The Number One SEO Mistake That Can Crush Your Rankings

Something is definitely wrong.

Sales have come to a complete halt for the day.

So you log into your Analytics account and see that traffic has taken a complete nosedive.

What happened?

The dreaded algorithm update.

Ranking updates can have devastating effects as illustrated from the example above. One day your site could be ranking on the first page of your target keyword and nowhere to be found the next. Traffic to your pages can take a complete hit and cause sales to tank as a result.

SEO can be incredibly effective to increase rankings in the search results. But engaging in questionable tactics such as spamming links to your pages will eventually result in a ranking penalty due to the Penguin algorithm update. In fact, doing so is the number one mistake that we see business owners make.

Here is an overview of what Penguin is, link patterns to avoid, and how to remove bad links that could be harming your rankings.

What is Penguin?

Links were one of the strongest ranking factors.

But webmasters took advantage of that fact and began building links to their pages in mass to push their rankings up. Sites filled with spam were suddenly ranking on the first page for extremely competitive terms. Something had to be done so Google launched the Penguin update.

Here is a definition from the Wikipedia page:

The update is aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using now declared black-hat SEO techniques involved in increasing artificially the ranking of a webpage by manipulating the number of links pointing to the page. Such tactics are commonly described as link schemes.

Many sites that built their rankings from questionable tactics such as buying links or using tools to spam links suddenly saw their traffic disappear overnight. And make no mistake, your site could be the next target if you rely on such strategies.

Unnatural Link Patterns

The Penguin update looks at the following factors:

  • Link velocity: A sudden influx of links to your pages (e.g. thousands of links overnight) is a major red flag. If your site is relatively new, there should be a natural progression of links. Keep this in mind when you embark on a link building campaign.
  • Relevance: Google also considers the relevance of a link. If you are in the fashion industry, links from reputable fashion sites will carry far more weight than links from irrelevant sources. Too many of the latter will likely trigger the algorithm penalty.
  • Diversity: It looks unnatural if a majority of your links come from blog comments or forum posts. Ideally your site should have a natural mix of high and low quality links from different sources.
  • Anchor text: Anchor text is the text within a clickable hyperlink. One major indication of spam is if all links to your pages have the same anchor text which would be the keywords you are trying to rank for. Your link profile should have links with varied anchor text.

These can all be difficult to keep track of.

But ultimately what Google is really looking for is how natural your link profile looks. A sudden influx of links from the same source or anchor text that is all the same are indications of spam and likely to result in a ranking penalty. Not taking these factors into account is easily the number one mistake that we see business owners and marketers make.

Penalties could be less severe in some cases. For example, Google can discount the value of certain links (e.g. forum links, blog comments, etc.) and you could see a drop in traffic after an update. Your pages could still be ranking but it won’t be as high as before.

Removing Bad Links

Penguin continues to be regularly updated.

Even if your site has not been hit with a penalty due to having questionable links, it can still very well happen. So you will need to clean up your link profile to prepare your site for the next update. Removing unnatural links can be a rather time-consuming process but it is absolutely necessary to continue ranking.

First, you will want to use a tool such as ahrefs:


The tool shows you a complete picture of your link profile from where your links are coming from to the anchor text that is used. You can then do a comprehensive analysis to find low quality links such as those from spammy sources.

Once you identify these the next step is to remove them. Visit the site where the link is coming from and find the contact details of the webmaster. Then send an email to request that the link be taken down. In many cases, webmasters will remove the links but you may not get a response at all.

If there are simply too many bad links to your pages or webmasters are simply not responding, you can use the disavow tool which essentially tells Google to ignore certain links. Note that Google only recommends using this tool if you have a substantial number of spammy or low quality links to your site.

Losing links to your site will likely cause traffic to drop as a result.

But this is a much better alternative than to get hit with a ranking penalty as it can take weeks or even months to recover. In the meantime focus your efforts on attracting high quality links while cleaning up your link profile.


The number one SEO mistake you can make is engaging in questionable link building tactics.

The Penguin algorithm update is designed to look for any unnatural signs of link building such as a huge influx of links or anchor text that is all the same. Your link profile should look natural and have a steady progression of links from relevant sources. Make the effort to remove links from spammy sources and focus on attract quality links.