Optimization Tips: How to Optimize a Website to Avoid SEO Penalty

Everyone website owner resents a Google penalty. Imagine logging into your Google Webmaster dashboard and finding out that your traffic numbers have dropped dramatically overnight! An SEO penalty is no less than a digital nightmare. That being said, it is many times the case that webmasters are not even aware if there is something wrong on their website. This article will talk about the various on-page and off-page optimisation tips that can help you avoid an SEO penalty.

On Page Optimisation To Avoid SEO Penalty

While most webmasters understand the importance of great user experience on the website, and the importance search engines like Google place in the same, there have been more than a few cases of over-optimisation and unethical on-page optimisation practices that have attracted penalties. Now, you may not be doing any of these, or may be doing these without knowing that it is unethical, but the search engine crawlers will not care about that. For this reason, make sure that your website is free of the optimisation errors that follow.

Avoid Duplicate/Spun Content At All Costs

The “content is king” phrase has been used so much that it deserves a penalty of its own. Be that as it may, the phrase holds true meaning in today’s scenario, especially if you consider Google’s ranking parameters. However, being a busy entrepreneur, you don’t always have time to generate high-quality content. So you spot a great article on an authority website and sign up to a great content spinning software. Next, you “spin” the article someone else wrote, and post it on your website. Nobody has to find out, right? Wrong. No matter how promising your content spinning software is, you can count on the fact that Google’s algorithms are far more complex and adept and spotting copied or “spun” content. If you are looking for great SEO results, it is advisable to make peace with the fact that there is no way around creating and publishing original and high quality content.

Don’t Place Too Many Ads Above “The Fold”

Google values user experience more than anything else. Keeping that in mind, imagine the following scenario: A user enters certain keywords into the search engine and your website is the top result in the SERPs (Yay!). The user clicks on your link and lands on a website where he has to scroll is met with ten different ads. The confused user scrolls down and eventually finds what they are looking for.
See what’s wrong there? If your content doesn’t immediately deliver what is promised to the user, its bad user experience, and Google penalises bad user experience. While there is nothing wrong with placing a few ads on your website, it is important to remember that great user experience has become a necessity. Not only would it help in achieving better SERP performance, but will keep the users coming back to your website for more quality experiences and information. Pro Tip: Instead of ads, try putting a video or an infographic that instantly answers the query of the user, and you will start noticing improvements in your search engine performance. Google loves visual content, and creating and publishing visual content is one of the easiest and most surefire ways to drive better search engine performance. Place the ads below the fold, and you will still be making more money because of the additional search engine traffic.

Don’t Use Hidden Text Or Links

It may be possible to make text and links disappear for humans by presenting the text/links in the same colour as the background, but this practice is not hidden from a search engine crawler. It is a direct violation of Google’s policies, and will definitely attract a heavy penalty. Similarly, overuse of keywords has also been on Google’s blacklist for over a decade now. Instead of stuffing keywords or hiding them, it is advisable to spend time on creating content that actually helps a user and/or solves their query. Remember, if a user loves their experience on your website, chances are, the search engine will love your website.

Keep Track Of User Generated Spam

While user generated content is one of the most valuable content assets, users sometimes misuse the freedom to create spammy backlinks for their own interests.
When users post content on your website, say, in the form of comments, they may sometimes post links to their own websites (blog commenting is a known link building strategy). However, when too many outbound links come out of a single page, Google treats it as a red flag, and may impose a penalty. To avoid this, simply ensure that all links in the user-generated content are marked as “no-follow”. This will tell the search engine crawlers that you or your website do not endorse these links in any way.

Don’t Use Cloaking

In simple terms, cloaking is when you create two different versions of your website and display different sets of information to the search engine crawlers and the users. Cloaking is a huge red flag for Google, and if caught, Google may slap down lifetime penalties to websites that use this technology to mislead users.

Combat Negative SEO

Sometimes, in order to outperform your business, a competitor may employ negative SEO against your website. Most commonly, this is done by getting spammy and bad backlinks to point to your website. While this may seem highly unlikely, such practices are unfortunately very common in the digital landscape. The best way to combat negative SEO is to be vigilant about the links pointing to your website. Conduct routine audits to identify any bad backlinks. As soon as you come across one, mail the webmaster of that website requesting them to remove the link. Once you have ensured your online headquarters are impervious to penalties, you can move on to the off-page aspect of your website.

Off Page Optimisation To Avoid SEO Penalty

The most significant aspect of off page SEO is link building. In this section, we will look at link building best practices that will allow you to avoid penalty.

Link building commandments

Link building has both white and black areas of operation. While link building can significantly improve your online presence, following the unethical approaches in doing so can cost you a search engine penalty. Poor link building techniques are one of the most common reasons behind penalties issues by Google. Such penalties could range anywhere from a demotion in search engine ranking to a complete ban. For any business looking to expand its online presence, this can be a big obstacle. To ensure that you keep a good profile with the search engines, here are some commandments you should definitely follow:  

“Thou shall not buy links but earn them”

Link building can be a slow and arduous process. And this is why some people take the easy route – they start buying links. This link buying could mean paying to place your link in a content piece or offering to include your Google really frowns upon the process of buying links and has penalised various sites in the past including its own Google Japan, a ban that lasted 11 months. If the links you are buying don’t pass you any link juice, the practice won’t invite any trouble but it stall falls on the negative radar of search engines.

“Thou shall not use guest posting as a way to stuff links”

Guest posts aren’t a link building method as such, these opportunities exist to help you build your authority and improve your online presence. But too often these guest posts are abused when guest writers tend to stuff in links to their site. If the site allows you to do so, the process is ethical. But if you exploit this chance, it is against

“Thou shall not misuse anchors to float”

If you are using the same anchor text while creating backlinks, search engine will know that you are trying to game the algorithm and that may lead to a penalty. So it is crucial to use this power ethically by using your anchor texts organically. However, since SEO is also a brand-building activity, it is okay to build certain links while using branded or domain name anchor text. However, as with everything else on this list, moderation is the key. Build too many branded backlinks, and Google will know something is fishy.

Thou shall not indulge in link exchange”

Becoming a part of link schemes where link exchange mutually benefits both the parties – while not considered unethical – can lead to a penalty  

“Thou shall find high-authority sites when building links”

Earning backlinks is one of the best ways of establishing your online authority. But to ensure that this authority has a positive effect, you should target high authority websites. If your links are coming from foreign or low authority sites, it is a signal to the search engine that you are probably doing something unethical. So when you are planning your link building plan, it is crucial to refrain from easy-to-target sites and look for those with high authority and good online presence. Additionally, it is imperative to add unique value when offering content to these sites.

“Thou shall not rely on automated comments to earn links”

Many marketers tend to abuse the comment section of sites by leaving their links behind. These comments that don’t add any value to the discussion are often easy to notice and get penalised.  

“Thou shall not create private blog networks”

Private blog networks are a manipulative tactic and should really be avoided like the plague. These networks consist of websites you own, which basically exist so you can link these to each other and create a system of link building that actually doesn’t rely on value addition but instead on link stuffing hence making it unethical. This last commandment, often ignored, is crucial for maintaining that much-needed ethic in link building process. If you are looking for more insight into effective link building, we recently wrote this exhaustive guide.

Recovering From A Penalty

According to Matt Cutts, Google’s manual website auditors initiate over 400,000 actions every month. Add to that the countless other websites being penalised due to algorithm updates like Panda or Hummingbird, and penalties will start seeming like a common occurrence. However, only about 20,000 webmasters submit a reconsideration request every month. For this reason, keeping track of your backlinks and activities on your website is critical to avoiding penalties. If you do receive a notification on your webmaster dashboard, it is advisable to act immediately and submit for reconsideration as soon as possible. For instance, you are penalised for building a number of bad backlinks. The best course of action is to analyse your backlink profile, identify bad or broken backlinks, and start getting in touch with webmasters for link removal. Keep following up on your link removal emails until you have gotten rid of all the bad backlinks. When that happens, immediately put in a request for reconsideration. After that, if you have done your job properly, it is only a matter of time before your website starts performing on the SERPs again. Being patient is a critical part of success here, especially in case of algorithmic penalties. The best way to avoid such penalties is to stay updated with the various algorithm updates that Google rolls out. The most trustworthy resource for this information is Matt Cutts’ Twitter account.

Closing thoughts

Google has become one of the most valuable businesses on the planet, and it has done so by putting their users first. The search engine takes their users seriously, and has designed their algorithms and manual inspections to ensure the most seamless experience for their users, across the websites that they feature on their SERPs. The best way to avoid a penalty by Google is to remember the same. As long as you work on making your website more user friendly and stuff it with information that the users will love, Google will love your website and open the floodgates of traffic to your online headquarters.