4 SEO No-Nos That Damage Your Site’s Reputation
In addition to knowing how to improve your search engine optimization, every retailer must know which SEO practices to avoid. Some previously popular SEO practices carry such significant penalties that they can damage your site’s search ranking for weeks, months or even years. Yet many retailers with outdated SEO knowledge continue to practice them.
Much like in the medical practice, those tinkering with SEO should vow to “first, do no harm.” Here are four of the big SEO “no-nos” you should always avoid:
1. Duplicate content: The web is at least 25 percent duplicate content, says Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team. In the context of e-commerce, that number is significantly higher. So how can duplicate content have a negative impact on SEO? There are several issues with it – all related to a search engine’s efforts to determine which version of the content to index and rank. Duplicate content can lead to decreased traffic and less relevant search results.
To avoid the negative impact of having the wrong kind of duplicate content on your site, be sure that each distinct piece of information (typically an individual web page) is always indexed under the same URL, and that any other URL that serves the same page has a canonical tag. If content moves, you should set up a 301 redirect from the old URL to the current page. By grouping the duplicate pages together in this way, their combined ranking signals work together for better overall search engine ranking.
2. Thin or shallow content: When Google launched its Panda algorithm update in 2011, search engines began to penalize sites with content that was thin or shallow – i.e., poorly written, lacking supporting references or centered on a topic that didn’t relate to the site’s audience or area of expertise. At the same time, the SEO advantage tipped toward sites with high-quality, original content that's relevant for their target audiences and offers a positive user experience.
Today, even a small amount of thin or shallow content on a site can affect its ranking. To avoid this penalty, be sure all your site content is well-researched, expertly edited, non-duplicative and related to your area of expertise. Don’t worry too much about including the right keywords because search engines can tell when you’re trying too hard vs. simply providing original content that’s valuable to your visitors. An experienced writer or content manager with current SEO experience should be able to produce content for your site that avoids the penalty for thin or shallow content.
3. Doorway pages: Doorway pages are typically poor-quality pages that are individually optimized for specific keywords or phrases to attract traffic, but then funnel visitors to a single destination. Doorway pages are most often considered a form of spamming the index of a search engine, or engaging in black hat SEO – something you want to avoid. And you can easily avoid doorway pages by creating unique, quality content and indexing it properly.
4. Unnatural links: A common SEO practice in years past was to solicit inbound links with keyword-rich anchor text from numerous sites, blogs, directories and forums. The goal was to take advantage of the ranking factor called “Page rank” (named after Google co-founder Larry Page), which determines a page’s value by the number of inbound links. However, black-hat SEO agencies manipulated this ranking factor by buying links or spamming blogs, directories and forums in an effort to artificially inflate positioning. In April 2012, Google launched its Penguin algorithm update to penalize sites that created such unnatural links.
Some sites still suffer from unnatural links for various reasons. It could be that a member of your team with limited and outdated SEO knowledge is adding spammy links, or that a link-building package purchased years ago has created unnatural links that are still active. It’s also possible that someone has hacked into your site to add links to another site they want to promote, or that a competitor is engaging in negative SEO.
To guard against unnatural links, use the reports available in your Webmaster Tools to monitor the number and quality of links to your site. Review your links at least once per month, watching for signs of trouble such as a sharp and unexpected drop in organic traffic or a “manual action” message in Webmaster Tools. If one or both of these happen, be sure to seek help from a SEO professional that specializes in recovery from search engine penalties related to unnatural links.
It’s crucial to have an expert disavow the unnatural links and submit a reconsideration request, as search engines might reject your request if you can’t prove you tried your best to get all unnatural links removed. The reconsideration request process can take months from beginning to end, plus additional months before the penalty is lifted from your site. Clearly, you want your initial request to be successful.
To protect your quality links, be careful not to disavow links from legitimate sources – e.g., publications posting one of your press releases or fans linking to you from their blogs. You want as many of these quality links as possible.
Of course there’s more to SEO than avoiding duplicate content, thin or shallow content, doorway pages, and unnatural links, but it’s critical to be well-versed in what not to do, especially since it’s even easier to drop in your ranking position as it is to improve.
Tim Callan is chief marketing officer of SLI Systems, which provides site search and SEO solutions for e-commerce.