Google and other search engines are constantly tweaking their underlying code and architecture. This means that SEO strategy is a moving target, and rankings are always in flux. And in fact, common but bygone SEO strategies which took advantage of Google’s lack of sophistication can now haunt you by undermining Google’s trust of your site.
That’s why in the spirit of Halloween, I’m going to walk through 4 scary SEO tactics that will forever haunt your SEO. If you, your team, or someone you hired in the past used any of the tactics below, then you’ll struggle to get your website ranking in Google and you’ll want to take steps to correct them.
In the very early days of SEO, Google focused heavily on the frequency and quantity of keywords on your site. A webpage that mentioned a certain keyword more frequently than other webpages would tend to rank higher in the search results. This led to the practice of “keyword stuffing,” forcing keywords unnaturally into your copy in hopes of ranking higher.
For a while, stuffing worked, though at the expense of degrading UX and subjecting readers to awkwardly written copy. Then, as Google became more adept at detecting natural language they began to penalize keyword stuffing and the practice quickly died out. Today you still need to ensure your webpage is relevant for your target keywords, but it’s important to write naturally.
The next scary tactic is something we still see quite often when auditing websites. Again, this tactic was used to take advantage of how Google used to work.
As you can imagine, users search for the same thing using many different keyword variations. For example, I may search for “infant car seat” while you might search for “newborn car seat.” You and I know we’re looking for the same thing but for Google’s algorithm, it’s not that simple.
That’s why in the past it was a smart idea to create separate pages for different keyword variations. The result is that many businesses now have websites with dozens or even hundreds of very similar webpages optimized for minute keyword variations.
Today, Google is much more adept at recognizing the relationship between synonyms and similar phrases. Furthermore, Google penalizes duplicate content like the similar webpages once built around all slight keyword variations. The current best strategy is to make sure to group similar keyword phrases together and optimize just one “master” webpage for each core keyword/topic.
The third scary tactic is unnatural backlinks. This tactic got a lot of attention when Google released the infamous Penguin update back in 2012. Many businesses lost their Google rankings after this update and old unnatural links have been haunting them ever since.
What’s an unnatural link? Any backlink pointing to your website that Google determines was not naturally created. For example, if you, your team, or someone you hired created links on websites that were built for the sole purpose of linking to other websites (aka, link networks), then you have unnatural backlinks pointing to your website.
Another example of unnatural links is over-optimized anchor text. Anchor text is simply the words that are hyperlinked (ex. “click here” is the anchor text in this link: click here). If most of your website’s backlinks are using the same keyword-focused anchor text, then that’s a red flag that tells Google you’re likely creating unnatural links in an attempt to boost your rankings.
To review your website’s links, go to Moz’s free Open Site Explorer tool and search for your domain name. This tool will show you the other websites linking to your website, along with the anchor text so you can see if unnatural links are likely haunting your SEO efforts. A sign of natural anchor text is that the majority of it is your brand name, and a sign of unnatural anchor text is having a high percentage of keyword-based anchor text.
Content farming is the practice of creating and selling very cheap and poorly produced SEO optimized content. These are companies or individuals who pay freelance writers to quickly create blog posts, articles, videos and other media around a given set of keywords. Then, companies looking to improve their rankings via content marketing buy this content at rock-bottom prices.
It’s never worth it. Cheap farmed content is often loaded with errors, written in a generic or unnatural style, frequently duplicated, and only serves to undermine the trust of both Google and your potential customers. Furthermore, as Google becomes more effective at recognizing natural language this style of content can lead to SEO penalizations.
Every company that engages in SEO should keep a close eye on the tactics used by your team or your agency. SEO techniques which take advantage of Google’s shortcomings are often short lived and quickly penalized. Furthermore, penalized domains take a very long time to earn back Google’s trust. Don’t be haunted by past SEO mistakes!
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