Back in the day, it was relatively easy to increase traffic to your website simply by focusing on keywords, boosting your content, and gaining multiple backlinks. However, since rolling out the browser toolbar and Toolbar PageRank in 2000, Google has constantly been tweaking the system to improve the quality of their search query results and eliminate low-quality sites from coming up in the top search pages.

Major algorithm updates, like Google Panda in 2011 and Google Penguin in 2012, hit many websites hard and also made it very clear that Google will no longer tolerate dodgy Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practices or spam websites. Even if you do not engage in deliberate black hat SEO practices, Google may still penalize you, which could result in a major loss in your PageRank and traffic. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can stay under Google’s radar while still increasing traffic to your site.

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How to Avoid Penalization by Google

1. Create Quality Content

The easiest and most obvious way to gain more traffic to your site without setting off Google’s alarm bells is by creating high quality content that is useful to your readers and provides some sort of value. This means coming up with unique ideas and presenting them in well-written articles that are easy to read. It should be a well-known fact by now that copying or ‘spinning’ (rewriting) content from other sources and publishing it on your website will result in major penalties from Google.

2. Be Wary of Dodgy Links

It may be tempting to buy backlinks to your site and not waiting for your backlinks to grow organically, but keep in mind that this is one of the top things that Google looks for when assessing the value of a website. If your backlinks are coming from poor-quality websites that are not related to your niche or content, you can bet that Google’s robots will pick this up. In addition, be sure to add only relevant high-quality outbound links on your site. This shows Google that you are trying to add value to your reader’s experience.

3. Maintain Your Site

There is nothing worse than clicking on a link in an article only to find that it leads to a 404-error page, which is essentially a dead end. A 404 error happens when the link to the page is broken, the page has been moved or deleted, or the URL has been mistyped. This is frustrating for the reader and shows the search engine robots that you are not staying on top of your site maintenance or helping your readers gain the best experience from your site.

4. Tone Down the Keyword Density

Today, any webmaster worth their salt knows that stuffing your content with a high density of keywords is just poor practice. Google began penalizing websites for keyword stuffing as far back as 2003, and they still do today. This rule also applies to your anchor text links and meta tags. Use your keywords naturally, and forget about trying to cram them in there just to manipulate the search engine results pages (SERPs).

5. Filter and get rid of Spam Comments

No matter what type of site you have, spam is inevitable. The majority of spammers only comment on your site to get their less-than-salubrious links out there in the world and create backlinks to their sites. Nobody wants to read spam comments, particularly your readers, and these comments can even hurt your PageRank by making it look as though you condone dodgy links. Take the time to research and install a good spam filter on your website to get rid of those useless comments before they go live.

6. Use the “nofollow” Attribute

The “nofollow” attribute tells the Google robots not to follow a specific link when they crawl your site. This is particularly useful for links that lead to sign-in pages, links on your site from untrusted sources, or sponsorship links. While Google does allow a site to have sponsor links and guest posts, it goes against the Google Webmaster Guidelines to buy links just to pass PageRank on to another site or your own. Therefore, it is in your best interest to use the “nofollow” attribute to show Google that a link is coming from a sponsor or that you don’t entirely condone a site you are linking to.

7. Watch Your Ad-to-Content Ratio

Having advertisements on your website is fine, but inundating your site with a disproportionate ratio of ads-to-content is not. Google has already stated that overloading your site with ad blocks, affiliate links and advertorial will result in penalties, so keep the ads to a minimum. Your ads should be unobtrusive and come secondary to your great content. And yes, this even includes Google’s own AdSense blocks.

8. Be Cautious of SEO Experts Who Make Lofty Promises

When researching SEO companies or experts, you will probably come across more than a few who will claim that they rank your website high in the SERPs in little to no time. There is no doubt that SEO can and does work, but there is no quick fix or magical formula that can rapidly increase your PageRank. Be sure that the SEO methods you use on your site are legitimate and straightforward, and don’t resort to using deceptive ploys. It’s simply not worth the risk.

How Do You Know if Google Has Penalized Your Website?

There are two types of penalties from Google: manual and automatic. If you have been manually penalized, Google may or may not alert you through your Webmaster Tools account. In this case, they will send you a message letting you know that they have detected suspicious activity on your site that goes against the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Alternatively, automatic penalties result from algorithm updates. In this case, you will probably find that your PageRank and traffic have dropped dramatically after a particular date.

What to Do if Google Penalizes Your Website

If Google has manually penalized you and alerted you to the source of the penalty, then you can simply focus on fixing the problem. For example, you can remove unnatural links or lighten up on your advertisements. Once you have made the necessary changes, you can request reconsideration from Google.

For those who have been hit by an automatic algorithm penalty, the best thing to do is put in some legwork to clean up your site. This may involve removing suspicious links, requesting poor-quality sites that link to yours to remove your link from their page, focusing on publishing only original, high-quality content and making sure your site is functioning properly at all times.

Keep in mind that a penalty may not be permanent and that even when you do fix those penalty-inducing problems, it may take some time for Google to act on the changes and start ranking your site again. Abandoning your website completely should be your last resort.

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