Have you been a good SEO all year long? If you’ve been fol­low­ing Google’s Web­mas­ter Guide­lines and cre­at­ing super help­ful, unique con­tent, the search engine might give you the great­est gift of all: organ­ic results.

But before you wait by the tree for those improved rank­ings, put down your cook­ies and milk. You might not see your web­site on the search engine results pages (SERPs) if you have been naughty this year!

Here’s six things that could put your URL on Google’s penal­ty list:

1. Copying a Page Verbatim, Without Permission

This one seems like a no-brain­er, but Google won’t be putting you at the top of its rank­ing tree this hol­i­day if you are steal­ing like a big, ol’ Grinch!

Even just copy­ing a few lines from anoth­er page shows the search engine that your con­tent isn’t unique. Your copied con­tent is like­ly tak­en from a source that’s already rank­ing (because that’s how you found it!), and you cer­tain­ly won’t be adding more val­ue than the orig­i­nal source by regur­gi­tat­ing what was already said.

You’re sim­ply not going to improve your organ­ic results this way, and you could be report­ed to Google’s DMC and be involved in legal action, if the theft is severe. Not exact­ly the best way to start the new year!

If you are pig­gy­back­ing on an idea from anoth­er source, be sure to give cred­it where it’s due by link­ing out. Then, get cre­ative with your per­son­al take on the mat­ter, using your words— not theirs.

Does this apply to post­ing your own writ­ten con­tent on dif­fer­ent domains? That’s called con­tent syn­di­ca­tion, and when done strate­gi­cal­ly, is very dif­fer­ent from steal­ing some­one else’s work. Google is smart enough to dis­cern the orig­i­nal source and won’t penal­ize you if you fol­low the steps out­lined in the linked arti­cle.

2. Misleading Redirects

If a page is already rank­ing well, some sneaky SEOs might try to steal that page’s link juice and author­i­ty by plac­ing a mis­lead­ing redi­rect on the URL. Black Hat­ters do this by dis­play­ing con­tent that’s dif­fer­ent than what Google’s crawlers see.

How does it work? Tricky coders can mask the redi­rect so that the search engine index­es the orig­i­nal page, not the new con­tent. Google (and San­ta) don’t like being lied to, and users don’t like being tak­en to some­where dif­fer­ent than expect­ed.

FIX IT: If you are redi­rect­ing a page, make sure you are send­ing users to a rel­e­vant page and not try­ing to trick the Google­bot or your audi­ence.

3. Shady Link Building

If you’re singing “All I Want for Christ­mas is Back­links,” you’re not alone. SEOs under­stand that a huge Google rank­ing fac­tor is back­links. In fact, it’s one of the eight rea­sons small busi­ness­es aren’t show­ing up on page one of the SERPs.

The prob­lem is, build­ing back­links takes time. Users nat­u­ral­ly link to your con­tent because they find it help­ful— and it can take months, or even years, to build a strong back­link pro­file for your domain.

Some­times, naughty SEOs don’t want to wait, so they find them­selves on Fiverr buy­ing mass back­links from some stranger in a for­eign coun­try, promis­ing “1,000 qual­i­ty links in 24 hours!” This effort to boost your PageR­ank vio­lates Google’s Web­mas­ter Guide­lines, qual­i­fy­ing as what the search engines calls a “link scheme.”

For those who break the rules, hope you like coal this hol­i­day. Not only will these sud­den men­tions alert Google’s algo­rithm of strange activ­i­ty, but Google will like­ly send you a mes­sage that Man­u­al Action has been tak­en to pun­ish your site, like the mes­sage above. You’ll have to dis­avow these bad links and then hope you’ll get back on good terms with the search engine once the Web­mas­ters reassess your site.

FIX IT: Ensure you don’t have spam­my back­links by fol­low­ing the instruc­tions under their “Unnat­ur­al links from your site” drop­down. Then, get links the right way with this expert advice.

4. Keyword Stuffing

When you flood your con­tent with a high vol­ume of key­words, you not only risk being seen as spam­my or inau­then­tic by your audi­ence, but you will face Google’s pun­ish­ment.

Key­word stuff­ing comes in many shapes and sizes, but it’s usu­al­ly engulf­ing your con­tent repet­i­tive­ly with one phrase or term, over and over.

This ties in heav­i­ly with our warn­ing against shady link build­ing, although the two don’t have to be exclu­sive. Cre­at­ing many key­word-heavy anchor text links is just ask­ing Google to penal­ize you, as the search engine will see your sus­pi­cious back­link pro­file.

If caught key­word stuff­ing red-hand­ed, the search engine might revoke your rank­ings. Remem­ber, the only kind of stuff­ing you want to do this hol­i­day sea­son is stock­ing stuff­ing, so avoid pack­ing your con­tent with exces­sive or irrel­e­vant key­words.

FIX IT: Rank with the right key­words by incor­po­rat­ing them appro­pri­ate­ly. It also helps to under­stand that Google is chang­ing the way it ranks— and while key­words still mat­ter, con­tent which address­es top­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion is tak­ing the lead on the SERPs.

5. Abusing Structured Data Markup

Elite SEOs think they can out­smart Google by manip­u­lat­ing their website’s code. Google Search uses this struc­tured data to enable spe­cial search result enhance­ments, like fea­tured snip­pets, which often rank above the organ­ic results on the SERPs.

Basi­cal­ly, these Black Hat SEOs some­times inter­lace strings of com­mands to tell the search engine how to orga­nize and pri­or­i­tize the data, think­ing they’ll game the rank­ing sys­tem.

They code the markup so that noth­ing is vis­i­ble to view­ers (only bots), to be sneaky— which is a big no-no in Google’s struc­tured data guide­lines. In many instances, the struc­tured data is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the actu­al con­tent, or is inten­tion­al­ly mis­lead­ing.

Let’s say you don’t even know how to do this, could some­one with pre­vi­ous access to your web­site have manip­u­lat­ed your code, hurt­ing your cur­rent rank­ings?

FIX IT: Give your team the gift of peace of mind this hol­i­day by run­ning your URL through Google’s Struc­tured Data Test­ing Tool. If there’s any naughty penal­ties, the search engine will bring them to light.

6. Duplicate Metadata

If you run a report through Scream­ing Frog’s SEO Spi­der or a sim­i­lar web­site screen­ing tool, you might be sur­prised to find that your domain has some­thing called “dupli­cate meta­da­ta errors.”

If all your meta­da­ta is the same, you’re not offer­ing a unique expe­ri­ence to tell users what your infor­ma­tion is about— and this dupli­cate data could affect your SEO and con­fuse view­ers.

Your meta descrip­tion, for instance, is served when­ev­er your site appears on the SERPs, to help users learn more about your com­pa­ny before click­ing through. If it’s not rel­e­vant or entic­ing enough, it could deter vis­its.

Or, if your images aren’t opti­mized with orig­i­nal file names or alt text, every file will look the same in the eyes of Google. Not to men­tion, if an image doesn’t load cor­rect­ly, the alt text will dis­play some­thing inac­cu­rate to view­ers.

FIX IT: Once you run your URL through Scream­ing Frog, replace your dupli­cate meta­da­ta with unique, rel­e­vant descrip­tions.

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