Shaping Your SEO Strategy to Avoid Google Penalties

google penaltiesLike most people, you might be wondering how to best shape your company’s SEO strategy to rank higher in Google.

Google constantly updates and implements an intricate algorithm to determine which websites deserve to be ranked the highest, and this algorithm rewards sites that are the most relevant to a user’s search.

In order to achieve phenomenal SEO results, you need to constantly keep up with Google’s algorithm changes, and that’s anything but easy.

Avoiding Google Penalties

Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500-600 times. Usually, at least one or two of these updates alter the SEO landscape in an enormous way that results in devastating ranking dips and penalties for unsuspecting businesses.

All of these major algorithm updates have been named after animals except for one. Five of the biggest updates are:

  1. Panda
  2. Penguin
  3. Hummingbird
  4. Pigeon
  5. Mobilegeddon

Why might Google opt for so many algorithm updates?

While some think it’s to confuse SEO companies and to keep everyone guessing, the truth is that Google just wants to give searchers the best possible experience and penalize those attempting to game the system.

Understanding and Avoiding Google Penalties

Regardless of how noble the search giant’s intentions may be, many businesses have lost millions of dollars due to being hit hard by a Google penalty.

The following is an explanation of each of the major Google penalties, how they affect websites, and how to shape your SEO strategy to avoid them.

Panda Penalties

google pandaPanda, which debuted in February of 2011, was the first major update to the Google algorithm since its launch.

Google Panda fine-tuned the quality of search engine results by prioritizing highly relevant content users want to access and consume.

In one fell swoop, Google Panda crushed sites with low quality content while rewarding those that created intriguing content designed to inform and educate their readers.

No longer could a business get away with having sparse content and ranking highly. Almost every business realized that they would need to regularly post high-quality content if they wanted to rank well in Google.

To this day, Google is tweaking the Panda update.

How to Avoid Google Panda Penalties

There are three main things all businesses need to lookout for in order to avoid Google Panda penalties:

  1. Duplicate content
  2. High bounce rates
  3. Not enough unique visitors

If your site contains content that was directly copied from another website, Google is going to penalize you. Aside from the fact that it looks spam-like, duplicate content does little to enhance your brand or reputation.

A good rule of thumb is to ensure that at least 80% of the written text on any given post or page on your site is unique. There’s a bit of wiggle-room, but if a particular page has less than 70% of unique content, immediately take it down or thoroughly revise it.

If you for some reason need to keep the page up, add a no-index tag to it in order to prevent Google from indexing the page.

Likewise, it’s a good idea to run your guest posts and sponsored articles through a plagiarism checker like Siteliner or Dupli Checker. Again, the same 80% rule applies. If a guest blogger is scraping content, don’t put up his post.

The best thing you can do to avoid a Panda penalty is craft unique, high-quality content that searchers will want to read.

The second factor that can lead to a Google Panda penalty is having a high bounce rate. Your site’s bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who navigate away from your site after viewing only one page.

Symptoms of a high bounce rate include poor site design, sites that aren’t user-friendly, and a glaring lack of content.

If your bounce rate on any given page or post is higher than 60%, you’re going to need to do some work to fix that.

Doing this might require a professional website redesign, but usually can be accomplished on your own by:

  • Amplifying the content on a page (i.e. writing more)
  • Adding attracting images
  • Making the page more aesthetically pleasing and engaging
  • Revamping the title
  • Utilizing a call-to-action

Lastly, Panda takes into account how many unique visitors you have coming to your site. Too few and Google will lower your search rank.

The best ways to improve how many unique visitors you have coming to your site is by regularly posting new content, improving the load time of your pages, and using more visual content.

Penguin Penalties

penguin google penaltiesGoogle Penguin was introduced in April of 2012 to limit the unethical use of inbound and outbound links.

In the pre-Penguin era, you could quickly jump to the top of the search engine results page (SERP) simply by getting hundreds of low-quality backlinks pointing to your site.

However, since this was only a ploy by black hat SEO companies to fool Google into thinking that a particular site was an authority or content-rich, this type of link building is now penalized extremely severely.

Any kind of unnatural linking can result in a Penguin penalty. Unnatural linking takes many forms, but the most common are:

  • Buying links
  • Creating link schemes
  • Offering a product for a link
  • Offering a service for a link
  • Randomly using links in content
  • Using software programs or tools to amass links

How to Avoid Google Penguin Penalties

Avoiding a Penguin penalty requires white hat link building efforts geared toward getting natural links to your site.

If you create high-quality content and promote it properly, you’ll naturally receive links instead of trying to pull one over on Google by getting placements in spammy directories or using automated software.

If you already have tons of bad links, the best thing you can do to avoid a Penguin penalty is to use Google’s disavow links tool.

Disavowing a link tells the search giant that you don’t want a particular link to count in your link profile or for your SEO. It’s a way of purging bad links and telling Google that you’re trying to play by the rules.

Lastly, when link building, it’s extremely important to vary your anchor text.

Avoid using geographic identifiers for anchor text (e.g. “Baltimore traffic lawyer”) or exact match anchor text (i.e. the exact key phrase you’re trying to rank for).

Instead, try to get links that use: a) your URL as the anchor text, b) branded anchor text, or c) anchor text containing long-tail keywords (e.g. branded power banks).

Ultimately, Panda and Penguin work in concert with one another to encourage sites to legitimately become authorities in their field through the creation of phenomenal content that people will naturally want to share on social media and organically link to on their own sites.

Google Hummingbird

google hummingbirdIn September of 2013, Google’s Hummingbird update transformed the way Google looked at search queries. It attempted to understand and account for the user’s intent behind a particular search. To do this, Hummingbird stressed the importance of the entire search query, not merely keywords. For the SEO world, this ushered in the reign of long-tail keywords.

For example, if you typed “Is black hat link building safe in 2017?” into Google, it will prioritize all of those words, not merely “black hat link building” or “link building.” Likewise, sites using that entire phrase (or at least discussing the safety of this type of link building in 2017) will rank much higher than those that simply contained the keyword “black hat link building.”

Unlike Panda and Penguin, Hummingbird isn’t penalty based. It’s a brand new way to approach search rank that your site needs to incorporate into its SEO strategy.

If you want to rank well in the post-Hummingbird era:

  • Adapt your style of writing to be more informal
  • Anticipate the needs of your reader
  • Create more conversational headings
  • Emphasize what your readers need
  • Use long-tail keywords

Remember, pages matching a searcher’s entire query (rather than just a few words) will rank highest.

Google Pigeon

google pigeonGoogle Pigeon was released in July of 2014. It was launched in order to provide more useful and accurate local search results by tying them more closely to traditional web search ranking signals.

This algorithm update rocked the local SEO world when it first went live, and Google claimed that Pigeon created closer ties between the local algorithm and core algorithm.

Just like Hummingbird, Google Pigeon isn’t penalty based, but if you don’t shape your SEO strategy to account for it, you’ll get buried by hundreds of competitors who have.

The best way to make your site Pigeon friendly and climb the search ladder is to:

  • Claim, verify, and get listed in local business directories (e.g. Yellow Pages, Cylex, etc.)
  • Create a Google My Business account and fully complete your profile
  • Have a consistent name, phone, and address visible on your site
  • Make your site mobile-friendly since most local searchers use mobile devices
  • Receive positive reviews on sites like Yelp from people who used your service or bought your product

Lastly, since cities are subdivided into neighborhoods, try to reflect this when shaping your SEO strategy to offer more localized and accurate search results.

Google Mobilegeddon

more clicks more clientsDespite the fact that this update wasn’t named after an animal, it’s still one of the most influential to date.

In April of 2015, Google announced that it was planning on ranking mobile-friendly websites much higher than those that weren’t optimized for mobile devices.

Basically, Google Mobilegeddon incentivized all websites to be responsive and mobile-friendly by building that criteria into their search ranking algorithm.

Google decided to incorporate mobile-friendliness into its algorithm because an overwhelming majority of Internet surfers were using their smartphones to search the web.

After the Google Mobilegeddon update, a searcher may get different results for his query depending on whether he searches from his mobile device or computer.

The impact of this algorithm update was quite nominal when searching from a desktop or laptop. However, businesses that lacked mobile-friendly sites saw a significant drop in their rankings for queries conducted on mobile devices.

The best way to ensure that your site ranks highly in Google on both computers and smartphones is to make your entire site mobile-friendly. To check whether your site is mobile-friendly, use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Tool.

If you use WordPress to power your website, invest in a responsive theme and your site will automatically be rendered mobile-friendly. It’s that simple.

If you don’t have WordPress, reach out to your site developer and make sure that all the necessary steps are taken to make your site mobile-friendly.

Keeping Up With Google Penalties

It’s absolutely vital for all businesses to keep up with Google penalties.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an attorney looking into law firm SEO or a professional in an entirely different field: your bottom line depends on this.

However, to achieve phenomenal SEO results, you’re going to have to do much more than stay informed about the various Google penalties. You’re going to need to shape your SEO strategy to adhere to these algorithm changes while providing genuine value to your potential clients and customers.

As you can imagine, staying apprised of all the latest Google penalties and algorithm changes can be quite time consuming––let alone shaping your SEO strategy to account for them. Even after you do all of this, you still need to invest tons of energy and effort into adding value to your web presence.

Where More Clicks More Clients Fits In

Instead of spending your time trying to understand Google penalties, learning SEO, and doing online marketing, leave all that to the pros at More Clicks More Clients. Wisely spend your time doing what you do best: working in and on your business. Our online marketing and SEO campaigns are uniquely designed for all types of budgets and businesses and get remarkable results. Call us today or request your free online marketing consultation.