Google has been on the warpath lately, laying waste to a host of spammy websites but causing a lot of collateral damage to genuine businesses in the process.
More often than not, when Google penalizes a website, it is for a good reason - even if most webmasters tend to disagree.
Almost invariably, somewhere along the line, the penalized site has engaged in SEO practices that go against Google's guidelines. The problem is that many people aren't even aware that they are doing anything wrong until their organic search traffic and page rankings plummet.
This article looks at some of the most common SEO strategies and looks at how and why they should be avoided in 2014.
There is nothing wrong with changing your domain name if needs be. But many webmasters who experience a drop off in Google traffic try change domains in order to escape the penalty.
A new domain might give temporary relief from a penalty, but if the underlying problem persists, the penalty will simply be reapplied - especially if you 301 the old domain to the new one.
What's worse is that it is now possible to purchase a domain that has an existing penalty, which means your site may be penalized for something that happened on that domain before you even owned it.
Research the history of a domain before purchasing it.
You can learn more about how to find decent domain names at How to find and buy domain names.
Ignoring past spammy SEO
One of the most common complaints I see in the Google forums is from webmasters who engaged in spammy link building practices, realized they were doing something wrong, and stopped (possibly even years ago).
Recently Google has been catching up with these sort of sites by penalizing (quite heavily) those that have dubious back link profiles.
The point is that just because you have been ranking fine without doing any link building for the past year or so, doesn't mean you have escaped a Penguin penalty.
Be proactive, and clean up links you KNOW are spammy and of poor quality.
The situation gets worse because once your backlinks have been entered into a spam network (most often by that cheap SEO company you hired), those links continue to get shared around, becoming more and more toxic as they spread.
Many people get fooled by the term paid links. A paid link doesn't require an exchange of money, it is any link that is intended to boost or manipulate page rankings.
In other words, if a link is not an editorial decision (i.e. this site is so awesome I just have to tell people about it), it is paid.
In particular, affiliate businesses seem to be able to fool themselves into believing that an affiliate link is of value to their readers so it isn't a paid link. It is.
Now, there's nothing wrong with paid links. Google understands that they are part of the Internet ecosystem. But they must not pass PageRank.
In order to ensure that you avoid potential algorithmic penalties, make sure to nofollow all links that are paid. Nofollowing a link entails adding rel="nofollow" into the code of the link itself, like this:
<a rel="nofollow" href="/affiliate/link.html">Affiliate link text</a>
Remember that links go both ways and your outbound and incoming links need to be nofollowed if they are paid.
Mediocre quality content
The vast majority of sites that I have seen penalized by Google tend to be relatively poor quality, MFA (Made For Ads).
Writing a couple of paragraphs about a topic and surrounding it with ads, popups, popunders, affiliate links and anything else you can conceive of simply doesn't work... anymore.
It is far more valuable to put a decent bit of thought and effort into creating fewer pages of higher quality than it is to churn out lots of junk.
As of 2014, Google is finally, after many years of trying, catching up with low quality content like this. They're still not perfect because there is an abundance of rubbish still ranking well in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)... but cleanup is well under way.
What other SEO techniques are falling out of favor with Google? Share your SEO tips and advice in the comments.