Did you know Google can make your blog disappear from its search results?
One day, you’re getting a nice little trickle of traffic to a few of your posts. No, it’s nothing major, but it grows with every new post you publish, and you can see Google becoming a major source of traffic for you in the future.
But then it stops.
Poof, every single post and page of your blog disappears from Google. No warning, no alarm bells, nothing. You’re just gone, like you never even existed.
And the worst part?
You don’t even know why. It just feels like the biggest, baddest bully on the Internet decided to knock the crap out of you, leaving you whimpering and bleeding, wondering what on earth you did wrong.
It happens all the time. I know, because it happened to me.
How I Got Blacklisted by Google
About seven years ago, my first blog, Real Estate Answered, was blacklisted by Google.
One day, I was on the first page for the term “real estate investment,” raking in a few hundred visitors per day, and the next, my site was just gone. I could still access it by typing in the URL, but the steady stream of search traffic stopped. Completely.
Knowing what I know now, I totally deserved it, but at the time, I felt like a mugging victim. I’d just spent three months and hundreds of hours writing sixtysomething articles on real estate investing, but Google erased all that effort in a heartbeat.
Well, I can’t know for sure, but it was probably because I was paying guys in the Philippines to submit my site to a bunch of shoddy link directories. I had also started selling text links on my site – another big no-no.
At the time, I didn’t know any better. I thought everything I was doing was totally legitimate.
With Google though, ignorance is no excuse. You break the rules, you pay the consequences. End of story.
That’s why it’s so important to learn what the rules are.
The Truth about How Google Works
It’s evolving. All the time.
Every day, they tweak their algorithms to filter out spammers. Every year or two, they also roll out major updates that cause huge shifts in search engine rankings for nearly everyone on the web.
What works today may not work tomorrow. In fact, it might even hurt you.
Once upon a time, Google didn’t penalize people for making mistakes. They would withhold benefits, yes, but they wouldn’t actually reduce your ranking or make you disappear.
Now, they’re much more punitive. Even if you don’t make a big enough mistake to get yourself blacklisted, you can still see your search engine results drop overnight if you do something wrong, potentially by dozens of pages.
What, exactly, do they punish you for?
Well, the list is ever-changing, but here are the six sins most likely to land you on their naughty list:
Sin #1: Buying Links
Ever noticed ads from so called SEO firms promising you hundreds of links and a first page ranking for some paltry fee?
Well, ignore them. Here’s why:
Almost without fail, the links are from spammy, disreputable sites and social networking accounts. Getting a link from them is kind of like going to a job interview with a letter of recommendation from a well-known crack dealer. It hurts you, not helps you.
And it doesn’t matter how smart they are. Some of these companies claim they’ll never be found out by Google, because all of the spammy links are pointing to an intermediary page, creating a “link wheel” or “link pyramid.” Supposedly, that’s supposed to protect you.
It might even work… for a while. The problem is, remember how I said Google is always evolving? Even if they don’t catch you today, they are guaranteed to catch you at some point in the future. They always have.
The best policy?
Don’t buy (or sell) links. Period.
Sin #2: Joining the Wrong Link Directories
When considering submitting to a directory, I’d ask questions like:
- Does the directory reject urls? If every url passes a review, the directory gets closer to just a list of links or a free-for-all link site.
- What is the quality of urls in the directory? Suppose a site rejects 25% of submissions, but the urls that are accepted/listed are still quite low-quality or spammy. That doesn’t speak well to the quality of the directory.
- If there is a fee, what’s the purpose of the fee? For a high-quality directory, the fee is primarily for the time/effort for someone to do a genuine evaluation of a url.
Matt Cutts, on behalf of Google
Link directories are, by far, one of the most misunderstood parts of SEO
Once upon a time, they were an essential piece of any campaign to launch a new site. You could submit your blog to DMOZ.org and a few industry-specific link directories, and you get a quick boost in your search rankings.
And it makes sense, right? If your blog is about surfing, then it makes sense to be included in all the link directories about surfing.
Well… here’s the problem:
Google looks at the web as consisting of “neighborhoods.” If your blog is frequently mentioned next to trusted, authority sites, you’re part of a “good neighborhood.” If all your links come from pages linking to thousands of junky sites, on the other hand, you’re part of a “bad neighborhood.”
Which one do you think link directories are?
A bad one, right? Because anyone can submit their site, most link directories become nothing more than a repository for junk. Even if your blog is totally legitimate, you’re guilty by association.
Now, that’s not to imply all link directories are bad. If you’re submitting your blog to a highly targeted directory that’s reviewed by an actual human being to make sure all of the sites listed are top-notch, you might still get some benefit from it, because you’re surrounded by other valuable sites.
Like in life, you are who you hang out with.
Sin #3: Article Marketing
Ever heard of article marketing?
It was all the rage back around 2008. The idea is you could write an article, “spin” multiple versions of it, making small adjustments to the wording, and then submit those versions to different websites that collect free articles in exchange for a link back to your site.
And it used to work. Back then, quite a few search results were dominated by sites like E-Zine Articles and Article Base.
Not so much anymore. Yes, lots of people still do article marketing, but it’s a dying technique. Here’s why:
Remember how I said Google is always getting smarter?
Well, the reason article marketing was so popular is you could take one of your blog posts, spin it into five different variations, and get a few dozen links back to the post. Google would see the different variations as totally unique articles, meaning no duplicate content penalty.
Over the years though, their algorithm has gotten better and better at sniffing out articles with small variations. Articles that used to rank for years are now plummeting, because Google recognizes them for what they are: spam.
That’s not to imply writing for other sites is a bad idea. Guest blogging, in particular, is one of the most effective ways of building a popular blog. That’s because you’re writing unique content for trusted site, surrounded by dozens of other authorities.
Article marketing, on the other hand, is all about trying to fool Google by duplicating content for suspicious sites filled with articles written by nobodies. Once again, you’re guilty by association.
Sin #4: Keyword Stuffing
“Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking.” -Google
Let’s get technical for a moment.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “keyword stuffing” means using a keyword over and over again in your content in the hopes that it’ll get you a better ranking. For example, let’s say you want to rank for “chocolate chip cookies.” This is what keyword stuffing would look like:
“Chocolate chip cookies are so delicious! I’m going to teach you my grandmother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe for making the best chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever tasted. The chocolate chip cookie recipe makes two dozen chocolate chip cookies.”
The whole article blog post would continue like that, using the keyword “chocolate chip cookies” dozens or even hundreds of times. Never mind the language is so unnatural it’s almost unreadable. It’s optimized, baby!
It’s also dumb. Here’s why:
Keyword density is only a tiny part of Google’s algorithm. Nobody knows for sure how much, but from what I’ve seen, I would guess it’s less than 5%. Next to the more important factors like domain authority and trusted links, it’s almost completely irrelevant.
And if you take it too far, it can hurt you.
Google’s top concern is the user experience. If all the articles people find are stuffed with keywords, no one will want to read them, and everyone will stop using Google to search the web. They’ll never allow it, and some SEO experts believe they actively penalize it.
But let’s say they don’t. Even if you escape totally unscathed, who do you think is going the link to content like that? Nobody with any authority. And since links are a much more important part of the algorithm, you’re dooming yourself to get ignored forever.
Don’t think about keywords at all for the first year of your blog. Just focus on publishing jaw-dropping content and getting as many links as you can. Then, once your blog has some authority, go back and tweak the keywords in your most popular posts without making them sound even the slightest bit unnatural.
Yes, you might lose some opportunities, but your chances of building an authority site are much, much higher. Trust me.
Sin #5: Unnatural Anchor Text
This is another example of people taking a tiny piece of Google’s algorithm way too far.
If you’re not familiar with the term “anchor text,” it refers to the text inside of a link. So, the anchor text in this sentence is “anchor text.”
When Google is deciding what terms to rank your pages for, the anchor text is one of the places it looks for clues. If a bunch of people are linking to one of your posts with “funny fart jokes” as the anchor text, for example, there’s a good chance the post is about funny fart jokes.
So, surprise, surprise, people try to game the system. They build links using some of the disreputable techniques above, and they use the terms they want to rank for as the anchor text, hoping it’ll increase their chances of getting ranked.
But how natural does that look?
Not everyone is going to use the exact same anchor text when they link to you. Some of the links you get might have a shorter anchor text like “jokes,” related phrases like “made me laugh,” or even just a plain URL with no anchor text at all.
By using the same anchor text in all your links, you’re basically telling Google that you’re trying to game the system. And chances are, you’ll get penalized at some point.
Sin #6: Broken Links
“Check for broken links and correct HTML.” -Google
And last but not least, the sneakiest of them all: broken links.
Over time, pretty much all bloggers will accumulate some links that no longer work. Other sites die, move, and restructure all the time, making the page you originally linked to disappear.
The question is, if broken links are so natural, why does Google penalize you for them?
Well, think about it from their perspective:
Which page is likely more up-to-date: one with five broken links or one with zero? Also, which page provides a better user experience?
The current one, of course. So, all other factors being equal, a page with no broken links is likely to outrank a page with broken links.
But don’t freak out, because all other factors are almost never equal. Like a lot of the other algorithm variables we talk about here, broken links are a small one.
Still, it’s a sin that’s easy to atone for. Once or twice a year, pop into Google Webmaster Tools and correct all of the broken links it gives you. You might notice a small bump in the rankings of some of your pages.
Feeling Worried Yet?
After reading all this, you might feel like you’re walking across a field of landmines, hoping you don’t step on an invisible deathtrap and get yourself blown up. You probably never knew SEO could be so dangerous.
The good news, though?
It doesn’t have to be. For the most part, the people who get in trouble with Google are either SEO geeks who are intentionally pressing their luck or unsuspecting innocents who get advice from the wrong person.
If you know nothing about SEO, and you’re doing nothing more than publishing awesome content and building relationships with your readers, you’re probably safe. In fact, that’s a good mindset for all bloggers, in my opinion. At least in the beginning.
Instead of trying to figure out how to manipulate the Google algorithm for better rankings, just create content that deserves to be on the first page, promote the hell out of it, and wait for Google to catch up. Their goal, after all, is to move the best stuff to the top of the pile.
In that respect, the real, supersecret, behind-the-scenes strategy for getting your blog ranked on the first page of Google doesn’t have anything to do with link pyramids or keyword density or any of the rest of that complicated nonsense. It’s just three simple steps:
- Create jaw-dropping content
- Get influencers talking about it
- Wait for Google to catch up
Maybe, but it’s exactly what Google wants you to do.
So why do anything else?
About the Author: Jon Morrow has asked repeatedly to be called “His Royal Awesomeness,” but no one listens to him. So, he settles for CEO of Boost Blog Traffic, LLC. Poor man.