One of the challenges of SEO is keeping up with changes to what’s considered acceptable practices. Search algorithms, especially the ones used by Google, have evolved greatly from the keyword counters of decades past. Not only are algorithms more adept at crawling pages for the most important information and ranking factors, they are also getting better at detecting cheaters. Google’s penalties for sites that use unethical SEO practices have done much to encourage (read: force) many marketers to do the right thing. Google is going to start applying more pressure. A recent change to their webmaster guidelines suggest the penalties for frequent rule breakers will become more severe.
Google’s Search Quality Team said that webmasters who are repeatedly caught violating the Google Webmaster Guidelines, Google may take “further action” against their sites and/or make “a successful reconsideration process more difficult to achieve.” The wording of the post suggests that “further action” was something greater than making the reconsideration process longer and would be reserved for “when the repeated violation is done with a clear intention to spam.
There are a lot of ways that website owners can use deceptive practices to try to mislead search algorithms and consumers. Though keywords are no longer the all-encompassing factor they were in the past, they still represent a large portion of how algorithms decide what online content is about. Using inaccurate keywords in alt-text for images, website urls, and within page content can sometimes get websites to show in search results they really aren’t related to. Similarly, the mass creation of low-quality backlinks was once a common strategy to boost rank.
Using this sort of “Black Hat SEO” will result in a website receiving a penalty from Google, which means they will suppress links from the offending site in search results. Site using black hat tactics clearly cares about traffic to their site, so when Google penalizes them in search results, they quickly make the changes necessary to get back on Google’s good side.
The process of recovering from a Google penalty has often been the source of frustration for SEO marketers and website owners. In the past, it could take months for a site to see traffic return after fixing their website. Google has tried to reduce that time with recent updates, but the wait is going to get longer for frequent rule breakers.
Most penalties are the result of honest errors, such as small business owners not realizing that a certain tactic had moved from the light side to the dark side of SEO. However, there are some sites that consistently break the rules. By increasing the amount of time it takes for these sites to regain good standing, it will discourage marketers from trying to break the rules until they get caught. It makes getting caught a much more costly situation.
Google gives the example of a “webmaster who received a Manual Action notification based on an unnatural link to another site may nofollow the link, submit a reconsideration request, then, after successfully being reconsidered, delete the nofollow for the link.”
In the previous example, it’s clear that the hypothetical webmaster is trying to game the system. Like the student who returns to misbehaving as soon as the teacher’s back is turned, this sort of defiance by webmasters requires a harsher punishment from Google. It may seem harsh, but remember, these people are stealing positions that rightfully belong to content creator who have created something searchers truly want to see. Not the links from someone who thinks they’re clever enough to fool consumers and Google.
Google’s new longer reconsideration periods should only apply to the SEO marketers with the darkest of black hats. However, all this talk of penalties does remind business owners and marketers that they should review their sites for compliance with the most recent version of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
For a penalty that may affect mobile sites with ads for app installs, read this article about Google’s new penalty for certain mobile sites that starts Nov. 1st.