SEO is a race without a finish line. The reason for this is that the search engines are always trying to find ways of making the quality of their search better for users.
This means that many of the SEO tactics used 5 years ago no longer hold any relevance for your content – yet, some SEO professionals continue to pedal them, and charge you for the work. It’s important you’re aware of what’s useful and what isn’t when it comes to results; some of these tricks are simply a waste of time, but others could result in severe penalties from search engines.
You might be tempted to use a piece of content that ranks well – or an excerpt from it – more than once on your site in order to boost your search results. It’s important not to do this. If you need to restate a point, then make sure you paraphrase, as search engines can tell if you’re duplicating information, and will penalize you for it.
This refers to the practice of presenting search engines with a version of the site that’s different from what the user sees. “Search engines index pages based on their content,” explains Tim Barnett, managing partner of 2Binteractive, “but trying to display a lot of good content on a website can often detract from the aesthetic value of a site, and sometimes the actual content you want to display is different to the keywords you want to target.”
Cloaking is a relatively old trick but is still used by some disreputable SEO professionals to boost search rankings. There are a number of ways it can be done – presenting the search engine’s IP address with a completely different site, or displaying different pages depending on the users/search engine’s web browser ¬– but the principle with each is basically the same.
One easily detectable cloaking method is the use of hidden text: ie positioning keyword-rich text in white against the white background of a page, so that it can be read by a search engine, but not by the user. Cloaking must be avoided at all costs; it is gravely looked down upon by search engines, and can result in your site being ‘black listed’ , and removed from results entirely.
It’s possible to have too many keywords. Search engine algorithms are constantly being developed to be better at figuring out how relevant a piece of content is. Search now looks beyond keywords to figure this out. So, if you fill all your content with as many keywords as you can manage, you not only risk making it less readable and alienating your visitors, you’ll probably also be penalized in the search rankings.
“Using appropriate keywords in content is good, but stuffing with keywords looks manipulative and provides a poor user experience,” says Mark Baartse, consulting director of search firm First Rate. “Unfortunately a lot of people still recommend these techniques. If you hear people talking about ‘keyword density and ‘latent semantic indexing’, then run away! Good quality content with natural use of keywords is recommended.”
This is when a web designer sets up brief, keyword-rich redirect pages in between a link and its destination. “They are often orphan pages (i.e. have no other links to them from within the site navigation etc),’ says Barnett, ‘and are simply used to get people to a website.”
“There was a big case a number of years ago when BMW was given some poor SEO advice and had set up a doorway page to their site – it was subsequently banned by Google if nothing else, I think BMW was simply used by Google as a high profile case to say to people “yes we are serious about banning sites who do the wrong thing.”’
While search engine algorithms themselves might not account for these pages in search, if your site were to be reviewed by an actual person from a search company, you’d face penalties as severe as those BMW had to deal with.
A key part of gaining momentum in search is the number of links associated with your site – both to and from it. As with keywords, there are only so many links that you can have on your site before it begins to interfere with how effectively it engages with visitors.
“Google hates nothing more than link dishonesty,” says James Richardson of Optimising, “and hiding of links in any way will always result in a significant ranking penalty.”
The practice of hiding links is similar to the practice of cloaking text. The links are still on the page but may have been reduced to a minuscule size or colored to blend in with the background. Search engine algorithms will pick up on this as a manipulative practice and will penalize sites that use it.
For specific guidelines on Google search (and a reasonable yardstick for search practices with other engines) have a look at the search company’s webmaster guidelines.
Find out where your website stands in the search engines by ordering Netregistry’s free Search Engine Ranking Report. Stop guessing and start planning.