Modern SEO is a dangerous game. In the past, Google wouldn’t really penalize a site for making mistakes. It was entirely possible to find your ranking made static and any further benefits minimized until you cleaned up your site, but you would very rarely see a manual action that removed your rank entirely. Today, Google has no qualms about applying penalties, ranging from automatic decreases in rank to manual removal from the results entirely. You can, in the space of a day, go from a successful site to a financial ruin. Making one of these five mistakes will put you in hot water, so avoid them at all costs.
1. Buying Links
For a long time, one of the most important factors in SEO was the backlink. When you had more links, you had a better ranking. To this end, a number of tactics were created to gather links. You could submit your site to link directories, large sites that accumulated hundreds of links. You could spam your link in the comments of every blog you can find. You could create dozens of side blogs and link to your site on all of them. All of these techniques have, in recent years, become penalized in some form or another.
Links are still important, of course. Links from high quality sites pass a significant amount of link authority. Think of a link as a weighted vote of confidence. The more trusted a site is, the more weight its vote has. Conversely, poor sites and spam sites have low or even negative weight to their votes. A spam site’s vote of confidence is worth so little it’s actually a negative.
So where does buying links fall in? Well, it depends. If you’re buying a link from a blog that sells links, that blog is violating one of Google’s webmaster guidelines. They will, sooner or later, be penalized. That penalty will carry over to any site that purchased a link through them.
Far worse for your site, however, is going to a site such as Fiverr or a shady SEO company and purchasing link packages. Sure, you’ll gain an instant few hundred backlinks, and your immediate ranking will rise. Then Google will realize that all of those links came form one of the black hat techniques and will penalize you for using them.
2. Hiding Text
Some of these techniques have legitimate uses. The Facebook comments plugin hides its content in a frame. Hiding text behind an image, when that text is a description of the image, is a way to add accessibility for visually impaired visitors. Hiding text in a DIV is a way to make the Facebook comments plugin show up in SEO.
On the other hand, hiding keyword text from users while showing it to the search engine is a black hat technique. Google, when it finds invisible text on your site, will make a judgment call based on the intention and purpose of that text. If you’re using it for a legitimate purpose – such as making the Facebook comments visible – it’s fine. If you’re using it for keyword spam or other shady SEO benefit, you’re going to accrue a penalty.
3. Spamming Keywords
For a long time, keywords were one of the most important focuses of SEO. If you wanted to rank on the Google search results, you would need to include the specific keywords of the query you wanted to rank for. You would need to strike a careful balance; too many instances of the keyword would label you a spammer and would hurt your SEO. Too few and you wouldn’t rank for that keyword. This was the keyword density calculation; the choice of how many times to use a keyword in a given piece of writing.
The problem with keyword density is the keywords themselves. As focus strayed away from primary keywords and into the long tail, it became increasingly difficult to write a piece of content with a long keyword used several times. The keyword “widget” is easy to use ten times in a piece. The keyword “blue widgets in Ontario Canada” is much harder to use naturally. Yet, with too much focus on keyword density, you would be forced to use those long keywords several times, making your piece sound unnatural.
Google has, in recent years, decreased the importance of keyword density. Value calculations are important to the search engine. Too high of a keyword density, particularly with a long tail keyword, makes the content harder to read and thus less valuable.
Today, all you really need to use a keyword for is one or two mentions in the text, a mention in the title and a use in the title meta tag. Any more is usually unnecessary. The keywords are easy for Google to pick up and sort your content through, so you don’t need to mention the keyword a dozen times to rank.
Too much of a focus on keyword density leads to keyword spam, and keyword spam is a black hat technique that penalizes or blacklists your site very quickly. Focus on value to the reader, not keyword density for the search engine. Google will do the rest.
4. Spinning Content
Modern Google is all about the content, so what’s the fastest way to create content? One common way is to find articles others have written and spin them – typically with an article spinner software – so they appear unique. This worked, for a while, but Google has grown wise to the technique.
Spinning essentially uses a thesaurus to change words and phrases into equivalent words and phrases. Ideally, this loses no meaning while changing the words. To a reader, the articles would look completely different, despite saying the same things. Unfortunately, spinning software isn’t sophisticated enough to include the nuances of word choice. Two synonyms may have very different emotional connotations, making a spun article a roller coaster of emotion while the original piece is much more finely tuned.
Google combats this by making its own dictionary of spun words and phrases. Many of those words and phrases are effectively equivalents in the eyes of the search engine. Two spun articles may look different to the reader, but to Google, they’re obviously spun. Instant penalty.
5. Broken Code
Really, compared to the other items on this list, this one is simple. Broken code has never been a legitimate tactic, it’s never been promoted by Google and it’s never been used for nefarious purposes. It’s just poor form. Bad code keeps Google from indexing your page or, if it does index, indexes incompletely and penalizes you for the poor code.
Broken code can take many forms, but a solid site design should alleviate most of them. Some you have to watch out for include:
• Poorly created robots.txt files that block your whole site
• Broken links, both internal and external
• Plugins that drastically increase load time through code errors
• Errors that cause your site to render improperly on certain browsers
Essentially, make sure your site works for the best SEO possible.