How to avoid the wrath of a Google penalty

Real Business met CEO Tom Schuster to find out why company boards must now take more of an interest in how their organisations’ search engine marketing is being managed and what they should do to avert the risk of a Google penalty.

Schuster begins by explaining how their software and analysis indicated that travel website Expedia was impacted by a Google penalty in January, which saw its organic search visibility drop by around 25 per cent. Not only did this cause a drop in traffic and revenue, but it also affected the company stock price and value.

According to their evaluation, Expedia, may have been penalised for a variety of alleged ‘unnatural’ links to its domain and other important URLs. Many of the links in question were analysed by Searchmetrics as a probable legacy from an older link building strategy, although they have affected the business today.

The likely penalty had far reaching consequences for Expedia, with the financial impact making it a board level issue. And Expedia is not alone – many company boards may be unaware that they are infringing Google’s rules, risking penalties that could hit revenues and brand value. 

It is very easy for website owners and their marketing and SEO teams to fall foul of Google’s rules since it intensified its war against web spam. Schuster suggests that “Google is becoming smarter every day, and many SEO ‘tricks’ that helped sites achieve high search rankings in the past are now seen as signals of spam and are outlawed.”

Presumably, the very SEO we thought would gain us the most visibility might be doing more harm than good. This includes “low quality links, outdated techniques such as optimised anchor texts and stuffing content with unnecessary keywords.”

“Search engines dont buy products, people do. So dont try to deliberatly get on top of the rankings by catering to every type of search phrase and keyword you can because it won’t do you any good. For example, someone is looking at where to buy a decent cup of coffee and they stumble upon your travel website – where you can buy cheap flights and get hotel deals.”

Why does this hurt your site – despite your not being a café? Through Hummingbird, Google is able to more acurately determine the sites that are the most relevant to your question, making it more relevant than ever to stick to your own guns. This means that bigger brands no longer have an upper hand, nor will paid links necessarily raise you higher in the charts. 

More importantly, you’ve strayed away from the golden rule of what makes Google… Google. Relevancy. And you obviously haven’t been keeping tabs on updates – something that led to Expedia’s fall in ranking.

“You’ve got to understand that you have to focus on the people you are MEANT to be targeting, not ranking for the sake of ranking. Don’t build bad links, don’t try to buy links here and there. Google are making there mission clear: you need to desreve to be in your space – so focus on the outcome of the result instead of the algorithm.

“Focus on the people, not on the searching. It’s all about the content, structure, experience, usability – all measures by Google in terms of ranking – and finding the right person at the right time. Connect your dots, don’t force them. There are tons of ways to naturally grow your traffic and ranking by building a brand that people can trust, even if it takes a while.”

So what exactly does Google penalise?

  • Duplicate content;
  • Slow page load time;
  • Buying from content farms;
  • Hidden text links;
  • Keyword-stuffed content;
  • Excessive website downtime;
  • On-site over optimisation;
  • Blog site-wide/footer links;
  • Using too many meta tags; and
  • Broken internal links.

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