May 23rd 2019
Google Penalties and SMEs: A Study
Google penalties; you either love them or loathe them. At the end of the day, they are put in place for a reason: to ensure order is kept on the SERP, to prevent businesses that break the rules from reaching the highly coveted number one spot. However, Google penalties are far more complex than this, as a website may be struck with a Google penalty without even necessarily breaking Google’s rules...
Small to medium sized businesses are prone to falling victim to algorithmic penalties because they simply do not understand what Google wants to see on their website (content-wise), or have the resources necessary to compete with large companies, such as hiring a digital marketing agency. For instance, new businesses may decide to copy content from other websites (known as duplicate content) thinking that this is perfectly fine, however it can put your business at risk of being hit with an algorithmic penalty. This is prevalent across most professions, such as accountancy firms where 70% of content is deemed duplicate, according to our study.
It is this unknown “power” held by Google that causes so much worry for businesses, large and small, as it can have a detrimental effect on their business’ success, even if they aren’t exactly doing anything “wrong”. A simple push of a button can unleash an update across the search engine, resulting in a number of websites tumbling down the SERP for no clear reason.
Sadly, this happened to Rebecca Hay and her family’s brass and woodwind instrument business, whose main target audience is schools. Their website was unfairly hit by a Google algorithm penalty in August 2015, which severely affected her business and ranking. As a result of this algorithm change, her Google Shopping listings were suspended.
She said, “As an academic business, August and September are key trading months for us. These are the months in which the profit would be made to purchase our Christmas stock.” So, it is no surprise that her business was hit hard by this algorithm change. Rebecca sought help from a number of Google experts and her web hosting company, but no one could work out why her listings were suspended.
During this time, weeks of key trading were passing by and her business was still invisible. It was at this point that Rebecca realised just how dependent the business was on Google. Thankfully, at the end of September to early October, the company’s problem was identified. It was simply due to the price of the instruments not being displayed prominently enough.
She continued, "By the time it was resolved, the academic rush was over. It really damaged the company as the profit wasn’t there to put a sizable order in for the Christmas season."
This story is constantly echoed by various SMEs who have been hit by an algorithmic penalty and have seen their business crumble, despite not doing anything severely wrong.
Today, Google claims they are penalising fewer websites than ever before. However, they are still very much a talking point according to data by Google Trends. We discovered that despite the decrease in the number of penalties issued, there has been a sudden spike in searches of “Google penalty” between the period of December 2018 and April 2019, reaching the highest level since June 2017.
* Circled is April 2019. We have chosen to discount May as the results are incomplete.
Of course, this increase is due – in part – to Google’s core update in March 2019. However, the trend extends back to December, revealing a rise in searches well before the update began, or was confirmed on March 13th.
We conducted further analysis using Google Trends and uncovered that the highest interest in Google penalties can be found in nine main cities around the world:
After finding out that the capital city of England ranks first in the Google Trends data, we sought to investigate the relationship between Google and UK SMEs in more detail. Using the SEMrush “Keyword Magic Tool”, we found that in the UK alone, there are 2,098 “Google penalty” related searches each month, and 7,010 in the English-speaking world (Australia, Canada and the US). Interestingly, of all four UK English-speaking countries, almost a third (30%) come from the UK alone. As a result, this suggests that people are still very much concerned about Google penalties and may be wondering whether they have been issued with one themselves.
Thus, Reboot Online decided to survey 981 UK businesses to find out more about their views towards Google and penalties. Of those surveyed, there was a general consensus that Google has too much control, with almost three in four (73%) believing that Google “holds too much power” over the success of their business. As a result, 82% of SMEs believe Google should be more regulated to prevent businesses from being hit by a penalty out-of-the-blue, making them lose money and valuable customers.
Despite just 6% of SMEs surveyed being punished with a Google penalty, a third (33%) of SMEs knew of another business who has received some kind of Google penalty in their lifetime.
More often than not, this is the result of a simple change to Google’s algorithm. Updates, such as Penguin or Panda for instance, can immediately send websites plummeting down the search results without any reason at all. Unfortunately for businesses, Google does not tell you whether you have received an algorithmic penalty; instead you must figure out where you may have gone wrong and fix it. In this case, it is best to consult google penalty experts.
In our survey, over half of businesses (64%) believe it is unjustified that Google issues penalties to companies that can be highly detrimental to their business and livelihood.
What if the company wasn’t directly to blame?
This unfortunately happened to golf equipment company, Golfsupport.com, who fell victim to a Google penalty after their trusted SEO company used black hat links to increase rankings on the SERP. Golfsupport were completely unaware of this tactic being used until it was simply too late, and they had received a notification via Google Search Console.
As a result, in order to rectify this issue, MD of Golfsupport.com, Gary Swift, got in touch with Reboot Online to help them regain control of their business on the SERP. You can read all about his case study here, or watch his video on our YouTube channel:
Sadly, Golfsupport’s case is one of the most common reasons for getting a penalty. According to the businesses we surveyed, the most common reason for a Google penalty to occur is due to the fault of an outside company, such as an SEO agency. More often than not, the culprit is typically building dodgy backlinks to a website – a tactic used to yield quick results, but with a high risk of penalty.
The other reasons cited include:
- Aggressive advertising: 26%
- Duplicate content: 12%
- Offering no valuable/thin content: 9%
- Keyword stuffing: 4%
- Hacked website: 1%
If you are worried about Google penalties, or fear you may have been hit by one, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We are happy to assist you with our expert technical SEO and content services.