In many ways, the world of SEO is a bit like the Tudor court. Google is the all-powerful and highly capricious King Henry VIII, the man who makes all the decisions and always gets what he wants. Yahoo! and Bing are his Chief Ministers, Wolsey and Cromwell – they’re not to be crossed either. And you? Well, you’re the courtier, and to survive in this ruthless world you’ve got to appease the King and his ministers whilst competing with the rest of the court to win their favour. Play the sycophant and you might just bag a seat at the top table for the next big feast.
And so it is with SEO. Do the right things and you’ll be at the top of the search engine results pages; get it wrong and you’ll be heading for a swift exile – or worse, the executioner’s block (Google’s blacklist).
Historical analogies aside, it has to be stressed that playing to Google’s somewhat inflexible rules is the only way you are going to improve your website’s position in the search rankings. Remember, the more authority you hold with the world’s biggest search engine, the more powerful you, as a business, will become. If, however, you cross the line or employ ‘black hat’ practices like some of those listed below, you’ll quickly be stripped of that authority and your website traffic will inevitably suffer.
Outlined here are 10 things you must avoid at all costs if you’re to play the game right.
1. Copying Content.
One of the worst things you can do to your website is fill it with content that’s been lifted straight from somebody else’s. Yes, crafting unique copy is going to take time and money, but stealing it from elsewhere really isn’t the solution. It’s highly unethical, often illegal and completely counter-productive. Sooner or later, King Google will find out you’ve been cheating and will make sure your website is punished.
2. Keyword Stuffing.
Think you can outsmart Google? Think again. Over in Silicon Valley they have all the boffins in the world working all hours to ensure that content over-laden with keywords is ignored (and often penalised). Slip in too many search terms and they’ll know about it. Write “security fences Kent” a million times on your website and you’ll be heading for the hangman’s noose (so to speak).
3. Broken Links
In a previous post I wrote about the importance of link building in improving a website’s ‘authority’ (and therefore its search ranking). Well, just as good links can boost your position, so too can bad ones undermine it. It’s imperative that you check for broken links on a regular basis. Google and other search engines will simply downgrade any website that has too many.
4. Poorly chosen keywords
This one might seem a bit obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies get it wrong. I’m not talking about using the keywords “pine tables” when what you actually sell is fluffy kittens – what I mean is the failure to recognise the search terms your customers are using.
Let’s say you’re a window fitter in North London. Describing yourself as a “Window Technician and Installation Specialist in Tottenham” might be technically correct, but it’s certainly not what your customers are searching for. Think about how you would go about finding someone to install your own windows, and if necessary use Google’s Keyword Tool to look up the commonly used search terms.
There is a flip side, of course. If you’re a small, start-up business trying to attract a certain type of client or customer (one that is more likely to lead to a sale), using more specific keywords can actually work to your advantage. More on this in an upcoming post.
5. Ignoring the Data.
You might be tempted to rest on your laurels having successfully optimised your website with a plethora of well-researched keywords. But that would be a big mistake, because the way in which people search for things online is constantly changing. The most important thing is to keep track of keywords that are performing and those that aren’t. You can do this with Google Analytics, a tool that highlights the search terms that are bringing traffic to your website. With this information you can alter or change your website’s content accordingly.
It’s also a good idea to track which of those keywords are bringing in not just traffic but actual paying customers. It’s all well and good using phrases that direct millions of people to your website, but if they’re not buying anything then what’s the point?
6. Bad Inbound Links
Henry VIII was a righteous old fellow, you know (despite the beheadings, etc.). He didn’t like people associating themselves with the impious, the depraved or the immoral (himself excepted, of course). In this respect, as in many others, he was a bit like Google. They don’t like you associating with untrustworthy, disreputable types either. So while having inbound links is generally a very good thing, having them on websites with no authority or those with a bad reputation isn’t – they’ll only drag you down with them.
7. Forgetting to Optimise your Website for Local Search
Small businesses operating within a certain geographic area ought to pay particular attention to their ranking in local searches. If, for example, you run a body shop in Cleckheaton, then you need to be found by customers in West Yorkshire – not by those in West Virginia. By using geo-specific terms (such as “Body Shop Cleckheaton”) in your page titles, meta tags and content, not only will you attract the right people, you also won’t have to compete for position with every other body shop in the world.
8. Repetitive Anchor Text.
In case you didn’t already know, anchor text is this: a word or phrase that, when clicked, will direct you to another web page, either on the same website or another. The search engines like it when this anchor text describes the page that it is linking to because it helps crawlers determine the theme of the page. It also helps them to rank it. That’s why in days gone by, webmasters would cram their anchor text with keywords.
But Google et al are no fools. They quickly wised-up to this black hat practice and put in place algorithms that would automatically treat anchor text with a degree of suspicion. These days you have to be more careful when crafting it – too much of the same and your website will be downgraded.
9. Using the same title tags for every page.
OK, so this one isn’t going to get you blacklisted, but using the exact same text for every page title and meta description is hardly going to help with your page ranking. Name each one after the product or service that it features rather than the name of your company. Not only does this help Google, Bing and Yahoo! rank your pages, it also means users have a reference when bookmarking them or sharing them via social media.
10. Expecting too much, too soon.
Perhaps the biggest mistake you can possibly make when implementing an SEO strategy is to have unrealistic expectations. Thinking that your ranking is going to improve overnight and then discovering it hasn’t will only lead to you commit some of the heinous SEO crimes listed above. Be patient and keep doing things to please King Google and you’ll soon be feasting with the peers of the realm.