6 Ways to Make Sure You Never Get an Algorithmic Penalty from Google

algo penalty google

Search engine penalties are the bogeyman of the Internet marketing world. They’re deadly. Just a few tweaks in the omnipotent algorithm could send your online business hurtling off the tracks. If you’re not careful, a penalty will crush your business.

I’ve seen it happen. I’ve had to guide people through the crap that comes with penalties. Along the way, I’ve discovered how to steer clear of the penalties. This article will explain step by step how you can avoid an algorithmic penalty, stay in Google’s good graces, and keep your revenue sky high.

But before we get started, let’s first go over the penalties.

There are two things you need to understand about the penalties I am talking about:

  1. I’m talking about algorithmic penalties in this article – There are two types of search engine penalties — manual and algorithmic.
    • A manual penalty happens when an actual human in the Googleplex looks at your site and decides to put the kibosh on it. You’ll typically get a Google Webmaster Tools notification.
    • An algorithmic penalty happens when your site violates Google’s quality guidelines in some way and you lose rank. Google uses a complicated algorithm that determines where your site is going to end up when users input queries. If you do naughty things (in the algorithm’s eyes), then you lose your status on the search results totem pole. You can see a good example of this by looking at the graph above.
  2. I’m talking about preventing the penalty, not recovering from it – When you get an algorithmic penalty, your rankings will decline relative to how badly you violated the guidelines. Recovery is gradual, but possible. I’m going to explain how not to get whacked in the first place.

Now that we got that out of the way, here are the six ways that will ensure you avoid an algorithmic penalty.

Lesson #1: Know the rules and follow them

The most important thing is that you do exactly what Google tells you to do. Like it or not, they make the rules, and you have to follow them. The days of gimmicky SEO tricks are over.

This is the rulebook.

guidelines google

They tell you in plain English, “follow our guidelines.”

If you make your living online, this is your bible. The simplest way to follow the rules is to use one simple strategy: create killer content for your audience – no tricks, just create darn good content.

There’s a lot more, but that’s the bare bones basics.

Read the guidelines. Everything that follows in this article assumes adherence to the guidelines.

Lesson #2: Do a content audit

“Content audit” sounds nauseatingly corporate, but it’s the brutal reality. This is the only way to know what you’re doing wrong and to get out of the crosshairs of the algorithmic penalty.

A content audit doesn’t need to be complicated. Here’s the idea:

  • Know Google’s guidelines.
  • With this knowledge, look over every page of your site to make sure that it follows the guidelines. Make sure that your content quality is high, that there is no keyword stuffing, that images are alt-tagged, and that there aren’t any violations. Make it airtight.

If your website has thousands of pages, use Google Analytics to target your top pages according to the number of visits. Just go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.

content google

Start with your top traffic pages and work down.

Spammy content is the number one cause of algorithmic penalties. Improve all your content, and you’ve won half the battle.

Lesson #3: Clean up your link profile

Too often, people wait until they’ve gotten a manual penalty to do a link profile audit. Instead, you should play defensive SEO by tidying up your link profile every now and then. It’s not as hard as you think.

One of the most important factors that Google uses when indexing your site is the quality of your link profile. A “link profile” is a list of your links. The algorithm ranks your site based on two main features of these links:

  • The quality of the source of the links – did the links come from a good website or a spammy website?
  • The anchor text used for the links – what is the text used for the link?

You can get a list of all of your links from Google Webmaster Tools. Navigate to Search Traffic > Links to Your Site.

google webmaster tools

From there, click “more” under “who links the most.” Then, click “download latest links.”

Voila! You have a list of the links that Google is using to rank your site. Review this list every two months. Look for:

  • Spammy linkbacks
  • Optimized anchor text

When you find harmful links — and you will — send an email to the webmaster of the site and request that they remove the link.

If the webmaster does not respond or comply, use the disavow tool to remove the link from your profile.

Spammy backlinks are the number two cause of algorithmic penalties. Clean up your link profile, and keep cleaning it up, and you’ll probably never get an algorithmic penalty.

So far, so good. In only three steps, you’ve basically mastered the art of dodging the algorithmic penalty bullet.

But there’s more that you need to know in order to really stay clean.

Lesson #4: Fire your SEO

Your SEO might be doing more harm than good. Don’t get me wrong, I love (some) SEOs. But there are other SEOs and agencies that might be doing sinister things to ruin your website.

You would not believe the number of people I’ve talked to who have been burned by their SEO or SEO agency and left with a penalized site.

Some SEOs are still doing stuff like:

  • Spamming your site with low-quality links from content mills and directory listings.
  • Using outdated techniques such as cloaking, optimized anchor texts, and keyword stuffing.

Before you pull the trigger, however, have an open conversation with your SEO. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • What exactly are you doing on the site? What pages? What kind of content? What kind of code? What kind of internal linking? Show me.
  • How are you gaining backlinks? Where are they coming from? Show me the sites. What is the domain authority of each site from which you’ve gained backlinks? What anchor texts are they using? How did you get them?

You need to understand if your SEO is sabotaging your site or actually helping it.

Lesson #5: Stay on top of Google’s algorithm updates

The only way to know if you’re violating algorithmic rules is if you understand the always changing algorithm.

Thankfully, there are ways to stay up-to-date on the changes. Moz’s algorithm change log gives you an up-to-the-minute reporting on every algorithm change.

google moz algo

If you keep your ear to the ground in the search community, you’ll hear about the changes. Usually, it’s the major changes such as Penguin or Panda that could affect your site.

Lesson #6: Keep creating great content

I’ve saved the best for last. In today’s search world, nothing matters more than content. Content marketing just plain works.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Create content consistently because content marketing isn’t a one-and-done thing. It takes daily work.
  • Produce the best writing that a human being is capable of producing.
  • Make different kinds of content. You know how I love infographics and videos. These are valuable, proven to engage users and increase traffic forms of content.

When you make insanely good content, people will visit, click, learn, read, share, and go crazy over it. The links will come. The rankings will rise. And, best of all, you’ll avoid the penalties.

Conclusion

By playing smart, you can win the search game. You’ll start intuiting what Google wants, how the algorithm works, and what you need to do to succeed.

I’ve seen this work. The success of Quick Sprout is due to my defensive game and my content marketing skills. Thousands of others whom I’ve helped have experienced success, too. I know that an algorithmic penalty can be avoided, so do whatever is in your power to avoid it.

Have you ever gotten an algorithmic penalty? Why did you get it, and how did you recover?

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this Neil. I have been worried about the possible quality of my backlinks, but I had no idea what to check for.

    Just a quick question… should I start cleaning up my backlinks from the very start? Or should I wait until my website is a little bit more established?

    My website is little more than a month old, so I am still trying to build decent links (any back links really) to the website.

  2. Very detailed information, thanks.

    It’s clear that we should start with preventing the penalty, not waiting for penalization and then to try to recover from it.

    Every single marketer or blogger should remember it.

  3. Thanks for the great tips, Neil.
    I would follow them deeply and try to make my blog better. :D

  4. Great tips as always, Neil! :)

  5. Kumar Gauraw :

    Great post Neil. Once again you have nailed it. Thank you for the tips about downloading link profile. This will help many people.

    Regards,
    Kumar

  6. This a great resource for doing SEO correctly. I recently battled a algorithmic-gone-manual penalty for being overzealous with SEO and its reinforced the adage of less being more.

  7. Neil, You are my roll model in SEO. This one was outstanding article specially for newbies like me

  8. What if there is a manual penalty but you don’t get any notification?

    I am just wondering the manual penalty notification is sent only on specific actions and not for all the actions taken by the google team.

    Is it true Neil?

    • They don’t always send a notification from what I have seen, but if you see a big drop in search traffic then you need to start looking at the steps above.

  9. Google Penalties may Crack and Break your business. So always stay updated with your website. Closely observe your site and take a quick action if you find some fishy thing may happen with your site.

    Thanks for this article Neil, Your topic always delight our face because every time when we read we feel like a fresher.

  10. There is a WP plugin called Broken Link Checker that I use that will notify you when you have a bad link. This is usually because a site no longer exists or the content you linked to has been deleted or changed. When I first started checking my back links I was amazed at how many bad ones I had to eliminate. Periodically checking with Google is also a good idea as Neil has pointed out.

  11. My articles do well in terms of views for each one, so I know my content is where it needs to be, but I am of course always trying to progress. Overall the new algorithm changes have made my life much easier, but still there are these static websites with unimpressive links (In reality) that I have trouble getting passed in terms of rankings. My hope is that in the future these websites deservedly go down or that all the content I amass longterm is enough to pass them. Seems like these websites still find some kind of quirk in the system, I hope that eventually they get zapped but I am not getting my hopes up that it happens any time soon. Someday I do think they will though..

    • Thomas, it’s tough when the updates influence our rankings. However, it’s good in the sense that moving forward we know what we need to do to stay atop rankings. As mentioned, it’s good to focus on content.

  12. Awesome Niel, This awesome post comes when I am facing one of Google algorithm panelty as recently Google penalized mybloguest.
    I used to have account there with link to my blog but I neither accepted nor published guest post through them, but recently when the news came my blog organic traffic started decreasing and for the keyword that was ranking number one after that news it falls down to page 5.i losses Mt fifty percent traffic.

    As you mentioned checking links in Google webmasters tool, I did that but I didn’t find even a single link there from mybloguest. Now I am confused why my ranking dropped.

    One more question, how many interlink is safe per thousand words.
    Could you please give me suggestion what should I do to get my traffic back as I am not sure whether mybloguest is responsible for this or not as it happened when Google penalized it.

    • It could be as Google has stated that they don’t like people using guest posts to build links. A lot of SEOs use My Blog Guest… my money is on that it is a link from one of those sites or your content (which I haven’t analyzed yet).

  13. Hi Neil,

    Great write as usual. Honestly, you have highlight some of the best tips I ever seen. Good job on that.

    What I really love about this article is Moz. That’s huge and reminds me a lot of Fruition before it went ‘more towards’ premium which is bad :)

    Nonetheless, thanks for sharing and keep it up!
    ~Reginald

  14. Our product is growing, mostly by google traffic so we were worried about being blocked by them. Thank you for this blog post, its something that is really going to help us now.

  15. Hey Neil,

    Good tips here. I feel like Google has been slowly trying to kill SEO over the last several years. I wonder if the Google Trends tool for instance will always be available.

    I actually went ahead and looked at some of my website’s back links as I was reading this via Web Master Tools and found a couple of spammy content-scrapers linking back to us.

    Not sure if it’s worth using Disavow since it’s just a couple of sites right now, especially after reading this article as well: http://moz.com/blog/google-disavow-tool

    –> Looks like the author of that post had his search rankings drop significantly which makes me apprehensive.

    Keep up the good work,

    Matt

  16. Great post, it’s the first time I have read your blog and ill be sure to read it regularly now, I have saved your rss feed.

    I would add that when disavowing links I would use a combination of google wmt, ahrefs, opensiteexplorer and majestic to find bad backlinks, can’t just rely on google alone.

  17. Hi Neil, thanks for the tips here today, and they’re all valuable for anyone starting out or indeed starting over. Unfortunately for me it’s all a little too late as Google’s algorithmic penalties have killed off my online business slowly and surely, despite working tirelessly and relentlessly to try and fix things over the last two years, but I’m starting over fresh so all is not lost and these tips will certainly come in useful for the future.

    Great work as always.

  18. Awesome heads-up content.. good stuff. Thanks Neil.

  19. Good one Neil, but what to do if you follow all the guideline, quality test, content guidelines and still got hit my Google??

    • Narendra, sometimes you have to take the hit. I have in the past, however, it’s a good time to evaluate and do a complete SEO audit of your site to avoid penalties in the future.

  20. Do you think there is any possibility that infographics might be the next to be hit?

    I think Cutts may have mentioned in passing in the past, and it’s also very easy to get links from infographic directories like visual.ly.

  21. As the saying goes “Prevention is Better Than Cure” same is with google algorithms.Another thing we can do is stay up to date with blogs like quicksprout ;-0 , Thanks again for great post as always..

  22. great write up Neil, but your point #4 hurt me.
    you should have written evaluate with your SEO or something.

  23. Hi Neil,
    Again a great post, Neil I read all you post and follow your advice as much as I can. My site http://singlemomfinancialhelp.com/ got hit by Google and in last 18 months no matter what I do, even after following many of you advice it seems like it’s not working at all :(
    I never bough paid links , only thing I can say I emphasized too much on keywords on my site which I cleaned up a lot still doesn’t seem to work.
    I will definitely follow advice in this post any other suggestion?
    Stacy

    • Stacy, sorry to hear. Sometimes you just need to do a complete SEO audit to see what’s going on with the site. Do you have any specific questions I can help you with ?

      • Neil,
        My google traffic is almost negligible now and I have done some competitive research and the site which are ranking are fairly new sites with thin content.

        I have improved content quality in last 10 months after following your advice and submit site with Google for reconsideration in case if there was something wrong but per Google my site have no issue and no red flag in webmaster tool, still my traffic from is about 2% earlier it used to be 60-70%.

        What actionable/doable steps should to at least get some traffic back and if you/fellow reader could tell what are obvious wrongs with my site?

  24. Thanks Neil for this worthy information. You site always helps me to Improve my SEO Score.

    Thanks,
    Rodney K. Zimmerman

  25. Thanks Neil for this worthy information. Your site always helps me to Improve my SEO Score.

    Thanks,
    Rodney K. Zimmerman

  26. Hi Neil,

    Clean up your link profile is something that i would pay my attention most.these days i am doing 2 things.
    1 . Creating content that is worth to be linked(at least i am trying my best)
    2 . Reading your guides and implementing the tactics one by one.
    (Tell me you are not going to ground these guides inside your members area.just kidding)

  27. Hi Neil, thanks for this post. But you said that we need to examine our link profile using Google webmaster tool. But most of the times, it doesn’t show all the links Google has found. So it becomes a problem. Probably this is the reason why there are so many paid tools available to solve this issue.

    • Tamal, you bring up a great point and it’s absolutely correct. That’s why there are so many paid tools and it’s up to us to figure out which ones work best for our site.

  28. Great post, Neil! There are a lot of things I didn’t consider on my website. I hope to see some great results in the future. ;)

  29. Awesome tips Neil, thanks for sharing this.

  30. Good thoughts Neil. My website too got penalty from Google and I am learning some good lessons from this post

  31. Great guide as always you provide ;)
    But one Question I want to ask.

    Suppose I am making backlinks via commenting and I am suing my name as Anchor tag on same blog, Will it effect my link profile ?

    Because this kind of strategy will lead the over optimization of My name on the other blogs.
    I want a suggestion from you Neil :)

  32. Great content as always Neil. You briefly skimmed over Optimized Anchor Text, so I’m not sure people know what you should (and should not) be including in your anchor text.

    Neil and Brian Dean put together a ridiculously amazing (and Free!) ebook called “The Advanced Guide To Link Building” – everyone who wants to learn about (proper) link building techniques should read it: http://www.quicksprout.com/the-advanced-guide-to-link-building-chapter-1/

  33. Good Tips Neil. I am a big fan of Quicksprout and I never miss a chance to read it.

  34. I have one question regarding this:
    “You can get a list of all of your links from Google Webmaster Tools.
    …Voila! You have a list of the links that Google is using to rank your site. ”
    Some of link is found there are nofollow, mybe You say that some of links … “that Google is using to rank your site. “

    • Buddy,Google does not uses nofollow links to rank sites,the links you see in Google Webmaster Tools are always dofollow as i see,What’s say Neil..??

  35. If you didn’t put bad links in the first place, does it actually worth spend your time on links audit?

  36. Hi Neil,

    This article talks about in general principles. What’s your take on googles frequent penalties on websites these days. Like the one on Guest blogging which had its impact on Ann smarty network. Whats your take on those changes ?

  37. wow great things, this weekend will implement…. thanks for sharing resources

    regards
    http://www.udzial.com
    Udzial Means Share

  38. I am an SEO still i loved love saying “fire your SEO”. There are people (i know some of them, but i am on starting of my career, so guess what) asking for more and more back links every day no matter the quality and relevancy. Let me also say Stay away from them.

    And about your last but not the least point, Content marketing, i desperately need some more clarification. Yes i have went across your content marketing guide, but i think it demands some modifications once after the latest updates including that of guest blogging.

    Hope you refresh it with a killer content again….

  39. Great article! And the timing is perfect given all the penalties that were just handed out last week. I’ve always practiced clean SEO so I havent had to worry about much but Google is really cracking down and everyone is scared! lol…joking but serious.

  40. This post actually helped me understand what’s going on with my site. I recently starting back writing posts for my blog after not doing so for a few months, then all of a sudden my traffic stopped. I checked webmaster tools, but couldn’t find any warnings from Google. So I have to assume it is some sort of algorithm change.

    Thanks as always for the wonderful insight.

  41. i just started a new blog. this article help me build link and get higher rank in search engine. thank you Neil

  42. This post is worth sharing, and very helpful to those people that want to start their online business. If you follow Google rules your site is untouchable.

  43. Great post Neil, following this people can actually prevent their website from being penalized. Just a request, can you please put up a post about recovering from an algo penalty (penguin).
    I have found that its way easier to recover a website from manual penalty compared to an algorithmic one, want to know your thoughts on the same.
    Thanks again for such a wonderful post.

  44. Neil, what a great article. I have read many articles to recover from Google penalties but have never read about keeping away yourself from Google penalty. You’ve hit the right nail.

    Keeping an eye on who is linking back is often needed to avoid such penalties. I’m going to tweeting this now so all bloggers benefit from this.

  45. Really another great post Neil!
    We must know the rules to follow as Google is becoming very strict towards its algorithms as they even penalized themselves also.
    But i still have a doubt that can seo harm us and if it does upto what extent ?

  46. Once more a great article Neil, it’s such a pleasure to follow you & to read your articles. You got the talent to let seem all very simple. In fact, Is not what Google is asking us to do? I think so yes, in the sense that as long we provide quality, we build real connections & share our knowledge in a good & responsible manner, we are on track.

  47. It is a great help for Google users to know about these things. I believe that if we are all well-aware of how to prevent potential errors. These tips could prove to be very useful for both new users and those who are already Google experts. In my opinion, these are not only applicable to Google. It could also be used in other sites we frequent.

  48. Doing things naturally is what Google likes to see.

  49. Thanks NEil

    Actually in regards to optimized anchor texts..I remember matt Cutts saying that anchor text inst bad as long as we are not overdoing it. How valid is that? If i have 4 different articles let’s say about shoes, and in article article Im using anchor such as:

    converse shoes
    Converse Chuck Taylor
    Coverse shoes for men
    Converse shoes for women

    all to link to the main page /converse-shoes-tips/…

    I shouldt have any problem although my anchor is optimized.

    right?

  50. Thanks Neil for sharing such amazing info :)

  51. Great post Neil, I truly appreciate your SEO knowledge and skills :)

    So far, my sites are doing well as I’m following the guidelines, avoiding low quality back links and adding fresh content on regular intervals.

  52. In time, I had some website penalized by Google, though I did nothing wrong, I think, I tried to respect all the rules.
    The solution seemed at hand when abandoning web domain and building a new website. I work more with niche websites, not big websites.

  53. Thanks Neil. But how do we determine which sites are “spammy”? My products get posted on a lot of blogs, which get aggregated to kind of spammy search sites. Not sure if I should remove these?

  54. Great post Neil. I was wondering if you could expand on point 2 – a content audit. In analytics what are you looking for to identify poor content? Low page views, low engagement levels, etc?
    And if there is a lot would you suggest removing it? Or potentially redirecting it?

  55. Google updates are most important part to never get an Algorithmic penalty from Google. Thank you Neil, i hope your article will help.

  56. Exactly… :) :)
    Google is God.. Google is so mean in SEO :| :) but awesome..!!

  57. I had no idea about the spammy linkback issue. Yet another thing I need to look into. Thanks! Sharing this with my blogging besties.

  58. Great things Neil… Strongly agree with you….

    But you know i see huge websites doing site wide links and are never penalized by google whereas when anyone of us do the same they are caught instantly…

    Isnt that unfair from Google?

  59. Well I am just enjoying reading your posts,each and every one of them are superb.Luckily I haven’t yet received any penalty from google but precautions is always better than cure.So I am trying to follow them to be in safe side.

  60. Hey Neil , As always great article with lots of new things , i am kind of addicted to your blogs just like the tweeter , but the difference is i first check your blog before i go on twitter :-)

    Thank you , thank you again for the great articles.

  61. Albin Dashi :

    Hey Neil , Very good article, I think avoiding penalties is very important. You have done a great job man :)

  62. Neil will I get penalized for Guest Posting? I was going to do some quality guest posts on a regular schedule to make it part of my content marketing plan but I have been hearing that google will penalize me if I have links for guest posting now?

  63. In previous days one of my blog has got an algorithmic penalty and my traffic has reduced drastically. I have never used any black hat seo technique. But now my concept are clear by reading this post. I will try my best to avoid algorithmic penalty.
    Thanks for the great Info.

  64. Hi Neil, i am a professional SEO work for a SEO agency. Something you point out under the topic Fire your SEO, because maybe your SEO agency are still using old techniques for getting a back link. May you please focus over some techniques that will work for getting good quality backlinks?

  65. hi
    Well written and nicely explained ways to protect penalty and do the right things. While all the points are important but for me i am looking at being more careful about point number # 3 – Link profile clean up.

    Normally those things which we should do once in a month or once in two months, we tend to ignore and eventually miss.

    thanks
    Harish Bali

  66. Hi Neil Patel,
    I like your post. And it made me suffer. I How can i know my site got hit by algorithmic penalty?

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