Most companies at this point understand the power that Google can have over them. Ranking well on Google means traffic to your website and potential new customers for your business. The ability to rank #1, or even on the top page, for certain search terms and keywords can drive significant and highly targeted traffic worth thousands or even millions of dollars a year towards your company website. In fact, some keywords are so valuable that businesses pay more than $50 just for a single click with paid advertising.
While there are lot of things you need to do correctly to rank well for your targeted keywords, all of that can be undone if you have too many "red flags" as well. Even an expert website with tens of thousands poured into content and marketing can have those efforts undone with mistakes that heavily penalize the site regardless of what has been correctly.
To avoid losing all the hard work and effort that you've put into your site, make sure to keep an eye out for these red flags, and fix any that you identify as quickly as possible.
1. Low-quality links
A now-defunct but once highly popular digital marketing technique involved accumulating links from a variety of less than reputable sources. One method was to simply spam vast numbers of websites asking for links, often offering "link exchanges" as incentive. In other words, each site would link to the other. While this worked for a while, it was problematic for a number of reasons. First, the websites that were linked to one another rarely had anything to do with each other, which made the value of the link for website traffic negligible at best. The other problem with this method (when it worked) was that websites which engaged in this type of practice would rank well for keywords, instead of websites with high-quality and relevant content which chose not to engage in this type of behavior.
This was bad for users because the best content on the Internet was being buried by websites that had found and exploited this loophole in Google's algorithm. It was also bad for Google, since their reputation as a reliable place to find content was in jeopardy. Google made aggressive moves to fix this, which is why their Penguin updates are typically designed to punish bad links and reward good content. Today, those very same link building tactics can cause your website to be red flagged by Google, leading to one or more months of severe ranking penalties.
2. Using "noindex" Tag
There are occasionally times when it might make sense for a web page to not be indexed. However, those reasons tend to be few and far between, and are best left to SEO experts. However, it is possible to accidentally have some or all of your web pages set up as "noindex", which essentially is an instruction for Google not to index them. Having pages set up as noindex will clearly impact those specific pages, but it can also put a red flag on the entire website. Some website building platforms, such as Wordpress, have the ability to toggle this on or off. Make sure to have an expert check to make sure that no web page is accidentally set to noindex. If you're using your own platform, make sure the developers know that "noindex" isn't on for any of your web pages.
3. Too many broken links
A "broken link" is simply a link that doesn't go to a live page. There are lots of reasons this can happen, from a typo in the URL to a web page that has moved, or even a website that is no longer live and active. Whatever the reason, Google dings websites that have broken links on their pages. If you have an overabundance of broken links, this can indicate to Google that your website doesn't put enough effort into vetting links, and it can result in a red flag and long-term penalty of the site overall.
It's also important to continue auditing your website even after taking care of the broken links. Since links break and get moved all the time on the Internet, links that worked at the time of your broken link audit might not be working a month later. By auditing your website for broken links at regular intervals, you'll avoid Google's broken link penalty.
4. Keyword stuffing
Back in the early 2000s, it was common practice for website to "stuff" the pages with as many keywords as possible, often at the expense of grammar and relevance to the reader. Like the low-quality link issue mentioned earlier, this practice had the dual impact of diminishing the user experience by putting low-quality websites at the top of search pages while also hurting Google's reputation. As a result, Penguin updates have become better and better at identifying legitimately placed keywords versus keywords that have been "stuffed" onto a page. You can avoid this simply by publishing unique content that has an eye on keywords without writing around them.
At the same time, you don't want to ignore keywords entirely. The point to remember here is that keywords should flow naturally with the content itself. The average reader shouldn't pause when they come across a keyword, and they should add to the content (by addressing specific things the audience will be curious about) instead of being a distraction.
5. Slow website speed
One of the fastest ways to have Google red flag your website is to have a slow load speed. In fact, every second that a page takes to load costs traffic and conversions. In order to prevent slow website speed, it's important to have a reliable host (your own if possible) that can handle the amount of traffic your site receives even during peak hours.
These are just a few examples of the many ways that Google can red flag your website. One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to conduct a thorough website audit, either using an online service like SEMRush or by hiring an SEO team that specializes in audits. It's important to protect the investment you've made in your website, so keep an eye out for any indication that Google is penalizing your website and take proactive steps to reverse it as quickly as possible.