If you want to strengthen your Search Engine Optimisation strategy, one important thing to keep in mind is avoiding being penalised by those search engines in the first place!

Google has detailed the criteria they look out for when evaluating websites, which is good to keep in mind when reviewing your own website. Some of it may seem obvious to a white hat (link) SEO master – (of course you don’t intend to install malware on your website!) – but there are lots of things you may have been unaware that you’re doing that could still be penalised. Thus, to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to look through and understand Google’s guidelines. So we’ve broken them down into a list for you below!

1. Having little or no original content:

As the heading suggests, google is not fond of websites that don’t provide their own content. If you are simply copying from other websites, then you aren’t contributing any additional value to the visitors experience on the web. There are various different examples of this which we’ll explain in more detail below, from auto-generated content, to doorway pages. The main takeaway from this is that the content on your website should be original!

2. Automatically generated content:

Automatically generated content is content that is generated by a program. This tends to be content that would not make any sense when read by a human visitor, as it’s normally a jumble of words with keywords thrown into the mix in a bid to gain search engines’ attention. Even if Google didn’t penalise such pages (which they do!), it will give visitors a bad experience of your web page, which will in turn result in them ‘bouncing’ off your page, and lowering your ranking in Google. It’s thus best just to avoid it all together. Examples of auto-generated content include text that is translated by an automated tool without being reviewed, or copying snippets of content from different web pages and mashing them together without adding any additional value.

3. Using link schemes:

Link schemes are links that exist solely to manipulate a site’s ranking, and does not contribute to the visitor’s experience. For example, using an automated program to create links to your site clearly falls into this category! Other instances are a little bit more contextual – for instance, paid links can often be considered to be part of link schemes, but if ‘rel=”nofollow”’ is used, this stops pagerank from transferring, and thus prevents the links from being classified as part of a link scheme. By analysing the relevance and authority of web pages you are linking to (along with many other factors), Google can get a pretty good handle on whether your links are genuinely of value or not – so don’t risk being penalised with pointless links!

4. Cloaking:

Cloaking is when you give human visitors and search engines different content results for a page. So, if someone searches for something in Google, Google may put your page forward as a relevant result – but when visitors actually click on it, they may find it isn’t what they originally expected. You can tell if you’ve participated in cloaking by seeing whether you check for the user agent of Googlebot in your code (or for Googlebot’s IP address) – this normally suggests that you’re trying to show Googlebot something different to the human visitors. If you are participating in cloaking, these are grounds to get penalised by Google.

5. Sneaky redirects:

These are redirects that send a visitor to a different URL than the one they originally requested. Whilst some redirects are understandable – such as if you’ve simply moved the page to a new address – others are more manipulative, as they essentially end up showing the visitor different content to what Googlebot believes they are displaying. In this sense, sneaky redirects are a little similar to cloaking.

6. Hidden text and/or links:

Any method of hiding text or links from visitors is penalised by Google. You could argue that by hiding certain text this enables a better user experience whilst letting Google get a better idea of what your page is about – but the page should be able to do this by itself, without manipulative tricks. Thus, examples like hiding white text on a white background, setting the font size to zero, or putting a link in a small character like a full stop are all hiding methods that Google could penalise you for.

7. Doorway Pages:

Doorway pages are pages that are created specifically to boost the rank of another without contributing anything of value themselves. For example, you could have a page that targets different regions or cities, but ultimately is just there to funnel users to another page. This is counted as unoriginal content, and thus penalised by Google.

8. Scraped Content:

This is content that is copied from other websites without any additional value being added. This is not only frowned upon by Google, but could even count as copyright infringement in some cases. This includes direct copies of other websites’ content, and also copying and modifying it very slightly.

9. Affiliate Programs:

These feature product descriptions that appear on multiple sites without any additional content being added. This is not always done with bad intentions, as webmasters may simply want to provide the visitor with original customer reviews or product descriptions – but in order to make sure your practices are deemed to be part of an affiliate program, try to make sure that if this is the case, this copied content only makes up a small portion of the content on your page, adding value wherever you can.

10. Adding Irrelevant Keywords (aka Keyword Stuffing):

Putting keywords all over a webpage in order to manipulate search rankings makes for an unnatural and frustrating user experience, so naturally it is not something Google is a fan of. It’s pretty easy to tell when keyword stuffing is taking place, as they tend to be inserted into content when it seems unnecessary and forced – though slightly more subtle examples could include listing all the cities your page is trying to rank for, for no justifiable reason.

11. Creating pages with malicious behaviour:

This is defined as creating a page that doesn’t behave as the visitor expected, and does something without their consent. This could range from installing malware on a visitor’s computer, to changing a user’s browser homepage without their approval. It’s quite unsurprising that this has made it only Google’s list!

12. Manipulative Rich Snippet Use:

Rich snippets are the extracts of text that are displayed in a Google search result to provide information on your webpage, made up of your URL, Page Title, and Meta description. You can edit this with plugins such as Yoast, and write them to be descriptive and helpful – but if you add false information, such as fake positive ratings, this misleads users and is considered to be an abuse of rich snippet use by Google.

13. Sending Google Automated Queries:

Whether you are sending them through a robot, automated service, or otherwise, Google does not approve of automated queries.

14. Monitor Your Site for Hacking:

This is not so much a practice to avoid, but a practice to adopt in order to avoid being penalised by Google. Whilst you may not be creating pages with malicious behaviour, hackers could be placing such content onto your site without your permission. Google gives a guide on how to avoid being hacked or get help if you have, so it’s worth taking a look and seeing how well protected you are. (https://developers.google.com/webmasters/hacked/?visit_id=1-636301835844678603-3550500629&rd=1)

15. Monitor User-Generated Content:

Generally, getting visitors commenting and interacting with your site is great for boosting its popularity – but when you have harmful visitors or spammy accounts, you need to be careful. Be wary of spammy posts on forum threads or spam comments on your blog – these can lower the perceived credibility of your website, so remove these spam posts as soon as you come across them.

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