This week, Google’s Matt Cutts has been speaking out about websites which try to fool the search engines into awarding them better rankings by unfair or dubious means. In particular Cutts was referring to “hidden text” and “keyword stuffing” – two activities which could see your site heavily penalised by Google.
Prior to this, Google released seven new videos outlining common spam-related problems and offered advice to webmasters on how to restore the good name of any websites which had been flagged up as potentially spammy.
Here we take a look at six of the most frequently-occurring website SEO problems and provide up-to-the-minute advice as to how to curry back favour with Google.
Key problem areas:
Can you see the hidden text in this document? White text meets white background?
Thought not. Now you might be forgiven for thinking that Google cannot detect such underhand tactics – only they can – and they do. Frequently. And when they catch the culprits, their site rankings will suffer.
If you have been outsourcing your Search Engine Optimisation requirements to a less than honest SEO company, in all probability you won’t realise what has been happening until you get a wake-up call from Google’s “Spam Squad”, informing you that “hidden text” has been detected on your website.
How many times can you get away with mentioning your target keywords on your web pages? Almost certainly less than you think. Cutts advises to check all web pages for “readability” and to ensure that the main purpose behind the content you write is to satisfy your readership rather than the search engines.
These can be “paid for” links, blog comments that Google deems “spammy”, or links which do not naturally fit with the overall content of your website. A great question to ask yourself is: “Would I make this link if the search engines didn’t exist?”
Are all the websites that link to yours legitimate? It isn’t unheard of for a competitor to arrange for sites they are in direct competition with to be tarnished with links to unsuitable sites. What if you found your travel website linked to a porn site for example?
The first thing is not to panic, because this kind of situation is easily remedied (at least in Google’s eyes). There are three things you need to do:
Disavow the unsuitable links (using Google’s “disavow” tool)
Contact the site in question asking them to remove the “bad” links
Submit a Reconsideration request to Google (with documentary evidence of your actions)
Doorway pages, cookie cutter sites and thin affiliate content – grabbed from merchant sales pages – provide no original content or added value for visitors.
Cutts explains that “thin syndication” – simply copying and pasting content scraped from other websites does not make for unique content. Webmasters need to add original insights that will make their sites “compelling.”
This is what Cutts calls “churn and burn” content – people who set up websites in order to generate cash fast – before the sites get shut down. Cutts explains that sites penalised for “pure spam” are difficult to recover from, as most “Black Hat” sites, by their very nature, do not contain any legitimate content whatsoever.
A possible exception to this scenario could be if you purchased a website unaware of potential spam content issues; in which instance Google might be willing to look favourably upon your case, providing you can offer well-documented evidence of how the problems occurred, the steps you have taken to rectify them and are able to give an assurance that this will not happen again in the future.
Resolving content issues amicably
Keeping your business website up to date with good, clean, unique content is by no means an easy task for any webmaster. The problem is, that falling foul of Google’s content rules could impact negatively on your brand’s reputation – and your bottom line.
The good news is that Google is prepared to work with website owners who unwittingly break the rules, in order to re-establish trust with the organisation. If this is you, the main thing Google wants to know is that you have done everything within your power to clean up your site, and that you have processes in place that will ensure you do not violate its “quality content” policies in future.
Having well-documented evidence of what has occurred and how you have dealt with the “pollutant content” issues will help you get back into Google’s good books once again, so you can focus on populating your website or blog with quality content.