Search used to be about keywords – now it’s about value and intent.
You’ve probably heard about Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird – three of the most recent waves of changes to Google’s search algorithm. Without getting into technical details, the main point of these changes was to help ensure that search results provided more value. Less junk.
Tweaking the algorithm wasn’t enough; Google wanted an overhaul.
In 2013, Hummingbird was a total search engine overhaul – in a blog post at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan recommended thinking of it as taking the engine out of your car and putting in a new one. Google was ‘officially’ less interested in the specific words used in a search query and more interested in the meaning or intent behind the search. Now you can’t get away from keywords entirely – words are still what we use to communicate meaning,
But there’s a trend here.
Useless information is bad.
Information that matches the searcher’s needs (not just their specific words) is good.
While the exact details to the algorithm used to rank websites change multiple times in a year, there are some definite things that will lower your ranking significantly in search engines in general, and with Google specifically.
In fact, if you do enough things poorly, Google may remove your site (or at least pages of the site) from their search directory completely. Below is a look at five dangerous techniques that may result in Google banning your site.
1. Use Bad or Outdated SEO Tactics
The number one way to have your website banned from Google is to use a variety of bad SEO tactics. This can include:
- “Keyword stuffing” – Loading the same words into a page multiple times until your content makes no sense or reads unnaturally. For example: “Are you looking for a job as a project manager? If you’re looking for a project manager job, look no further. Our project manager jobs are the best career move for project managers. Feel free to watch a testimonial about our project manager jobs from our project managers.” Both job seekers and search engines will hate you for doing this.
- Poor or manipulative internal linking – Internal links (links from one page in your site to another page in your site) are important SEO signals, but they’ve been abused in the past. Your site needs a clear internal link structure. Fortunately, good link structures also provide a better user experience – optimized structure provides an experience that educates customers, while getting them to the right kind of information quickly AND gives search engines the structure they want.
- Focusing on volume over quality – This can take many forms: link exchanges, article marketing to flooded “article” sites with tons of poorly written content, blog comment links, press release abuse and more. Ultimately, any SEO strategy that focuses more on sheer quantity of links coming to you without paying attention to the relevance of the site sending the link, the quality of the content containing the link and the quality of the page where the customer arrives.
Years ago these tactics were used quite often to help people increase their website ranking. But today, these same SEO strategies will make your site appear to be spam and get it banned from the search engines.
2. Provide No Value in Site Content
As mentioned above, Google has also cracked down on websites that provide no real value to the internet user. This means that your website content must be clearly designed to help visitors and provide them with useful information.
Avoid pages that have no content or contain very few words.
Sites that have short content (fewer than 200-300 words) that provide little value are ripe for a search engine penalty. While the content does not have to be stellar, it does have to be useful to the reader. Even short content – content that answers a specific question or helps guide a user to the information they need – can be valuable, just look at Twitter for example.
Just make sure your content is original, well-written and high quality. Simple, right?
3. Promise Content – Then Don’t Deliver It
Expectations are important. Whenever someone clicks on a search engine listing, they have an expectation about what they are going to see next – the information they will receive. If you set expectations for one thing but then provide visitors with something else on your website, you risk two problems:
1) The user will arrive and leave immediately – this increases your Bounce Rate, and generates a low Dwell Time, consequently
2) Google will notice and reduce the page’s value in search results.
In 2014, Neil Patel made an excellent argument about the impact of Bounce Rate, CTR and Dwell Time on Search Engine Ranking in Understanding the Impact of Dwell Time on SEO
4. Don’t Be Mobile Friendly
With the surge of mobile users on the market, it was only a matter of time until the major search engines would expect companies to provide mobile-ready content on their site. For years now Google has been telling people that web sites that haven’t been mobile-optimized will experience search exposure penalties, and now they are making good on their promise – with a major update in April 2014.
Even before this update, Google had begun changing search results based on mobile-friendly websites as well as the device people are searching on. Different devices give different search results – and non-mobile optimized sites risk dropping out of search results.
Mobile optimization not only does this affect your ranking on the search engines, but also your customer’s experience.
Mobile is about making users happy – and that makes Google happy.
Google advises to “improve the mobile web, make your users happy, and allow searchers to experience and experience your content fully.”
The studies agree. As illustrated in my info-graphic How Mobile Impacts Local Businesses 2014-2015, 95% of smartphone users have used their phone to search for local information or local businesses, and 61% say they would most likely leave a site that isn’t mobile friendly.
5. Go ahead – Buy Links!
You can’t buy love, and you should never buy links.
For years, Google promoted the value of link building as a way to build your search exposure. More links meant more people liked your content – each link was a vote. The more “popular” the site linking to you, the more valuable the “vote.” There are a lot of additional details about “link juice” and page rank that control how this works, but that’s the essence of it.
Of course, it’s a lot of work getting people to link to your site just the right way with just the right words for Google to pay attention to your web pages.
Why spend time getting valuables links to your page when you can just buy them?
For a while, building link volume through paying for people to place these links on their sites seemed like a simple solution. But it was always frowned upon and over time, Google has taken to penalizing sites for engaging in anything that even resembles buying links.
Keep a close eye on any third-party services you use to ensure they don’t engage in this behavior. Save the money you were going to spend on links and spend it on content instead. JC Penney didn’t keep a close eye on its SEO vendor and ended up getting penalized by Google and characterized by a New York Times reporter as “the most ambitious attempt [of link spamming he’s] ever heard of.”
If you do buy links, don’t promote it on Twitter!
If for some reason you want Google to penalize you, go ahead and buy links. However, you should make sure the people you do business with don’t use Twitter or other public environments as the ideal place to negotiate renewals. As the Twitter conversation below shows, link purchasing isn’t just for small businesses and shady operators – lazy marketers at big companies like T-Mobile do it, too. You, however, should not.
6. Distribute Article Spam
With all this talk about “Content is King” and the importance of good content marketing, it’s important to remember a few lessons from an SEO tactic called “article marketing.” Not very long ago it wasn’t uncommon for marketers to create or buy low-cost “spun” articles and stuff them into as many article directories as possible. Think of it as a slightly legitimate form of link buying. I mean, you’re writing content, right?!?
Well, not so much.
Google used to care about quantity.
Article marketing thrived for a while and in many ways was a primitive form of content marketing. But it relied too much on creating content for the sake of keyword-heavy link building. The articles often provided barely any information of value and oftentimes couldn’t even be read – a result of “spinning” the copy to create hundreds of versions of the same piece. The idea was to have hundreds or thousands of versions of the same article pointing to the location you wanted to promote.
Now Google cares about quality.
It didn’t take long for Google to catch on – these articles filling up directories and other sites were worthless. Remember, useless information is bad and these articles don’t give people what they need – good information. Google wants quality information that gives users real value.
The end result – if you’re creating articles or blogging for your company, they have to be high quality and actually useful for your reader. It’s good for Google and good for your reputation with job seekers.
So, if I can’t do all that – what should I do?
If you want to have your site banned from the Google search engine, you can easily make all of the mistakes listed above. In no time, you will have a difficult time locating your site on Google. If on the other hand, your goal is to create a successful website that will provide brand exposure, remember that Google recognizes VALUE.
Keep your content relevant to the target audience’s interest and needs while paying attention to observing proper technical SEO practices. Give users a good experience – make it easy to find the information they want. If you do right by your customers, you will be doing right by Google as well.