It’s the end of the year, and we all know what that means: a new list of SEO trends hop on board within the coming year. This time, though, we’re going to tell you what to avoid for a year of prosperous search engine results.
Trends emerge every year on how to harness the power of search engine optimization. But with all the information out there, how can we get a handle on what is still relevant and what was just a passing phase?
Take, for example, this search query: “how to choose the right keywords”. Articles that were written three years ago might show up in the search engine results page (SERP), but is the advice even still correct?
The only thing that has remained unquestionably constant is the importance of investing time and resources in SEO. Despite the volatility, SEO is still considered to play one of the most crucial roles in digital marketing.
And although Google has implemented algorithm updates to stop marketers from spamming their way to the top of the rankings, it is still important for business owners to play nice with search engines.
On that note, here are 10 SEO practices that need to be avoided at all costs going forward. These techniques are generally employed by black-hat SEO professionals and will lead to some pretty heavy penalties in the long run.
In this article, we will count them down so you can ring in the New Year with a perfectly-optimized website.
Content for Content’s Sake
If Bill Gates had a dollar for every time someone quoted his “Content is King” mantra, he would be as rich as…well, you know.
Unfortunately, the emphasis put on content marketing has resulted in various black hat SEO techniques like duplicate content and automated content. The number of writers willing to spin an article for $5 is staggering. Take “Fake News” sites as an example: these types of sites are often plagiarized, spun content intended only to populate pages.
Ethics aside, these low-quality pages are terrible for user experience. That’s why Google acts against them. The lesson here? Create content that is useful, informative, and engaging. Bad, spammy content will only hurt your brand in the end.
Lurking in the Comments Section for Links
Spam comments are one of the most ubiquitous black hat SEO practices out there. Take almost any YouTube video or Buzzfeed article (and probably your own comment section) and you will see overly promotional, unrelated links in the comments section.
Webmasters who practice this type of link-building behavior engage in automated spam to leave comments on blogs and social media platforms. The problem is, this leads to poor user experience and completely tarnishes your reputation with a potential customer.
The average internet user already knows all about popular SEO spam. Search engines are wise to black hat ways – building links using the same anchor text for these spam links are a major red flag and could cause link penalties for your site.
Using Intrusive Interstitial Ads
Google announced that it would begin penalizing intrusive interstitial ads on mobile in 2017. The types of ads Google is referring to include:
- Showing a pop-up ad that covers the main content of the page either as soon as a user lands on the page from the search results or while they are digesting the content.
- Showing a standalone ad that a user has to manually dismiss before entering the main content.
- A layout where the above-the-fold content looks like a standalone interstitial with the original content under the fold.
The penalties only apply when an interstitial ad is displayed on the page visited directly from Google. It’s OK if the interstitial ads pop up later on when a user has clicked through to another page.
There are some types of interstitial ads that Google allows, such as age verification, cookie notifications, and banners that are easily dismissible. But if an ad is seriously hindering user experience on mobile, it should be reworked, relocated or trashed altogether.
Relying Solely on Link Earning (Not Building)
To be clear, there is nothing wrong or black hat about earning your links. It is wrong, though, to hinge your entire backlink strategy on merit alone.
Obviously, building your link profile with high-quality content is unquestionably important and needs to be one of the top priorities of your SEO strategy.
Those high-quality backlinks will get you in Google’s good graces and augment your brand’s authority in the industry.
Link earning is done by:
- Creating original content to be shared across various platforms.
- Posting your content on social media so your followers share it and attract more users.
- Waiting for your audience to share and link to your content on their own.
Link building is done by:
- Publishing guest posts on external publications that link back to your site.
- Reaching out to sites to have your brand included in lists or articles.
- Trading links with other brands.
Essentially, link earning is a passive strategy that relies on quality content and brand authority while link building is an active strategy used to build your link profile.
With link building, you have control over who you communicate with and request backlinks from. Ultimately, relying solely on link-earning results in a pretty ineffective link building strategy.
In the end, link building is a more consistent and successful way to ensure your brand is receiving high-quality backlinks. Both are important, but the building will yield faster and more easily measurable results.
If you haven’t yet heard the term, doorway pages are creating pages for the sole purpose of spamming the index of a search engine. The technique involves creating a bunch of different pages (sometimes on multiple domains), getting them indexed and ranking for whatever keywords, and then redirecting human visitors to the real landing page.
The goal is to artificially expand a page’s search footprint by sneakily sending users to it from pages optimized for completely different purposes.
Doorway pages are sometimes called portal pages, jump pages or bridge pages. Basically, they redirect users without the user’s knowledge.
The way it works is, Google crawls and indexes a page optimized for a keyword, and then ranks it for queries about that keyword. However, when a visitor clicks on the link to that page from a SERP, they are redirected with a quick Meta refresh command to a different page. This page is usually irrelevant to the user’s query and often monetized via CMP ads and/or affiliate links.
Like cloaking techniques, these pages are designed for search engines and not for human visitors. Get caught using doorway pages and you will likely suffer a penalty from Google. You can learn more about doorway pages here.
Engaging in Keyword Stuffing
We know, we know. This is not a hot new tip. Keyword stuffing has been considered a black hat SEO for a while, and yet it is still a wildly popular technique despite the backlash.
Keyword stuffing relies on the importance of keywords in search rankings. When a site crams its content with keywords, the webmaster is hoping search engines will rank the page higher due to relevance.
However, thanks to algorithm updates like Panda, search engine bots are intelligent enough to see through this shortcut. Google’s distaste for keyword stuffing comes from the clear attempt at manipulating relevancy algorithms.
Using keywords naturally throughout your content will not only give your users a pleasant experience, but it will also help you avoid major penalties.
Paying for Links
Building your backlink profile is paramount for SEO. The importance of link building cannot be stressed enough, which is why many site owners feel pressure to throw some money at the problem and call it a day.
The issue? Google has repeatedly advised against this technique. Most of the links you are able to pay for come from low-quality or off-topic websites. This is flagged as a black hat technique because it’s obvious that these links were not built naturally.
Google is constantly refining and tweaking their Penguin algorithm. As such, links from related and authoritative sites are worth more than paid links from unrelated sites. Quality over quantity is key to this concept.
Some SEO freelancers still, surprisingly, offer this technique as part of their services. Anyone that says they can offer a .gov or .edu backlink is a fraud and you shouldn’t do business with them! Build your link profile organically and you will see the rewards.
Cloaking a page is done by presenting one page to the search engine and building an entirely different page for the human audience. Google explains the black hat technique in a video if you want to learn more about it.
To break it down simply, this technique is used to rank highly for certain keywords while delivering less-than-stellar content to users. Affiliate marketers are known to cloak links so their IDs don’t get hijacked or branded elsewhere. Google doesn’t actually punish affiliate links though, so if you are trying to hide them, add the nofollow attribute.
As we mentioned earlier, some freelance SEOs might still use this technique to drive traffic to your site. Some SEO services even contend that they have purchased domains with high traffic over the years that they can use to drive traffic to your site.
Worse still are the services who use Google Analytics to display monstrous traffic being sent to you. But in reality, none of that traffic actually went to your site. This might not technically hurt your SEO, but your analytics will be tainted with junk sessions and you won’t be able to accurately use your data for any important factors you are measuring.
Cloaking is nothing more than a trick designed to fool search engine bots. Going into 2019, your SEO strategy needs to focus on providing value to your users instead of doing anything imaginable to boost your rankings. Search engines are getting smarter every day and will reward you for genuine content.
Using Negative SEO as a Weapon
Using negative SEO is a pretty slimy thing to do, as it involves sabotaging your competition with low-quality backlinks.
The idea behind this technique is that by eliminating the competition, your site will rank higher by default. The penalty, though, will ultimately be toward your site, because Google will find out.
Competitor research is an important part of digital marketing, but there are plenty of easy ways to do it without tarnishing your brand in the process. With an SEO audit, you can track your competitors and use the knowledge you’ve gained to restructure your own site. You don’t have to take them down to boost yourself up.
This is a really trashy way to boost your rankings and any reputable SEO freelancer wouldn’t dare take part in it.
Ignoring Intent and/or Voice Search
We could write pages upon pages about the future of the semantic web. But for brevity’s sake, let’s simply discuss the importance of implementing semantic web technology into your SEO strategy.
Some of Google’s biggest changes in recent years (Hummingbird and RankBrain) came about in response to the semantic web. The purpose of the semantic search is to understand a user’s intent when they do a search.
Furthermore, Google learns from previous results to create links between entities, so that the answer to a query is more relevant.
The goal of the semantic search is to provide results that are informative, relevant and detailed. If you want to prepare your site for semantic search, there are several steps you can take to get ready. Here are some tips on semantic search.
An important element to the semantic web in 2019 is the rise of voice search. Although it originally looked to be a passing fad, voice search is here to stay. More than half of U.S. teens and almost half of adults use voice search at least twice a day. So, you need to optimize your site for these types of queries!
People tend to use voice search when they want to find a specific piece of information. Your content should be optimized to fulfill that intent completely. This is a clear shift from keyword-based optimization to goal-based optimization.
Voice search is only becoming more popular, and failing to optimize your content to reflect this trend will leave you in the proverbial dust. You can learn more about voice search optimization here.
Now that we’ve covered the worst SEO practices possible, you should know what to avoid in the coming year. The general consensus in the SEO community is to create content that is relevant, informative and engaging for your target audience.
Blackhat SEO techniques might help you, but only briefly. Search engines are getting smarter and more intuitive every day; it is increasingly difficult to trick them into ranking your site higher with shady practices.
The main point we want to emphasize is to create authoritative content your users will value and be sure you know how they are searching for it. And, as always: test, optimize and test again!
Good luck with SEO and SERP optimization in 2019!