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How to avoid Google penalising your charity web site

Many charity and nfp websites may suffer a drop in visitors due to recent changes that Google has made. The latest updates to the way that Google ranks pages for search results is designed to penalise so called Content Farms. These are sites are created quickly and cheaply to capture and monetise web traffic. Typically they have lots of poor quality pages and poor user experience. The problem is that many charity sites have similar characteristics to Content Farms, so may be accidentally penalised.  The impact of this is that your site may appear lower down the rankings.

Things you'll need

  • Google Analytics which gives data on visitors to your site, pages viewed, time on site, etc.
  • Google Webmaster Tools. This tells you how Google sees your site and how is doing on the web. Both are free.

Why should I bother?

Google is the biggest source of traffic to most UK charity websites - typically between 50% and 70% of all visitors. Being penalised means your pages will appear further down the listing which means that significantly less visitors will see and select your pages.

It makes sense to keep your site content properly optimised and organised. Visitors who land on poor quality pages are unlikely to stay and may well conclude that the site as a whole is of poor quality. If you went to a supermarket and found hundreds of badly organised aisles you would soon go somewhere else. Visitors to your site may well form the same impression and do the same thing.


How can I find out if my site has excess pages?

You need to find out how many pages google has indexed for your site and compare that to the actual number of pages on your site.

  • Check how many pages google has indexed for your site by using the site operator. Put into the standard Google search box `` ( replacing with the address of your site). Immediately under the results you will see the number of pages that Google has indexed for your site in the form [About 11,111 results (0.11 seconds]
  • To find the real number of pages on your site check in your Content Management System (CMS). Alternatlvely log in to your Google Analytics (GA) account and look in Content > Site Content > Pages > Page Title. This assumes that all `real` pages have been given individual page titles. For greater accuracy remove or amend duplicate page titles. Note the numbers supplied by the CMS and GA may not be the identical.

The difference between the results that you get using the Site Operator and your CMS or GA will give a clear indication of the extent of the problem.


    What may be causing the problem?

    There are many reasons why excess unecessary pages are created. Indeed one of the reasons this has become such a big problem is that there are so many hidden causes without obvious visible signs.

    One major cause is the creation of multiple versions of a page each with separate parameters. eg urls `www.mysite/dir/newpage` and `www.mysite/dir/qid=1?newpage`. Here we have two versions of what are effectively the same page. Parameters are used legitimately - for example to enable site search. Problems arise when the pages that result from each site search, which often use parameters such as `?` and `=`, are indexed by Google. Another example is the automatic creation by a 10 year event calender of a separate page for each day.


    How do I eleminate these excess pages?

    Unless you are happy getting into some technical details of your site and your CMS, you will need to work with your CMS supplier and web development team. However you can easily learn to use and work with Webmaster Tools (WMT). This gives lots of useful information about your site plus access to the the robots.txt file. Robots.txt allows you to block access to any sections of your that you do not want indexed.

    Once you've identified he main causes of the problem, it is usually possible to eliminate them quite quickly, although to eliminate all the causes of duplication can take time. Once you have good practice in place for site layout and new pages then there is less likehood of being accidentally penalised by Google.


    How do I know if my site is providing a poor user experience ?

    Review site experience KPIs such as Pages Viewed per Visit, Time on Site, and Bounce rate. If your site has an overall Bounce rate in excess of 60% or if you have site sections or many popular pages with this kind of Bounce Rate you need to investigate.

    The number of Goals completed for things such as Time on Site, Pages Viewed, pdf or other downloads, Videos Viewed, etc gives a clear indication of what users engage with - or not.  


    How to improve the experience that visitors have?

    Deleting the excess pages will improve overall experience KPIs. However sitewide averages does not give you actionable data. For that you need to identify the popular individual site sections and pages with poor KPIs. To improve the experience that visitors have you should:

    • make clear the purpose of each page
    • ensure that pages are properly optimised for the target visitors.

    Charity sites usually have good quality well written content so a high Bounce Rate is often caused by a mismatch between the search query that visitors used to reach the page and the actual content of the page. eg `breakdown recovery` might result in visitors who are looking for either help with their car or help with mental issues. So when doing SEO research for the page make sure that you are targetting visitors with the right intent.

    Further information


    Page last edited Jul 25, 2017 History

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