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.

Comments (51)

Ryan Frost
Compass Lending Solutions, LLC - Draper, UT

Thanks for the info Lisa. Do you know of any websites that you could reference that are likely subject to filters or penalties?

Apr 21, 2011 05:23 AM
James Locklear
Online Marketing Advertising Consultant - Seattle, WA
Social Media Training , Virtual Services, Search Engine Optimization Lattitude - SEOL

Excellent info, elequent presentation, superior content - all is the norm from you!  Thank you, Lisa!

Apr 21, 2011 05:24 AM
Chris Mayr
D3 Interactive Marketing - Orlando, FL

Lisa,  Great stuff.  As frequently as the rules change in SEO, it is hard to keep up sometimes.

Apr 21, 2011 05:28 AM
Ken Patterson
TPR Properties - Rocklin, CA
Roseville Real Estate, TOP Rocklin Realtor

Great Info!  I am really starting to like the quest to better understand how to get a great web presence.  A lot of stuff out there...  Like having a complete other job!  Thanks for the info!

Apr 21, 2011 05:40 AM
Lisa Udy
Platinum Real Estate Group - Logan, UT
Logan Utah Realtor

Ryan - You can see a lot of discussion on penalties by visiting the Google Webmaster Forums. Here are a couple current threads discussing penalties and filters:

Hope this helps!

Apr 21, 2011 05:52 AM
Trang Beuschlein
Homes for Sale in Campbell CA- Broker-BKR Realty - Campbell, CA
Campbell CA Real Estate - Campbell CA Homes for Sa

Lisa, wow this is a great post with a lot of useful information!  I did not know any of this.  I've subscribed to your blog so I can continue to get more useful info.

Apr 21, 2011 05:52 AM
David Myre
VIP Realty - Dallas, TX

Congratulations of being featured for this great post. It's good to see you outside of REW...

Apr 21, 2011 05:53 AM
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California, Inc. - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude


Wow, that's a ton of great information that I'll need to read again, and again. I think I get most of it, adn I don't seem to have any issues. The duplicate content issue still seems fuzzy - I hear conflicting reports of whether this is a problem, where, and how. Thoughts on that?


Apr 21, 2011 06:14 AM
Dave Keys
MOVE UP in Google Search Learn How Here - Brea, CA
Chief Search Strategist Real Estate SEO Expert

This is all very good info and a good read too. Most folks who talk about penalties are really just dealing with filters. My SEO mentor is always telling me to keep my keyword usage down and diversified both on-site and in the anchor text of back-links. It's always tempting to try just a little more for that favorite phrase. I had one client who stayed buried until I increased the number of links with anchor text that contained something other than their primary keyword goal, getting the ratio to a more natural level.

Apr 21, 2011 06:26 AM
Greg McCown
Century 21 1st American - Tucson, AZ

Good information.  I have to admit it's a bit over my head, but at least now I know about it.  Recognizing ignorance is the first step, right?

Apr 21, 2011 06:40 AM
Bill Gillhespy
16 Sunview Blvd - Fort Myers Beach, FL
Fort Myers Beach Realtor, Fort Myers Beach Agent - Homes & Condos

Hi Lisa,   So much great information, so little time !!!

Apr 21, 2011 07:02 AM
Lisa Udy
Platinum Real Estate Group - Logan, UT
Logan Utah Realtor

Jeff - Hmm...well I know that duplicate content will show up sometimes and sometimes it won't. The reason? Beats me. I do know that excessive duplicate content on a domain is a bad quality signal. Google has been in the news a lot lately talking about quality content, but they don't give guidelines on what quality means. Many of the forums I read on SEO seem to all have the same conclusion that repurposed content, spun articles, and duplicate content are all signs of low quality causing Google to "Pandalize" the entire website. Pandalize meaning the new Panda update but I haven't heard of any real estate websites being affected by the update. Anyways, that's what I know and I do try to stay away form duplicate content as it's always better to have new fresh content for your readers which is the important part of SEO many times over looked. It's all about the user. 

Apr 21, 2011 08:14 AM
Robert Hammerstein
Christie's International Real Estate - Hillsdale, NJ
Bergen County NJ Real Estate

Lisa - Too much information for me to take into at one sitting.. Bookmarking and will be back... Very intersting stuff.. Thanks for sharing with us all....

Apr 21, 2011 08:42 AM
Kevin Kueneke
Caliber Home Loans - Encinitas, CA
San Diego Mortgage Banker

Thanks Lisa, I had wondered why a recent post completely disappeared after being the #1 result just a couple days prior.  Time to rework it!

Apr 21, 2011 11:16 AM
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

Lisa - Wow! I got most of that, which is so much better than a couple years ago, and yet I know I need to review it again for more.

Apr 21, 2011 03:44 PM
Toronto, ON

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.

Apr 21, 2011 05:32 PM
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. 

Apr 24, 2011 01:54 AM
The Somers Team
The Somers Team at KW Philadelphia - Philadelphia, PA
Delivering Real Estate Happiness

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

Apr 24, 2011 03:11 AM
Renée Donohue~Home Photography
Savvy Home Pix - Allegan, MI
Western Michigan Real Estate Photographer

Bookmarked to revisit in the near future!

Apr 24, 2011 07:10 AM
Ilan Bracha
Keller Williams NYC - Manhattan, NY
KW NYC/The Bracha Group, Manhattan


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!

Jun 02, 2011 03:16 AM