How to stay on the right side of Google
Posted on 18th March 2022
Getting on to the first page of Google search results is hard enough in itself; maintaining that position is even harder! The importance of being on the first page is heightened by recent statistics: #1 ranking averages a 39.6% CTR (click-through rate); #2 ranking averages 18.4% and #3 ranking 10.1%.
In the ambition to achieve a top three Google ranking, some have been tempted to adopt certain methods to ‘trick’ Google’s algorithm, such as black hat backlinks and search engine optimisation. Indeed, you may find that your website has breached an accepted practice accidentally. However, Google has built-in filters that discover these methods which will result in an algorithm penalty.
But with Google constantly changing and updating their search algorithm – and no, they don’t publicise all the changes – how can you make sure that your business’s website stays on the right side of Google and continues to stay on the top of search results?
What are Google penalties?
Google penalties can be incurred from actions on your website, i.e. page speed or a poor user experience, as well as actions off your website, such as backlinks. Penalties can be automatically detected, known as an algorithmic penalty, or a person from Google has reviewed your site manually and decided there has been a breach of their guidelines.
Algorithmic penalties – these can either be a Penguin – over-optimisation – or Panda penalty – user experience and site content. Depending on the breach, Google may suspend just the page in question or the entire site, even if you have pages that haven’t breached their guidelines.
Manual penalties – these occur when someone at Google has reviewed your website pages or the entire site and found that their guidelines have been breached. Again, just pages of the site or the whole site can be penalised.
In extreme cases, Google may remove your website from their index but in most cases, your website will significantly drop down SERPS (search engine results pages) by at least 10 positions, if not a lot more, for various relevant keywords. It is worth remembering that the penalty may relate to something you changed on the website months, possibly a year, ago and Google implementing an updated algorithm will have triggered the penalty.
Google algorithm updates and their impact
Google updates their algorithm regularly but it’s only the major updates they announce. The most important ones that should be applied to your website are as follows:
Penguin – this update was implemented in April 2012 and it targeted website spammers and those that bought links to boost their search ranking. In many cases, the backlinks were excessive and had little to no relevance to the website they were linking to.
Hummingbird – a year later (August 2013) saw this updated with an assessment of a website’s context and intent with respect to a user’s search parameters, rather than just using the words they had typed, i.e. the algorithm was using ‘intelligence’ to determine meaning.
Pigeon – July 2014 saw the implementation of this update which integrated local search results.
Mobile-friendly update – this algorithm update was a few years later (July 2019) and, as the name of the update suggests, Google’s bot viewed all websites as smartphone – mobile-friendly – and prioritised the sites that were optimised for mobile devices.
Core update – the following year (December 2020), Google launched this latest algorithm update which brought into focus relevance and quality of the content on websites.
Page Experience update – the last update (July 2021) was focused on Google’s Core Web Vitals, news alerts and organic results.
How to avoid Google’s penalties
With Google changing their algorithm regularly – remember, we only know about the updates they announce – monitoring and assessing your website’s performance as part of your marketing strategy is crucial in any successful digital marketing campaign. So, what can you do to avoid Google’s penalties?
Monitor your links
Google will penalise any links that don’t look ‘natural’, particularly with anchor text (the text at the bottom of a blog/article or content that promotes the company/product/service. Whilst links are a key part of SEO strategies, practices like buying/selling links, exchanging links, submitting articles to sites that are not relevant to your business’s activity, too much commenting in forums or excessive guest posting campaigns that target specific anchor text are known as ‘black hat’ link building. It’s better to focus on ‘white SEO’ practices – quality, relevant content, keyword-rich metadata and page titles, better page loading speed and inbound links from authoritative sites that are relevant to your business – to avoid penalties.
Steer clear of over-optimisation
It’s easy to get a little carried away when adding keywords, anchor text and links. Over-use is considered over-optimisation by Google and your site will be penalised. So, bear these rules in mind:
Keyword percentage – aim for around 1% to 2% keyword density, i.e. use the relevant keyword one or two times for every 100 words of content. This level of keywords ensures search engines are able to understand what the page is about but avoids over-use.
Anchor text links – your anchor text is your brand, product or service name or a particular keyword that is 100% relevant to your website. For example, if your main service is ‘website building’, that is your anchor text. However, using the same words – website building – for all your anchor text links will get Google suspicious and they could penalise your site. So, use different words for your anchor text, such as ‘building websites’, ‘to build a website’ or ‘developing a website’.
Irrelevant links – one of the biggest culprits of Google penalties is buying or using links that have no relevance to your business. In the long run, it doesn’t improve your ranking and is considered a serious breach of Google’s guidelines.
Improve on-page SEO
One of the best ways to maximise your website’s ranking and performance is through on-page SEO. Work on optimising title tags so they are unique, descriptive and include the relevant keyword – don’t stick with default title tags or Google may think the content is a duplicate. Make sure the website has a sitemap and use shareable headlines.
Upgrade your content
make sure your content, which includes all media, is relevant, includes your top keywords, is accurate and serves a purpose, i.e. it is useful to the visitor. Infographics and stats are a great way to engage the reader. Storytelling is a useful tool – sharing a recent experience or a unique message – and improves the conversion rate. Always remember to add a call-to-action (CTA), whether it’s a blog, article, ‘story’, product description or any other content where you want the visitor to take action.
Monitoring your website’s performance and ensuring it meets Google’s guidelines is a key part of any marketing strategy. It is well worth setting time aside on a regular basis to ensure your content and web pages are accurate and performing well.
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