SEO for Google Part III: Google Penalties

The biggest fear any website owner has is coming in to work one day and doing a quick verification of his Google rankings only to find that his site has disappeared altogether from Google. It’s a nightmare that many share – but like most fears, it can be conquered and the best way to do that is with knowledge. You need to thoroughly understand the different penalties that Google could impose and also the risks that you must avoid so that you don’t have to worry about these issues.

Most of the issues with Google penalties stem from a lack of understanding of what actions can cause them and knowing how to practice only whitehat SEO principles is by far the best way to keep out of this danger zone. Avoiding the many known triggers that will cause the wrath of Google to be unleashed upon you will protect you from this situation and from the potentially devastating loss of income that could result from being ejected from the SERPs (search engine results pages).

Like anything that has rules, there are varying degrees of severity of the rules and Google treats infractions with varying severity as well. The severity of the penalty depends upon many factors including if it is a repeat offense or a more serious violations of their terms agreements. Minor infractions may be penalized for one to three months, while excessive abuse or severe infractions may get your site banned from the Google index permanently. Some of the most minor penalties might simply be a reduction in PageRank – though, this can be very significant as well. It might be just a single point reduction or it might be multiple points, or even reduced to PR0 – all at the discretion of Google.

While a PageRank reduction may not seem that bad at first, it is all relative. Remember that the PageRank scale is not linear, so a reduction from PR2 to PR1 is not nearly as severe or hard to overcome as a reduction from PR6 to PR5 would be. Furthermore, keep in mind that once you attain a higher PR like a PR5 or PR6 you are considered to be very trustworthy by Google. Therefore, if you are penalized it is looked upon much harsher than would be for a PR1 site, for example. The end result being you might see that desirable PR6 drop to a PR2 or PR3 overnight as a result of a penalty – and that can be quite tough to recover from. All of this is “observed speculation” from what has happened to other sites online, Google, of course, does not provide official comments or guidelines on their penalties – it’s at their discretion and without justification or explanation.

PageRank penalties are one form of Google punishment, temporary rank adjustments or index removal from the SERPs are other forms altogether. Again, no one really knows Google’s rules for punishment, so don’t assume that PageRank penalties cannot be combined with SERP and indexing penalties – they may all hit you at once like a ton of bricks, depending on how mad you’ve made the Google gods. On the mild side of the SERP penalties, would be a depreciation in your site’s rankings. Maybe you used to rank on page #1 for your keyword and know you’ve suddenly fallen back to page #125 (yes it does happen). While this is a huge shock, keep in mind that things could be a lot worse – at least you are still in the Google index. If you notice this penalty, it is best to be patient and wait things out because it will likely be lifted in 1 to 3 months – no guarantee, but there is a good chance.

The ultimate penalty, of course, is being completely banned from the SERPs and Google index altogether. You can easily check to see if you have been de-indexed by simply doing a search for “site:yourdomain.com” and see if any results come back. If your domain does not show up in the results page (it should be at the very top) then you have been removed from the Google index. Whether this is a “temporary” situation or permanent, only time will tell. It may come back in 3 months or 6 months – or maybe never again. Either way, you’ve obviously done something seriously blackhat and have been caught. If this occurs, unless you have substantial traffic from other search engines, you may simply have to start your business under a new domain.

Penalties are invoked because of violations of Googles TOS (Terms of Service). To help webmasters create quality sites that adhere to Google’s guidelines, they provide information to site administrators at:

http://google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html

This guideline provides some pretty clear guidance as to what is and what is not allowable and how to stay out of trouble promoting your site via proper methods. The document discusses how to avoid being penalized by Google and covers such topics as “link spammers” and “bad neighborhoods”. Creating links from your site to these ill-advised sites can certainly get you penalized. However, should one of them link to your site, you have no control over that and will not be penalized.

There are other items on the laundry list that will get you in trouble as well. Hidden text or hidden links on your pages is deceptive and Google will penalize your for it. Hidden text is when you make the color of the text the same color as the page so that it is not visible to the human eye, but it still there and recognized by Google. Other no-no’s include: keyword stuffing, creating “doorway” pages that have no value and are crammed full of keywords and advertising and duplicate content (having multiple pages with the exact same content but named differently to try and manipulate the search engine).

In the end, even the smallest of penalties can be pretty severe to your business’s bottom line because it will result in less traffic a very minimum and maybe going out of business on the extreme. The best practice it to refrain from any blackhat or even iffy greyhat techniques when it comes to site optimization and SEO – it simply isn’t worth the gamble.

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