Follow These Guidelines to Avoid a SEO Penalty


SEO will improve your Google ranking, if you follow the rules of a search engine. Google and Co. penalize SEO rule breaches with ranking penalties to the complete exemption from the search index. Learn how to pursue a clear and efficient SEO.

SEO basics and techniques you should avoid

SEO Techniques OverviewBlack Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO is a search engine optimization with measures that breach the rules of search engines such as Google. In the case of Google, the Webmaster Guidelines present what is allowed and best practices that help Google find, crawl and index your website.

This is what you should avoid (Source: Google):

  • Automatically generated content
  • Participating in link schemes
  • Creating pages with little or no original content
  • Cloaking
  • Sneaky redirects
  • Hidden text or links
  • Doorway pages
    Scraped content
  • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
  • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords
  • Creating pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware
  • Abusing rich snippets markup
  • Sending automated queries to Google

You might want to take a look at our SEO glossary: Essential SEO Terminology Explained

Video: Webspam Content Violations (Google)


Basically, the following applies: search engines emphasize unique, possibly new content that is valuable to the reader. But this alone is no guarantee for good rankings, because when a page is relatively new, its popularity must be ensured first. And that requires some patience, which is why many make use of unauthorized means. But especially manipulation of links and use of link networks pose a risk. Additionally, there are external threats set intentionally by third parties through a link, known as Negative SEO.

Cloaking and doorway pages count among the on-page techniques included in the Black Hat SEO. Cloaking means playing off a different content to the search engines than to the user. Doorway pages use forwardings in order to mislead the search engines.

Among the most popular technique to improve the position of web pages in the search engine is still the creation of links. It is not wrong to create links, but it must be done naturally. It is all right if e.g. an article is posted on the social networks, such as Facebook, and as a result a web page sets a link to the article.

The situation is different if setting the links must be paid or they are attracted by other stimuli. This was the case of the online platform Thumbtack. It had asked its users to set a link and they were credited with bonus points. But unfortunately this was noticed. The result was that Thumbtack was penalized by Google, and now it can be found far down in the search results.

The use of the so-called link networks is also getting riskier. Google is constantly improving its techniques in discovering such practices. It uses certain algorithms known as “Penguin” that are regularly updated. So, it is more likely that bad links will be penalized.

As a result: creating links is fine as long as it is done naturally. Manipulation attempts, links bought on a large scale, and similar methods should be avoided.

Cloaking and Doorway Pages

Cloaking and Doorway pages are on-page techniques that must be avoided, if you do not want any Google penalty. Cloaking means that a web page plays off different content to the crawler than to the human visitor. For example, a casino web page plays off content to parlor games for the search engines, and will thus be listed to parlor games in the Google Index. But as soon as a human visitor clicks the search results, he lands on the page of paid gambling.

Doorway pages work similarly, but they operate faster forwarding to mislead the search engines. On the respective page a forwarding will be set up using Java Script, that is unrecognizable by the search engines. Thus, the crawlers remain on the page and read its content, while the user is directed to a page with a completely different content. The result is the same as in cloaking: the page is listed for completely different content within the Index, as it is eventually played off to the user.

Both techniques must be avoided, otherwise Google will penalize. Google has recently performed an update to detect especially Doorway pages.

The so-called Keyword-Stuffing, meaning the excessive use of keywords aiming to obtain a good ranking with these terms, will not be detailed here, as they only played a role in the past of search engines; today they are hardly in use.

How to discover and deal with negative SEO

It is difficult if you obey the search engine rules, but others use malicious links intending to discredit the web page. For example, somebody sets intentionally on the target page a link to a web page with bad reputation (e.g. from a link network) in order to damage the target page. First, the owner of this target page doesn’t notice much. It is only later, when ranking in the search engines is getting worse, that one starts looking for the cause.

To recognize negative SEO, you should regularly check the backlink profile. Several tools are available. Google Search Console should be mentioned first (previously Google Webmaster Tool). A list of the current links can be downloaded at “Search requests / links to your web page”. This list should be checked regularly for suspected entries.

Furthermore, there are tools to import lists of backlinks and check them for potential risk. One good solution would be LinkResearchTools.

Suspected links should be devalued using Disavow (Google Webmaster Tools). So, a list must be created containing the links Google should no longer consider, and it should be uploaded to Google.


So, basically it is not difficult to avoid penalties from Google and Co.  But it is important not to cheat when creating the link, and to monitor regularly your backlink profile to react immediately in case of a negative SEO attack. Additionally, one should read the Google guidelines at least once to know the most important content.

On-page manipulation such as Doorway pages or cloaking are already legacies of the past – not to mention keyword-stuffing.

As a general rule, SEO needs patience, short-term success cannot be forced. It needs time to establish a web page and to rank it better in the search engines.

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  • SEO Basics
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  • Essential SEO Terminology Explained
    Everything you need to know about on-page optimization, cloaking, domain popularity and more.


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