An SEJ reader recently emailed us asking How many Google penalties are there?
Here’s our SEO Answer (please feel free to contribute your answer to the comments below) :
During the course of optimizing websites for the search engines and striving to attain the numero uno spot for competitive keywords, many webmasters run into various kinds of penalties from the search engines that affect the organic rank of their websites.
How Many Kinds of Search Engine Penalties Exist?
A member of the WebProWorld forums reported that there are 3 major kinds of penalties:
- -30 penalty
- -950 penalty
- Index Exclusion
However, there has been a lot of debate on whether the drop of a website’s rank by 30 or 950 spots in Google is really a penalty for adopting shady SEO methods or is it just because some of the major ranking elements that were holding the ranks of a website high just got devalued in the Google algorithm update tossing the ranks badly.
It is reported that a -30 penalty affects the whole domain whereas the -950 penalty only affects some specific URLs for some specific keywords only.
Tedster, a member of the WebmasterWorld forums stated in his post about the -30 penalty as:
“When this penalty situation was first noticed, it worked in a very odd way. Every search that would normally bring up a url from that domain now showed that url on the top of page 4, position #31 precisely — and this was even true for a search on the domain name itself.”
Positioned at #31 for even a search with the domain name? Now, that sounds like a penalty. However, Tedster goes on to say:
“The penalty has mutated a bit since then — the domain name search, for example, is apparently not always penalized today. Also, the depressed position is not consistently at #31, but every search is still pushed down by about 3 or more pages.”
Now this makes it harder to determine whether the drop in a website’s rank is due to a penalty or for any other reason.
Regarding the -950 penalty, Tedster says that:
“Think of this as an “end-of-results” phenomenon, rather than any specific number of the penalty. What we see is a URL that was previously top ranked for a certain search now showing up on one of the last pages of the SERPs. Most of the time this only affects specific searches — on other searches that same URL can still be first page. The low ranking sometimes comes and goes with various new data pushes from Google. It’s a very odd thing to be #1 and then #896 and then #1 again!”
For both these kind of penalties, SEOs and webmasters associate shady optimization practices to be the key reasons for it. Some say, this is because of keyword stuffing, some say this penalty occurs due to “too many occurrences of semantically related phrases”, while some others say that these penalties are because of faulty and apparently shady link building practices, commonly known as BLOOP (BackLink Over Optimization Penalty)
So what is this BLOOP?
there is a school of thought that getting too many links within a short span of time and with similar anchors can raise red flags with Google since it may look to Google that those links have been acquired unnaturally by means of automated scripts or link building software.
A member of the Webmaster World forums reported in this thread that:
“A new site that gets like 20 links per day, then all of a sudden gets 2000 in one day, well then there’s tom foolery going on there and the penalty gets slapped. Once that penalty is slapped, over time it will go away.
Try to avoid any anomalies. Slowly ramp up your linking strategy.”
This sounds like a plausible explanation for such penalties since Google has always stood against websites that are engaged in practices for manipulating search results.
Another kind of penalty that is known to exist is the Index Exclusion penalty or a complete ban, this is a kind of penalty, which when imposed on a site simply throws the site out of the Google index. Index exclusion penalty usually occur with websites that severely violate the quality guidelines of Google and adopt black hat methods such as cloaking and doorway pages.
How Do You Avoid -30 and -950 penalties?
There are different solutions given by webmasters and SEOs across multiple forums but primarily all of the solutions provided boils down to the following:
- Do not stuff keywords in the page title, description, alt tags and in the content.
- Do not link out to link farms and sites engaged in link manipulation practices.
- Be consistent in building links and vary your link anchors as much as possible.
- Avoid cloaking and doorway pages.
- Build your website keeping the users in mind instead of the search engines.
Also adding to the mix is the unconfirmed Google #6 penalty, unearthed by Aaron Wall, where a site may lose ranking if it is not updated enough.
So now the question to all you readers is, do you think that such penalties really exist? Have any of you experienced such a penalty with your website? Do you think there are more penalties that Google can impose in addition to the ones mentioned in this post?