawlers in accessing and indexing poor content and duplicate pages from your site."
- SEO audits. Though it's great to optimize your site's experience for users, says Acidre, it's also necessary to make your site accessible and easy to understand to search engine crawlers. Regular technical SEO audits, he says, can help to boost your site's appeal to search engines.
Take steps to boost domain authority
Establishing strong domain authority for your site is a great way to overcome penalties that result from spammy or low-quality links connected with your site. Improving your domain authority has become a popular way to recover from a link-related penalty, as well as to improve a site's overall competitive edge.
Here are two great ways to improve your site's domain authority:
- Better page authority. By creating a larger number of more useful or actionable pages within your site, says Acidre, the better chance your site has to procure more links over time. Internally linking these pages can also help to improve each page's search engine relevance. High Page Authority within your site is a powerful way to increase your domain's overall authority.
- Links to sites with established authority. Connecting your site to others with high domain authority helps to improve your site's credibility, thus enhancing its own domain authority.
Increasing the value of your site's domain authority can also require a comprehensive site and brand development strategy, one that incorporates not only stronger page authority and internal link building but also better content creation and promotion, a stronger social media presence, better link-building and more.
"High-quality content," says Rohit Palit of TechTage.com, "is the backbone of every authoritative site," while social media "is one of the best mediums to increase your brand and your website exposure." Improving one's domain authority, according to Palit, encompasses a multitiered strategy that harnesses the potential of many different online outlets.
Optimize your brand
Brand optimization helps to increase the quality of brand associations you have across the Web, effectively attaching yourself, and your website, to ideas, topics, and services in way that lends expertise to your brand name. Applied properly, an effective brand optimization works to establish your industry or professional expertise as well as relationships with other online authorities within your field.
According to Acidre: "the more you provide extensive content that supports the core keywords that your site is targeting...the more search engines will understand how important your brand is in the industry ecosystem." Such things as participation in and contributions to industry-related discussions, for example, make it easier "for search engines to determine what industry you're in," while obtaining brand mentions or coverage in authoritative publications "can certainly be a big lift when it comes to (a search engine) understanding more about what your brand is about."
Strategically optimizing the quality and value of brand helps to make your site more attractive to search engines, helping it further make its way out of the digital black hole.
I've tried everything, I've waited, nothing worked... now what?
Pulling your site out of the recesses of a search engine penalty often takes quite a long time. The waiting game can be agonizing for anyone who depends on the penalized site for business or brand awareness, piling on untold amounts of frustration and testing the limits of anyone's patience.
Recovering from the effects of a Google-imposed site penalty can be a slow process. A professional SEO reputation and brand management service can help to not only improve your site's recovery rate but also protect your site from the possibility of another devastating penalty that buries your site and virtually eliminates your ability to connect with your audience.
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