It’s a brand new year, and you might have made a New Year’s resolution to take your search engine optimization (SEO) game to the next level. That’s a great goal, but keep in mind that SEO is like The Force in the Star Wars movies. There’s a light side and there’s a dark side to SEO tactics. The light side can get increase your rank. The dark side can get you penalized by Google. AHHH! Do not get a penalty.
Here is how to avoid them.
Avoid these Dark Side tactics and ensure that Google doesn’t penalize you.
Don’t Buy Links
There’s no shortage of people who are more than willing to sell you links from a private blog network (PBN) that they’ve established. If you’re not familiar with the concept of a PBN, it’s a series of blogs set up that looks like it provides useful content, but really only exists to serve up backlinks to people who pay the owner of the network.
Why is that so dangerous? Because the powers-that-be at Google are quite aware that people are engaged in this unscrupulous activity. You can bet that the company will be taking steps to determine the IP addresses of servers on these PBNs and delisting them.
If you buy backlinks, you could end up spending money to get your site penalized. That’s probably not what you had in mind.
Don’t Stuff Keywords
The Old School Sith lords of Dark Side SEO once thought that the best way to get Google to pay attention to their website was to include the keyword in the content as much as possible. Alas, Google got wise to that trick years ago.
In short, you’re doing your content a disservice if you practice “keyword stuffing” just to get Google to notice your site. Google will determine that you’re trying to manipulate its search engine algorithm and penalize the site accordingly.
It’s often the case that SEO professionals will talk about “keyword density” when discussing content. That’s an industry buzz-phrase that refers to the number of times that a keyword appears in the article.
What’s the optimal keyword density to ensure that your content gets noticed by Google but doesn’t get penalized? There’s really no right answer. That’s why the best choice is to use the keyword naturally throughout your content as opposed to stuffing it in as much as possible.
Check Backlinks and Disavow Bad Ones
One way to ensure that your site doesn’t get penalized is to regularly check your backlinks to make sure that you’re not receiving bad link juice from sites that are known for spam. Remember, even if you don’t turn to the Dark Side of SEO, you have some competitors who might use the black arts to send bad backlinks to your site (yes, these people exist). Their aim is to get your site delisted from the search engine results pages (SERPs) so that they have one less competitor challenging them for a high rank.
Fortunately, you can use a tool like Google Search Console and Majestic to check backlinks. If you find that you have spammy links in your profile, you should disavow them.
Google offers a disavow tool to webmasters anxious to play nice with the search engine giant. If you believe that you’ve got some backlinks that would adversely affect your ranking, use that tool to tell Google not to count them as links towards your site. It’s effectively the same think as making those links “nofollow” at the source site.
Taking this a step further, there are a lot of thing you should be doing on a monthly basis. These are a few of the things we do here at Ignite each month for clients. Not all of these are related to penalties, but I thought you might find them useful.
- Siteliner Report on top Pages
- Check Google and Bing Search Console for Errors
- Run Screaming Frog to Identify Duplicate Content and Opportunities
- Review Recent Links in Google Search Console and Block Bad Ones
- Review Google Analytics Top Landing Pages Report for Large Changes
- Review SEM Rush URLs Report for Large Changes
- Review Keywords Ranking on Pages 2 and 3 for Opportunities
Don’t Use Interstitial App Pages on Your Mobile Site
Congratulations on having a brand-specific app. That’s a great way to simplify life for people in your target market.
However, if you get too aggressive at promoting your mobile app on your mobile-optimized website, then you stand to lose rank.
Here’s the scenario. Somebody uses a smartphone to perform a Google search. Your search is #1 in the SERPs (hurray!). The user clicks on your site and is unceremoniously greeted with a pop-up that begs the person to install your app.
Bad news: your site isn’t going to be #1 in the SERPs much longer if you do that. So don’t do that.
Don’t Use Sneaky Mobile Redirects
Sometimes, webmasters turn to the Dark Side for mobile users only. In that case, when someone lands on their website from a mobile device, they redirect the visitor to another site that’s often completely unrelated to the content on the original site. However, desktop users who click the exact same link aren’t redirected.
Google is poised to penalize sites that use sneaky mobile redirects. It’s best to just play it straight with your mobile search traffic.
Don’t Use Spun Articles as Content
Maybe you’ve got some great ideas for content that you’ve seen on other sites around cyberspace. However, you’re a busy entrepreneur and you just don’t have time to rewrite that content in your own words. You don’t want to plagiarize (either because you’re ethical or you know Google will penalize you for that, too – see below), so you subscribe to a great article spinner and just run the content through the spinner so that you can quickly have it rewritten and put on your site or another site.
That’s a bad idea because your “new” content could still be detected as duplicate content by Google. Also, sometimes the spun content looks laughable to a human reader. It’s like someone just swallowed a thesaurus and started typing.
There’s no easy answer when it comes to producing quality content for your site. You’ll have to either fork out the dough for a high quality writer or invest the time and write the content yourself.
Don’t Try the “Link Exchange” Strategy
You might be somebody who’s a firm believer in karma, especially in business. You’re convinced that if somebody does you a favor, then you should offer a similar favor in return.
To take the principle further, you might be willing to apply that principle to your SEO efforts by offering to link back to a friend’s website if the friend links to your website. Sounds like a great idea and a fabulous example of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” right?
Wrong. Google is known to penalize sites that participate in a link exchange.
Don’t Sell Links
So you’ve done a great job ranking your site and, all of a sudden, you get emails from people willing to pay you for links. That’s sauce for the goose!
Not really. You’ve worked hard to rank your site. The last thing you want is for all your hard work in SEO to go down the drain because Google suddenly views your site as a link farm. If that happens, you’ll get penalized and all that effort will be for nothing.
Oh, and you’ll have some angry customers wanting their money back.
Don’t Create Widgets With Links Back to Your Site
Maybe you’re a savvy software developer who’s produced a fabulous widget that can be added to other people’s websites. Congratulations on your high-tech breakthrough, but be sure that your widget doesn’t include a backlink to your site, unless it’s “nofollow.”
Why? Because that’s exactly what Google recommends.
Don’t Try Cloaking
There are several definitions of “cloaking” in the IT universe. Here, cloaking refers to an SEO spam practice of presenting your content in one way to the search engines while showing completely different content to real, human visitors. That’s accomplished by using code that reads the IP address and/or User-Agent HTTP header of the user and rendering content accordingly.
That’s another shortcut trick that can get your site penalized. Don’t do it.
Don’t Offer Pirated Content
This one should be obvious. If you offer pirated content on your site, you risk getting penalized.
Keep in mind that, at the end of the day, Google is a software company. It doesn’t want its software being stolen and the company identifies with other software development companies that are trying to protect their intellectual property.
Keep in mind, though, that all pirated content is taboo, according to the search engine giant. So, if you’re planning on offering torrents so people can download Game of Thrones episodes for free, think again. Google might punish you for that.
Avoid Touching Subjects Tricky Subjects
There are certain spammy topics in SEO such as payday loans, online gambling, and male enhancement pharmaceuticals. It’s probably best if you just avoid going anywhere near those subjects unless you absolutely have to do so. Your site might be considered guilty by association.
Don’t Offer “Top Heavy” Content
Google isn’t a fan of what it calls “top heavy” content. That’s content that doesn’t get straight to the subject at the top of the post and instead forces the visitor to scroll down to find information.
For example, if you have content that has numerous ads at the top so that the user has to scroll down to read the article, then you’ve got “top heavy” content. Google doesn’t like that because it wants people who find links in the SERPs to be able to see an answer to their question right away.
Ensure That Your Site Is Responsive (or at least mobile ready)
A responsive site (or generally mobile ready site) will offer a user-friendly display for people on any device. If you don’t have a responsive site, you’re limiting your reach because mobile visitors might have trouble using it.
Read more about mobile SEO here.
Don’t Overuse Search Engine Directories
Online directories exist as a virtual phone book, often enabling people to find sites by subject. It sounds like a great concept and an easy way to build some legitimate backlinks to your site. However, some of those directories have been penalized.
The best thing for you to do is to talk to some peers and gather a list of a few directories where you want to submit your site. Then, be done with directories forever. If you try to saturate your site through every directory you can find, you might end up getting a bad backlink from a site that Google has determined to be using unethical practices.
Don’t Use Hidden Text
If you’re knowledgeable in Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), then you know how to present text in any color. You can even make text disappear by presenting it in the same color as the background.
While you might think that you can trick Google into thinking that certain text is on your website, even though it’s completely invisible to human visitors, you should know that Google considers that practice a violation of its policies and will penalize you.
Don’t Use Comment Spam
Too many comments can be spam. This is a strategy often used by spammers. Often, they’ll use a tiered process that employs comment spam to point back to an article, then that article will point back to another page, and then finally that page will point back to the relevant content, often called “the money site.”
The simple fact of the matter is this: Google has done a fabulous job, to date, of detecting the tricks of Dark Side practitioners. It’s only a matter of time before Google engineers get wise to the “tiered” link building system.
Don’t Use Duplicate Content
If you’re looking to fill your site with content but don’t have time to write it all yourself, you might think that one cool shortcut would be to steal someone else’s content and just post it on your website. Aside from being grossly unethical and possibly putting you in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you could also hurt your rank in the SERPs.
Google boasts that it does “a good job” of showing only unique content in the SERPs. So, if your content is determined to be a duplicate of another site’s content, then your site likely won’t appear at all.
Wrapping It Up
You’ve worked hard to build your brand online. The last thing you need is to watch your search engine traffic drop because Google has determined that you’re violating its SEO policies. Play it straight and you’ll avoid losing money.