Waking up one day to find your Web site has been removed from Google’s search results or relegated to the 603rd page of results for your keyword is a nightmare on par with showing up naked to the give the keynote address at your industry’s annual conference. Unfortunately, the likelihood that Google can and will scrub your site from their results if you run afoul of their rules is very good.
And because there are many, many rules, it can be easy for someone new to the SEO arena to cross lines they didn’t know existed. Or perhaps you unknowingly hired a shady SEO consultant or webmaster, or you purchased a site full of unscrupulous code. Whatever the cause, if you get banned by Google, you need to clean up your act — fast.
Here are eight practices to avoid if you want to stay on Google’s good side:
- Cloaking and doorway pages: Both of these black-hat SEO methods consist of setting up pages or sites for search engines that are different from what you create for normal visitors. Cloaking is when you create a page and serve it up only to search engines. A doorway is usually just a single page packed full of keywords and little else; it’s useless for visitors. The goal is to create loads of these pages to flood search engine results with doorways to your site.
- Keyword stuffing: Stuffing a page with irrelevant keywords is considered a deceptive practice because searchers expect to find appropriate content when clicking on a search result. You want to create good content for viewers that will naturally contain relevant keywords in appropriate context.
- Hidden text and links: A cousin of keyword stuffing, here keywords are placed in text that can be seen by search engines but is hidden from normal viewers. Methods include colored text on the same colored background, text behind images, and font sizes set to zero. You can hide links the same way as hidden text, create tiny image links, or link small characters like a period or a dash.
- Duplicate content: Multiple pages with the same content are common on the Web for legitimate reasons — such as having “print this” functionality for articles — but they can also be used to load up search engine results with your content.
To help site operators who duplicate content naturally, Google selects a version of the duplicate content for you, or you can tell Google which URLs you prefer. (See “Specify Your Canonical.”)
Sometimes, duplicate content is a result of original text being stolen by another site. If this happens to you, Google states that “it’s unlikely” this will harm your ranking, but you can file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act infringement notice.
- No original content: Quality over quantity matters. Creating dozens or even hundreds of repetitive, keyword-stuffed pages will do nothing to gain you favor with search engines. Affiliate pages with no added content value, doorway pages, stolen (“scraped”) content, and auto-generated content are all ways to fill Web pages quickly, but bad ideas in the long run.
- Hanging out in “bad neighborhoods”: You shouldn’t just avoid black-hat SEO practices — you should also avoid sites that engage in such nefarious deeds. The Internet is full of bad sites and you don’t want them linking to you and vice versa. Adult Web sites, gambling sites, and linking schemes are places to avoid. To find who’s linking to your site, search link:yourdomain.com in Google and linkdomain:yourdomain.com in Yahoo!
- Automated queries: There are services out there that pound Google with automated queries to find out how a site ranks for particular keywords. This drain on Google’s resources is forbidden in Google’s terms of service.
- Malware and phishing: Unsafe sites are understandably kicked from Google’s search results. Most phishers aren’t innocent, but legitimate sites can inadvertently pick up malware (malicious software) or a virus. If this happens, clean it up, secure your site, and ask Google to review your site so you can retrieve your ranking.
Mantras To Code By
And, try to forget about Google. Easier said than done. However, Google’s goal is to make good sites with helpful, relevant content that’s easily searchable by its users. So, if your goal is to fill your site with helpful, relevant content, you’re aligning your goals with Google’s, and naturally avoiding so many of the poor practices outlined above.
Now That You’re Kosher. . .
Once you’ve ensured all your site’s content and SEO practices are above board, you can submit a “reinclusion request” to Google so that the company will reevaluate your site for reinclusion in its search engine results. Lastly, sign up for Google’s Sitemap feature in Webmaster Tools and Google may (not definitely, but may) send you a message when your site crosses a line.