Worst SEO practices – Penalty guaranteed

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014 by Lee Wilson

Making errors that lead to SEO penalties

Making errors that lead to SEO penalties

So many companies find themselves getting manual penalties and being negatively impacted by algorithm updates (most recently Penguin and Panda), that I thought I should flag some sure-fire penalty activities.

I hate to see companies get SEO penalties on the main search engines, simply because they are trying to improve their visibility through activities they’ve heard about and are able to complete in-house when dipping their toes into SEO.


Before you read any more of this post I am saying ‘do not do any of these specific actions’.

Getting a manual link penalty in Google

So this is obvious right? You build lots of low quality links in a short timeframe and you will flag your site to Google as having unnatural link building activity.

Well there’s a lot more to it than that.

To get a manual link penalty, large new and lost link numbers can be a trigger. If you have a backlink portfolio that has quantities of new and lost links it can be a clear signal of search manipulation through link acquisition.

new and lost links

You also will want to make note of where you are getting your links from, as well as the anchor text used within the links.

If you are a UK-based company you would expect a naturally linkable website to gather most links from associated top level domains (TLDs), as well as relevant country-specific authority and social media sites. If most of your links come from non-relevant and non-authority TLDs, you are on your way to a link penalty:

Top level domains backlinks split

If your anchor text is exact match heavy, you are on your way to a manual link penalty:

exact match alt text
You can also look at lack of quality within a backlink profile as a potential passive manual link trigger:

If you are really after a quick way to get a manual link penalty, I would create lots of linking between websites you own (site wide network linking as one of the quickest means to deliver a manual link penalty in Google, mainly because it’s extremely easy to identify and the links tend to be site wide and exact match), ticking a number of negative link quality areas.

Getting a Panda penalty and algorithm impact

The term ‘Panda penalty’ isn’t actually the correct term to use as Google’s Panda updates are, technically speaking, an algorithm impact area as opposed to a penalty. However, the impact of Panda can certainly make it feel like a penalty and statistically, it can have similar levels of impact to a website as a penalty.

So thinking about Panda, the first stop needs to be on-page factors and content (or lack thereof).

For me, the sites that are impacted fastest by Panda are those that pick an industry leading website that has great content and decide to copy, or scrape that content word for word; including it somewhere prominently on their website.

In some instances this content actually forms the entire website’s offering, excluding any unique contact details.

A DMCA request generally follows very shortly from the content originator website (assuming they discover the issue and infringement before Google does) and the scraping site, in most instances, will swiftly get removed from the search index.

There are more passive ways to also be hit by Panda. An easy way that is often completed without the intention of manipulating search results is creating lots of similar or thin content pages. Ecommerce sites can do this systematically based on unwanted default CMS set-up and through the intention of better user journeys (plus numerous page filters, query string URL creation and more).

The important item to note here is that if you have lots of similar content pages, pages with little if any unique value or users can simply access the same content from multiple URLs, you are likely to get hit by Google Panda updates.

As a general rule of thumb, if you are creating lots of content quickly, easily and – in many cases – by using other sources content already available online, you are probably well on your way to a Panda penalty.

Getting a Penguin penalty and algorithm impact

It’s nearly been 2 years since Google Penguin algorithm updates started back in April 2012. The purpose of this update was to help remove unwanted spam from Google search results.

All of the aforementioned manual link penalty areas previously discussed can quite happily cause you a Penguin penalty too. It is not uncommon to be impacted by both manual link penalties and Penguin algorithm updates, or to recover from one, only to be hit by the other within a short timeframe.

For Penguin you will want to be looking at your links – both internal and external.

A common Penguin penalty cause is systematic exact match internal linking and those specific links which crop up on every blog post using the same anchor text for a handful of exact match search terms.

In this way the resolution strategies for Penguin can be quickly identified in many situations, but the frequency at which Google has historically run Penguin updates can lead to longer total recovery.

If you want to get a Penguin penalty quickly, some tasks that will speed this up include the following:

  • Setting up a blog on a sub domain and linking to your top 3-5 terms from every post
  • Creating lots of forum logins and including exact match links from your forum profile (then commenting lots in short timeframes)
  • Add exact match internal links from all pages on your website as strapline text
  • Include in your website footer all the links that are already in your main navigation, using exact match terminology
  • Create link-only pages and get lots of unrelated reciprocal linking (this will help to increase the speed at which you are able to penalise your site through association to lots of other websites with low quality signals on them)

Proactive penalty reviews and SEO help

If you have read this post and are feeling concerned that a lot of the activities mentioned have been completed by you in house, by an external party providing SEO services, or you simply don’t know if your site falls into these areas, contact us and ask for an SEO health check.

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About the author

Lee Wilson

Lee Wilson

Lee joined Vertical Leap as an SEO Campaign Delivery Manager in 2010 and heads up the SEO team after successfully managing the online and direct marketing development of a financial services company for over seven years. Lee is a certified web applications developer (Cert WAD) and a regular LinkedIn user. Follow me on Google Plus