In the new year, a lot of digital marketers develop To-Do lists for improving their website's SEO. However, they forget to write a list of what not to do, so we compiled our biggest SEO don'ts in one convenient place.
It seems like SEO tips and tricks are constantly changing with each iteration of Google’s algorithm. Everyone wants to be number one – and some web marketers will do anything for a good page rank. Digital marketers will push the limits of optimizing their website just for improved SEO, but even the most cut-throat of competitors know that there are rules involved. Those rules involve assuring good, quality UX while giving visitors exactly what they needed in their searches.
However, there exists a "dark side" to SEO -- a group of people who try to rig the system in their favor with their black hat SEO tricks. This goes beyond simply being savvy with keywords and writing engaging content. These tactics break rules; they exist like there are no rules. And while it might seem like these sites have successes, that success is fleeting as Google and other search engines get better at snuffing out these strategies.
Here are some of the most common black hat SEO tricks (and those can be debated as borderline black hat SEO tactics) that are used and abused. Try to avoid them at all cost:
Stuffing keywords into content
Keyword stuffing never works out well, and it's so well known to most search bots that it's on its way out. The biggest infraction comes from stuffing irrelevant keywords into content and meta data, however overstuffing relevant keywords throughout an article doesn't work out well either. Both can also result in penalties. Tacking in certain phrases or words not only doesn’t work for a crawler, it also tells a perceptive reader that you care more about SEO rankings than you do good content. Frustrated readers click away from poor content and that action raises bounce rates.
Mention keywords in the title, description, opening lines, and a few more times throughout the copy where it feels natural. Organic keyword usage won’t send red flags to a search engine and the good content will please site visitors.
Guest postings just for any ol' link
Google weighs the 'quality' of those links in their rankings. You reap what you sow, and that phrase is especially true for anyone farming links from low-quality, unrelated sites. Don't link purely for the sake of linking to other sites that are in no way related to your site. Topical relevance of the sites linking to your site can be aggregated at an individual site and macro level as well.
Along the same line of thinking, accepting guests posts with content that has nothing to do with your website’s theme or idea can also be detrimental to rankings. Publishing good content regularly is a healthy way to organically build readership.
Poor link courtesy extends into commenting as well. Don't spam comment boxes with links to your website. The context of your anchor text is taken into account by search engines. Instead, if you do include a link in a comment, make it userful and relevant to the page topic.
Spending more time on meta descriptions than content
Meta descriptions exist as tags in HTML that give quick summaries about the page’s content. In earlier times of SEO, meta data was one of the biggest factors for better rankings. However, search engines say time and again that there’s no direct benefit from meta descriptions (and for more information, check out this blog post explaining why from Yoast).
That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Good meta descriptions should be the length of a Tweet and accurately reflect the key points of content. One of the biggest mistakes writers can make, however, is prioritizing meta data over good content. And while engaging meta descriptions get people to click on your page, if the content of the page itself doesn't match the quality of the description that got people there (or doesn't live up to the hype), people will click out and click out fast.
Duplicating content – even if it’s accidental
This is a rule of thumb that everyone who has ever written any sort of essay for school should understand. Make sure your content is unique and original. It's a simple as that. Don't plagiarize another person's work! Not only is it poor SEO, it's also a crappy content strategy in general. Copying someone else's work could get people expelled from schools and even most colleges; what would make anyone think it's a smart decision to duplicate content online without repercussions?
This also goes for the growing trend of "article spinning," wherein software takes an original source and repurposes it via paraphrasing without crediting any original source.
That being said, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” When writing copy, give attribution (and links!) when necessary, but try to come up with new ways to frame a problem everyone has. This is crucial for SEO; if search engines find similar content already indexed, they have no need to index your content because it doesn’t offer anything unique. Search engines prioritize unique content; if you're struggling to generate ideas of your own, use a tool like HARO to spark inspiration while gathering insight for a particular piece.
It's important to note that duplicate content also affects one domain. However, having duplicate content within your own website isn't nearly as serious. Just make sure you have canonical tags so that you redirect users to the original article and the Google crawlers will ignore the duplicate content.
Cloaking your website
Cloaking isn’t just ineffective practice; it’s illegal under Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Essentially, cloaking refers to any attempts to show users something different than a search engine crawler. What winds up happenings is that the crawler gets tricked into believing that a website should rank higher than it naturally would. Human users click on a website’s content only to find unrelated content and a low-quality site.
However, white hat (or good practice) cloaking does exist. For a full look into how to test out white hat cloaking for your website, take a look at this essay from Moz's Rand Fishkin.
The bottom line for SEO is still this: create a site that is useful and relevant to your target users. Earn relevant links from other high-quality websites. Remember the golden rule, and be in it for the long haul.
Want to find quality ways to improve your SEO? You can optimize for mobile, take a closer look at your keywords, and look to improve your content. While you're at it, you can also take a look at other tips we use with our own clients in these resources for more inspiration. And, for more detailed descriptions as to what Google lists as its "black hat" tactics, be sure to check out Google's Webmaster Guidelines.