You could be doing more harm than good to your website ranking if you’re still trying to trick Google.
When the first generation of digital marketing professionals learned about search engine optimisation in the late 1990s, the internet was a very different place. Web 1.0 was a comparatively simple platform, where over-using particular keywords or creating efficient meta tags could ensure a decent position within the listings of nascent search engines like AltaVista and AOL.
Fast forward to 2016, and the western world is powered by the twin engines of Google and Bing/Yahoo. Their search engine optimisation has moved on in leaps and bounds, with increasingly sophisticated algorithms making ever more nuanced ranking decisions across one billion global websites. Yet some people continue to program like it’s 1999, even though some of the old SEO tricks no longer work…
1. Keyword stuffing.
Once upon a time, a web design agency could ensure its web design services ranked highly in web design searches by including the words ‘web design’ throughout its website. Today, the process of writing for search engine algorithms instead of a human audience has become known as ‘black hat’ SEO, and is liable to result in a website being blacklisted from future search results. It’s very difficult to get that decision reversed, so aggressive over-use of key search terms should be avoided at all costs.
2. Link farming.
A distant cousin of keyword stuffing, link farming was another popular method of attempting to trick search engines. For many years, algorithms counted and valued the reciprocal links between websites. The more links to and from a site, the argument ran, the more credible its content must be. Inevitably, nefarious companies began mass-launching empty websites packed with paid-for links to third-party domains. As the algorithms grew more sophisticated, they were able to identify link farms and downgrade the ranking of any websites they were associated with: the exact opposite of the intended result.
3. Anchor text.
Another hyperlink-based SEO trick that has fallen into obscurity involved adding hyperlinks to keywords or popular search terms on a website. Optimised anchor text implied that a particular site was an oracle of information on the hyperlinked term, but the search engines quickly realised that this anchor text was being misused and exploited. Optimised anchor text fell out of favour in the early Noughties, and hyperlinks should only be used nowadays for links to genuine third-party websites.
4. Excessive content.
Regularly updated websites will perform better in search engine algorithms than their neglected peers, which is why major content generators (including media outlets) often appear on the coveted first results page. However, many people took this to excess in the last decade, filling websites with cheaply-sourced and badly-written content. As algorithms have matured and advanced, they’ve become increasingly adept at spotting amateurish guest blogs or rehashes of existing content. The most recent updates to Google’s algorithms have been particularly effective at identifying and downgrading sites that appropriate someone else’s content, before changing one word in every sentence and reposting it.
5. SEO spam messages.
A curious addition to this list, perhaps, but everyone will be familiar with the “Get 1st Page on Google!!!” emails that occasionally slip through the junk mail dragnets of our ISPs. It’s a sad fact that a very high percentage of these emails originate in India, typically from unprofessional-looking Gmail accounts. Anyone foolish enough to request further assistance is likely to receive unusably poor content incorporating some (or all) of the verboten techniques outlined above. Effective SEO requires people fluent in English and steeped in the latest web marketing techniques, rather than a chancer with a laptop and a thousand pre-registered Gmail addresses.