Financial advisers are not immune from Google Penalties. They can and do sometimes occur. It pays dividends, therefore, for financial advisers to be mindful of how to tread when it comes to your website.
A Google Penalty is applied to a financial adviser’s website when Google finds the website in breach of its Webmaster Guidelines. The particular reasons for a penalty’s application are numerous, and the effects of each penalty can vary from relatively harmless to completely devastating. Indeed, in the worst case scenarios a Google Penalty can push your website out of the search engine results completely.
In this guide, we are going to outline some of the main Google Penalties that exist, how to avoid them, and what to do if you find yourself on the receiving end of one.
Since 2012, Google has put more resources into Google Search Console (previously known as Webmaster Tools), using it to communicate with website owners. It is typically here – within your GSC account – where you will find notifications an “warnings” from Google about your financial website.
Some of these warnings can concern specific, “black hat” techniques which webmasters have actively employed on their website – which have been spotted by the Google Search Quality team. Other warnings are more to do with errors of “omission”, where a website owner has failed to take necessary actions (e.g. to secure their website).
In light of this, it is very important for financial advisers to have a GSC account, linked to their website. This is the place where Google will contact you about any problems they find with your website. Not all notifications from Google in your GSC account are related to Google Penalties, but they are almost always important. For instance, it might be that one of your services pages is experiencing indexing issues, causing it not to show up in Google Search Results. Whilst not technically a Google Penalty, you would still want to know about that in order to take corrective action.
That said, here are some important “on-page” violations that Google might tell you about through GSC:
#1 Major & Pure Spam
If you get a message from Google about pure spam, it means it has found a page (or set of pages) on your financial website which it regards as completely spammy. By the time you read such a message, in all likelihood your website will have already disappeared from Google’s search results. So it’s crucial that you never let things get to this point.
Avoiding such a penalty is fairly straightforward. Keep away from scraped content, and avoid stuffing your website full of irrelevant, low-quality outbound links. Make sure your content is comprehensible.
If you have suffered the Penalty, then you only have a few options. One is to completely redesign your website on a new URL, and build your search engine results back up over time. The other option is to redress the issues on the harmful pages, in light of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Once completed, you can then submit a reconsideration request to Google. They may, or may not, accept it.
#2 User-Generated Spam
This is unlikely to affect financial advisers, whose websites are fairly small. Really, user-generated spam tends to occur on larger, user-driven websites. However, it can still happen – especially if you have any area of your website where users can interact with your content (e.g. a blog comment thread).
If you get a message about user-generated spam, it is important to not ignore it. The message shows that Google believes your website holds value, but is not being taken care of properly and therefore harms the user experience. To deal with it, you have a few options.
One good idea is to make sure your discussion/forum software is not out of date, especially with regards to security patches. Use moderation software to block inappropriate/spammy words from users’ posts. Subject new members’ posts to editorial review prior to publishing, therefore allowing the user to prove their trustworthiness beforehand.
You might also want to consider banning people from being able to post links in your comments threads. Or, if you allow links you might want to set them by default to “no follow”.
#3 Unnatural outbound links
Some websites try and make money by selling links on their pages to other websites. In our opinion, financial advisers themselves are unlikely to do this (you have better ways to make money!). However, you could attract the penalty if you have someone inexperienced on malicious inserting numerous, irrelevant and low-quality outbound links throughout your financial website.
Fixing this problem is relatively straightforward. Simply remove or “no follow” any links Google has stated they have an issue with.
This is possibly the most commonly-experienced Google penalty by financial advisers. It results as a consequence of several, unnatural links pointing to your website from other websites.
Google generally regards inbound links to a financial adviser’s website as a positive signal, provided that link appears relevant and freely given. For instance, if a prominent online newspaper linked to a blog you have written (because they see it as useful further reading for their users), then Google is likely to push that blog higher up in Google search.
The problem occurs, however, when financial advisers simply pay other webmasters to link to their own website – in an attempt to manipulate Google search. Such a tactic, if it worked, would reward companies in the search engines who have the biggest wallets – not necessarily the most helpful, valuable content for users to consume.
The way to avoid a Google Penalty from dubious backlinks is to get your financial marketing agency to conduct regular backlink audits of your website. Any links which Google takes issue with, you or your agency can contact the relevant webmasters and ask them to remove them. Failing that, you can choose to disavow the links using a .txt file.