As with most of life, the temptation to take shortcuts in your Search Engine Optimization efforts is everywhere. More often than not Google can and will find the shortcuts site owners take and will often penalize them and essentially lose trust in that site. Similar to losing and regaining trust in people, regaining trust with Google takes much more time than losing it. With every algorithm update Google is getting smarter and can see your web site more and more like a human would. It can read the content of your site and essentially understand what your pages and site as a whole are about. Google can derive associations of your site based on links and social media to better understand the concept of your web site. Recently, Google purchased an artificial intelligence company so it looks like they are pretty serious about building web crawlers that can fully understand your site in side and out. I have no doubt that Google will soon be able to catch every shortcut site owners make on their site and off and will likely penalize them for it.
There are many ways to shortcut your SEO efforts. Since two most important aspects of SEO are content and inbound links, that’s where I’m going to focus.
Content is king in the SEO world, so naturally a site owner should add as much content as possible to their site. Your content needs to be relevant and useful to your visitors. Avoid giving into the temptation to reuse your existing content to beef up your site’s status with Google because it simply won’t work. It’s a no brainer that simply copying and pasting your content into a new page won’t help your search engine rankings and will likely hurt your SEO efforts. The same holds true for rearranging paragraphs and sentences and even rephrasing your content can hurt if it’s not truly unique. Google’s Panda update in February 2011 dealt with this issue of “low-quality sites” or “thin sites” which includes sites that have a lot of similar or duplicated content. Regurgitating the same thing over and over again may be considered relevant to your site, but it’s certainly not useful to your visitors, so Google wants to get rid of sites that do this.
This goes for your meta tags as well. Meta tags are behind the scenes code that tells the search engines in a nutshell what your site is about and are usually displayed in the search engine results. If all your meta descriptions are the same or similar it’s likely that your site will get discounted in the rankings.
There are also cases where pages that do not intentionally create duplicate content can get hurt. Many e-commerce sites have very similar if not identical descriptions for all their products, especially if the difference between products is size or color. From a logical point of view there’s no need to redescribe size 10 shoes and size 11 shoes, but if a site uses different pages for it’s product variations Google might not like it.
Another common shortcut is to stuff your footer full of keyword links to improve your search engine rankings. Keywords are words or phrases you believe people will search to find your and similar sites. The idea here is you can make these links once in yoir footer and they end up across your entire site. Google knows what you’re up to so stop it! There are legitimate reasons to have links in your footer, but none of them are for SEO. If you’re reason for adding footer links is to “help” Google lift you up in the search engine rankings, it’s probably going to do the opposite.
Buying Links & Link Farms
Every link to your site is essentially a non biased vote for your site. It makes sense: If I link to your site then that must mean I like something about it. As such your site will appear better in Google’s eyes. An extremely easy and not too costly way to get links to your site are to buy them. Buying links used to work great, but as Google gets smarter, it can figure out what links are natural and what links are paid for. There are a thousand metrics Google uses. They include how many other sites are linked to from the same source and the frequency of obtaining the links. There’s really nothing more to say on this topic other than Don’t buy links! See:JC Penny
Link farms are groups of sites that link to another group of sites. It’s an automated and very easy way to get thousands of links to your site. In exchange, your site links back to those sites, or possibly another group of sites. As with buying links, this practice used to work and it was cheap or even free. Based on the previous points, I’m sure you know that Google knows when you’re participating in a link farm and they will severely penalize you for this one. Every time. No exception. It’s cheating the system, no two ways about it.
Moving Forward With Your SEO
I’ve presented a few specific examples of SEO shortcuts and why you shouldn’t take them, but there are many more. I’ll discuss other shortcuts in a later blog, but for now, here’s how you should look at your SEO efforts: If your SEO is intended to trick Google even a little bit, it’s probably going come back to bite you.
If you have any questions about this article or your SEO efforts, post them here or give me a ring anytime.