Recently, we spoke with a local HVAC and plumbing company that had their website penalized by Google for actions taken by their SEO firm. They went from ranking on the first page of Google for competitive keyword phrases to not even being able to find their website when they searched their company name! They went from getting 20-30 repair / replacement calls from the web to practically none – overnight. They called their SEO firm repeatedly to figure out what had happened. The firm initially said they’d look into it, but never came back with an answer.
The owner of the company did a bit of research on Google penalties; created a Google Webmaster Tools account, and sent a reconsideration request to Google. The owner of this HVAC and plumbing company legitimately did not have any idea what his SEO firm was doing and couldn’t understand why his site had been penalized. Google responded telling him that he had MILLIONS of links that violated their [Google’s] quality guidelines and that he would have to get them removed and then file another reconsideration request.
Unfortunately, the owner had no idea how to find all the links, let alone how to get them removed. He hired another SEO firm to help him with the task. Collectively, they removed more than 300,000 bad links. The new SEO firm helped him craft another reconsideration request. The request was denied by Google. More links would have to be found and removed. More than eight months has passed and this company still hasn’t recovered. Their original SEO firm is out of business or has changed its name to something else.
The scariest part about this story is that it’s true.
Back in December 2012, we wrote a blog about a feature of our software that allows you to monitor what your SEO firm is doing to your website and online presence each month. You might have thought to yourself, “why the heck would I want to do that?” Well, Google just released an updated version of Penguin, the part of its organic ranking algorithm designed to detect and penalize websites violating its quality guidelines. If your phone isn’t ringing like it usually does and/or replacement calls are down this month, it might not be the weather or the economy. It might be that the SEO firm you’ve hired has used “black hat” techniques and landed you in Google’s penalty box.
Differentiating Between Good & Bad Changes
You don’t have to become an SEO expert to understand how to differentiate between good changes to your website and bad changes.
Changes to your website / web presence that can boost your search rankings:
- Page title tags being updated to more accurately match the content on the page
- Meta descriptions being updated to function like the body copy of a good PPC ad
- Images being given descriptive “alt” tags
- Unique and original content being added to pages in a way that benefits your visitors/prospects
- New blog posts being written that use original content and that educate your prospects about the products and services you offer
- New testimonials being added
- Links and references to your company and website from credible and relevant sources (i.e. local media outlets and industry-specific websites)
Changes to your website / web presence that can get you penalized by Google include:
- Title tags with the same keyword repeated over and over again
- Pages of content being created that don’t seem like they’re being written by a human or someone with more than a fifth grade education
- Meta tags stuffed with keywords repeated over and over again
- Duplicate content / content scraping (content stolen from another company’s website)
- Hidden text
- Links to your website from websites that don’t seem to be related to your industry / local area
- Links being created to your site from blog comments (that you didn’t create)
- Links to your website from member profiles on dating sites and other “community” type websites
- Pages being added to your site that you can’t find
Conclusion & Takeaways
It used to be that if your SEO company did something wrong that got your site penalized with Google, you could cry ignorance and recover quickly. Today, Google takes a much tougher stance on spam and ignorance won’t get you off the hook – at least not quickly. As a business owner, we know you wear a lot of hats. We’re not suggesting that you become an SEO expert, but you should monitor the changes your SEO firm is making to your website and online presence.