Do as Google says and get penalized

Over the years, Google has been telling webmasters to avoid manipulating their content and links to try to gain higher rankings. The advice has usually been along the lines of, “Do what is good for your readers.” In other words, we should ask ourselves, “Would I do this if Google did not exist?”

Of course, spamming has worked, at least in the short term. That is why people have continued to do it. And Google has waged a guerrilla warfare with spammers over the years.

But people could always get ahead as long as they made it look like they were doing things just for their readers. In other words, as long as it looked natural, and not automated.

  • If they were careful to vary the link text.
  • If they were careful not to have a thousand identical articles with the same resource box.
  • If they avoided link-exchange scripts.
  • If their content was “technically” unique (not the same content with just a couple words changed or synonyms substituted).

All that changed in what I call Google’s “Zoo Period“. Google unleashed pandas and penguins on the world, two black and white animals we usually associate with the words “cute” and “cuddly”.  But Google’s penguins and pandas are anything but cute and cuddly.

These two algorithms are delivering a hard strike at spammers.  The problem that everybody notices, however, is so much collateral damage of innocent websites and in particular that the small guy seems to be hit more than the big brands.

The problem that few people are talking about openly  is…

Webmasters are doing stupid things to please Google

Google’s advice that we should be creating web content for our readers, not for Google, is wise – at least in theory.

The problem is, that Google is now penalizing those very activities that we should be doing to make great websites for our readers.  Here are a few examples that I have noticed.

Content stuffing

Once upon a time, keyword stuffing was a big problem.  This was when people would just cram their keywords into their pages at an unnatural rate in order to gain an advantage in the search engines.  It made for hard-to-read pages.  People don’t do this too much any more; it no longer is considered effective.

Instead, they do content stuffing.

It seems that early results show that “thin content” (not many words on a page) can get a page into trouble with Google.  Worse still, several pages of “thin content” have been shown to drag down an entire domain. So webmasters and bloggers are rushing out in droves to beef up thin content pages, which typically would be any image-heavy page or blog posts with fewer than 100 or 200 words.  On one of my blogs, I have deleted a lot of old posts that were incredibly small.  Those posts were small for a reason, but they are gone now.  Others I have beefed up.

The problem that any writer worth her salt will immediately recognize, is that you cannot equate quality with word count.  In fact, a good writer seeks to streamline her content and use only those words that are absolutely necessary to convey the message.

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” So says William Shakespeare.

“It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.” So says Friedrich Nietzsche

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” So says Thomas Jefferson

“Stuff it!” So says Google?


So the Internet is being again polluted by low-quality content, just to keep it all above Google’s word-count penalty threshhold.  Will this finally be the end of all those Wordless Wednesday blog posts?  Will I have to add a whole lot of extra verbiage to posts like this, where the video pretty much says it all?  Or to posts like this where a picture is worth a thousand words (if only Google could read pictures)?

Retired shotguns

In any marketing campaign, you have three choices.

1. You can use the rifle or sniper approach, narrowly defining your target audience and delivering a message directly to them, for their eyes only.  If your market is very small and very well-defined, such as if you manufacture street signs or oxygen dispensers for hospitals, this is usually the best choice.

2. You can use the shotgun approach, spreading your message as far and wide as possible hoping to reach the largest possible market.  This is ideal if you are selling a consumer product that appeals to a wide section of the population, particularly if it has appeal across all ages, genders and income levels.

3. You can use some combination of the rifle and the shotgun.

Once upon a time, before Google was a household name, people used to do article marketing that encouraged syndication.  The idea was the more websites published your article, the more people would see it and the more potential visitors you would get.

If you could blast your article to 1000 websites for the same amount of effort as to one or two websites, who cares if nobody saw the article on half the websites.  What counted is that some people saw it on some of the websites some of the time.  If the article was rubbish, it was just web pollution.  If the article was riveting, the shotgun would pull in traffic.

If you’ve been around long enough, you might recall ads to “post your ad on 1000 websites”.  Again, the shotgun approach.  You have no idea which of those websites are actually worth posting on.  Maybe 10 of them will bring you traffic.  But if the cost is $25 and you end up making more than that from just one of the sites, already you have positive ROI.  This has nothing to do with search engines, by the way.  And this would never have made you rich.  But it is/was a legitimate part of a shotgun approach to marketing.

You can’t do that anymore.

No more syndication

Even before the Penguin, people were panicking over “duplicate” content and “spinning” their articles so that each instance of the article would be “unique”, at least in the sequence of words it would use.

But now, the matter of spinning versus duplicate content is a moot point.  Now the Penguin will bite you for all the low-quality websites linking back to your website.

Google has plugged the shotgun, so that now it backfires and injures webmasters!

What a mess!

The problem is that if you have an amazing article, it makes perfect sense to get it syndicated as widely as possible.  If posting it to one article directory brings in five great leads and posting it to another brings in three great leads, good business sense dictates that you should syndicate it as far and wide as possible.  You want to include instructions on your site saying, “Please copy my articles, with attribution and a link.”

The problem is that Google will get you for the duplicate content.

Then the Penguin will stomp all over you for the poor quality links.

Verbose blog comments

What’s next?  Already I am hearing the chatter about blog comments.  People are asking whether we have to make sure our comments are long enough?  I know that a lot of spam comments are short: “Nice site”.  But other spam comments are long-winded, such as this drivel I just pulled from the moderation queue:

“I actually wanted to type a brief word so as to express gratitude to you for some of the pleasant guidelines you are writing at this website. My extended internet look up has finally been rewarded with wonderful tips to go over with my guests. I ‘d assume that most of us visitors are unequivocally blessed to dwell in a very good place with so many perfect individuals with helpful secrets. I feel very much privileged to have encountered your entire web site and look forward to some more cool times reading here. Thanks once more for everything.”

When I leave comments, sometimes I am long-winded.  And sometimes I am short-winded.  Here are three examples I left on three different posts of the same blog, over time.




How long a comment depends on how complex a remark one wants to leave.  It is not a sign of quality but of complexity.  Hopefully this will never be a concern, but if current trends continue, it won’t be long before the next black and white animal comes charging out of the Googleplex to cause mayhem on the Internet.



  1. As a writer, it bothers me that word counts are increasingly long. Some subjects do deserve longer treatment. However, sometimes you just end up with fluff filler. It’s sad, but true.

  2. Ah, I care what Google does- after all, I do want my blog to be successful. (Now, if that only translated into revenue falling into our coffers…) But, I don’t do things just to satisfy Google.
    I try to maintain a conversation with folks who write blogs- and with folks who leave comments on my posts.
    Perhaps, if there were a 1:1 (or even 1:10) relationship between how Google regards these posts and comments and revenue, I may take more heed. But, for now, I’m hoping engaged readers and conversations will provide the impetus for folks to study what I have to offer their companies and persons to augment their wealth and reach.

  3. This is solid man. The only thing I’d say about the syndication thing is I don’t think getting it out to lots of sites is the same thing as duplicating it. You can still post your content to various places, I do this manually I’m not big on automation for stuff like this but I still post links on linked in groups, forums, forum signatures, social media, content sharing sites like hacker news, bizsugar etc. I think you would have to do a hell of a lot of this using all sorts of automation to get punished for it. I’m a huge fan of all the changes, it’s much better for us business owners to be truly focused on value and not on dodgy SEO tactics. I’m happy to leave those to the experts and just focus on quality and i’s working well for me and I think for 90% of others it will work for them too moreso than trying to outsmart bypass the system.

  4. Your article held my attention so much so that I read it at one stretch. The image of content stuffing was very apt. Regarding your view about wider syndication of article, I wonder how it will help you get more traffic without Google’s help to get you landed on article sites!

  5. What will zebra do?
    Google has grown up for sure and it does provide some great services.
    The challenge Google has is the same as each and every blogger has “How do You Stand Out”. What works today, may not work tomorrow.

  6. Alas, my comment may be either too long or too short, to the detriment of your well-considered SEO efforts! It’s a risk I’ll have to take because the Google zoo bugs me to no end. I have a rant brewing on it, but it feels as if Google is being a domineering control-freak and insisting that clearly they know the best way to run the internet and we should all just sit back and relax and “be great” and reap the rewards of their beneficence. I understand wanting to kill spam, but as long as there are people there will always be spam. Google seems to take spam personally – how dare we try to circumvent its perfect math! So they make rules and then go to great lengths to undo those rules. Argh! Ok, I think this is long enough so before I tread into too-long territory, I’ll just say – great post, food for thought and I guess we’ll see what happens!

  7. The nature of Google today is change… constant change with back and forth. It’s highly likely that all of the things mentioned here to do or not do will be flipped around tomorrow. Some of the stuff G says just isn’t true. Sometimes it makes more sense to focus on things that actually bring in the business and give G the heave-ho!

  8. I write my content to build connections and relationships with people online. I don’t tend to worry so much about the Google algorithms. Of course, my organic approach of building my audience one person (one heart) at a time is probably not seen in a positive light by internet marketers who are all about numbers, stats, data, and conversions. I always learned from my own mentors to write for people, not the search engines. Thanks for sharing this information here in this post.

  9. Dear David – We can all learn a lot by reading your blogs. Everything keeps changing due the the Google algorithms and rules as the big guns attempts to manipulate the system, and the bloggers have to respond in kind to reach their target audience. We are left in the lurch. Keep telling us your observations and providing solutions. All the best, Debby

  10. It’s almost a crime that one organization can call the shots on how a business constructs their website and/or blog pages so they can conform to the rules as dictated by Google. I suppose they have to do something to prevent come from scamming the system to get on that preferable page one of Google because of course that means revenue back to the business. Trouble is, it seems that today only the big boys/girls have the money and resources to stay abreast with all the changes so we lose site of some very good sources of informational websites.

  11. Everything is changing, that is Google’s motto, I pressume.

  12. Content has always been king, as long as it is quality and relevant.
    I agree with Tom Shiver though that there is too much change at Google recently. Leave it alone. There will always be a minority of people trying to game the system to get higher rankings, but only a minority.

  13. Hi David – I just reread this article again. It is worth a second reading. Some times we must search into our selves to find the answers. Do we want to play the game by the rules? Who writes the rules and do we have respect for that entity? Is there a higher power that abides by ethics and morals and self respect? In the end, I think writing your best by literary standards will come out ahead when all is said and done. Blessings, Debby

  14. I agree with Lisa–so much of it is about relationships!

    I never thought of the word count thing as much of a hardship. I honestly write pretty long anyway! I don’t mind a lot of these measures though. They do seem to have reduced the amount of crappy content that I’m seeing, even if it can be frustrating.

    I think what’s more frustrating to me is that sometimes I feel like you have to be a bit of a “personality” to really gain a following–that it’s not necessarily enough to just offer good content. If you’re not comfortable being a “personality” then you’ve got a little bit more of an uphill battle ahead of you.

  15. What about product pages which have one product (per page) with very little text?
    I can’t probably write a minimum of the (2013) required 300 words descriptions on every product?
    Does someone know an answer?

  16. I have read your article and its very interesting because I have gain some knowledge from that. As I know that pandas and penguins are two major algorithm of Google and they can penalized any web page or blog if we does not worked according to Google rules and regulations. I have read many blogs and article that provide information about the similar issue to avoid spamming and post relevant content but some guys make same mistakes because they want to make easy back links and they does not read whole article or blog. So, don’t do these kinds of mistakes because these mistakes can penalized your website. Quality is important for both Google and the blogger, its like a give and take scheme. If you post quality content then you take reward for the same.

  17. Great read. I will be looking back through all of my posts and deleting and as you stated beefing up some of them. It is unfortunate that they are penalizing domains this way.

    What are your thoughts on embedded videos without an article written around it?


  18. How can you follow the rules and get penalized? Google can be confusing at times.

  19. Google zoo has let animals go around to fetch the spammers. Well blogging is engagement with people so comments will keep coming either long winded or short winded. Doesn’t matter zebra comes or monkey comes because real blogging community would like to share and exchange views via comments. Only spammers will go away who were just commenting for sole purpose of links

  20. Another crazy situation. How can you follow Google yet get penalized for doing so?

  21. I watch Mat Cutts videos and he says some things are ok in moderation and some things are not, then suddenly things have changed but he fails to inform anyone! They just proceed to wipe innocent businesses down and never bring them back! Are we supposed to mind read whats going on in the guys head? I watched a video of him dressed as a stick man lastnight, whats all that about? Get a grip Mat for godsake!!!

  22. Hello, Google is updating their algorithms time to time. Everything is changing now. Quality and unique Content is always a king in SEO.

  23. Actually there is a 4th choice; do whatever you feel like doing and stop genuflecting to whatever any search engine says. For me, what I do with my website and what I do with my blogs are much different. Blogging allows me to write long form content and I just write and not worry about keywords and such. Way too much pressure, and if I don’t end up doing as well as someone else… well, I’ll just deal with that.