The SEO landscape has changed, and you need to get with the times. Where once you could get away with rigging your content to hit certain arbitrary measures, Google has changed their search algorithm to prioritize quality content, and all those old tricks you used to use haven’t just become useless – they’re now actively hurting you.
We’ve previously given you tips for writing content search engines will love; here are some once-effective, and now-dangerous, SEO tricks you need to immediately stop using before Google sees what did.
Because Google sees everything.
1) Spammy Guest Posts
Increasingly the bane of SEO marketers, guest posting is a formerly respectable practice utterly demolished by black hat SEO practices. In short, these are people paying to have links posted on websites that pass PageRank.
This practice violates Google’s quality guidelines and, if your goal is to have no traffic whatsoever, it’s a great way to get your site banned. There’s nothing wrong with having high-quality guest posts – quality content is always a plus – but low quality, spammy posts that exist for no reason but to foist some links upon your unsuspecting audience are dangerous – and should be avoided.
2) Keyword Stuffing
Keyword stuffing, another tried-and-true method that has fallen by the wayside, made perfect sense in the days when content that simply mentioned frequent search times again and would be rewarded with high rankings. In theory, the assumption was that relevant content would naturally generate these terms, but in practice, websites would jam as many of them as possible into the smallest workable space in an attempt to climb to the top. This created content that didn’t read naturally, sounding as if it was generated by a computer built during the Carter administration rather than by an actual human being. Nowadays, Google can tell when this is happening, and because they prioritize helpful content, this sort of material gets shoved to the back of the line.
3) Duplicate Content
This has been a plague on the internet for years: spammy websites duplicating content found elsewhere (frequently entire Wikipedia entries). The assumption here was that the content was valuable, and would compete with the main source for pageviews, but in practice, search engines ignore such sites as much as possible. And why shouldn’t they? You’ve given them nothing worth indexing. Google rewards unique, original content with high ranks, and cannot even be bothered to consider duplicates. In other words, duplicate content is worse than penalized: it’s ignored.
4) Link Manipulation
Google still values links pretty highly, but what it values even more highly is organic linking. Google does not, in fact, respect bad links, and it can tell the difference. Link exchange programs, paid links, and other artificial link manipulation practices can result in stiff PageRank penalties; we need only point to the JC Penney link scandal a few years back, in which the company paid for thousands upon thousands of keyword-specific backlinks, mostly on irrelevant websites and buried deep in the bottom of the code. Upon discovery, Google blacklisted their website for months, resulting in a profound loss of online business.
You do not mess with The Google.
5) Title Stacking
In the same way that Google penalizes keyword stuffing in the body of a document, Google generally disapproves of doing the same with title tags. The title tag is powerful and easy to manipulate; sticking a bunch of superfluous titles on your page lets you jam numerous keywords into a page without any context at all, in theory raising your page’s search visibility. Back in the day, Google prioritized content with relevant titles; but now if you get caught, you can expect to be dropped down to page 162 without warning. You’re advertising to search engines that your website is shady, manipulative, and unreliable, which means that the algorithm won’t trust you – and will bury your content.
6) Hidden Text
Hidden or cloaked text is one of the oldest and sketchiest SEO practices out there. Frankly, it’s amazing that people still do this. But they do. Lots of ‘em. The technique is simple: invisible, teeny-tiny, or otherwise impossible-to-read text that’s just a whole bunch of high-volume keywords stuck in at the bottom. Usually white text on a white background, Google’s bots can read what we can’t.
And what’s worse, sometimes you didn’t even put it there; invisible text is a hallmark that your website has been hijacked to drive traffic somewhere super sketchy. Make sure you periodically check your website for this bad practice and scrub it away – before Google gets there and sends you scurrying to the back of the line.
7) Bad Content
Lastly, while having bad content isn’t exactly a shady SEO practice, it can only hurt you. So make sure your website has great content! Nothing tells Google “my website is completely worthless” quite like not having anything worthwhile. Make sure you’re generating quality, useful, informative content that people will want to read and share. It’s the best way to the front of the line, and neglecting the substance of your website is just as dangerous as the blackest of black hat SEO techniques.