Avoid Google Update Penalties

Halloween has passed, and whilst we hope that you had a good time, revelled in a good jack-o-lantern lit party and indulged in a bit of trick or treating, we can’t help but remember the terror. The horror that was instilled in everyone recently wasn’t incurred by the undead, spooky costumes or scary masks. Not long ago there was a small panic over Google’s Panda 4.2 refresh that focussed on content quality, which lead many content marketers to go on a content glut (which we recently covered) and in turn have a detrimental effect on their Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) campaign. If you’ve been keeping up to date with us you’ll know the way that the Panda 4.2 Refresh is being implemented has changed, and will now be rolled out in incremental releases rather than one sweeping “doomsday” switch for websites with bad content. This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last time that someone finds their rankings dip, or worse receive a manual penalty as a result of a change in Google’s algorithm. You’re no doubt wondering what you can do to avoid being penalised by future updates; what magical armour you can strap on to your website to protect it and save you from worrying about the antidote later on. Well there is an answer, and it’s not as complex as you might think. In this article we’ll go through some simple tips to avoid being penalised as a result of future Google updates.

How Your Website Can Be Penalised

Just for clarity we want to discuss what we mean by being ‘penalised’ – specifically in how your listing on Google can be affected. There are a variety of factors that can affect your position on Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Certain keywords can experience a dip in rankings which in turn can result in your position, for specific search term, dropping a few positions or in a worst case scenario dropping into obscurity … past page five. Manual penalties are the most detrimental and aside from losing ranking positions these can result in a website being removed from Google’s rankings entirely, and whilst you can recover from this it can take an exceptional amount of time and potentially result in lost revenue for your business. Effectively we’re referring to any penalty that will be detrimental to the number of visitors to your website.

Keep on Top of Your Content

Focussing on how relevant the content of your website is to your business is vital. For instance, if your business happens to be a dry cleaners you don’t want to dedicate the majority of the copy on your site to talking about how intriguing an individual, Elon Musk is. It’s also vital that your copy be of a decent length and that this rule holds true across your site: Studies have shown that content length can have a noticeable impact in the ranking of pages in Google’s SERP. You don’t want solely to take into account the length of your copy, but also consider what the copy you write is talking about, make sure that it is of a decent length and has been written to a good standard. Google uses a number of systems to detect the quality of content, and whilst they have stated that the Flesch-Kincaid Readability scale isn’t in active use, it is clear that they are at the very least using a similar system. All of these issues have been raised in the recent Panda 4.2 Refresh, and it looks like Google will continue to focus on content as a ranking metric in future updates, so staying on top of your content is paramount.
Keyword Stuffing (yes, it’s 2015 and we’re bringing this up) is a definitive “NO” for any website. If you’re uncertain of what constitutes “keyword stuffing” there’s a really easy way to work it out. Read your existing content and try to decide if it sounds natural or not. If you were holding a discussion with someone could you in all good conscience quote verbatim the copy on your website without it sounding like a two minute advert for your services? If you can’t and you feel like you’ve said a certain keyword so many times that it’s stopped sounding like a real word or phrase, you probably have a keyword stuffing problem. For instance the following phrase:
Do you need a great mechanic that has the skills of a highly trained mechanic who can help you with your car? Then you’re in luck! At Cars’R’Us our mechanics have the experience that you want from your mechanic to ensure that your car runs smoothly. Contact one of our friendly mechanics today for a quote.
Would be far better put as follows:
At Cars’R’Us we want to ensure that we provide you with a mechanic that has the skill, experience and high standard of work that you want. We do this to ensure that our team can get your car running smoothly as soon as possible so you can carry on with your day,  feeling safe in the knowledge that your car won’t let you down.
This is may seem like a somewhat silly example, but it’s amazing how many websites out there still actively flaunt keyword stuffing. Whilst you might get away with it in the short term, in the long term it looks artificial, and if you haven’t been caught out by Google yet, be wary of future updates, because you likely will be.

Be Wary of Artificial Citations

Artificial Handshake
Artificial citations or paid links can be highly detrimental to your SEO. Google’s algorithms are currently intelligent enough to pick up links that have been placed purely for the purpose of generating link juice, and they’re only getting better at it. One of the places you want to be wary of posting links to is online directories. Google is accepting of some more genuine places such as Yelp, Thompson Local, Yell and several others, but do your research first. Just posting links to your site anywhere and everywhere can currently be detrimental, and with future updates may become more so, so be wary.

Also Be Wary of Artificial Reviews

The same goes for artificial reviews. Google doesn’t give any clear guidance on how it determines whether or not a review placed on a site such as its own social networking site Google+ is genuine, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out. If you have an account with Google they know what you’re using your email address to access, and if there’s even a hint that you’re an employee for the company you’re posting a review for, you’ll likely get caught out. The same goes for paying a third party to post reviews; Google can quite easily work out if an account is active or just a shell for spamming purposes, so it’s best just to let reviews occur naturally. Google are currently clamping down on this type of behaviour and will likely get stricter in future updates.

Ditch Your Meta Keywords

We’ve just checked the calendar, it’s definitely the 2nd November 2015 (unless you’re reading this on a later date, then it’s that day), and we’re going to talk about meta keywords. The use of meta keywords used to be a genuinely acceptable method of gaining rankings as part of your SEO, but for the last decade or so they’ve fallen out of favour for the same reason so many other practices did: They were abused. Currently the official line is that Google ignores meta keywords, but that’s not to say that Google won’t start looking at them disapprovingly in the future. Currently they aren’t beneficial, so why keep them? If you still use meta keywords we would recommend removing them, they serve no purpose and were spammy when they did.

Bad Shared IPs, Getting Hacked & Blacklisted

It’s important to be wary of your neighbourhood, and for your website this means knowing who you might be sharing an IP address with. If you happen to be sharing an IP address with someone who is selling less than reputable pharmaceuticals for your more adult areas, Google has ways of picking up on this and can use a broad sword to blacklist not just the sellers of such an unscrupulous pill, but your more reputable site too. The same goes for being aware of your site security; if Google becomes suspicious that your site has been hacked or hijacked for nefarious uses it will bring up an interstitial notifying someone who is visiting from a Google SERP link that something might be wrong. It’s actually really difficult to get around this interstitial, so this will definitely have an adverse effect on your rankings. There are numerous things that you can do to make your website more secure, but a good start is to ensure that your CMS is as up to date as possible, and that you only use less obvious passwords of a decent strength that incorporate special characters. As with many of the issues that can affect your SEO campaign that we’ve listed, these issues can result in not just being penalised, but potentially blacklisted which can result in an arduous and drawn out process to get overturned.

In Summary: Don’t Cheat

We could fill this article with a long list of “don’ts” for SEO, but that’s an article for another day, and you should be getting an idea of what’s required of you to ensure that you don’t get caught out by future updates to Google’s algorithm. Essentially don’t try to cheat, even if you think you may get away with it. Take off your black or grey hat and don your white paragon hat of virtue, don’t break the law and don’t cheat. Effectively this article is here to encourage you to play the game by the rules; there will always be opportunities to exploit a loophole or weakness in any system whether it’s Google’s or AN Other but as with systems that are monitored; there’s always someone in charge who can catch you out. Don’t run the risk for a short term “win” that may jeopardise your future; ensure that your website adheres to the straightforward rules of using natural high quality content and naturally generated links, citations and reviews. Do not try to play games with the system, and you’ll be fine, there are plenty of white hat SEO techniques out there which whilst they might be hard work, will generate great long lasting results.

Not Sure What to Do?

Don’t panic. If you’re not sure what to do and there are plenty of people out there who aren’t sure of what constitutes white hat SEO, or what SEO itself entails – that’s where we come in. At MB Web we have a highly skilled in house team who work hard to ensure that your SEO campaign runs smoothly, and we will ensure that our efforts are ethical to avoid your website being penalised by future updates. From time to time an update can come along that rewrites the rules and changes the playing field, but we keep ourselves updated about these changes, and if anything drastic comes along we’ll be sure to let you know and put the work in to ensure that you don’t get caught out. If you want to find out more about how our SEO team can help your website to perform well and avoid getting penalised, just get in touch. You can find out more by contacting David Park or me (Jake Judd) using our online contact form, by sending an email to hello@juddassoc.com or by calling our Lewes office on 01273 478822, and we’ll be more than happy to discuss how the team at MB Web can help you.