Chapter 9: Violations & Search Engine Spam Penalties
So far, we’ve discussed the positive signals that make up the Periodic Table Of SEO Success Factors. But there are also some negative factors to avoid.
A word of reassurance. Very few people who believe they’ve spammed a search engine have actually done so. It’s hard to accidentally spam and search engines look at a variety of signals before deciding if someone deserves a harsh penalty.
That said, let’s talk about things not to do!
Responding to a drumbeat of complaints about poor search results, Google rolled out its “Panda” update in February 2011. Panda targets what is described as “thin” or “shallow” content or content that is lacking in substance.
This domain level penalty targets sites with a predominant amount of so-so content and essentially treats it similar to overt spam techniques.
Today it’s no longer a question of whether the content is simply relevant but whether it is valuable to the user.
To learn more about this, see some of our articles below:
- Google Forecloses on Content Farms With “Farmer” Algorithm Update
- Your Site’s Traffic Has Plummeted Since Google’s Farmer/Panda Update. Now What?
- Lessons Learned at SMX West: Google’s Famer/Panda Update
- The Farmer/Panda Update: New Information From Google and The Latest From SMX West
- Google Rolls Out Its Panda Update Internationally And Begins Incorporating Searcher Blocking Data
- It’s Panda Update 2.1, Not Panda 3.0, Google Says
- Impacted By Google’s Panda Update? Google Asks You To Consider This…
Have you ever been on a site and found it hard to find the actual content amid a slew of ads? Where’s the beef!
That’s what the Page Layout algorithm was meant to address. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Webspam described it as follows:
… we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.
Often referred to as Top Heavy, this penalty is reserved for sites that frustrate the user experience by placing an over abundance of ads before content. So don’t make your users search for the content.
To learn more about the Page Layout penalty from the following articles:
- The Top Heavy Update: Pages With Too Many Ads Above The Fold Now Penalized By Google’s “Page Layout” Algorithm
- It’s “Top Heavy 2″ As Google Rolls Out Update To Its Page Layout Algorithm
It’s one of the oldest spam tactics on the books. Search engines say to use words you want to be found for on your pages. OK, I’ll give them those words over and over again! How about 100 times. In a row? That work for you, Google?
Actually, no, it doesn’t. But “keyword stuffing” like this could get you penalized.
How often is too often? There’s no correct answer here, but you’d really have to go to extremes to cause this penalty to kick in. It’s most likely to happen to non-SEOs who just don’t know better and might decide to paste a word many times in a row, typically at the bottom of a web page.
Once you decide to keyword stuff, you’re next thought will probably be “Why don’t I hide all this text that no human wants to see.” You might make the text white, so it blends with a page’s background. In doing so, you will have spammed a search engine.
Search engines don’t like anything hidden. They want to see everything that a user sees. Don’t hide text, whether it be using styles, fonts, display:none or any other means that means a typical user can’t see it.
Let’s talk sophisticated hiding. How about rigging your site so that search engines are shown a completely different version than what humans see?
While most people are unlikely to accidentally spam a search engine, the opposite is true when it comes to cloaking. That’s why it’s such a heavy penalty, if you’re caught doing it. It’s a bait and switch and seen as a deliberate attempt to manipulate search results.
That’s longer than JC Penney was penalized (3 months) in 2011. But JC Penney suffered another penalty after having its paid link purchase splashed across a giant New York Times article. So did several large online florists. And Overstock got hammered via a Wall Street Journal article.
The debate over whether Google should act so aggressively against those who buy and sell links has gone on for years. The bottom line is to rank on Google, you have to follow Google’s rules — and the rules say no buying or selling links in a way that passes on search engine ranking credit.
If you choose to ignore Google’s rules, be prepared for little mercy if caught. And don’t believe programs that tell you they’re paid links are undetectable. They’re not, especially when so many of the cold-call ones are run by idiots.
As for Bing, officially it doesn’t penalize for paid links, but it frowns on the practice.
Tempted to run around and drop links on forums and blogs, all with highly optimized anchor text (like ‘louis vuitton handbags 2013′), with the help of automated software?
You’re also not doing SEO, though sadly, all the people who hate the spam you leave behind get the impression that’s what SEO is about. So SEOs hate you too – with a passion.
If you do go ahead with it, most of the links won’t give you the credit you were thinking they would. On top of that, you can find yourself on the sharp end of a penalty.
This penalty has been given more weight in this version of the table based on the efforts Google has made in neutralizing and penalizing link spam and, in particular, the launch of the “Penguin” update.
If you’ve been caught dabbling on the dark side, or if a fly-by-night “SEO” company got your site in hot water you can disavow those links on both Google and Bing in hopes of redemption and a clean start.
Learn more about link spam penalties through the following articles:
- Google Launches “Penguin Update” Targeting Webspam In Search Results
- Penguin 4, With Penguin 2.0 Generation Spam-Fighting, Is Now Live
- How Google’s Disavow Links Tool Can Remove Penalties
- Bing Launches Way to “Disavow” Links, But Why?
The “Pirate” update targeted sites infringing on copyright law. Under pressure from the Recording Industry Associate of America (RIAA), Hollywood powerhouses and governments, Google began to penalize sites who received a large number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) “takedown” requests.
It’s unlikely that most sites will have to deal with these issues, but you should handle any DMCA takedown notifications that show up in your Google Webmaster Tools account.
Learn more about the Pirate update and piracy in the following articles:
- The Pirate Update: Google Will Penalize Sites Repeatedly Accused Of Copyright Infringement
- Google Removes Piracy-Related Terms From Instant Search
- 50 Million Pages Removed From Google This Year Due To DMCA Piracy Reports
More Info & Redemption
To learn more about spam, you might check out this three part video series:
If you’re seeking redemption, here’s guidance from Google on how penalties are applied, removed and how to request reinclusion:
- Official: Google On How & When Ranking Penalties Are Removed
- How To Do A Google Reinclusion Reconsideration Request
- How Google’s Disavow Links Tool Can Remove Penalties
You can also request reinclusion with Bing using this form.
Get A Reference Copy Of The Periodic Table
Congratulations! If you’ve been reading through this guide from the beginning, you’re done! We also have a reward for you.
Continue on to the download page, and you can get a PDF version of the Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors suitable for printing, framing or just future reference. You’ll also find images that you can embed on your site, or feel free to share the condensed slideshow below:
Best of luck with your SEO efforts!