Chapter 9: Violations & search engine spam penalties
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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!
Vt: ‘Thin’ or ‘shallow’ content
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 similarly to the way it treats overt spam techniques.
Today, it’s no longer a question of whether the content is simply relevant, but also whether it is valuable to the user.
To learn more about this, see some of our articles in the category below:
Let’s talk sophisticated hiding. How about rigging your site so that search engines are shown a completely different version from the one 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 there’s such a heavy penalty if you’re caught doing it. It’s a bait-and-switch, and it’s seen as a deliberate attempt to manipulate search results.
Vs: Keyword stuffing
It’s one of the oldest spam tactics on the books, yet it’s still being used, and the search engines still don’t like it. 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. That’s “keyword stuffing,” and it 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.
Vh: Hidden text
Once you decide to keyword stuff, your 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 by using styles, fonts, display:none or any other means that so a typical user can’t see it.
Vd: Piracy/DMCA takedowns
The “Pirate” update targeted sites infringing on copyright law. Under pressure from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Hollywood powerhouses and governments, Google began to penalize sites that 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 Search Console account.
Learn more about the Pirate update and piracy in the following categories:
Va: Ads/Top Heavy layout
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. Often referred to as Top Heavy, this penalty is reserved for sites that frustrate the user experience by placing an overabundance of ads before content. So don’t make your users search for the content.
Learn more about the Page Layout algorithm from the following category:
Intrusive interstitials are also an issue that Google has warned against and taken action over:
- Google’s App Interstitial Giant Ad Penalty Is Now Live
- Google confirms rolling out the mobile intrusive interstitials penalty
Vp: Paid links
That’s longer than J.C. Penney was penalized (three months) in 2011. But J.C. 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 that 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 their 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.
The following category has posts with more information about paid links:
Vl: Link spam
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.
More info & redemption
To learn more about spam, you might check out this category: If you’re seeking redemption, here’s guidance from Google on how penalties are applied or removed and how to request reinclusion:
- SEO: Spamming
- Google: Penalties
- Google: Link Disavow
- Google: Penguin Update
- Bing reinclusion request form.
Get a reference copy of the periodic table
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Best of luck with your SEO efforts!