We’ve all heard about Google cracking down on websites trying to get an unfair advantage through ‘black hat’ SEO practices. And your site may have been affected too.
SEO is a moving target, guided by a single tenet – if your content is not relevant to a particular search term – you won’t stay at the top of the search page for long. You may get there temporarily using questionable tactics, but sooner or later, the search engine algorithms catch on. And the users catch on too. When users bounce off a bad page repeatedly, the search engines know it and devalue the page.
Which are the sites that stay relevant? The sites that deliver the information the searcher is looking for. Not the site that has skillfully crafted an SEO façade.
Here are some of the tactics that worked at one time, and still may work in the short term, but put you at risk of incurring Google penalties.
Inbound links drive SEO, but if you’re paying for them, it is likely that your links are not being placed in content that anyone is actually reading. Very often, paid links have identical anchor text and all direct to the same page on your site – that’s a Google red flag. Prior to 2012, this tactic typically worked. Not anymore. Many large link farm companies have been wiped out of existence by this algorithm upgrade.
Purchasing links for the sole purpose of passing Page Rank violates Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Exchanging links at any volume with another site is another way of ‘buying’ links and also creates an identifiable pattern that is subject to penalties.
And if you’ve typically acquired a handful of links a month and all of a sudden gain 500, it won’t exactly look natural. Nor will excessive links from sites in other countries in a different language.
Links hidden in scripts and other file types used to be common, but the search engine robots are much more sophisticated these days at identifying links that are out of their element.
The same goes for links that are the same color as your background, or too small to actually read. These won’t help you.
Over-optimization is a more recent search engine consideration. If your site has every single relevant keyword on every page, or an unnatural proliferation of a single keyword phrase on a page – the search engines will notice it for what it is – unnatural.
Footer links are infamous for including everything under the sun. These groups of keyword-laden links rarely have much SEO effect, and if that same footer is on every page of your site, the search engines will look at it as a deliberate attempt to manipulate.
Meta tags have been generally proven not to matter much to the search engines. Yet websites continue to stuff them with keywords that don’t appear anywhere else on the page. Self-sabotage.
Broken internal links, 404 errors, website downtime and excessive load times are all seen by the web crawlers. Take the time to check your links or to check your Webmaster tools for crawl errors.
Thin content, illegible or unnaturally keyword-laden, is going to get penalized eventually. Automated article spinners that produce automated gobble-de-gook do not help a website. They may have at one time, but no longer.
All the search engines make it their business to prioritize high-value content whenever they can. Inevitably, the way to keep your site relevant is to post real content using natural links. That content should in turn create inbound links via its relevance and authority. That’s the way the search engines want it and will continue to morph its algorithms to that end.