Free Yourself from SEO Bad Habits

Paul Bullock

Published Tue 25 Nov by Paul Bullock in Creating Better Content

Need a boost for your business' search engine optimisation strategy? This article helps you kick out any SEO bad habits and prosper online

Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is always changing. What was permissable, even popular, one year, one month, may be penalised this year, this month. Our clients and associates often ask us about how they can keep up to date with the latest search engine optimisation 'rules', so we thought we would write an article specifically on this topic.

We'd love to say that one size fits all, or that once you have read up on SEO, you can sit back and forget about it. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Google and other search engines do like to keep us website owners on our best behaviour. And sometimes, knowing what they want is just plain old hard work. 

Your company's SEO strategy does need updating regularly. Keeping your finger on the pulse will really benefit your business in the short and long term. 

Hunter Hoffmann, head of US communications at Hiscox says: 'Most small businesses evolve or pivot from their initial focus as they react to what works in the marketplace. You can use this opportunity to put more resources to your most effective tactics, cut some of your less successful initiatives and try something new'

So, it's not about beating yourself up for the things that haven't worked. It's about seeing everything, the good and the not so good, as a necessary step towards knowledge: your signpost showing you where to go next. 

Sometimes, knowing what not to do is just as helpful as knowing what to do. So I'm going to talk you through some black hat SEO techniques to avoid : free yourself and your business from bad search engine optimisation habits...

1. Duplicate Content

It might be tempting to duplicate content, but it really is bad news in terms of search engine optimisation. Copying the content of others in your field and passing it off as your own might seem tempting, a handy shortcut to having your own website rich with content for Google to get its jaws into. And let's face it, finding a good copywriter, and finding the budget to pay them for producing original content, is a daunting prospect for many small or startup businesses. 

So is there any way around it? 

Practical Guidance

1. Nothing is truly original - especially on the web. There are hundreds of blogs out there, all giving advice about hot topics, all with their own particular slant on it. No one is saying that your blog posts have to be absolutely original in terms of subject matter. The way you inject originality into your blog posts and articles is to harness a unique voice. To speak in a friendly but not over-familiar tone, and answer your target audience's questions 

2. Read widely to get ideas - no one exists in a bubble, especially online. We all read the blogs of others and get inspiration from them. They can give us ideas, but that doesn't mean we have to copy what they're saying word for word. If you really like a particular phrase or line they've written, why not feature it as a direct quote? Referencing experts aligns you with them in your shared field of expertise. Put a link to their website and they might even take notice of you and start reading your blogs in reciprocation

3. Duplicate content can also refer to content appearing more than once on your website, say if you have a downloadable ebook in a variety of formats. In this case, you can use Google Webmaster tools to instruct Google how you would like your website to be indexed. This means that it will not read and index certain items as duplicate content

2. Keyword Stuffing

This has long been known as a black hat SEO technique. Keywords have been shrinking in importance in terms of SEO for a while now, largely because they have been over-exploited by website owners. This does not mean that keywords are bad news full stop. It just means that your website is no longer ranked in terms of your keywords. However, they are still an essential part of the process in which your target audience finds your website on the web. 

Practical Guidance

To avoid being penalised in terms of keyword stuffing, try:

1. Using keywords sparingly in your metadata - title tags and description tags can still contain keywords, but it's best to put them in just once, and only if they make sense

2. Before you include keywords, write the sentence or phrase and ask yourself whether it is a truly accurate description of the page your readers will click through to - above anything, it's the user experience that good websites focus on. If adding keywords detracts from the sense of the phrase or sentence, it is probably best to leave it out. This doesn't mean that you can't use them in longer pieces of content such as your blogs and articles, and your products and services pages

3. Remember that the key to being ranked well in search engines is no longer anything to do with your keywords in metadata - it is now more to do with how many users like your content, and how much good quality content you've got. Remember the key phrase 'Content is King' - it's still applicable, and shows a key shift away from website owners trying to please Google, towards keeping their focus on how to please their readers and engaging their audiences with fresh, original content that they want to read and share

4. Keywords do have a function - Whilst stuffing keywords indiscriminately into your meta-descriptions may not be acceptable, this doesn't mean you can't use them strategically, as long as they make sense and are relevant. Keywords in your description tags can enhance user experience. When your description tag appears underneath the main heading on the search engine results, keywords that they have typed in to find your website will appear in bold. This shows your users that your page is relevant to their search - in short, that your website contains the answer to their question. Users will love this, and are more likely to click through when they see it. All the more reason why your description tag needs to accurately describe what the user will find when they land on your webpage. 

See below an example of how Google emboldens keywords in search terms and results : 'free,' 'seminars,' 'Nottingham' and 'blogging.'

Screenshot of Fresher and Prosper on search engine results page

3. Guest Blogging with Ulterior Motives

'Stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done' - Matt Cutts, Gadgets, Google and SEO

Matt Cutts doesn't mince his words. And his words are well worth listening to. He is the Head of Google's Webspam team, and has worked for Google since the beginning of the millennium. 

Guest blogging started out all well and good, but it very quickly started to be a hunting ground for spammy sites selling backlinks. While guest blogging for the sole purpose of creating links for SEO is most definitely frowned upon now, guest blogging in itself is still worth doing, provided that you go about it in a sensible way. 

The sensible way? 

Try this for size...

Practical Guidance

1. Guest blogging is permissible if you know the other blogger personally, or through your networks. If there is a genuine exchange of knowledge going on, this is great. This is what blogging is all about after all

2. Spammy guest blogging in order to gain links is not to be confused with blogs that have multiple authors, such as SEO MozHubspot and indeed, Fresher & Prosper's own article section 

Screenshot of article by Martyn Talbot on Fresher and Prosper's website

Having multiple authors all on one blog site is beneficial, as long as all of the people guesting are actually associated with that blog. The benefit for us of having multiple authors, all of whom have different, specific specialisms within our field, is that we can offer a wider range of advice to our readers. It gives us the opportunity to reach a wider audience

4. Quantity over Quality

Are all links equal?

Definitely not.

There are good links and bad links, and bad links wear black hats. Bad links make Uncle Google very angry indeed. He may decide to penalise your website if he catches you farming bad quality links, or having too many stashed under your (black) hat. Good links, on the other hand, can enhance your site and help you create a community, develop your reputation as an expert in your field, help your webpages get found in search you walk on water... (ok, maybe not that last bit, but on the whole they're pretty good). 

So how can you create links that Uncle Google won't sniff at?

Practical Guidance

1. The long and short of it is that any link that directly benefits the user experience is favoured by search engines. Links to good quality websites that have useful information are always more beneficial to users than, say, links to low quality websites or websites that are set up to harbour links and do not have any legitimate, original content (known as 'link farms')

2. Internal links are favoured by search engines - internal links give users a quick shortcut to other inner pages on your website, allowing them to switch quickly between various articles, product and service pages or contact pages. This ease of navigation is great for SEO because it directly benefits the user and makes their visit effortless

3. Links from blog commenting - commenting on high quality blogs in your field is another way of getting good quality links to your website. Not only does this have the benefit of helping you forge a meaningful interaction with your target audience, who will be hanging out commenting on good quality blogs in the niche subject, but it also allows legitimate links to your own website that are favoured by search engines. Take note that the best way to get your comments approved are to only comment if you have something genuinely useful to say that is respectful and substantial, and to avoid posting links to your website within the body of your comment. The latter practice is seen widely as a 'black hat' technique, and is likely to see your comment removed (that's if it manages to get past the moderator in the first place). The best way to forge a link is to post it when you register as a user on a blog. Most will ask for your username and your email address, then ask you to fill in the box entitled 'website.' This is where you type in the URL of your website, so when your comments are posted, your name will be a hyperlink to your website.

SEO is an ever-changing landscape, but with a little background reading, and your finger on the pulse, you can navigate your way to a prosperous online presence!

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