Search Engine Violations, Spam & Penalties


Last month, we posted a Periodic Table Of SEO with complete descriptions of each of good factors that may help you to get a lot of SEO juice for your website. In case you miss our previous post, here are the complete table:

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However, the table also contains some negative factors to avoid. The fact is, many people did not realise that they had violated a search engine’s rules and spamming others. On the other hand, search engines look at a variety of signals before deciding if someone deserves a harsh penalty. Today, we decide to complete our previous post with more comprehensive descriptions of the violation factors, thus you can avoid them and keep your rank steady. Here are eight bad factors that you might want to avoid:

1. Vt: “Thin” or “Shallow” Content

In February 2011, Google released its searching algorithm “Panda” update in . Panda targets what is described as “thin” or “shallow” content or content that is lacking in substance. This domain level penalty targets sites with a predominant amount of so-so content and essentially treats it similar to overt spam techniques. Today, it’s no longer a question of whether the content is simply relevant but whether it is valuable to the user.

2. Va: Ads / Top Heavy Layout

Have you ever been on a site and found it hard to find the actual content amid a slew of ads? Where’s the beef! That’s what the Page Layout algorithm was meant to address. Matt Cutts, Google’s head of Webspam described it as follows:

… we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.

Often referred to as Top Heavy, this penalty is reserved for sites that frustrate the user experience by placing an over abundance of ads before content. So don’t make your users search for the content.

3. Vs: Keyword Stuffing

It’s one of the oldest spam tactics on the books. Search engines say to use words you want to be found for on your pages. This might makes people to think, “OK, I’ll give them those words over and over again! How about 100 times in a row?” The answer is no, it will not bring anything to you. “Keyword stuffing” like this could get you penalized.

How often is too often? There’s no correct answer here, but you’d really have to go to extremes to cause this penalty to kick in. It’s most likely to happen to non-SEOs who just don’t know better and might decide to paste a word many times in a row, typically at the bottom of a web page.

4. Vh: Hidden Text

Once people decide to do keyword stuffing, they will probably think, “Why don’t I hide all this text that no human wants to see?” They might make the text white, so it blends with a page’s background. In this process, they will have spammed a search engine.

Search engines don’t like anything hidden. They want to see everything that a user sees. Don’t hide text, whether it be using styles, fonts, display:none or any other means that means a typical user can’t see it.

5. Vc: Cloaking

Here is a more sophisticated hiding: “How about modifying your site, so that search engines are shown a completely different version than what humans see?”

That’s called cloaking and search engines really don’t like it. It’s one of the worst things you could do. Google’s even banned itself for cloaking for a serious reason.

While most people are unlikely to accidentally spam a search engine, the opposite is true when it comes to cloaking. That’s why it’s such a heavy penalty, if you’re caught doing it. It’s a bait and switch and seen as a deliberate attempt to manipulate search results.

6. Vp: Paid Links

Speaking of Google banning itself, it also banned Google Japan, when that division was found to be buying links for 11 months. That’s longer than JC Penney was penalized (3 months) in 2011. However, JC Penney suffered another penalty after having its paid link purchase splashed across a giant New York Times article. So did several large online florists. Overstock also got hammered via a Wall Street Journal article.

The debate over whether Google should act so aggressively against those who buy and sell links has gone on for years. The point is, in order to rank on Google, you have to follow Google’s rules, and the rules say “no buying or selling links in a way that passes on search engine ranking credit”.

If you choose to ignore Google’s rules, be prepared for a little mercy if caught. Never believe on programs that tell you they’re paid links are undetectable. They are not.

As for Bing, officially it doesn’t penalize for paid links, but it frowns on the practice.

7. Vl: Link Spam

Tempted to run around and drop links on forums and blogs, all with highly optimized anchor text (like ‘louis vuitton handbags 2013?), with the help of automated software?

If you do go ahead with  this kind of “strategy”, most of the links won’t give you the credit you were thinking they would. On top of that, you can find yourself on the sharp end of a penalty.

This penalty has been given more weight in this version of the table based on the efforts Google has made in neutralizing and penalizing link spam and, in particular, the launch of the “Penguin” update.

If you have been caught dabbling on the dark side, or if a fly-by-night “SEO” company got your site in hot water you can disavow those links on both Google and Bing in hopes of redemption and a clean start.

8. Vd: Piracy / DMCA Takedowns

The “Pirate” update targeted sites infringing on copyright law. Under pressure from the Recording Industry Associate of America (RIAA), Hollywood powerhouses and governments, Google began to penalize sites who received a large number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) “takedown” requests.

It’s unlikely that most sites will have to deal with these issues, but you should handle any DMCA takedown notifications that show up in your Google Webmaster Tools account.