Google Filters Vs. Penalties - How To Fix Over Optimization And Restore Search Engine Rankings

Real Estate Agent with Platinum Real Estate Group

Have you ever been told that Google will penalize your site for this or that? Most of the time, when your site disappears from the rankings, it's been filtered not penalized. A filter is very common and easily overcome if you know what to do.

A penalty is something that takes more time depending on the severity of the infraction. However, if you have a penalty, you can still get back on your feet if you fix the problem and let Google know what you did to fix it. If the problem was removed from your site correctly, Google will usually allow your site to resurface after a certain amount of time. So what's the difference between a filter and a penalty, and how do you fix it? 


Search Engine RefereeGoogle Penalties Vs. An Algorithm Filter

A penalty can be both manually done by a Google engineer (usually done with a spam report filed by someone) or algorithmically by Google's secret ranking sauce.

Common penalty situations include:

  • Doorway pages or hidden text.
  • Buying links or selling links.
  • Excessive reciprocal linking.
  • Over-optimizatized anchor text.
  • Link schemes & cross linking.

As real estate agents, most of these don't apply to us as I think most of us don't even know how to do most of them! In fact, Google penalties are rare for the average website, and usually a site owner knows exactly what they did to deserve it.

However, many real estate websites are suffering from filters from some common SEO mistakes. Things like keyword stuffing, duplicate content, and over optimization, can cause a filter. An over-optimized site, or a keyword stuffed page, is filtered by Google's algorithms automatically, and can be overcome if you fix your pages using these guidelines.


Over Optimization Filter Vs. Manual Penalty

The most common filter applied to real estate websites is the over optimization filter. This filter will drop a page to the bottom of the search results. You can often tell a page has been filtered if you notice a page previously ranking in the top 10 suddenly drops out of the search results or towards the bottom.

A manual penalty is applied by a Google engineer and is site-wide. Your entire website will be bumped back usually around 3 to 4 pages. If you continue to do the tactics that imposed this manual penalty, your site could be banned from the index entirely. Let's talk about each of these and how to fix them.

Testing For A Search Engine Filter


Overcoming the Over-Optimization Filter

I've seen this myself on websites I've run. It happened after I wrote a couple of new pages. They initially were in the top ten spots and a few days later they completely disappeared.

I was baffled so I went studying to find out what happened. Turns out, as I was new to SEO, keywords stuffed in every nook and cranny aren't such a good thing! 

Here is a great video by SEOMOZ on the over optimization penalty: On Site Over Optimization


How To Test Your Website For An Over-Optimization Filter

  • Did a few select pages disappear from the search results?
  • Is your website still indexed? (Test this by typing in
  • Are your pages using excessive keywords in the title tags?
  • Are your pages using excessive keywords on page?
  • Are you using excessive keywords in the URL? (Example -
  • Abuse of H1, H2, H3 tags? 
  • Excessive interlinking using unnatural anchor text. (Used Cars, Used Cars For Sale, Used Cars For Sale City, Used Cars In City, etc...)
  • Does your website have a massive amount of navigational links? (Usually anything over 100 is bad.)
  • Is your content on multiple websites or not very unique? 
Fixing A Search Engine FilterIf you feel your website is participating in any of these practices but you don't have a problem with a filter it could be a number of reasons. You may have some strong in-bound links off setting the filter causing your web page to be above the threshold.

This filter is applied differently in different markets and for different search terms. You're website may also have enough trust and authority that you get away with some of these practices. 

Fixing An Over Optimized Page Suffering From A Filter

  • Clean up the title tag. Each page should be optimized for one to two keywords, anything over that can get you're page filtered. Example: Keep your title tags under 70 to 80 characters and only use the most specific keywords that describe the page.
  • Have someone who knows nothing about SEO read your page. Did it seem natural to them? If not remove excessive keywords and clean up your page for a user, not a search engine. 
  • Are your URL's filled with keywords? Recent data released by SEOMOZ on rankings and correlations show that the more characters in a URL, the lower the page ranks. You can see the full study here: Search Engine Ranking Factors - Keep your URLS's short and to the point!
  • You shouldn't really have more than one H1 or H2 tag on a page and keep your H3 tags minimal if possible.
  • Use internal links wisely. I've heard from multiple sources that you should keep internal on page links under 10 if possible. That means you shouldn't have a footer on every page with 100's of links pointing to every keyword you can imagine. 
  • Try to keep navigational links below the 100 mark. Matt Cutts says that anything over 100 could be excessive. I don't think this is a huge factor as there are millions of sites breaking this rule. However, if you can remove a few links that you don't think are necessary, it won't hurt you.
  • Remove all duplicate content or add more fresh and unique content to a page that is struggling to bounce back. Sometimes you just need to add some more content for a page to bounce back from this filter. If you have duplicated content, remove it or rewrite it to give the page a fresh look.
Are You A Bad SEO? Naughty!

Overcoming A Manual Website Penalty

This penalty is a site-wide penalty meaning your entire site's rankings will be dropped by four to six pages depending on the your previous rankings and the severity of the penalty.

This penalty is applied by a Google engineer due to a spam report or because your website was reported. (Usually by a competitor!) These problems are usually one or more of the following:
  • Hidden text or hidden links to deceive search engines.
  • Cloaking Or Re-Directs - Serving different pages to bots and users for rankings.
  • Using automated tools to check rankings or to send queries to Google.
  • Loading pages with spammy and irrelevant content including spun machine articles.
  • Creating multiple domains with similar content for interlinking and link schemes.
  • Excessive reciprocal linking or three way links schemes.
  • Selling or buying links to manipulate search engines.
To overcome this penalty you'll have to clean up your website and file for a re-inclusion request. This is done through Google Webmaster Tools. Before you file a request, you have to fix the problems that cause the penalty. You should know if you've been handed a manual penalty as these tactics are fairly brazen. 

Sorry for the long post, but if you feel your pages aren't ranking like they should, you're probably over doing it on the SEO front. Refrain from spamming keywords, using duplicate content, heavy internal linking, and over use of anchor text. If you follow these simple rules you shouldn't have to worry about any kind of Google penalty or filter.

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Marc Swartz
CPA, CA - Toronto, Durham & York Regions, Ontario

Hi Lisa - This is a very informative well-written post for us.  I am bookmarking it so I can refer to it as I go through a redesign of my website.

April 22, 2011 12:32 AM
Anonymous #49
Liz M

Lots of information.  WOW.   I'm trying to figure out this SEO, and so far, I'm not seeing much.   It seems the only way to get on the top of Google for Home Stagers is to buy the PPC. 

April 24, 2011 08:54 AM
Christopher and Stephanie Somers - Realtors - Philadelphia Real Estate
Realtor / Owner - RE/MAX Access

Lisa is a SEO queen !  Featured in " Build a Better Blog " group !

April 24, 2011 10:11 AM
Renée Burrows
Las Vegas Real Estate Broker -
Savvy Home Strategies Realty, LLC-REALTOR®-Estate-Probate

Bookmarked to revisit in the near future!

April 24, 2011 02:10 PM
Ilan Bracha
KW NYC/The Bracha Group, Manhattan
Keller Williams NYC


Your posts regarding technology are always so informative.  It's obvious you put a lot of research into these topics and I for one greatly appreciate your doing so--I intend to re-read and store away this information for future use!

June 02, 2011 10:16 AM
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Lisa Udy

Logan Utah Realtor
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I am a full time real estate specialist in Logan Utah. I have almost 9 years of experience in the real estate business. If you need help selling or buying a home feel free to contact me. If you have any questions about the Cache County real estate area I would love to help. If you would like to just chat about the current market send me an email, and I would be glad to share my expertise in our local market. For those of you who are bored and wanna gime me some flack, give me your best shot! Subscribe to Logan Utah Real Estate by Email

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