Google is, without a doubt, the most popular search engine in the world. If you want your website to be successful and increase organic traffic, you have to keep Google happy.
This isn’t a bad thing at all though. Google tries its best to give people what they want. It regularly updates its algorithms and search guidelines to make sure people have easy access to the best content on the Internet. If you follow the spirit of Google’s ever changing guidelines, you’ll be making your visitors happy too.
Since financial websites rely on gaining people’s trust to convert visitors into clients, it’s in your best interest to provide the best and most informative content possible. Higher traffic is always good, but it won’t necessarily translate into better conversions.
Google also hands out manual penalties when its reviewers find something sneaky on your site. However, when your site gets a penalty, you’ll be notified through Google Search Console. You can also request to have it removed once you’ve fixed the violation.
If you don’t want to play nice with Google, and decide to go against the grain, your website rankings will go tumbling down. Their goal isn’t to punish you though. They want to elevate content that its users will like, and push pages content that contains nothing but meaningless keywords and spam down the rankings.
A Brief History of Important Google Updates
In 2010, Google rolled out its Panda update to combat shallow content that was largely written by high-volume content farms. Its goal was to reward unique and compelling content that is typically written by experts and enthusiasts.
Google rolled out its Penguin update in 2012. It’s gone through many updates since then with the primary goal of downgrading sites that try to trick Google with low quality backlinks through manipulative link building techniques.
2013 saw the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm which is designed to better understand the user’s intent. Instead of just serving up results based on the keywords alone, it tries to derive more context out of the string of keywords to give more relevant results. This makes searching the web more conversational, with the user’s search string being treated like a question instead of being just a combination of words.
In 2018, Google rolled out what’s commonly referred to as the Medic update. This significantly affected YMYL or ‘Your Money Your Life’ pages. Websites that take on topics that directly affect a person’s well-being and happiness, such as health and finance websites, were put under much more scrutiny.
In order to show up on the first pages of search results, YMYL websites need to display a high level of Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness, or E-A-T. Websites with possibly misleading content are relegated to the bottom of search rankings.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what Google likes, let’s take a closer look at what you can do to avoid Google’s wrath.
Don’t Copy Content
While Google doesn’t necessarily penalize your site for copied content, it filters duplicate content, as well as content that’s appreciably similar to other blocks of text that’s already on other pages.
Google sends pages with duplicate, spun, and low-value thin content to the very bottom of search results pages, and in some cases, completely removes these pages from the search results. It also doesn’t matter much if you cite the sources of your copied content.
You may also have duplicate pages within your site that’s automatically generated by your CMS or content management system. In these cases, Google doesn’t know which page it should index and rank, which will eventually dilute your search ranking. To avoid this, you can just tell Google which page is the original version by setting up 301 redirects, adding a canonical attribute or robot meta tags.
Avoid Link Spam
Since the Penguin update, Google has been very strict when it comes to link schemes and manipulative backlinks.
Some examples of this include:
- Low quality backlinks
- Unnatural outbound links or selling outbound links
- Excessive reciprocal links
To avoid getting penalized, you can audit your backlinks by checking your Links Report to see who is linking to your pages. You can easily disavow any low quality backlinks you find.
If you allow guest posts or user comments on your pages, check to see that they’re not spamming your pages with outbound links. Otherwise, Google might think that you’re selling links as part of a link building scheme.
Partnering with other pages to trade a large number of links back and forth is also frowned upon. Of course, exchanging links and developing relationships with other websites is part of maintaining a successful website. But it has to be done in an authentic and natural way.
Keyword Stuffing and Hiding Keywords
Adding an unnecessary number of keywords to a page is one of the oldest tricks in the book. This resulted in lots of pages with poorly written content that don’t truly provide valuable information getting to the top of search results pages.
Google has since stamped these pages out of existence when they started implementing the Panda update. Nowadays, pages have to have a high quality score in order to get higher rankings.
You also can’t trick Google by adding hidden or invisible keywords somewhere on the page. You’ll be given a manual penalty if a reviewer finds unethically hidden keywords on your site.
Similar to hidden keywords, cloaking involves showing search engines a different version of a page while users get a completely different page. One example would be if you show a complete page to Google’s crawlers to index, but users have to sign up for something in order to access the same content.
To check if your content is cloaked, go to your Search Console and click on Fetch as Google under Crawl. The page that Google fetches should be the same as what you see when you load the page on your browser.
Protect Your Site From Hackers
If your site gets hacked, the hacker can replace pages or redirect users to a different page. This will set off Google’s alarm bells and you’ll be dinged for the suspicious activity.In most cases, you’ll get a notification that your site has been hacked, but there will be times when the hacking won’t be easy to detect.
If you notice a decline in traffic or some other strange behavior in your analytics, try to get to the bottom of the issue as soon as possible. If all else fails, make sure you have backups ready to go and redeploy your site so you can start over with a clean slate.
Be Mobile Friendly
This isn’t really a penalty, but since Google completely switched over to mobile-first indexing in 2020, your site will not show up on the first page of search results if your site isn’t mobile friendly. To avoid this issue, make sure your site is responsive and shows up properly on different screen sizes. You might also want to consider a separate mobile site if your current site is too complex to adapt to an all-in-one responsive design.
You should also avoid intrusive pop-ups that block the content of your pages. Google has been cracking down on interstitial pop-ups since 2017.
Keeping up with Google to make sure you avoid algorithm and manual penalties is a never ending process. You can make it easier on yourself by running a complete audit on your site to take care of all the major issues and familiarize yourself with current best practices.
If you want it done quickly and thoroughly, it’s best to find a team that specializes in your niche to sort out your SEO, web design, and content issues. While some issues require just a bit of research and common sense, others take a lot of expertise to understand, unravel, and repair.