In the last couple of months, the Google Search Quality Team has sent out a warning via its Google Webmaster Central blog advising that permanent removal of sites from the search engine results pages (SERPs) is now likely for offenders who repeatedly violate its Webmaster guidelines, especially those which are obviously spam-focused.
Google's aim is to make webmasters more aware that poor practices will not be tolerated, and that should sites repeatedly violate its policies, they are likely to find it increasingly difficult to achieve a strong position in its indexes. The post initially outlines the general process that needs to be followed in order to submit a reconsideration request should your site receive a manual action, and is followed by an example to show how some sites continue to violate the guidelines in order to improve their rankings. It warns that those sites which continue to spam, build poor quality links or try to trick its algorithms with false reconsideration requests, will find it much more difficult to reverse the effects of a penalty.
In order to protect the quality of their search results, Google take both automated and manual actions against sites that are seen to be going against their Webmaster Guidelines.
If your site has a manual action taken, it's possible to find out what part of the site caused the action to be taken and why this happened. This can be confirmed by logging into the Manual Actions page in Search Console, where you'll be able to see both the offending part of your site and an insight into why the penalty was levied. After you have fixed the issue, it's possible to have your manual action revoked by sending a reconsideration request through to Google. Many webmasters have been using this process to have manual actions revoked.
Once a site has successfully gone through the reconsideration process there are usually no further problems. However some sites have repeated violations of the Webmaster Guidelines, and may even apply for false reconsideration requests.
Google offered an example of the kind of repeated violations they are seeing, such as incidences where a site receives a manual action notification due to an unnatural link to another site. The site may then set up a nofollow for the link prior to submitting a request for reconsideration. Once their reconsideration request has been successful, they then delete the nofollow. Google sees this type of action as a repeated violation and an attempt to spam its indexes, and warns that further action is likely to be taken against sites such as these.
Google have advised that they will take action should they find repeated violations on a site, recommending that webmasters should avoid violating their Webmaster Guidelines and that they should particularly avoid repeat occurrences. They've also made a clear statement that they will continue to protect users of Google by simply removing anything they deem to be spam from their search results. Although there has been no clarification of what this 'further action' is likely to be, we can assume that it could be anything from increasing the time taken to have future penalties removed to actually having your whole site de-indexed from its search engine.
So what does this mean for your site?
If you read between the lines of Google's blog, the meaning is very clear. If you attempt to trick Google, and they catch you, any further reconsideration requests are extremely unlikely to be approved. Furthermore, in extreme cases, your site may be blocked from the search engine completely, meaning that your site will simply disappear from Google.
We would always recommend that you give close attention to the guidelines to ensure that you don't fall foul of their rules and end up with a violation, and that you take all the necessary steps to avoid so called 'black hat' SEO, the practice of increasing a page's ranking through means that breach the search engine's terms of service. While some of these tactics can be remarkably effective, utilising black hat SEO tactics and strategies are likely to get your site banned from search engines, and thus exclude you from the number one source of traffic referral on the internet.
In terms of content, this includes several techniques:
- keyword stuffing (using the same phrase or keyword over and over again)
- duplicated content
- scraped content (text taken directly from reputable external sources)
- cloaking (concealing potentially spammy text by making it the same colour as the page background)
- automatically generated content.
It's also important to ensure that you avoid link manipulation schemes, (where you buy artificial links and advertorials); false redirects, article spinning, and pages with malicious behaviour such as malware, phishing, viruses and trojans.
These kind of violations are seen to be a growing problem, and so it's advisable to check your website to ensure that it doesn't contain any such problems, or other black hat issues. If you're in any doubt about whether your site could fall foul of the regulations, ask yourself the question "is the work that I'm doing on my site adding value to the user, or am I simply doing it for search engines to see?" This should tell you whether an SEO tactic is likely to violate the guidelines. If you're not adding value to the user but your ranking is likely to improve, then your actions may just fall into the black hat category.
What should you do now?
It's important that you assess your site to ensure that you've not inadvertently fallen foul of Google's guidelines through your SEO methods. There are many ways to increase your rankings with Google without resorting to black hat techniques. For example, it's possible to leverage software to automate processes that will not just help you to rank higher through search, but which are also Google approved.
If you need any further clarification on Google's announcement, or you'd like to find out more about approved SEO techniques, it's best to seek the advice of professionals.