Taking the High Road: How to Avoid Penalties from Google in SEO

SEO insights
Taking the High Road: How to Avoid Penalties from Google in SEO

Do you ever realize how much of your business or life hinges on being on the good graces of a multibillion dollar business? At the tail end of 2018, a story popped up on the tech blog The Verge detailing the nightmare-ish situation of being a seller on Amazon where competition can be cutthroat and bad actors are aplenty. If you got suspended, trying to appeal to Amazon’s internal court of law can be especially tough. Apparently, this situation has given rise to an industry of consultants whose purpose is to facilitate a seller’s appeal to Amazon.

Tech giants such as Amazon and one that is more relevant to this discussion, Google, holds undue power to people and businesses that might have to rely on them for their livelihood. Think of how much business you’re going to lose for example if, God forbid, your website is no longer listed on Google search and only accessible to people who knows and remembers your actual URL. This is very much a worst case scenario but it’s still a possibility and this kind of penalty is something that marketers and SEO services would do well to avoid.

Living under the mercy of tech giants

I don’t sell anything on Amazon but this got me thinking about what will happen if somehow my Steam account is suspended and I lose access to the hundreds of games I’ve purchased over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that would push Steam to suspend or ban my account but the Amazon sellers from that story never did anything illegal either and that didn’t stop Amazon from handing out punishments to them. ABC reports that Amazon is on track to dominate the retail markets in Australia, which makes the story from before even scarier.

In the field of search engines however, Google holds a practical monopoly, with a 95% market share as of February 2019. Even a slight penalty from Google could leave you with a considerable disadvantage as the resulting traffic from your SEO efforts will be majorly composed of traffic that comes from Google searches. There are a lot of ways why Google might want to penalize you and before you get the urge to be cute, it should be noted that Google relies on both Google’s own search algorithm and a team of spam checkers that regularly ‘audits’ a website.

Beware of paid links

In a case of left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, Google once penalizes their Japanese arm for paying Japanese bloggers to write puff pieces on Google to try and beat Yahoo, which at the time was the leading search platform in Japan. What’s particularly damaging about instances like these is that when they’re found out, and for the most part they will, it could also hurt your credibility with the actual customers. It’s not just the penalty that you have to watch out for but also the possibility of losing your customer’s loyalty.

SEO is a systematic and, unless you somehow managed to go viral, long process so I can somewhat understand why some businesses would be willing to pay extra for a shortcut but with the example from Google Japan above, I think it’s fair to say that paid links are only useful in the short run. If you have any actual intention of surviving for longer than the foreseeable future, you’re going to have to it the hard way. Trying to claw back from a penalty and rebuild the trust you might’ve had with your customers is costly and could take a while.

Ease off on the keywords stuffing

Repetitio est mater studiorum or in English, repetition is the mother of learning. Practicing and experience is indeed the key to mastering things but in the case of SEO, repeating the same things over and over again is actually counterproductive. One of the most common advices on SEO is that if you want to rank highly on certain queries, you’d want to focus your content on keywords relating to that query. Some genius must’ve taken that advice to the extreme in the past and began filling his content with just the keywords and little else.

This isn’t exactly a smart move because on top of being frowned by Google, this is also not helpful to the users. Imagine you’re watching TV and then the exact same commercial played three times on a row without any changes whatsoever. There is no exact standard on what counts as keyword stuffing but a good idea is to just write naturally without focusing on keywords and just simply let it be. Search engines have grown so sophisticated that they can find what you’re talking about without you having to shove keywords down their throat.

Don’t try to be smart with hidden text

I think I saw once in a crime show somewhere about a murder victim hiding clues by writing something and then changing the color of the text to match the background so that they’d be invisible. I thought this was pretty neat and someone else must’ve thought the same thing because, related to the point above, some websites actually went as far as spamming keywords and then hiding them this way, which is actually a pretty stupid thing to do. Search engines crawlers look at the data and code contained within a page and not with actual eyes so this kind of obfuscation will never work.

Beef up your site security

As explained at the beginning, your credibility is also at risk from bad actors and competitors with dirty tricks and sadly, there’s not much you can do about these kinds of people. The only thing you could do is to try and beef up your website’s security and the computers and servers on your company. The WannaCry ransomware attack for example targeted the actual computers and it is important to always keep your computers with security updates and patches and that if you’re still running on outdated software that is no longer supported, you might want to change that immediately.