Much has been written about how to avoid a Google penalty but is it all hype? Is there really an issue? There are many banner ads and spam Emails proclaiming they have the solution to so the called toxic links issue but are they simply using fear and misinformation to generate sales.
Of course it is true Google implemented their now famous Panda and Penguin algorithm updates to clamp down on dubious backlink practices. Just recently they also announced updates to counteract fake rich snippet schemes but does this mean generating backlinks and creating rich snippets should be avoided – absolutely not.
Historically, Google (and the other major search engines) used the number and quality of incoming links (backlinks) to a website as a key measure of the authority of that site. However, generating relevant (high quality) links to influence a website search ranking is difficult and time consuming. This resulted in the rise of many dubious (link wheels, purchased links, reciprocal links etc.) schemes designed to game the system and gain an advantage.
If a website used one or more dubious link schemes in the past then, if spotted by the Google algorithm, the site may receive a penalty (a significant drop in the position on the search pages). If this happens recovery in the short term is difficult and in some cases impossible. Does this mean link building is no longer a valid practice? The opposite is in fact true, all that has changed is that Google has clamped down on automated link building schemes and moved the emphasis to quality of link versus quantity.
Link recovery schemes (methods to identify and remove penalised links) can help but to clean up a website that has used links schemes can take significant effort and they therefore come at a considerable cost. On the other hand a website that inadvertently picks up a few poor quality links is unlikely to be penalised and paying to have those links identified and removed is not cost effective.
Much of the comment on backlinks is over hyped as is the more recent chatter about rich snippets. The issue is exactly the same, there is nothing wrong with rich snippets but to indulge in automated / spammy rich snippet processes to try to obtain an unjustified position on the search engines is likely to be picked up by Google and penalised.
So in conclusion the so called Google penalty does exist and it can have a serious impact on a website position on the search pages but the solution is simple – don’t indulge in quick fixes or automated processes. New, bright shiny objects are to be avoided and if someone offers some quick fix in search engine marketing then it is almost certainly going to have a significant negative impact in the medium to long term. Ignore the hype, ignore the quick fixes, ignore those trying to make a quick buck by spreading fear and misinformation and build success based on best practice over the medium to long term.