Google has announced a new change to its webmaster policy – from now on, if your website gets a manual penalty, it may not get a second chance to dominate the listings.
In a change that is designed to hurt black hat SEOs more than the Penguin and Panda updates, Google has stated that it will no longer tolerate those who repeatedly breach Google’s webmaster quality guidelines.
The announcement was made on September 18, 2015, in a blog post on the official Google webmaster central blog: Repeated violations of Webmaster Guidelines. Unlike many of the blog posts that appear on the webmaster central blog, this was written anonymously. Being banned by Google is every webmaster’s worst nightmare and some people take it very personally, so it’s no surprise nobody wished to put their name to the change in policy!
Why the Change Now?
In their blog post, Google says that the change in policy is to further improve the quality of the search results. Google has carried out many major changes over the last five years that have made great progress in improving search quality, but one problem still persists – some people are still gaming the search engine.
Google started cleansing the SERPs with the Panda series of updates. These penalised websites that had low quality, poorly written, duplicate and thin content pages. The old SEO trick of creating a new page for each target keyword and filling it with spammy, keyword stuffed text was over.
Google followed this with a series of updates that tackled the problem of link spam – the now infamous Penguin updates. Suddenly, SEO was no longer about getting more links that the competition. Links now have to be earned, and acquired from very high quality sources. The inner workings of Penguin are still unclear, but it seems that just about every easy-to-get link is now devalued – many are probably totally worthless. Directory links, comment links, blogroll links, forum signatures etc. are now deemed by many to be ineffective for SEO.
However, some SEOs are still doing very well because although Google has improved its search algorithm. With some careful planning and some excellent links, you can still rank well. In short, unnatural links are still working for many people.
Google works hard to identify and manually penalise websites that buy or sell links. Whenever Google has good evidence that somebody has been selling links to pass PageRank, it applies a manual penalty.
However, in these cases, manual penalties are easy to recover from. All you need to do is remove the links (or add a nofollow attribute) and submit a reconsideration request, explaining how very sorry you are and beg to have the penalty lifted. In the past, Google trusted webmasters enough to grant them their wish, and would lift the penalty.
Unfortunately, some webmasters have exploited this and, after having a reconsideration request approved, they would start selling links again or remove the nofollow tags. This is Google’s main bugbear at the moment, and this latest change in policy directly tackles this problem. Google says that it will no longer tolerate webmasters who repeatedly breach its quality guidelines.
Google has not said exactly how harshly it will treat repeat offenders, saying only in its blog that “repeated violations may make a successful reconsideration process more difficult to achieve”. In some cases, Google may still allow a website to recover – but in other cases, there may well be no way back in the SERPs after a repeat offence.
We have already seen some websites, most notably known link sellers, completely drop out of the Google index. We predict that in the future, more sites will suffer a similar fate. If you are not a white hat SEO, take heed – your days may be numbered!