High placement in Google results is a coveted prize that drastically increases targeted website traffic. It’s given rise to an entire field of digital marketing study and services known as SEO—search engine optimization. SEO is always evolving as Google and other search engines continuously tweak their ranking algorithms to deliver ever more relevant, higher quality top results to searchers.
SEO has come a long way since its early days, when a big part of it was making sure your keywords appeared frequently on the page. Of course, as people figure out tricks to gain higher rankings, they start working them, sometimes in dishonest ways known as “black hat SEO.”
This can lead to low-quality, spammy results getting higher placement on Google, and so the search company changes its algorithm accordingly and increases its ability to detect and penalize sites looking to game the system rather than deliver value to their visitors.
It’s been an ongoing cycle throughout the history of internet search. People figure out more of what Google wants, they use that information to improve their sites or try to cheat, Google reacts, and so on.
Overall, this has positive effects. It pushes Google to continuously improve the way it delivers search results, always finding better ways to measure a site’s quality and relevance to particular search terms. And it drives website operators to continuously offer greater value to their users.
Today, Google has lots of reasons for rewarding and penalizing websites. People still try to take advantage of the algorithm rather than deliver value, and there are also plenty of websites violating rules simply because they’re unaware of them.
Google has automated ways of detecting the things it frowns upon, and it also employs living, breathing humans who evaluate websites to manually find problems.
Below are some common reasons your website might be penalized by Google with lower search result rankings for your target keywords. Review your site, as well as your digital marketing practices (whether implemented by an in-house or outsourced team), and be sure to address any that apply to you. If you do, you should soon see your website climbing higher.
If you repeat your keywords and phrases over and over at a high frequency in website copy or blog posts, fix it. Keyword density hasn’t mattered in years. It’s a spammy tactic that earns you worse—not better—Google rankings. Google understands that naturally written, quality content contains synonyms and related terminology. Your primary keywords only need to appear on the page’s main headline, perhaps in a secondary headline further down, and somewhere in the content’s body. Besides, readers hate keyword stuffing and don’t trust sites that do it.
Publishing Duplicate Content
Google believes very strongly that original content—especially when added on a regular basis—is a major indication of a valuable website. On the flip side, sites depending on content from other sources are considered to be of little value. If any of your copy or content was published first on another website, get rid of it and replace it with original work. Also, keep in mind that if you copied content without paying for it or getting permission from the copyright holder, that’s theft.
Publishing Low-Quality Content
Both the automated Google “bots” and the human reviewers can distinguish good content from bad content. Google knows if your content was “written” by one of those automated content generators or churned out by someone with no grasp of spelling or basic grammar. Google is hip to illiterate blurbs stuck up just to get some keywords on the page. Google knows whether people immediately flee your content or find it valuable enough to stick around and read. And Google can tell when something was written naturally and intelligently to address a topic or keyword.
Accumulating Low-Quality Backlinks
Backlinks (links leading to your site from other sites) are an important indicator for Google that other people consider your site’s content relevant and of good enough quality to link to. But if you pay for links on spammy sites or barter for backlinks from low-quality sites or those that are irrelevant to your keywords, Google knows what you’re up to. The same goes for excessive link trading, excessive comments with links on other sites, and excessive submission to article directories. Instead, earn valuable backlinks by creating great content that people naturally share and pursuing opportunities for guest blogging and other legitimate sources of backlinks from quality, industry-relevant websites.
Using Spammy Anchor Text
Anchor text refers to the specific words that are converted into a link. Google values relevant anchor text, as it offers information about the purpose of the link. For example, a backlink from one website to one of our blog posts could be written as “Read more about email marketing here” or “Read more about email marketing.”
Using “email marketing” as the anchor text makes the backlink more valuable than the first one, as it signals to Google specifically that the post is a good one about email marketing.
Some people try to take advantage of this by filling their own site and others with excessive linking and variations on keywords. For example, we’d be setting ourselves up for a Google penalty if we wrote or had someone else write something like (with the bolded words being actual links):
Read more about email marketing and content marketing from CREATE180 Design, a website design company and digital marketing company offering email marketing services and content marketing services for small businesses.
Having Spam on Your Website
Google, like people, hates spam. If you have areas on your site that display user-generated content, regularly monitor them for spam. Often, it’s the public comments field on your blog or a place for customers to leave feedback or reviews. People and spam bots crawl the web seeking places to drop links to their sites. You’ve probably seen such spam in comment fields. It’s off-putting to visitors, and Google may mistake it as your spam or, if it accumulates, as a sign you’re not maintaining the quality of your site. Delete it promptly. If necessary, set it so that you have to approve comments or posts before they’re published.