SEO Tactics to Avoid

SEO advice for beginners on what NOT to do. Popular SEO tactics & misconceptions that are old & outdated or were never a good idea in the first place.

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Let’s face it – organic traffic from search engines can unquestionably increase sales and gain new customers for any business. SEO (search engine optimization) is a crucial process for any online or small business that wishes to gain visibility on search engines. However, getting your site on that first page of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) is not a simple task; it will take time and dedication, whether you do it yourself or hire an SEO company. Because the competition is so fierce and so many online and smaller businesses are competing against each other for only one of 10 spots, you may feel like trying anything to get on that first page. There’s a lot of cheap advice online promising you a spot in the top 10 overnight, or a black hat SEO company offering some sort of “miraculous” technique that no one else knows about. Be warned: these are often old and outdated – or were never a good idea in the first place. Here’s some tips of what not to do if you are doing SEO yourself, or what tactics to watch out for when hiring an SEO company.

What Not to Do

There’s an old adage of “learning what not to do” can sometimes help illustrate what should be done. In this article, we want to explore some of the biggest misconceptions for SEO so that you can protect your website and your business from making these mistakes, or from hiring an SEO company that may actually be using black hat methods:

Tactic 1: Keyword Stuffing

Once upon a time, it was relatively easy for you to rank for a given phrase just by using the exact phrase in your title, description, headings, and many times within your body copy. However, today Google can now recognize that you are over-optimizing and simply trying to publish content for search engines and not for people. Imagine going to a website, only to find a key phrase shoehorned into the copy repeatedly.

Example of Keyword Stuffing

It’s fine to use the phrase in the title and description, and maybe a heading, but otherwise, variety is the spice of life. If you have hired a company, you can search your website’s code for “title” and “h1,” “h2,” etc. to see the title and heading keywords used. Use variations, even if it means finding a thesaurus. If you are trying to optimize for the phrase “pizza delivery in San Diego, California” don’t use the exact phrase everywhere. Use it in the title and description, but maybe mix your headings and body copy up by saying “San Diego’s #1 Pizza Delivery” or simply “Pizza Delivery”, as search engines are pretty good at picking up location context.

Tactic 2: Paid Backlinks

Yes, it is important that you have inbound links coming to your site, but never pay, trade, or ask for a link. (Ok, maybe you can ask, but it’s best to let people naturally link to you without any incentives). Sure, you could buy hundreds of links at the same price as a large Starbucks, but Google’s Penguin algorithm heavily frowns on such tactics. Many domains that offer links in exchange for payment are typically spammy and offer little, if any benefit. Make sure you, or your SEO company, are not buying backlinks as this is not a good SEO tactic in the long run.

Tactic 3: Low Quality Links

Somewhat related to the above point, Google is increasingly rewarding quality links over quantity of links, so it is best to spend your time conducting outreach and generating content that is likely to be linked to from quality sites. The lesson here: go for free/earned, quality links over paid, low-quality links. Otherwise, Google may wonder why so many private Russian and Indian blogs that have nothing to do with your niche are linking to your website.

A screenshot of spam websites with numerous low quality backlinks

For example, take another look at this screenshot. Can you guess what sort of website is referenced 151 times on a website about an SEO program from the Ukraine? Or 918 times on an websiet with a domain name called web10.ws? And how about that xtattoos website? If you answered anything other than a website selling hot tubs, you are wrong.

Tactic 4: Over-optimized anchor links

Keyword-heavy anchor text – the text you click on for a hyperlink – pointing to your site used to serve as a positive signal to Google. So if lots of sites had linked to you with inbound text reading “pizza delivery in San Diego, California,” it was more likely that you would show up in search for those phrases.

This made sense at the time, as this would be a pretty clear signal that you were, in fact, a provider of pizza delivery services in San Diego, California. Not so after Panda, another Google algorithm. Many webmasters exploited that knowledge and over-optimized anchor text. This led to bad user experiences, and thus Google shifted their policies to penalize this over-optimization. Instead, you want a good mix of links, including branded links. “San Diego Pizza Co.” and “sandiegopizzaco.com” mixed with key words or phrases makes for a healthy anchor text portfolio.

Tactic 5: Optimizing Without Doing Research

You can create all the content in the world, but if it isn’t optimized for terms that people are searching for and care about, your content isn’t going to be seen. Take the time to do keyword research. Learn how your customers are searching, and optimize content accordingly.

Tactic 6: Content Scraping

Many webmasters may be tempted to “borrow” content from other sites and paste it verbatim onto their own sites. This may be a fast way to get content, but it is an even faster way to get slapped by Google for having duplicate content. Obvious moral questions aside, whatever quick wins you might see from scraping content aren’t worth the price you will be pay in search results when Google finds out. (Hint: You might not even rank for your own brand name).

Tactic 7: Invisible/Hidden Text

Invisible text was once a prominent black hat tactic consisting of stuffing keywords into your page and then changing the text color to match your background — thus creating “invisible” text. Think of white text on a white background, when the actual body is black text. Google has caught onto this sneaky tactic and nixed its effectiveness.

Tactic 8: Keyword-Stuffed Footer Links

Key links in your footer (search the HTML for “<footer>”) can help with rankings, but in many situations webmasters can go overboard and stuff as many keywords as possible like coal in a bad kid’s stocking. When in doubt, keep it simple and Google-Santa won’t put you on the naughty list.

Tactic 9: Meta Keywords

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, stuffing keywords into your meta keyword tag was an effective way to increase rankings for those keywords. These can be found by searching “<meta>” in the HTML of your website. Alas, Darth Google caught on and recognized this was not the most effective way to give searchers the content they were looking for. Trying to use every permutation of the phrase you can think of just won’t work anymore. Focus your energy on crafting quality, research-informed content and you will be rewarded in search results.

Conclusion

With this information in your back pocket, you know exactly what not to do if you want a website to rise in the rankings. If you hired an SEO company, be on the lookout for them using these black hat tactics. Remember, SEO is really about providing something of value to others. Essentially, people are searching for an answer and search engines aim to serve that answer on a silver platter. Provide the best answer and you’ve already done a lot in terms of SEO!