Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Google Penalty: Probable Causes and Solutions

Google penalty is a nightmare for SEOs. Just imagine losing all SERP rankings for your website just because Google has penalized your website. Sometimes it happens due to sheer ignorance. Many SEOs are unaware of the factors which can cause the penalty. There are certain guidelines, which if followed properly can save your website to get penalized by Google. I just researched on the probable causes and solutions for Google penalty and consolidated the data at one place so that it becomes handy for those who want a solution to this problem. I found two websites very helpful to prepare this material and

What Exactly Triggers A Google Penalty?
  • Hidden text or hidden links
  • Sneaky redirects or cloaking
  • Sending automated queries to Google
  • Stuffing pages with irrelevant words
  • Creating multiple domains, subdomains, or pages with substantially duplicate content
  • Creating "Doorway" pages only for the Search Engines or other "cookie cutter" approaches such as affiliate programs containing little or no original and unique content
  • Link buying and selling
  • Excessive use of keywords
  • Linking to banned sites
  • Linking from banned or spam sites
  • Getting links from BAD sites
  • Violate Google Webmaster guidelines
  • Excessive linking in a short span of time
  • Affiliate links on the site
GoogleGuy Says:

Abigail, do you have a lot of links/keywords on a page that could look like stuffing? For example, if a page is pretty fair but then has 200-300 keyword-stuffed links, I wouldn't be surprised if that would go over a threshold at some point. Do you have a lot of those sorts of links, or affiliate links or something similar on your site?

In general, anything hidden from the human visitor but visible to the robots or vice versa is asking for a Google penalty. So don't put coloured text or links on backgrounds of the same color - Google penalty. Same for teeny tiny font sizes, especially if they carry links - Google penalty. And offpage content that only a robot sees - Google penalty.

If you're creating content for humans, it is very unlikely that you will trigger a Google penalty. But if you're making an effort to fool the robots, you're messing with the potential for a Google penalty, big time.

Google Penalty Checklist
  • Linking to banned sites - Run a test on all outbound links from your site to see if you are linking to any sites which have themselves been Google banned. These will be sites which are Google de-listed and show Page Rank 0 with a grayed out Toolbar Page Rank indicator.

  • Linking to bad neighbourhoods - Check you are not linking to any bad neighbourhoods, link farms or doorway pages. Bad neighbourhoods include spam sites and doorway pages, whilst link farms are just pages of links to other sites, with no original or useful content.

  • Automated query penalty - Google penalties can be caused by using automated query tools which break Google's terms of service as laid out in the webmaster guidelines. Google allows certain automated queries into its database using its analytic tools and when accessing through the Google API account. Unauthorised types of automated query can cause problems.

  • Over optimization penalties - These can be triggered by poor SEO techniques such as aggressive link building using the same keywords in link anchor text. When managing link building campaigns, always vary the link text used and incorporate a variety of different keyword terms. Use a backlink anchor text analyser tool to check backlinks for sufficient keyword spread. Optimising for high paying keywords can further elevate risk, so mix in some long tail keywords into the equation. For brand new domains, add no more than 5 new one way backlinks a week and use deep linking to website internal pages, rather than just homepage link building.

  • Website cross linking & link schemes - If you run more than one website and the Google penalty hits all sites at the same time, check the interlinking (cross linking) between those sites. Extensive interlinking of websites, particularly if they are on the same C Class IP address (same ISP) can be viewed as "link schemes" by Google, breaking their terms of service. The risks are even higher where site A site wide links to site B and site B site wide links back to site A. If you must use site wide links, make sure they are not reciprocal links. Link schemes built around links in the footer of each webpage are particularly risky. The reality is that site wide links do little to increase site visibility in the Google SERPS, nor do they improve Page Rank more than a single link, as Google only counts one link from a site to another.It is also believed that Yahoo! now applies a similar policy. There is some evidence that the extensive use of site wide links can lower website Google trust value, which can subsequently reduce ranking.

  • Hidden text or links - Remove any hidden text in your content and remove any hidden keywords. Such content may be hidden from view using CSS or alternatively, text may have been coded to be the same colour as the page background, rendering it invisible. These risky SEO techniques often lead to a Google penalty or web site ban.

  • Overt keyword stuffing - Remove excessive keyword stuffing in your website content (unnatural repetitions of the same phrase in body text). Always use natural, well written web copywriting techniques.

  • Automated page redirects - The use of automated browser re-directs in any of your pages. Meta Refresh and JavaScript automated re-directs often lead to a Google penalty as the pages using them are perceived to be doorway pages. This technique is especially dangerous if the refresh time is less than 5 seconds. To avoid Google penalties, use a 301 re-direct or Mod Rewrite technique instead of these methods. This involves setting up a .htaccess file on your web server.

  • Link buying - Check for any paid links (I.E. buying text links from known link suppliers / companies). There is some evidence that buying links can hurt rankings and this was implied by comments from Matt Cutts (a Google engineer) on his Google SEO blog. Matt states that Google will also devalue links from companies or suppliers of text links, such that they offer zero value to the recipient in terms for improving website rankings or Page Rank.

  • Reciprocal link building campaigns - may also trigger a Google penalty or cause a SERPS filter to be applied when the same or very similar link anchor text is used over and over again and large numbers of reciprocal links are added in a relatively short time. The dangers are made worse by adding reciprocal links to low quality sites or websites which have an unrelated theme. This can lead to a backlink over optimisation penalty (known as a BLOOD to SEO experts!). a Google backlink over optimisation penalty causes a sudden drops in SERPS ranking (often severe). To avoid this problem, reciprocal link exchange should only be used as part of a more sustainable SEO strategy which also builds quality one way links to original website content. Adding reciprocal links to unrelated sites is a risky SEO strategy, as is reciprocal link exchange with low quality websites. If you can't find a website's homepage in the top 20 of the Google search results (SERPS) when you search for the first 4 words of a site's HTML title (shown at the top of the Internet Explorer window) then undertaking reciprocal link exchange with that site may offer few advantages. Don't forget to check that prospective reciprocal link partners have a similar theme as your homepage too.

  • Check Google Webmaster Guidelines - Read the Google webmaster guidelines and check website compliance in all respects.

  • Google Webmaster Tools - According to Matt Cutts's Blog, Google is improving webmaster communication with respect to banned sites and penalties. Google is now informing some (but not all) webmasters the cause of a website ban or penalty, via their excellent new Webmaster Console. In addition, a Google re-inclusion request can be made from the same interface. For this reason, if you've been hit by a web site ban or penalty, it is worthwhile signing up for Google Webmaster Tools and uploading an XML Sitemap onto your site and then to check site status in the Google Webmaster Console. This is an easy 15 minute job and may help to identify the cause and fix for the problem!

Initial Tests for a Penalty

Just because you lose rank does not mean you have a Google penalty. Your ranking for keyword sets depends on many factors, including how many others are competing for the same keyword sets, how much content exists for that keyword set, and off site links. Also, the search engines are constantly updating the algorithms that determine rank, and as these change, ranks do as well. There are sites, and pages from sites that temporarily disappear from the index, but return later for no obvious reason, so don't be too quick to blame a Google penalty when your ranks are swirling.

But you can definitely tell if your site is still in Google's index. Simply search for the url (""). If there is no information returned, the url is not indexed. You can also see all pages that have been indexed by searching for "" If you were ranking before, but show nothing for this search, you have a Google penalty. If you have many pages on your site, but you only see the homepage in the result, something's very wrong, and you may have incurred a Google penalty.

It is also possible for Google to impose a manual suppression of your site that is impossible to detect, a kind of lower level Google penalty. Recently a case was unwound with such a penalty who had been told by Google that there was no penalty imposed, that his poor ranks were a result of his lack of content. The tipoff to the suppression was that all the other search engines showed high positions for the same keywords, and the company's trade name was not in the #1 rank, but on page 4.

When a penalty is suspected, start by checking with Google the number of URL's it has indexed. This can be accomplished by using the -asdfasdf command within a Google search window. If no URL's are indexed and no backlinks show up when the is entered then there is a high probability of a Google penalty, especially if your site used to be indexed and used to show backlinks. The exception to this rule is a new website with few backlinks, which may not be Google indexed since it is still waiting to be crawled. Such websites frequently show no backlinks, but this doesn't imply they have received a Google penalty!

Not all Google penalties result in a loss of Page Rank. For example, various Google filters can be triggered by irregularities in backlinks and by excessive reciprocal link exchange, backlinks from spam or banned sites etc.

If you suspect your website has received a Google penalty, you can contact Google by sending an e-mail to to ask for help. They will usually check the spam report queue and offer some form of assistance.

Interestingly, in a recent move by Google, web sites which are in clear violation of Google's webmaster guidelines or terms of service may receive an e-mail from Google advising them to clean up their act, warning of a penalty and website de-indexing. When the breach of Google's terms (e.g. spam or hidden text) is removed from the offending site, Google will usually automatically remove the penalty and re-index the site when the webmaster completes a Google re-inclusion request.

How to Check for A Google Penalty?

To check for a Google penalty with any degree of certainty is very difficult. The very first thing you need to do is determine the exact cause of the Google penalty. This is often not obvious. But if you know you have violated one of Google's published guidelines, that is where you should start. Unwinding a Google penalty means removing the offensive content, links, or strategy, and then informing Google that your site has achieved compliance with their guidelines. A Google penalty will not go away by itself, and a strongly proactive approach is required to both uncover the offensive material, and be certain it is completely addressed before approaching Google.

It is strongly recommended NOT contacting Google immediately upon discovery of a Google penalty. You really want to be certain that after expending time and energy arguing your case, that the Google penalty will not be reimposed later because of an oversight on your part. Make sure your site is completely Google compliant before contacting them. A demonstration that you understand why the Google penalty was imposed is instrumental to unwinding it.

Here's where to go when you're ready:

If you are uncertain as to the cause, you should seek help. It is not recommended that you contact Google until you can approach them with knowledge. Their contact form will generate an automated reply (if any), and they do not provide a service to diagnose the cause of a Google penalty. Unwinding a Google penalty usually requires an acknowledgement of the problem by the site owner, a clean site, and a statement of compliance with Google's guidelines. More than one attempt will probably be required to undo a sitewide Google penalty. Even in cases where the Google penalty involves only a limited number of pages from a site, be prepared to commit significant time and energy to setting things straight.

Check for a Google Website Ban

If you've used unethical SEO techniques your website could be Google banned and de-indexed. Check for a Google website ban using the free SEO tool at Please note that the results from this free site ban tool may not be entirely accurate or reliable!

Google Penalty Recovery Strategy

Recovering from a Google penalty normally involves fixing the cause of the problem and then waiting for Google to remove any over optimisation penalties or SERPS filters. To fully recover Google ranking may take around 2-3 months after all website problems are corrected. The Google algorithm can automatically remove a penalty if the affected website is still Google indexed. If your website has been Google de-indexed and lost Page Rank, then you will need to make a Google re-inclusion request. Where the reason for the penalty is clear, it helps to provide details of any changes you've made to correct violations of the Google webmaster guidelines.
The best recovery strategy from any Google penalty is to check for any recent Google algorithm changes and to evaluate recent changes made to your website prior to the sudden drop in Google ranking. Don't forget to check your link building strategy as poor SEO often causes Google penalties. Start by removing any reciprocal links to low quality websites, or sites having no relevance to your website theme.



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