As a search engine, Google is unmatched when it comes to visibility and impact. Everyone wants to be on the coveted first page of the search results for their preferred keywords. Google releases regular algorithm updates and guidelines to ensure that only the best and most relevant sites rise to the top. This means your SEO needs to be in sync with the algorithm updates.
Building your backlink link profile shows Google that you are a trusted name in the industry. However, with Google constantly changing its algorithm and rules, it’s not always easy to rank and you might get tempted to take shortcuts to draw in the traffic you need. This can lead to penalties in the form of lower search rankings.
This guide will look at some most common link-building mistakes that result in Google penalties, and how to avoid them. Let’s dive in!
6 mistakes that can lead to a Google penalty
From poor content quality to broken links, some website mistakes can hurt your search engine ranking. Google crawls your website to see if it’s relevant and rewards you for good links and high quality content. On the flipside, it penalizes your site for glitches that make it less useful for your visitors. Take a look at Google’s webmaster guidelines for a comprehensive list of things to avoid on your site.
Link-building is also a vital aspect of any website’s SEO strategy. Content marketers and SEO specialists use backlinking to improve their site authority and help their sites climb up the search engine rankings. However, when you employ faulty link-building, it’s as good as an invitation for Google to penalize your site.
This section will look at six link-building mistakes that all marketers and web designers should watch out for so they can avoid Google penalties and maintain or improve their search ranking.
1. Poor-quality links
Not having enough good-quality content with the right number of appropriate backlinks will likely result in a Google penalty. For example, while including a few affiliate links is fine, too many links on a page is a sign of poor quality content.
Similarly, you’ll need to remove keyword-based backlinks to your content that do more harm than good to your SEO efforts. These links often come from pages that no longer exist or have a lower domain rating or traffic than yours. They do not contribute at all to your Google SEO performance and also knock points off your search engine ranking.
Another clear violation of Google’s policies is unnatural link-building. Some websites may buy links or participate in link schemes, such as private blog networks (PBNs), to boost their ranking. Others also see rented links from suspicious websites as a more convenient alternative to natural link-building. Avoiding these quick schemes will help you maintain your search ranking and avoid incurring a Google penalty.
2. Hidden links
All your links should be visible to the user as any hidden links raise suspicions about their credibility and relevance. As Google crawls through your website, it uncovers these “hidden” links in your HTML code and takes points off your search ranking.
Sometimes, the hidden link may be hiding in plain sight. For example, when a link that’s meant to be visible has the same color as the page background, Google considers it a hidden link. In addition, hidden links impact your site’s user experience, especially if your site visitors fail to find links to pages they want to access. Both mistakes carry significant penalty risks and should be avoided.
3. Internal 404s and broken external links
An internal 404 error refers to either a page that no longer exists or a link that leads nowhere (this can happen, for example, if the linking URL is spelled incorrectly). This type of error means your site visitors are unable to reach the page they are trying to access. When Google finds internal 404 errors in your site, it will think that you are not keeping your website in order. This often results in a penalty.
Similarly, external links and backlinks that result in 404 errors also signal that you are not focusing on providing a great user experience. Remember, your backlink profile is not just about quantity but also the value those links bring to your users.
Check all links, including inbound links, on your website regularly to eliminate these broken pages. Broken pages are already bad enough from an SEO standpoint, but these bad links also affect your inbound traffic and conversion rate as you are likely to lose any repeat visitors.
If you’re doubtful about the effect of broken links on your keyword performance, take a look at the graph above, showing the stats for a website that was hit by a penalty in January 2020. It went from ranking for more than 500 keywords to ranking for almost none by March of the same year.
4. Quick link-building
As a marketer, you want your site to climb the search rankings quickly. However there is no shortcut to link-building. When you build too many links too quickly, you may incur a penalty.
Too many links that point to the same page on your site may seem like an automated act, which Google frowns upon. Just like a spam filter automatically redirects suspicious emails, Google detects potential spam and penalizes your site for trying to artificially build its link profile. Try to scale your link-building gradually and don’t be too aggressive in building your backlink profile. Slow and steady wins the race!
5. Buying links and links from suspicious sites
The jury is still out on buying links. Many marketers talk about paid links in hushed tones, while some SEO specialists consider it a valid strategy. Google, however, has a straightforward policy on paid links. If you buy too many bad links and Google catches you, a link penalty awaits.
Bad links also hurt traffic as they harm user experience and value. Similarly, excessive reciprocal links can invite a Google penalty. Too many suspicious outbound links to irrelevant sites also imply that you are merely swapping links to boost your SEO.
Stay away from sites that are not 100% ethical. Linking to, or gaining links from, these sites will affect your backlink profile and negatively impact the quality of your site. Do a quick search to see if the content is dubious in any way. Bonus points if you can find out if the site has past Google penalties to its name.
Just like you would avoid a sales Chrome extension that seems dubious, do not include anything on your site that you cannot completely vouch for. Instead, keep your link-building to sites within your niche that are of high quality and offer valuable content.
6. Ignoring Google’s Penguin algorithm update
The Penguin algorithm update focuses primarily on the quality of your links and should be the first point of reference when building your backlink profile. If you ignore this update, your site may be affected by various bad links without you even knowing about it, impacting your search rankings.
Launched in April 2014, the Penguin update filters out sites that engage in manipulative link-building and keyword stuffing. It targets websites that use black-hat SEO techniques to boost their rankings artificially, and if you’re not mindful of your SEO strategy, your site might be affected too.
While backlinks can give your website a search engine performance boost, link-building is a long process where quality trumps quantity. Before you begin any link-building campaign, study Google’s webmaster’s guidelines to avoid penalties.
Make sure you check your website regularly to weed out bad links and link back only from legitimate sites. Avoid trying to build links too quickly or resorting to paid links, focusing instead on your organic growth through well-written, relevant content. Good links will help you reach your target audience and give your site a place in the top pages of Google’s search results.
Owen Baker is a content marketer for Voila Norbert, an online email verification tool. He has spent most of the last decade working online for a range of marketing companies. When he’s not busy writing, you can find him in the kitchen mastering new dishes.