What Are “Google Penalties” and How to Avoid Them

By Chris Roberts


Category: SEO

A penalty, as we all know, is a form of punishment for breaking a rule. And you, as a lawyer, know better than anyone that breaking rules bring problems. In the SEO world, just like in a real one, there are many rules to follow when optimizing a website. Also, one might think once you rank in desired queries “you are good to go.” But actually, there are Google human reviewers who look at your website and might make your ranking drop if you have violated the Webmaster Quality Guidelines in some way.

Why Does Google Manually Review Websites and Penalize Them?

For many years Google has been updating its algorithms to understand users’ intentions better so it can deliver more relevant results. Google’s primary goal is not to find just thousands of pages, but to find web pages that are useful and suitable for users. Providing results that users are going to abandon is going to affect Google’s reputation negatively. That is why Google puts a lot of emphasis on user experience and uses hundreds of different ranking factors aimed towards a better experience for its visitors.

We have seen numerous people trying to trick the search engine for a better ranking. But most of these websites end up being penalized. The penalty means your site’s ranking drops, or it might no longer be in search results at all. Some penalties happen after an algorithm update, but sometimes there are immediate penalties, depending on the violation.

Before we start on the steps to take to avoid penalties, we want to tell you that any kind of step that is aimed towards tricking a search engine and manipulating search results should be removed from your strategy immediately. If you want to rank well in relevant queries, we recommend investing your time and energy in SEO rather than in manipulating results. To find out more about SEO, you can visit our blog and read about the 10 SEO FAQS.

“Are all the Google penalties manual?”

No, not all Google penalties are manual. Dropping in ranking for queries does not always mean someone from Google looked at your website and penalized it because of the violation. Sometimes, when Google updates its algorithms, you might drop in ranking because of slow loading times, duplicated content, or similar reasons. You cannot predict algorithmic penalties, as you don’t know what to expect with Google updates until the updated algorithm starts functioning. But what we can recommend, and it’s what we always tell our clients is that, if you really invest in SEO and address all the primary factors of optimization, then most likely, you will not have to worry about penalties. If you happen to be penalized after the update of the algorithm, it doesn’t mean you disappear from the results. But your ranking will drop, and you’ll have to work towards improving it again.

The Steps to Take to Avoid Penalties, According to Google, are:

How to Avoid Google Penalties

In order to avoid penalties, there are steps you should never include in your SEO strategy. Your strategy for optimization should be based on increasing the quality of your website, rather than just the quantity of the visitors. The number of visitors will naturally increase because of better rankings in search results achieved through a successful SEO strategy and a high-quality website.

Content is the foundation of SEO. High-quality content is what we prioritize the most when optimizing websites, because your content and your blog help your clients and help you to rank well. High-quality content demonstrates your knowledge in the field and your expertise. If people find your content useful, they are more likely to start doing business with your law firm. This means you need to invest time and energy in creating relevant and useful content for your clients about the legal services you offer.

But auto-generated content means programmatically generated content aimed to trick search engines and manipulate rankings. This is something you should never do. This kind of content does not help anyone, and Google will definitely penalize the website. It will also negatively affect your reputation.

Auto-generated content usually is the text that does not make any sense but is filled with target keywords. Sometimes it’s automatically translated text without human editing. Here is the list by Google on what automated content can be:

  • Text that makes no sense to the reader but which may contain search keywords
  • Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing
  • Text generated through automated processes, such as Markov chains
  • Text generated using automated synonymizing or obfuscation techniques
  • Text generated from scraping Atom/RSS feeds or search results
  • Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value

Link Scheme is another ‘big no’ in SEO. As you might know, in Off-Page SEO, it’s important to have backlinks – other websites linking to yours. With backlinks, Google can see your content is useful, and it can increase the trustworthiness of your website. But let’s say you tell a client you will provide a $500 voucher for your service if they write about your firm in their blog and link to your website – this is something you should never do. If you create useful, relevant, and high-quality content with targeted keywords in it, you will naturally get backlinks from other websites. Also, if you ask another law firm to link to your website in exchange for you linking to theirs, it is considered a violation and should never be done in SEO. Any link building that is not acquired naturally might be a reason for Google Penalties. To read more about the Link Scheme, click here.

Cloaking is another thing to avoid when optimizing your page. When you manipulate your ranking with cloaking, users see a different preview on a search engine. And once they open your website, they end up with completely different content. For instance, you want to rank for “gifts for Christmas” queries. You trick Google in the way that it sees a page about gifts for Christmas, but once the user clicks on it, you provide a page about Intellectual law.

Sneaky redirects are the ones that take your website visitors to another site to show completely different content than they intended to see. You can use redirects when you move your website to a different address, for instance. But when you try to show your content to users by tricking Google, it’s considered as a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Hidden texts and links are something you should never use to improve your ranking. You might think you will write a post about divorce mediation, but on the white background, you will write a white text filled with tons of other legal keywords or links that have nothing to do with divorce, law, or mediation at all. This is another violation that will definitely result in a penalty.

Doorway pages are the ones created to rank in specific searches but are low in quality, have little value, and their main purpose is to boost SEO. Google will penalize these types of pages.

“Doorways are sites or pages created to rank highly for specific search queries. They are bad for users because they can lead to multiple similar pages in user search results, where each result ends up taking the user to essentially the same destination. They can also lead users to intermediate pages that are not as useful as the final destination.” – According to Google.

Scraped Content is when you simply copy and paste another firm’s content to your website. Not to mention possible copyright infringement, this type of content doesn’t add any value to your website and Google will give you a penalty.

Irrelevant Keywords or Keyword Stuffing is another reason for possible penalties. It is basically filling pages with desired keywords, with no meaning or value at all. You can create a blog post on “How to get divorced in 3 easy ways” then, instead of writing an article, you fill the page with all of the keywords that you want to target – another “big no-no” in the SEO world.

If you have viruses on your page or distribute products that contain viruses, you will definitely get penalized. For instance, you have a whitepaper visitors can download, but it contains a virus. If you have any malicious behavior on your website – like including unwanted files in a download or changing the user’s browser homepage or search preference without the user’s consent – this will get you a penalty. Another reason for Google to take your site out of the search results is by manipulating the location of the content on the page. So when users think they are clicking on a specific link or a button, it actually takes them somewhere else or serves a different purpose.

Sending any form of automated queries to determine how a website or webpage ranks in Google search results is also considered a violation as well as any types of automated access to get information from Google without permission.

We hope your site never gets penalized – recovering from Google penalties is not easy. But if you see a drop in rank and think you have been penalized, visit Google Webmasters Tool (Google Search console) and look at the new notifications. If there is a penalty, you will have a notification about the issue on your website.

The most important thing to remember is that your top priority should be creating a website that showcases your firm in the best way and helps your clients. Your website should have high-quality content, and it should be designed for a great user experience. Don’t try to trick search engines, because that will bring you penalties and troubles. Instead of investing your time in recovering from Google penalties, why don’t you invest energy in SEO? Because SEO is the most effective way of bringing traffic to your site without any troubles involved. 

Hit with a Penalty? Call Us Today?

If you believe you may have been hit with a penalty, or if the information above describes your site and you are afraid a penalty is coming, call us today! We will coordinate the penalty removal and clean up your website. This can, in turn, help increase your rankings.

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