Is your SEO provider about to get you penalized? Hopefully not, but there is a chance it might. It is too easy to put up a website and advertise SEO services without actually knowing what they are doing. There are also marketers out there who don’t keep up with Google best practices and still use old methods that are ineffective.
If you have never been hit with a Google penalty, let me just tell you it is an experience like no other. Your heart falls into your stomach, you become short on breath and your eyes start to hurt from staring at your computer screen wondering what happened. It’s not a good feeling and one that you never want to experience. Even worse, when potential clients or partners look you up on Google and see you’ve been penalized, kiss your reputation goodbye.
As you plan your SEO strategy for the year, here are four things to watch out for. If any of these are happening, there is a good chance you are on your way to a Google penalty.
1. Linking to your homepage
First, there is nothing wrong with including homepage links into your backlink strategy. However, it must be done the right way.
Some people still believe that acquiring more links to the homepage of your website will help that website rank higher. Those people are still living in 2005. Google doesn’t rank websites. It ranks pages. That is why you need to link to quality content within your website and not the homepage.
A sure sign that your provider is doing things wrong is if they link your homepage to an exact match keyword. For instance, linking the term “SEO provider” to the homepage of an actual SEO provider.
Exact Match Anchor Text + Homepage Link = Road Leading to Google Penalty
Homepage links are fine if they are done naturally. The only “natural” way I see homepage links is if it is branded (e.g., the article is talking about a specific company and links to the homepage of that company) or a quote that links to the homepage of the person giving it (even this is iffy as some black-hat marketers are oversaturating Google links from quotes).
If you only have a homepage and product landing pages on your website, it is time to start reevaluating your marketing plan. Start a blog and generate quality content that people want to read. This is the only way to ensure quality links to your site.
2. Link farms and wheels
A link farm is nothing more than a series of websites set up by an SEO provider for the purpose of creating backlinks to specific sites. They are created using free platforms such as WordPress or Blogger and really have no value other than trying to manipulate search results.
A link wheel is when a marketer links to a money article (your website) from others. The articles linking to the money site are then linked from other articles which also link to the money site.
Try not to discredit link wheels right off the bat. Some SEO specialists are able to use link wheels without incorporating link farms. This can still be an effective method of backlinking and also occurs naturally with high quality content.
When an SEO provider is able to acquire a backlink for you, ask if they own the property where the link originates. If so, it is likely a link farm.
When an SEO provider says they use link wheels, ask them if they are using link farms or if they are engaging in white-hat link wheel tactics.
Related: The Biggest SEO Mistake Is Lack of Distribution
3. Linking from penalized websites
You never want to be linked from a website that is sandboxed by Google. These sites are sandboxed for a reason and having links from them will not do you any favors with Google. You want links from sites that are trusted by Google, not penalized by them.
Ask your SEO provider how it determines which sites to acquire links from. Then ask how it vetted that site. If the company uses sites such as Pixelgroove or Moz, you are likely in good hands.
I want to point out that although penalty checkers can give you a good indication of a penalty, only webmasters know if they have been penalized. Notification of manual actions are provided to webmasters through Google Webmaster Tools.
I recommend getting a full list of links that have been acquired and do your own independent check.
You should also have your provider supply you with a list of websites for link acquisition in case there are any on there you want to vet before moving forward.
4. Buying links
You should never purchase links. This is a violation of Google policies and is one of the top reasons websites get sandboxed. Links should come naturally and can be accomplished through valid link acquisition strategies.
So what is a valid link acquisition strategy? There are many guides out there with white-hat link building methods, but basically it involves outreach. You must find link opportunities and then reach out to those properties and suggest your link.
Some SEO companies are outsourcers. They get your business and then go to Upwork or another freelance website and buy links at a discount to what they charge you. So now you are putting your website in the hands of a third-party who you never hired in the first place.
Long story short, buying links means you are entering the room of black-hat marketers. You will likely end up with links that violate all the issues highlighted herein. You will have some that use exact match anchor text to homepages, some that use link farms, and others that will link from websites that are already penalized by Google. All of which are things you want to avoid in the first place.
Check with your provider and make sure they are acquiring links for you using white-hat methods, including incorporating link diversity techniques. Any method that uses link buying should be discontinued immediately.
Related: Google's New Mobile-First Index and the Death of Desktop SEO
These are just four of the methods I think are most important. Many SEO providers still use these methods. Why spend your money on an “expert” when in the end they will get you de-listed in search rankings instead of ranking you higher?
The SEO landscape is continuously changing, making it increasingly difficult to know what not to do. There are plenty of other methods that I did not cover that will likely get you penalized. I would love to hear the ones you feel are important to avoid.