The world of Search Engine Optimization is complicated for many reasons. For example, it is well known that the Google algorithm takes into account more than 200 factors in ranking a web page. In addition, search engines treat their algorithms as highly proprietary for two main reasons:
- They don’t want their competition to know what they are doing
- Publishing details of their algorithm would allow spammers to use that information to get rankings that they don’t deserve.
Another reason the SEO world is so complicated is that it has changed dramatically over the past few years. What worked in 2007 stopped working in 2008. In addition, in 2011, Google released Panda, and this was the first of a series of new algorithms that changed the SEO landscape forever. The complexity of this environment, and the rapid changes, have led to many SEO myths. This article identifies the top 10 worst SEO ideas, and provides an explanation as to why they don’t work.
Our Top 10 List for 2015
1. Thin content: These are pages on your website that have very little to no unique text content. These are common on eCommerce web sites that have not invested in putting quality differentiated content on each of the pages of their site. For example, this may be because they have used product descriptions supplied to them by the product’s manufacturer, where that same description has been delivered to hundreds of other sites.
Google started actively punishing this type of content with the release of their Panda algorithm in February 2011 (note I wrote an article predicting Panda 3 weeks prior to it’s release). In any event, each page on your site needs some really unique, quality content, on them. This may not always be easy to do, but you just have to figure out how to get it done.
2. Creating large numbers of pages to rank on as many terms as possible: This is an oldie but goodie practice in SEO. It used to make sense to create pages for each variant of a search term a user might use, as it would help you rank for those terms. This was because of the power of a title tag, but the practice can easily be overdone. Instead, follow the 3 Golden Rule of Title Tags to make sure you don’t overdo it.
3. Copying SEO practices of others: There have been tons of times where people come to me and ask me why a competitor is ranking so high, and shouldn’t we copy their SEO strategy. Worse still, this often comes in the context of someone using known bad SEO practices, and appearing not only to get away with it, but they even appear to be prospering because of it.
Sadly, SEO life is not quite that simple. The reality is that a bad SEO practice is always a bad SEO practice. Trying to understand why that competitor is ranking high is often not a good use of time, and copying their questionable practices is definitely a bad idea. Just because they are not being punished for it does not mean you won’t be.
Google is quite clear on what types of practices they want publishers to follow, and it’s best to focus on that approach to SEO. Yes, there may be other things you can do to rank in the short term, but Google is constantly updating their algorithms to better detect when people are doing things that are not in compliance with their webmaster guidelines.
Algorithms like Panda and Penguin pounded publishers that tried to get around these guidelines. Best to focus on doing things the right way, and then you need to fear such algorithm updates will be greatly reduced – in fact, more often than not, they will help you as competitors get their rankings blasted.
4. One dimensional link building: Many publishers learn about the importance of links to SEO, and they start figuring out ways to get people to link to their sites. Some of them think about buying links (I discuss that below), and others implement better strategies, such as a high-quality guest posting campaign.
An example of high-quality guest posting would be to write articles on the top media sites covering your market space. In my case, I write for Forbes, Search Engine Land, Copyblogger, Social Media Today, Marketing Land, and other sites. All of these sites help build my reputation and visibility.
By the way, there is definitely a wrong way to do guest posting, but even if you do it the right way, having it be your sole tactic is a bad idea. Search engines may start to devalue these types of links. Or, they may have algorithms that look for a breadth of links as an indicator of the importance of sites (I suspect they do).
The bottom line here is that you need to use many approaches to building your reputation and visibility, and then creating content on your site that others will want to link to.
5. Not implementing a mobile-friendly site: On November 18, 2014, Google made it known that they were testing Mobile-Friendliness as a ranking factor. This was further clarified in this interview with Gary Illyes.
In fact, whether your pages are mobile-friendly or not is easy to verify. Just test your pages using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. In the above-referenced interview, Gary Illyes clarified that any page that passes the test tool will get the mobile-friendly label in the search results, and, will also get the ranking boost is good to know.
However, this is far from the only reason you should do this. According to Google, more than half their searches come from mobile devices today. Implementing a mobile-friendly site should be a major priority for you even without SEO benefits. A significant percentage of the visitors to your site is coming from mobile devices today, and it’s very important to offer them a decent (to great) experience!
6. Focusing on keyword metatags: Even though Google stopped using these as a ranking factor a decade ago, these still deserve a spot in this list. I still have people who ask me about help with setting up their keyword metatags to help them with their SEO. Search engines rely almost solely on user-visible text on your site in order to determine its ranking. Text that is not user visible, such as the keyword metatags, stopped being significant years ago because the Spammers abused them so badly.
Your best bet is to ignore these entirely. However, if someone on your team is insisting you implement these because they don’t know any better, take the top few keywords that your page is focused on, plug them in here, and then forget about it. The key message is to spend the absolute least amount of time on this that yo
u can (and NONE is best).
Do implement a title metatag though, because it is user visible, and one of the most important things you can do on your page to improve its ranking. Do implement a description metatag, not because it will influence rankings (because it doesn’t), but because some search engines may use it as the description it shows in your search results under some circumstances.
7. Purchase Links: This practice is still incredibly popular, largely because there are many people who get away with doing it, and it helps them with their rankings. The problem is that it is in the strategic interest of the search engines to defeat this practice, and they are working hard to do so. Google uses three techniques to detect purchased links:
- Algorithms like their Penguin algorithm automatically detect bad linking patterns and demote a site’s ranking in the search results. Getting hit by this algorithm is devastating to a site’s business, and exposure to Penguin should be avoided at all costs.
- Google accepts spam reports and these could lead to a manual review of your site. There is no win in having a manual review take place on your site. Best to not have anything for Google to find if such a review occurs.
- Google has algorithms that look for questionable link building practices. Algorithms like Penguin take direct action on your rankings, but they can also flag sites for manual review as well.
- Google has thousands of quality rating editors whose sole purpose is to review search results for quality purposes. Part of what they are trained to do is detect purchased links and flag them.
So what does Google do when a purchased link is detected? The best case is that they flag it and make it useless from a site ranking perspective. In addition, if they detect flagrant link buying for ranking purposes, they can, and do, ban sites.
Use your time wisely. Take the same time you might have invested in finding links to buy and build great content that earns you links instead. It’s much safer, and it will build your business for the long term.
8. Swap Links: Another oldie, but not a goodie. Search engines want links to represent endorsements. Swapped links represent barter, and they are trivial to detect. Don’t swap links for the purpose of building page rank. It’s a waste of your time. However, do swap links with sites that are highly relevant to your business, if these sites would be valuable to your users.
Here is a good way to think about it – if you would link to a site, even if they do not link back to you, then it’s perfectly fine to swap links with them. Building your relevance in ways that are good for visitors to your site is always good.
9. Implement duplicate content: There are many different ways that this can happen, but here are two of the most popular scenarios:
- Many businesses operate many 2 or more sites that contain similar, or even identical content. These different doorways may have been implemented as different business fronts to enable the business to pursue different methods for marketing their products or services.
- Many sites have multiple ways of navigating to the same content, yet the content is delivered on a different URL in each case. In many cases, the URL is a simple manifestation of the path the user used to get there. The site owner has no bad intent and views each URL as being the “same page”.
The trouble with duplicate content is that search engines want to rank the same content only once. So if you have multiple URLs on one site with the same content, one of these is just a waste of the search engine’s time. Here is a real case where you are “leaking PageRank” – you are sending your own precious PageRank to pages that will never rank.
You also need to think about your crawl budget. If the search engine comes to your site and is going to crawl 1000 pages today, and 400 of these are duplicate pages that will never rank, you wasted a significant percentage of your opportunity for the search engine to find good unique content and rank it.
And, if you have implemented “doorway sites” you could be in bigger trouble. Search engines see this as Spamming, and you could get banned.
10. Cloaking: This is the practice of showing different content to the crawlers than what you show to the user. It’s really easy to come up with legitimate ideas as to why you might want to do this. But it does not matter. It’s an emotional issue with the search engines, and they do not accept responsibility for determining your intent. It’s emotional because it was a very popular technique with the Spammers in years gone by.
Search engines periodically implement new bots that they send out for the explicit purpose of detecting cloaking. There is no known technique for cloaking a bot whose name you do not yet know, coming from an IP address you currently don’t know. These new bots easily detect a cloaking implementation.
When a search engine detects a site that is cloaking, there is an excellent chance that it will lead to the site being banned. Your intent in implementing cloaking does not matter. So don’t do it. Solve your problem by another means.
The Bottom Line
It really comes down to two key areas of focus:
- Learn how to communicate to the search engine what your site is about. Many of the problems listed above relate to common practices that make the search engine’s job harder, or even impossible. Learning how to build your site so that the search engine can easily determine the unique value of your site is an outstanding idea.
Don’t spend your time figuring out how to beat the search engine. It’s just not a good place to be. You may even succeed in the short term. But if you do succeed in tricking them in the short term, the day will come when you wake up in the morning and a significant piece of your business has disappeared overnight. Not a good feeling at all.
Take the same energy you would have invested in the tricks and invest it in great content for your site, and in the type of marketing programs, you would have implemented if the search engines did not exist.
This is how you can grow your business for the long term.
Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO. Learn More About Eric Enge