How to Avoid Google Penalties

Google can make your business go from invincible to invisible. Learn the rules so you can stay online and easy to find. 

Google is the king of online advertising. Like any king, Google has rules that all must follow if they want to stay in Google’s good graces. With just a few keystrokes, your business can go from invincible to invisible if you break them. How do you avoid doing this?

First, you need to understand why and how Google punishes websites. It is in Google’s interests to keep the quality of their services high. Activities that threaten quality are spelled out in their acceptable use policies. For instance, Google AdWords doesn’t allow any listings for explosives or a racist product. If you make a pay per click (PPC) ad for a site that sells these items, the domain or even the whole account can be banned from using the service. On the search engine optimization (SEO) side, if you’re caught using techniques that game Google’s algorithm and you’re caught, you’ll be banned from the listings. (Remember when Panda and Penguin first came out?)

There are two primary forms of penalties. The first forbids a business from using AdWords, the PPC system that Google makes its money from. Removing access can destroy a business that uses it for lead generation. The second type removes a site from Google’s search listings entirely, destroying all SEO efforts. Both can be applied to the same domain.

Thus, avoiding penalties starts with familiarizing yourself with what Google doesn’t like. You need to know the laws of the realm, so to speak.

Penalty Types

There are four broad categories that make up AdWords policies. The first is prohibited content. They do not allow ads that promote counterfeit goods, dangerous products or services, enable dishonest behavior or are deemed inappropriate. These lead to an automatic ban.

The second is prohibited practices. This is the most common kind of penalty that strikes unaware businesses. At the top of this list is abusing the ad network by trying to cheat the system or using it as a way to spread something like malware to those who click. Google’s data collection policies is another sticky area. If you wish to collect data from users, as part of a freemium offer for example, you need to use a secure landing page. You must also state what the information will be used for and what the user will get in return for submitting the information. Otherwise, Google might think you’re harvesting information for spam purposes. Another aspect is misrepresentation. If Google doesn’t think your ad or your landing page is promoting an honest product or believes you are using untruthful advertising practices, you will be shut down.

The third category is restricted content. Google doesn’t want ads for sensitive topics to be shown to just anyone. Ads promoting pornography, alcohol and pharmaceuticals, among others, might need to be approved prior to going live.

Finally, Google considers editorial and technical quality. Ads should look good and read well—nothing too generic or gimmicky.

A complete list of what Google looks for can be found on the company’s AdWords policy page. Review your AdWords accounts occasionally to make sure that you are not under any penalties. Take a proactive approach, especially if you work with a third-party PPC management company.

If you do get banned, finding out why you got banned can be difficult. Google isn’t always forthcoming about the exact reasons for bans. However, they do restore ad privileges if you clean up your act. Consider hiring a professional skilled in overcoming Google penalties if you find yourself banned from AdWords.

SEO penalties are a lot simpler to understand. Google doesn’t want to list sites that try to cheat their algorithm or promote spam. Their Webmaster Guidelines spell out the details.

Preventing a Penalty

If you’re doing any of these prohibited practices, you have to stop. If you are working with a third-party company doing these, you’ll be on the hook for their error. Depending on how bad the violation is, you could be banned from using AdWords on all of your domains, even the ones that are kosher. Due diligence is a must.

If you have hired a third party to run your PPC or your SEO, your job is harder. Some companies use these tactics and promise guaranteed results. They might even work for a while until you’re caught. Make certain you understand how your vendor intends to help your SEO or PPC, and hold their feet to the fire if they do anything shady. Never give up total control of your PPC account or analytics account to a third party. Don’t be afraid to use tools like backlink checkers to verify links.

Once a problem is found, it must be reversed before Google detects it. Once you are penalized, it is difficult to get out—not impossible, but difficult. Start by understanding what Google is looking to penalize.

Often it is best to hire a professional to help you fix SEO and PPC errors. Google isn’t always forthcoming with the exact reasons for a penalty. Plus, they’ll only tell you the first error they hit. If there are multiple errors, you could be in for months of back-and-forth. This can destroy a business. By hiring a professional, and with a bit of luck, you’ll only have to resubmit your site to Google once or twice before you’re back in business.

Chris Hickman is the founder and CEO of Adficient. He has 14 years of experience in search marketing and conversion optimization. In 2006, he founded, which helps businesses and websites suspended in Adwords get back on Google.

Categories: Best Practices


Leave a Comment

  • (will not be published)