Google Penalties for Webspam (Bad SEO): StartMaking Sense
If you have been reading about SEO for longer than a few minutes, you have probably
found some variation of "build your website/write content for people, not search en-
gines". We have preached this from day one, but it seems like it may be one of those
things that people read, but don't really understand what it means. In light of Google's
recent announcements of an upcoming penalty for "over optimization", an even more
recent warning of a webspam algorithm update (now called "Penguin"), and a few
years of algorithm updates and spam-fighting pandas, let's take yet another look at
modern SEO and some things to do, or not do, to avoid a drop in your search engine
rankings or how to recover from a Penguin penalty if you have already been hit.
One would think that by now most website owners
would have figured out that trying to trick Google is a
bad idea, but some may have done things months or
years ago that they did not think would matter because
"it's the WWW and everyone lies, cheats and steals,
right?" No, everyone does not. It is time to undo those
SEO mistakes and bad ideas. For many, un-overopti-
mizing (huh?!) is going to mean undoing or removing a
lot of goofy things that were done in the name of better search engine positions.
Keyword obsession, ill-advised tips and bad advice
Forget what you "read somewhere" about keywords, density, interlinking, blog net-
works, link exchanges, link velocity, hyper-something-or-other... ugh! Too many to get
into. In short, if you read something about SEO and it seemed like the writer just made
up his own buzzword or it sounded like a crazy scheme, don't let it take up space in
your brain - and don't add it to your online marketing plan.
As a matter of fact, forget that there is any such thing as a search engine algorithm. For-
get for a moment that you are doing business online and think of the web the way you
would phone solicitation, direct mail or any other form of offline marketing. How
much sneakiness and bizarre behavior would your potential customers tolerate in the
"real" world? Your online marketing should be no different.
Stop thinking "what will this mean for SEO?"
"Would I do this if there were no search engines?"
If you went to your website for the very first time, would it make sense to you? Or
would it look kind of strange - repetition of the same few phrases in the titles, the copy,
the navigation, the links to other pages, etc? This is especially important in the title ele-
ment - the text that shows up as a link to your site in the search engine results. Key-
word-obsessed webmasters will often fill up the title with their favorite keywords in or-
der to rank well, declare victory, and then wonder why there is still no traffic coming to
the site. That is because while you may think search engines want a list of almost ran-
dom words, people do not. And Google wants to give people what they want. You may
get a higher position with nothing but keywords, but a well written title is much more
effective at getting users to click through to your site. Do put your most important tar-
get terms in the title, but you don't need to repeat it so much that you left no room for
branding. Yes, being on page one is still so much better than being on page two or low-
er. But if you are ranking within say, the top 5 to 7 spots, being attractive to users be-
comes just as important.
Think about your own web browsing habits. When you are searching for something, do
you click on the very first search result without thinking? No, because you are not a ro-
bot. You usually take a second or two to get some idea of what the page you are about
to view is about, and go to the site that looks not only the most relevant, but the most
attractive to your interest, or possibly the easiest to understand. Now look at the titles of
the pages on your site. Would the title make sense to you, as a rational human being
who has no idea that search engine optimization exists? Or would it look like Google
served up some sort of table of contents listing of tags or keywords?
You can also apply this to your meta description tags - the text Google usually shows
under the links in search results. Do you have a list of keywords in the meta description
or awesome advertising copy? Since the content of the meta description doesn't mean
much to search engines but does to people, don't be afraid to be a little clever in your
descriptions - especially if you are in a competitive marketing niche where everyone is
saying the same keyword-stuffed nonsense in their titles and descriptions. Titles and de-
scriptions that read like a good advertisement will bring more traffic to your website -
and it will be users who are more likely to stick around and absorb your message. And
if that isn't enough to break your keyword stuffing habits, think about that looming
Google penalty for being "overly optimized."
The takeaway here for those who are addicted to keyword position as a key SEO metric:
switch to click-through and conversion rates. Those are a much healthier way to lose
sleep over your web marketing. For content, focus on topics or themes rather than key
phrases. Write well, use a variety of words that mean the same thing as your beloved
keywords and use the best SEO keyword research tools available - a thesaurus and ra-
tional thought. (Didn't we say we are not your typical SEO company?)
Link Building for People Not Search Engines
Article marketing, blog networks, "thousands of directories" and just about any other
link you might get solely for the SEO value... OK, when have you ever found a really
excellent website or business from any of those? Of course some sites will still need lots
of good incoming links to do well, but don't count on those easy to get but hard to justi-
fy links to count for much.
Just how stupid do you think Google is people are?
Maybe you are thinking, "I have to rank #1 so I am going to put comma separated keywords in
my title element instead of something people would like. Screw Google's guidelines"
Hey, it's your website. If you feel that being #1 is a more im-
portant goal than reaching your target audience and show-
ing them how good your products or services are without
looking like a spammer, that is certainly your prerogative.
Google is getting smarter every day, getting better at recog-
nizing even the more subtle attempts at manipulating the
results, and recognizing things that make sense to people,
Need Google Penalty Help?
not just search engines. Before long, that top spot that seems
so important will be taken by a website that conveys its message well - to people.
"But what about my keywords? Don't I have to have extra special secret keywords in every title
on every page and use them somewhere between 2 and 7 percent of the total text so I can be #1?"
Seriously, forget everything you ever "read somewhere" about keywords.
Some Related Stuff:
Over-Optimized? Google's New Penalty for Too Much SEO (7.1)
Warning Signs of Bad SEO - Who Can You Trust? (5.7)