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SEO tactics that will get you into trouble

by Ellan Dineen
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Taking advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) is perhaps the best way to distinguish your brand from the hundreds or thousands of companies within your same sector. When websites perform well within the search results, they’ll receive an increase in website traffic that will undoubtedly lead to greater exposure, better leads, and a huge influx in sales. But elevating your business to the first pages of the search engine results pages (SERPS) is a delicate balance and a difficult task. With so many companies competing for the coveted positions, you’ll want to ensure you’re doing everything you can to increase your chances of ranking well. Additionally, you’ll want to be sure you’re avoiding anything that can work against you, or get you penalized by the search engines. The following post covers some of the main things you should stay clear of when optimizing your website for SEO.

The Google mechanism
When it comes to SEO, Google uses certain algorithms to crawl websites and determine which ones deserve to be in the top rankings, and which ones are doing something wrong. While Google’s major “core” updates usually occur once a year or so, Google’s basic filters are constantly evolving, even on a day-to-day basis. Crawler’s work exhaustively to audit websites and reward those that adhere to Google’s rules, while penalizing those that don’t.

SEO tactics to avoid: It’s essential that every business remain aware of the dos and don’ts of SEO, and update their websites as needed. Even one small mistake could make a site’s rankings drop significantly overnight! The following list includes some of the SEO mistakes you’ll want to steer clear of.

Broken links: Broken links are links that lead to nowhere. They’re links that send visitors on your site to a page that’s no longer there. If you’ve ever gotten a 404 error message or the like, you’ll know how frustrating these broken links can be. Not only are broken links bad from a user experience point of view, they will serve to get you actively punished by Google’s algorithms. Not to mention, these look very unprofessional! Scan for broken links regularly to ensure your site doesn’t fall prey to this major no-no. There are plenty of free link-checking software out there, so there’s never an excuse to have 404 pages as part of your site.

Keyword stuffing: Keyword stuffing is a common mistake many businesses make. Keyword stuffing is exactly what it sounds like— filling your content with keywords in a manner that’s unnatural, just to get them in. Using the right keywords is probably the best thing you can do to increase your ranking, but if they’re not implemented correctly they can end up working against you. Such is the case when you use too many of them. More is not always better— and if you use more keywords than is necessary, you’ll find yourself getting less of the results you want. Don’t write content with the soul intention of getting keywords in. Instead, write content that first and foremost focuses on the things your audience will need and want.

A missing sitemap: A sitemap is a file that lists the various URLs that go into making up a site. These maps allow Google and other search engines to crawl sites more efficiently, and therefore it’s important that you have one. These guides also make it easier for other visitors to navigate your site. Site maps can be created in a variety of formats, and then submitted to Google.

Bad anchor text: Anchor text is the text on a page that’s used to insert the hyperlink to either an internal or external link. Anchor text is used to give visitors and crawlers alike a brief description of what the link is regarding. It was previously a good idea to include as many keywords as possible in anchor text, however that has since changed. Now, the best practices for anchor texts is to ensure its to-the-point and relevant to the link in question, not generic, and not too keyword-heavy (it should flow naturally).

Cloaking: Cloaking occurs when words are disguised on the page, either intentionally or unintentionally. This is usually done when words and phrases are written in the same color as the background, making them blend in and become unnoticeable to visitor’s eyes. Cloaking used to be popular when it wasn’t outright penalized to do so, and developers would use it as a means to include as many keywords as possible. However, these days, even if these hidden words aren’t visible to the naked eye, they are discoverable by the crawlers, and they will result in hefty penalties against your rankings.

Plagiarizing content: It’s never a good idea to be a copycat, but unfortunately not everyone learns their lesson in school. Plagiarizing content will not only reflect very badly for your brand, but it will also harm your standing within the SERPS. In this context, plagiarizing means the act of taking some other website’s content and passing it off as your own. Duplicate content is also a big no-no when it comes to SEO. While this content may not be plagiarized and may be originally written by you or someone within your company, if you use it on your site more than once you’re likely to get penalized. Some may attempt to use duplicate content as a means to bulk up their on-site keywords, but Google will detect this mistake and punish your business accordingly.

A non-responsive site: Responsive web design means creating a website that is operational across all devices. Responsive websites “respond” to the device they’re visited on, and are configured to whatever specifications will best serve that device. If you visit a website on your smartphone that hasn’t been optimized for mobile— you’ll know it! Responsive web design means never having to worry that your visitors will have trouble using your site based on the browser and device they’re using. With over half of internet users browsing mainly from a mobile device, responsive web design has never been more essential— and will only continue to increase in importance. It’s not just individuals that will recognize if your website isn’t responsive— Google knows too, and they’ll make sure you’re punished for not having a site that’s functional across all devices.

While following SEO best practices will get you rewarded, failing to pay attention to them will work against you. Staying away from the above mistakes will help you stay on Google’s good side, and help your website increase in the rankings.

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