SEO Borderline: 28 Ways to be Penalized by Google

With the frenzy that is increasing in the web, following the updates of Google, the biggest concern of every blogger is to receive some penalties.

The two most recent algorithms introduced by big G ( Panda and then Penguin) are the cause of a real mass psychosis, that has generated insomnia and fear to many webmasters across the world, which are still seeking help and information to prevent their sites being penalized by Google.

Often the reasons for a decrease of position in SERP or a loss of Page Rank may be attributed to high-risk SEO tactics called “black hat“, while in other cases a penalty may be due to trivial errors in handling a website.

Here you can read a list of the most common reasons that may cause a penalization to your website.


A big part of the SEO work is still focused on link building, which are still a major factor in ranking on search engines.

There is nothing wrong with that. But of course there are some limits. There are many pitfalls in fact, involving great attention and precision in following the Guidelines for Webmasters provided by Google.

1 . 10.000 links for $ 19 : spam emails that offer hundreds of links for a few dollars can not be true. Purchasing these links at bargain prices, certainly leads to a penalty.

2 . Paid Links on sites with high PR : if you can escape to paid links in most cases, it is quite easy to see when you buy links on sites with high PageRank, in other words those where the PR toolbar indicates 6 or maybe even more. There are few sites that have a page rank so high and in that sense, paid links are easy to flush out.

3 . Large-scale link exchange : linking to another blogger that mentioned you is natural. On the other hand, a massive exchange of links can be recognized algorithmically and it is too obvious. So you would be punished sooner or later.

4 . Links hidden in templates or counters : currently many websites well positioned on Google SERPs are just scams, leading to hidden links in WordPress templates. If you use these links to make “link building”, do not be surprised if you will be penalized. Some visits counters were doing the same thing in the past.

5 . Profiles with artificial links and anchor text that always match : when every link to your site is optimized to something like “SEO company”, this seems too forced to go unnoticed by Google.

6 . Link in unrelated languages : a website written in English, which get thousands of links from Russia or China brings many doubts. Google engineers are good enough to compare the language of your site with the one of the sites that you receive links from. At best, your rank will go up only in Russia and China. Otherwise it will fall everywhere.

7 . Getting too many links too quickly : not always the  more links you have, the better. Even the good links if otained too fast can lead to being penalized. Google controls the speed of the link building and if you get more links than you deserve, you risk a penalty even if they are perfectly legitimate.

Outgoing Links

The outbound links are crucial for any website, especially for blogs. Many webmasters have blocked external links, in order to try not to lose PageRank.

Google engineers have discouraged this practice and they actually suggest instead of using external links. Nevertheless it is advisable to only link to reputable sites, which deal with similar topics, otherwise it can be risky to use them.

8 . Broken links : too many broken links on a page cause a notice in the algorithm of Google. This may not be a penalty in the strict sense, but it could cause a sudden drop in rankings if there are many broken links on a page.

9 . Link to “bad neighborhoods” : the links to bad neighborhoods are even worse than broken links. Spammers use this technique to deceive you. Many of these links are part of a decline process. The sites in question will soon disappear.

Monopoly Go Directly to Jail Card

SEO Borderline: 28 Ways to be Penalized by Google – Click to Tweet

10 . Too many external links or neither : a website that has more external links to content itself, may lose its visibility on search engines. This may not happen suddenly, but will have equivalent effects in future. In addition, sites that do not have any external link, or use no follow links only believing it is an effective SEO practice, may be full penalized.

11 . Link hidden in third-party services (such as menus, widgets and counters) : free services for websites often have a sneaky business model. These links are hidden inside of what they offer. It may be a CSS menu, a sidebar widget or a visitors counter.So often these links are not only hidden, they are also off-topic and authentically SPAM. Check and verify the source code of what you add to your site. Google, of course, does not allow hidden links.


Despite Google still claims that “content is king”, this can also lead to problems.

12 . Duplicate content : the duplicate content on your site or elsewhere may cause a significant drop in the ranking.

13 . Low quality content : Panda Google Update focuses on low quality content. Superficial texts and too loaded with keywords on same pages will downgrade your entire site on Google.

14 . Content copied : text taken from other websites and showed on yours is a sure way to lose ranking.

15 . Unreadable content : spelling, grammar and syntax mistakes are bad at Google’s eyes. Make sure that a human user can understand what you write. In addition, the formatting of the text is crucial. Google quality rater also control this aspect.


Analysts argue that Google is not a search engine, but rather an advertising company, since almost all of Google revenue comes from ads appearing on results and third parties sites.

However, the pressure on Google has grown over the years because of the problem of MFA sites (Made for Adsense), which pollute the Google index. Google “Panda” and “Penguin” were thought as an intervention to curb this phenomenon.

16 . Too many ads (little content compared to the amount of ads) : a large number of ads, especially of Google Adsense ads, can result in a penalty. You should not insert ads above the fold.

17 . Worthless Affiliated Sites : Google has always stated that affiliated sites are acceptable, but only if they offer additional value to the readers. Be sure to add useful content or sooner or later you will face a penalty.

Google Penalty

Bad Reputation and Communication

The online presence is very important, so it is wise to manage your reputation.

18 . Ask questions in the official Google Groups : some disgruntled webmasters tend to be present on Google Groups and Forums, after they were penalized for a good reason. In the worst cases these people have not admitted their mistakes and continue to complain.

19 . The third-party web metrics as Blekko, WOT, McAfee SiteAdvisor : if you do not appear on Blekko, this means that you are banned. If WOT and McAfee SiteAdvisor have added your site to a list of dangerous sites, perhaps due to a virus or spyware in the code page, it could mean that there will be a penalty from Google (I still wonder why I have some bad reviews on WOT : may be they refer to when I started blogging, when I made some huge mistakes…or simply they were written by someone who does not love me).

20 . Mock Google :  if you publicly display your successes withBlack Hat SEO techniques, you are vulnerable for trying to “make fun of Google” and this will soon cause you a penalty.

The Google Filters

Some of Google penalties are applied automatically with filters. If many penalties can be manual, some filters are obviously algorithmic.

21 . Multiple H1 Tags : a book has one title. Like this, a web page must have only one title tag with H1. Google believes that multiple h1 tags are a trick to spam the index, and penalizes sites that use multiple h1 tags. Use h2, h3, and other tags in its place.

22 . Keyword stuffing (“keyword density” too high) : one of the oldest spamming method is called keyword stuffing. Make sure you enter keywords that you are interested about in the content of your website, but do it in a natural way, giving meaning to what you write, thus avoid inserting keywords by force. It is more important to keep the text readable by users than high percentage of keywords.

Technical Issues

Some traffic declines and penalties are due to stupidity or carelessness. It is important not to forget some technical aspects of web development.

23 . Nofollow : some blogs were excluded from the Google index because they have activated the WordPress privacy mode. This simply means that all of the blog is set up with noindex and nofollow, which is equivalent to block it with robots.txt.Check your settings!

24 . Duplicate titles and descriptions : when your site uses the same title and description for each page, or a very similar one, you do not have to be surprised, if it does not appear in search results. It is not a penalty, it is only logical.

25 . Link in Javascript not indexable : there are still sites with menus in Javascript not indexable by Google. Always be sure to check if the menu use HTML link with “<a href=””>” or at least it must be shown the complete url.

Neither a Penalty nor a Mistake

In some cases a loss of ranking or traffic volume has nothing to do with you or your site. Something could be changed and this created a penalization.

26 . Increased competitiveness : this common situation occurs when your competitors do a better SEO job and they will surpass you. A change in ranking from first to second position in Google could mean a loss of traffic of 60-80%.

27 . Modification of the algorithm : Google changes its algorithm continuously.The main changes are called “updates”, and sometimes involve dramatic distortions in the search results. The only thing you can do is figure out what is changed and why your site does not satisfy as before the new factors of positioning.

28 . Charts changed in the SERPs : Google frequently make changes in how the results are shown. In particular, you may note the results of Google Places, which occupy much of the space of the SERP. You could be in first position in the organic results, but unfortunately you appear just at the bottom of the results.


As you can see there are many reasons that may lead to a sudden collapse of visits from search engines.

Therefore, make sure you have at least two tools in order to continuously monitor your site, like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, so you can always determine the cause of any problem.

What do you think? Have you experienced a drop or an increase of organic traffic, after the last Google Updates?

About Erik Emanuelli

Hi! I am Erik Emanuelli : entrepreneur, traveler and blogger. You can follow me on Twitter, add me on Facebook or circle me on Google.


  1. Hi Erik,
    very good points. It show us, that we can’t base only on organic traffic from search engines – we must have a lot sources of traffic.
    Thanks for sharing, Chris

    • You’re right, Chris.
      If I learned something in many years of business (Import/Export) is never put all your eggs in one basket and have always a plan B, in case something goes wrong. ;-)

      • hi Erik, Cool Article. Its an awesome post you’ve got here. thanks for this seo tips.

      • thanks Erik for sharing article
        Catchy headline + being yourself in your content + proper use of keywords + Useful links and info = content that goes beyond not just normal but awesome!

  2. I’m really liking these reverse psychology-types of posts, i.e. you write about how you don’t do something instead of sharing something about how you actually going to do things. This will give those who are doing SEO for websites an idea of how to really bring a page up the search results rankings instead of forcing their why through. Besides, the latter would only cause problems in the long run, especially when Google decides to suddenly make some changes on their algorithms again.

    • Blogging is like a marathon, and same concept must be applied to who wants to have an online business.
      Listen to Google Updates, and do not worry too much about SEO,
      once you learned some basic rules.
      Thanks Gerald.

  3. I had NO idea about the multiple h1 headers thing. Thanks for the great tips!

  4. Nice post, Erik. But there a couple things that aren’t 100% correct

    “You should not insert ads above the fold.” Google doesn’t mind that, it’s *too many* ads above the fold that’s the problem. Like users, they’re not keen on content being crowded out by ads.

    Also, #21 Google & Matt Cutts has said quite a lot lately that h tags aren’t relevant any more in terms of rankings. I think that one of those things they just dropped along the way.

  5. In reference to your “purchasing” services for links, I completely agree. Many of these will not be quality links and are less likely to improve your ranking or visitors which is why I’ve always avoided them. Manual backlinks are the best way to go, yes they’re time consuming but they work! Well, most of the time :)

  6. Hi Erik,
    The title of this post got my attention when you posted it via JustRetweet and I must be honest with you, this is going to help lot of bloggers like me :)

    Btw: I just added free 2000 credits to your account via JustRetweet.

    Thanks for sharing,


    • Hi Valentine,
      thanks for visiting! :-)

      I am glad you liked the article,
      and I hope that it will help some bloggers to avoid nasty penalizations from BIG G.

      Thanks a lot for your comment and for the free credit in JustRetweet.

  7. Superb Points you have mentioned Erik. Really Superb Article. I want to printout this Lol :D

  8. Really brief article,

    I hope after reading this post, people could easily recognize the reason of Google penalty and avoid such bad activities.

    • Hi Aasma,
      this is the mission of this article. ;-)
      I hope it helps some bloggers not to be penalized by Google.

  9. I shall be noting these down or best, print these points out and paste it on the wall. Very important points and a must read for newbie bloggers. You really do not want to even think about the first 3 points !
    Thanks for the list Erik!

    • Hi Mushfique,
      you shall not be surprised to learn that there are many people who actually use services as the top 3 in this list!
      Google and its algo are changing more in the last 2 years, than since Google is started.
      And during the changes, we can see opportunities! ;-)

      Thanks for the comment and visit, Mushfique!

  10. Wow Erik, what a powerful and jammed packed post.

    I have not been penalized in either of these major updates that they’ve had mainly because I think I probably just didn’t know better if I must be honest. I knew I wouldn’t purchase any backlinks and I didn’t come online to do anything dishonest. So if it took my site some time to get noticed so be it.

    I think while reading through your list that the bad behavior and communication section really caught my eye. I mean really! I guess if people were to bad mouth Google they’d get pretty ticked about that. Heck, I probably would especially if those people were taking dishonest measures and then getting all ticked because they were penalized. It takes all kinds right!

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. Great tips, thanks.


    • Hi Adrienne,
      great to see you here!
      This blog saw many changes, since your last visit. Do you like the new layout? :-)

      I am glad you have not been penalized in the last major Google updates. You promised you will teach me how to get more organic traffic! ;-)

      I agree with you, that if if you behave yourself well (I would add in life as in blogging), you can feel secure and not worry about changes. And you can sleep well.

      • Hey Erik,

        I do like the new layout, it’s very clean and nice. I like that myself.

        I share all my secrets right on my blog, I’m an open book Erik! ;-)

        I’m with you, I prefer getting a good nights sleep and not worrying about having been dishonest in any way.

        • Adrienne,
          I am happy you like the new layout.

          I will search then for your “blogging secrets” in your site… ;-)

          I think this is the best way to do (in blogging as well in life), behave well and always sleep well!

  11. Your article is definitely near the top of every serious bloggers concerns. The best traffic is the traffic that requests you. If you can get that revered #1 position, you will not only get dedicated traffic; but, in many cases—individuals will see you as an expert. So, you receive visitors that ask to be at your site, and they perceive you to be an expert. Is it any wonder many of us live and die by SEO?

    Your tips are awesome. I was reading thru them, and nodding my head, making mental notes. A couple of them were so obvious. The one that caused me to LOL was #20. It reminded me of the successful bank robber who, after the fact, tips a tall one at the pub. There, he tells everyone within earshot the details, loudly bragging about the crime he just committed.

    • You’re right, David, the number 20 is very funny !

      I remember seeing the news on television : a criminal who had committed a crime and he boasted to his friends on its Facebook wall… obviously he was caught!

      If you need to do something risky against the law, at least do it in secret! And keep it hidden!

  12. khonsyed says:

    What is the SEO tactics called “Black Hat”? You mentioned it at the beginning of the article but I have no clue about it.

  13. Hello Erik,

    Great article! I think this new update from Google was much needed. Too many spammers out there!

    • Hi Cendrine,
      I think Google is doing a great job trough the web,
      with the fight against the spammers.
      This is a hope for a better internet in future. :-)

  14. I really enjoyed this article, Erik. Thanks to you, I now know what to avoid. Ultimately, Google’s aim is to make a better web for all and to have search results that are relevant, original and not plagiarized or spammy. Actually, I like Google’s Panda filter for this reason as it penalizes low quality content.

    • I love that Google is trying to clean the web. Too much SPAM.
      And too many webmasters making “easy money”, against the rules.

      Let’s hope for a better internet! :-)
      Thanks for the comment, Gazalla.

  15. These are great points, every one should be remember the algo of Google if they not they will panalized for sure… So this post thought us to don’t spam anyway…

  16. Gail Gardner says:

    I hope that in implementing #6 that Google does not make the ridiculous assumption that ANY links from sites written in other languages means they are black hat.

    Although the majority of Americans do not write in more than language, in the rest of the world it is quite common and they DO link to sites that are entirely in English on a fairly regular basis.

    I approve many trackbacks and pingbacks from blogs in other languages which most often link to the information about the GrowMap anti-spambot plugin your blog uses.

    Computers make errors. Algorithms cause collateral damage to innocent sites. Google is a monopoly that crushes competitors and their CEO announced years ago that their intention was to favor big brands which is the same thing as pushing everyone else off the first page.

    When will people wake up and STOP USING GOOGLE. There ARE many other search engines and other ways to find information. We need to seek out independent search engines and teach everyone we know about the importance of using them before Google narrows our choices to ONE – a goal they also publicly announced when they said their ideal would be to provide only ONE result for any search.

    They don’t even want to let US pick the search – they have Google instant do it for us. Wake up already, people, and preserve our ability to make choices. Start with and and any other INDEPENDENT search engine (i.e. not Microsoft’s Bing or Yahoo! either – but better those than always using Google)!

    • You should be able to control the trackbacks, to see if they are real or not . I do allow trackbacks, but I do not post them. I just check the blog which they come from and I post a thank you comment, if they are real.

      I think Google is making a revolution in the web, in order to increase the quality.
      Machines are not perfect, but men are even less perfect.

      I will without doubt continue to use Google as my favourite search engine!

      Thanks for the comment, Gail!

  17. Hey,
    Like some others who left comments, I came here through JustRetweet (which I joined yesterday) because of the great title. The article didn’t disappoint.

    I think that if you strive to meet people’s needs and desires and you aim at building a website for the people then you will be well on your way to building a site that Google likes. That being said, the desire for traffic, rankings, and money can easily cloud the judgement and get a webmaster with good intentions in trouble with Google. :-D

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Danelle,
      glad you liked the title and then the article content! :-)
      I do agree with you,
      any blogger who want to succeed with his website need to write first for the readers, and then pay attention to the Google basic rules.

  18. Hello. I don’t Have any Idea that google has a Penalty. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Excellent article. All of these point to one main thing: take time to build a blog/site with reputation for good reads and helpful/beneficial content. Too many bloggers want to ‘make it big’ via SEO in a few weeks/months and this is just NOT going to happen.

    • I do agree with you.
      In fact sometimes you see a recent born site with a PR3, and this is pretty hard to obtain just with natural links in few weeks.
      It takes time to obtain visibility among your niche, but if you can reach the authority, then you will achieve success.

  20. This newbie learned a lot form this post-thanks eric. One question is how do you know what is a good amount of backlinks or not?

    • Good question.
      Answer :
      the amount of backlinks which looks natural to Google eyes. ;-)
      So do not create 1000 backlinks one week, then nothing for one month, then again multiple links. You should be constant and remember to create DoFollow links as well as NoFollow links.

  21. Wikipedia proves that #10, “Too many external links or neither” is not true.

    • Erik Emanuelli says:

      Linking to useful resources, which help increase the user’s experience, does not hurt the rank of the website, even with dofollow links.
      So I guess the statement was not completely correct.
      Thanks for telling that, Tedel.

  22. Cool Article. Its an awesome post you’ve got here.

  23. purchasing 10000 links for $19 is surely not a good thing. don’t know why some people are involved with these kind of activities and then they end up losing their income and they are penalized by Google. you can not cheat Google, ever. it will find out every black HAT technique you are using. thanks for sharing this article

  24. Thanks for help i really appreciate your work for making a perfect guidelines for SEO techies ..If this guidelines are followed we are atleast one step closer to organic searches

  25. you have carve some of the best points for fresher or experienced SEO freaks …if you have want to be get a successful seo campaign these are the first guideline which you consider as completely no

  26. really nice articel ,may be 1 year old but still relevant

  27. well, found this article on stumbleupon, and definatelly worth time spent reading it. I know about 90% of those penalties, well, most of all are common sense and a lot of them are here for the last 6-7 years already, meaning you got to be a real noob to think that you can spend 19 usd for 10.000 links and you’ll be the king of the seo. I wasn’t aware buy the fact that ads shouldn’t be above the fold, I don’t agree with it. Google have it’s own methods now to deal with MFA sites, and not to give penalties to legitimate websites that are showing 1-2 ads above the fold.

    But once again, great article, I will save it to my bookmarks and recommend it to everyone I know that is interested in SEO.

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