Google has increased the frequency of algorithmic updates this year, in conjunction with an all-out blitz to unlock the doors of black hat SEO firms and their innermost secrets of increasing site traffic. There are online behaviors that increase risk of incurring a penalty and landing you in what this article is calls “The Google Dog House.” The more such risks these marketers take, the greater the chances in losing key traffic with further algorithmic updates from Google, not to mention assessed penalties.
Risky behavior is now defined as anything that could potentially “impress” the algorithms rather than aiding in the overall user experience on your site. There are tolerances built-in for novice online marketers, however the closer you get to the edge, the chances are Google will penalize you at some point for not adhering to the specific Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Unfortunately, because everyone seemingly uses the same tactics these days for better first page results, more traffic, and more exposure in search engines overall, commonly used SEO practices are becoming saturated. In addition, many are simply misused on a regular basis from the start.
The following search marketing practices are likely to lead to website penalties or overall downgrades:
1. Page Title Keyword Saturation
Search engines are paying very close attention to the specific contents of a page and whether the page title is reflective of this information. The days when you could put two or more expressions in a title are long gone, and viewed immediately as the chasing of specific keywords. Search engines are continuing to tighten the tolerances more stringently. They prefer human readable titles that pertain to the content of the page and are not created for the sake of search engines. When going through this exercise, try to identify the main content piece of the specific page. Once that is defined, there is a main keyword phrase to which content relates. There are also secondary and tertiary keyword phrases that syntactically relate and may be used in the description fields as well.
Common misuse examples include:
- Targeting more than one keyword or keyword phrase in your title.
- Continually putting limits on the number of characters in your title so as to show that every page has a certain number of characters and is a commonality throughout the site.
- Forgetting to have the brand name mentioned in the title itself. This helps on all levels of conversions.
- Placing only targeted keyword phrases at the beginning of each title.
2. Misused Navigation
A common theme throughout this article is how Google is moving toward a better user experience. When browsing analytics, you will notice that only the top few links get the majority of the clicks. It becomes evident when you have 200 navigation links on one page that they are not there for the user’s purpose, but for the search engine. Even when you obfuscate a large block of links with CSS, Google’s algorithm can still detect that the web page content is not built to help the user.
Most marketers believe that creating many links on a page will help because of the anchor text feature. Stuffing multiple anchor texts with keyword rich phrases will definitely raise flags and ultimately penalize your website.
Post Penguin (Google’s 2012 major algorithm update) identifies this as being a high-level issue on many websites. They are looking for sites that are optimized in such a way that the anchor texts of all onsite navigational links are directly related to exact match keywords or multiple keyword phrases of the same context.
The Key: Variety is overall the most important element of onsite navigation. Keep navigation simple and relevant to the content on the page or where you want to direct the user. Use branded keywords for the majority of anchor text, followed by a small percentage of keyword phrases.
3. Overly Common Keyword Usages
This is a big one, and one that’s not easily avoidable. We all use the same tools (in theory) to find keywords and place them into spreadsheets to manage based on traffic results. Now, you are advised to use these tactics to better select keywords and manage your editorial calendar based on your spreadsheet of keywords.
What this leads to is every SEO practitioner using virtually the same type of keyword tools, the same spreadsheet formats and the same editorial calendars in order to produce content that helps get ranked in the search engines. The problem is that you end up with a trend that Google identifies and labels as inflationary content. Some industries are much more notorious for this than others.
The overall impact of this will lead to an excessive amount of similar content that can’t possibly fit the needs of the search community. Essentially, you have too many articles chasing too few searches.
Important: Think about reusing old content in new ways, updating out-of-date content, and putting a cap on the number of articles about a certain subject. Do the research on what is out there related to content in your field and what is missing. Overloading the search engines with more of the same articles isn’t going to help your search rankings. Creating new content based on similar content will help better position you in the long run in the search engines and give the user an overall better experience.
4. Deceptive URLs
The common default for most content management systems when creating URL’s (permalinks) is some sort of garbled text like “?p=12” etc. Most SEO practitioners advocate the URL name needs to be search friendly by adding keyword phrases to it, relative to the content on the page. While that may be true to some degree, if you are choosing your URL structures based on what you believe to be search friendly, you may be engaging in a high-risk practice that leads to less traffic.
The largest culprit here is people making blog posts not look like blog posts in attempts to create a search friendly page. URL’s should be memorable to us as humans and create a more direct approach to the specific content of the page, versus trying to write it more for the search engine itself based on what is believed to be searched the most. This can lead to a keyword obsessed URL strategy that could be damaging overall.
5. Meta Description Paralysis
Most advice in SEO communities about meta-descriptions is to “write better meta-descriptions.” The question then comes to mind, “what is a good meta-description?” Too often we see meta-descriptions becoming nothing more than just another area to stuff keyword phrases that are disguised to look like sentences. Google’s algorithms can pick this up immediately.
Unfortunately there is no good universal theory on writing good meta-descriptions, when in fact, they are not required by the search engines (including the meta-keywords field as well). The best way to avoid being penalized here is to write meta-descriptions based on what the user will find on the page. Remember that the meta-description gets picked up in the search results page, which helps the user determine if they want to click the URL or not.
6. Overly Optimized Sites
This penalty, just introduced this year, has had a tremendous effect on rankings throughout millions of sites. There is speculation that an overly optimized site has direct correlation to unnatural linking since we are starting to see Google send out bad link notifications via Google Webmaster Tools™, but it’s much more than that.
This new algorithm update is designed to level the playing field and reward sites that have great content but can’t seem to rank above sites that have mediocre content but better optimization techniques.
The key here is to create great content that users engage with and will share. The best content areas tug at your heartstrings. While you can’t always create this type of content because your industry just doesn’t produce anything like this, you can always create useful content for people coming to your site. Remember, most people use the internet to look for free information. The more information you give your users, the more they will come back for updated content. Google sees this as a double win; bookmarking your site, updated unique content, and people returning to the source of the information are a few key indicators that Google is certain to reward.
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