There are two words that are guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any website proprietor: penalties and filters. They damage rankings and ultimately may result in banishment from the search engines. However, before panic sets in, let us guide you through the basics of penalties and filters.
A penalty is caused by significant violations of a search engine’s website guidelines, such as:
- Cloaking (showing one version of a site to search engines and another version to human visitors).
- Hidden text (text not easily read by search engines that can be used to inflate a website’s keywords).
- Linking out to “bad neighborhoods” (i.e. Pills, Porn or Casinos).
- Consistent and abusive negative link building.
Penalties can be issued after a person reviews a website or after it has been crawled and processed by search engines. They result in a website being heavily held back in the rankings, or removed from the search engine’s index entirely. A penalty is called a ban when a website is completely removed from a search engine.
To remove a penalty, a site needs to first correct the problem that caused it, then contact the search engine and request a reinclusion. It is important to note penalties are not common for business websites, particularly in Google.
- In Google, this is done through a Webmaster Tools account, which can be set up for free.
- MSN has just created a Webmaster Tools system like Google’s.
- Yahoo does not have a defined reinclusion process.
- A filter is caused by passing a search engine’s threshold setting for one or more optimization/link building elements, such as:
- Too many keyword mentions on a page’s body content (over-optimization).
- Too much keyword blurring between a site’s pages.
- Too many links with the same anchor text.
- Too much keyword-rich internal linking (can cause 950 filter).
- Too much link building in a short period of time.
- Too much link building using the same anchor text.
- Link building in bad neighborhoods.
Filters are common. They are issued automatically after the site is crawled and processed by search engines and result in a site being held back in the rankings.
- Filters can be keyword-based or site-based.
- Filters can be mild (held back a few positions) or heavy (held back hundreds of positions).
- Filters can have a time element (like the normal Google Sandbox process, where a site is initially held back many positions and over time gets held back less and less until eventually it ranks near its allinanchor rankings).
In general, to remove a filter a site needs to first correct the problem that caused it, then wait for the search engine (s) to crawl the site again and find the corrections. The next time the search engine updates its rankings with the corrected data, the filter will be lifted automatically.
- In some cases, like the Google Sandbox, you can simply outwait a filter. Websites commonly spend anywhere between a few months and a year or so in the Google Sandbox. The time websites spend in the Sandbox has significantly decreased over the last few years.
- In some cases, you can remove a filter on a site by doing things that search engines like (such as getting quality links to the site from other respected websites in the same sector) to outweigh the things about the site or optimization they don’t like.
Filters are common, especially in Google.
- The Google Sandbox is technically a filter. Google closely examines new websites for over-optimization to try and minimize spammy websites filling its SERPS. As a result, newer websites often trip filters when they start an optimization campaign using traditional SEO (lots of keywords on the page, keyword-heavy titles and description, keyword heavy anchor text in incoming links). This pattern of new websites getting filtered and eventually getting released from the filter is called the Google Sandbox. Websites can speed up their release date from the Sandbox by getting quality internal links and not going overboard with on-site optimization.
- New websites are not the only targets. Older websites can trip filters when they go overboard with over-optimization
Being aware of how search engines assess penalties and filters is essential to avoiding them. Do not try to cheat the system, over-optimize or trick search engines. They are savvy to these tactics and punish those who attempt to take advantage of them. What may help in the short term will only end up hurting in the long term.
Being competitive in the SERP’s is important, and sitting idly is not a good strategy. If you must build links or optimize your website try to stick to the guidelines and use common sense.