How to Avoid Google Ranking Penalties with Your Content

The content on your website is more than 50% of what determines whether you will rank high on search engines or not. Learning what to do and what to avoid is crucial to the success of your SEO.

Since 2010, Google has released various algorithms that monitor all the web pages on the internet and their content. The most significant ones are Panda and Penguin. Penguin, in particular, can bring heavy penalties to your website if your content is found to breach one or more of the official Google optimisation guidelines. What are heavy penalties? Well, there are no direct monetary fines, if that's what you are asking, but your website can be penalised by dropping 10 to 100 positions on the search engines. So, imagine one day you were on the first page of Google, then you got a penalty and you are now on page 86. Obviously, your organic traffic will drop significantly, because people won't find you, looking for specific keywords. In the worst case scenario, your website can be completely unlisted from the search results.

None of the above possibilities is good for business. If you want to be successful in online retailing and popularising your brand, you need to learn how to avoid Google ranking penalties.

#1. Do not over-optimise your content!

Overly optimised content is easily detected by Google Penguin. The algorithm update was released specifically to combat the misuse of keywords. In the past, SEO professionals used to stuff pages with as many keywords as possible. Before Penguin came into force, this tactic was really working. However, it's been a long time since it is no more the case.

Google's official guideline for keyword density (how many times you use keywords on your page text body) for 2018 is between 1% and 2.5%. So, if you have a 600-word article and your keyword appears 20 times in the text, you are asking for a penalty.

Overly-optimised anchor text leading to your website can also be a cause for your web page, or even the whole website to be penalised. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about backlinks, guest posting and anchor text. If you missed it or need to refresh your memory, here's the article about link building. Whenever, you agree with someone to exchange links, keep in mind that it's good to have optimised anchor text, but it must not exceed 20% of all of your backlinks.

#2. Be careful about outbound spam links

This has a lot to do with the comments people leave on your website or blog. Do not approve or ignore spam comments!!! Having many meaningless comments, whose only purpose is to link back to another website is a big enough reason for Google to believe your site is not regularly monitored and therefore be penalised. Same applies to platforms with forums. If your website has a forum feature, you need to make sure spam threads and comments are removed in due course.

#3. Don't stack your pages with ads

Having a couple of ads on your web pages is not bad. It is a legitimate way of making money on the internet. However, you need to make sure they are not too many and the user is free to skip them whenever they want. One of the most common causes for ranking penalties is having a page on which the user is forced to click on an ad before they can view content or do anything else. The same goes for pop-up forms. They are a great way to attract attention and an important part of your email list creation. In 2018, though, you are advised to lead users to a separate page, designed specifically for signing up, rather than using pop-ups.

#4. Make sure you produce high quality content that keeps users engaged

I know this is much easier to say than do, but with a bit of practice and having a basic checklist of the dos and don'ts, it's absolutely achievable. Let's see what type of content will get you a Google ranking penalty, so you can avoid it.

  • Duplicate content - Unlike what most people think, this doesn't relate so much to having content on your website that is similar to the content of other websites. Yes, copy and paste is not a good tactic. While it's true unoriginal content won't help you rank high, it won't necessarily get you penalised. What will bring you a penalty, though, is having duplicate content within your own pages. For example, if you have a Contact Us page that is the same or very similar to the Booking page, this is bad practice.

  • Poor value content - People search Google for solutions of their problems. They expect to gain some knowledge, whether factual or practical from the pages they land on. Therefore, you need to make sure your content provides high value for your target market. Websites that don't contain useful information or information that can be found elsewhere on the internet are not ranked high.

  • Low or none social engagement - Social shares and comments are on of the key factors Google looks at when ranking a website. A large number of shares and user engagement on a page is an indicator for high value, original and interesting content. Logically, this kind of page will be pushed higher in the search results, so that it can be seen by even more people. Websites with low engagement rates, on the other hand, will be pushed down.

#5. Mind your word count, page layout and bounce rate

Google likes longer pages, but users don’t. So, it's important to find the balance. By all means, your page shouldn’t be shorter than 300 words, but 500 to 800 words is good from a reader’s point of view. Google generally prefers 1000+ words, but if the content doesn’t get social shares the word count will have little to no weight in the ranking process.

The layout of your text is also very important for lowering the bounce rate and increasing the engagement. Long rows on your blogs are a no-no. Many SEO specialists recommend having up to 15 words per row as the optimal text layout for a well performing web page. Think about it, it’s much easier to read short rows, without having to move your eyes all the way from the left to right end of the screen. You are more likely to keep your focus on the content. Also, use formatting for the important parts of the text. Format key parts or words from your text with italic or bold to emphasise on their importance or even to bring out a specific feeling. You can change the colour of links using your brand colours, instead of the universal dark blue. Be creative, but not tacky… except if tacky falls in line with your branding. 😁

And to finish up with style, it's time to debunk the myth about bounce rate. Low bounce rate matters mainly on sales pages or pages where you would expect users to take another action, for example, download a freebie, signup for newsletter and so on. On such pages you should aim for a low bounce rate, ideally under 40-50%. Blog articles, however, are different. Their main aim is to provide answers to people’s questions. Imagine someone is looking for a way to improve their SEO and clicks on an article titled "All you need to know about SEO in 2018". Perhaps, they will find everything they need in this piece, so they wouldn’t need to do anything else on the website and exit. If the content is really engaging, though, they may decide to browse through other posts on the site for more wisdom nuggets. That’s why making navigation though internal pages easy is essential. Generally, though, a bounce rate as high as 80-90% on a blog is not something to worry too much about if users spend more than 3 minutes on your website.

Was this helpful? Let me know in the comments below and share with others to help them keep their ranking on the search engines.

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