Your site has been steadily climbing in rankings.
Traffic is trending upwards.
Business is booming.
But suddenly it all comes crashing down.
Your site is no longer visible in the search results.
All it takes is a single change in the algorithm update for this exact scenario to happen. This is nothing new of course as Google aims to deliver more relevant results for each query. The search giant occasionally releases major updates that create huge ripples in the search results.
If you are not careful, your site could get hit with a ranking penalty.
We have personally seen it happen numerous times. A business would be ranking for their primary keywords but the next day their site would be nowhere to be found in Google. These scenarios often happen as a result of employing questionable tactics such as link building from spammy sources or keyword stuffing content.
Here we look at the measures you must take to avoid a ranking penalty to your own site.
1. Follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
What if there were a set of rules that tell you exactly what to do and what not to do?
That is exactly what the Webmaster Guidelines is for.
Google even makes the following statement:
We strongly encourage you to pay very close attention to the Quality Guidelines below, which outline some of the illicit practices that may lead to a site being removed entirely from the Google index or otherwise affected by an algorithmic or manual spam action.
So follow the guidelines closely if you want to continue ranking. Here are some practices to stay away from with your own site:
Scraping or automatically generating content with scripts
Participating in link building schemes
Stuffing content with irrelevant keywords
Using hidden text or links
Sneaky redirects or cloaking
Engaging in any of these practices is more than likely to result in a penalty. So it is best to stop them altogether and remove any indications of misconduct from your site. The key is to always focus on providing value to your target audience in the form of engaging content and you will be rewarded with higher rankings.
2. Perform a Content Audit
Content is one of the most important ranking factors.
After all, people use search engines primarily to find information from the latest sports scores to industry news and more. Google looks at the content on your site to determine relevance and rankings. If your content is littered with irrelevant keywords then the chances of those pages ranking are low.
This is why a content audit should be made a priority.
Because it identifies potential issues with your content that could be negatively affecting your rankings such as spammy or duplicated content. Conducting an audit is rather straightforward:
Create a spreadsheet with links to each page of your site
Take note of important details such as the title tag, headers, content length, target keywords, etc.
Also take note down of anything that violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines such as duplicated content or pages stuffed with irrelevant keywords
Look over every single page and take steps to address any issues that could result in a ranking penalty. This typically involves improving the quality of your content and editing the meta tags of your pages (titles, headers, etc.).
Conducting a content audit is the easy part but the most intensive undertaking is actually making the necessary changes. Start with pages that have the most impact on your bottom line. These are typically your product pages or blog posts that generate the most traffic.
Make these changes and your site will be much better equipped to handle future algorithm updates.
3. Audit Your Link Profile
Links continue to carry a lot of weight in terms of search engine rankings.
But not every link is equal.
Spammy links are another of the most common causes of algorithm penalties. In fact, engaging in questionable tactics to boost your rankings through manipulative link building can result in a heavy penalty. Even worse is the fact that your site could be removed completely from the search results.
This is why you should be conducting a link audit on a regular basis.
Because it identifies links that could be negatively affecting your rankings.
Most webmasters make the mistake of waiting until after getting hit with a penalty before conducting a link audit. But if you clean up your link profile and take steps to remove spammy links, your site will be prepared for future updates.
The two most important aspects of links to your pages are:
Quality: The source of your links matters. A link from a relevant source carries far more weight than a link from a spammy site. Your rankings could come crashing down if most of your links are from irrelevant site or spammy link networks.
Anchor text: The anchor text is the text within the clickable link. These should be natural as too many links with an optimised anchor text is an indication of spam.
You can easily compile a list of links to your pages directly from Google Webmaster Tools. Click on Search Traffic on the left hand side then click on Links to Your Site.
Here you can download links to your site directly into a spreadsheet. Ideally you should be reviewing this list at least once every few months. Browse through your links and look for anything from spammy sources. Send an email to the webmaster to request removal of those links or use the Disavow Tool to remove them from your profile.
Search is a major marketing channel that cannot be ignored.
But actually ranking depends on a number of factors from domain authority to content quality and more. Even if your pages are ranking now, there is no guarantee that they will stay there. Google occasionally releases major updates to its algorithm so your rankings could suddenly plummet.
Follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, improve the quality of your content, and clean up your link profile. Taking these steps can help prevent your site from getting hit with an algorithm penalty.