Two Things You Must Avoid When Optimizing Your Website for SEO
In the previous blog post we discussed how UX is important for your website and how now, more than ever, it is important to have proper SEO practices as mobile indexing becomes the top priority for Google. If your website isn’t fully responsive on mobile, your validity with Google will drop dramatically. This is not something that is a surprise of any kind, in fact the “Mobilegeddon” has been expected for a long time as mobile E-commerce continues to grow, far surpassing desktop E-Commerce. But now that we are talking about SEO (a topic that I have previously written about in mostly general terms in an earlier article What Is SEO?) I would like to focus on things you should avoid doing when optimizing your website for SEO.
Pandas, Penguins and Hummingbirds, oh my!
The classic way of over-optimizing your content is to abuse keywords. Using too many keywords will make Google perceive your content as low quality.
The problem: Google Panda is an update that began in 2011, named after one of Google’s developers. Panda was designed to scour the web for websites with over-optimized content, determined primarily by excessively high keyword densities. Such websites would be deemed low quality and Panda would drastically lower their SEO scores as penalty.
Rather recently, Google Panda became a permanent part of Google’s algorithm, so rather than checking randomly every few months when the new update rolls out Panda is now watching… always.
The solution: If you are concerned about unintentionally triggering a Panda attack you just need to be mindful of how many keywords you are using. Keyword density is the main factor in determining if your content is over-optimized. If you are not sure how to calculate your keyword density, then you should download the Yoast SEO plugin if your website is developed on WordPress. Yoast is very easy to use plugin that will tell you, among other things, if you have too many keywords or not enough. If you are not using WordPress, honestly just using your own discretion should be enough. But if you want to read more about determining a good keyword count I would recommend reading this article, How to Optimize Website Content the Right Way, which discusses how to actually calculate a proper keyword density down to an exact percentage.
Finally, if you are really struggling to find a way to reduce the number of keywords you have keep in mind that Google is now able to recognize synonyms for keywords. Good writing by nature frowns on excessive repetition and now Google does too so just focus on good writing first and you should be fine.
Speaking of quality content in the literal term – not just what the Google bot calculates is Hemingway and what is cheap pulp fiction based on the number of keywords – you should be trying to create that anyway. That is, good writing. If you have forgotten that the whole point of making a website and populating it with words was to provide something useful, insightful or meaningful to actual human visitors and not just trigger a positive response from a robot then you probably deserve a good smack from Panda as a friendly reminder.
This is relevant because of Hummingbird, which was a massive update to Google’s algorithm that changed the way the search engines returned results from a user’s search. Now Google returns results to search queries with actual contextual understanding based on what Google anticipates you would be looking for.
To get a comprehensive understanding of what Hummingbird is all about you should read through this article How Google Hummingbird Changed the Future of Search. Essentially, if you do a Google search for weather, with Hummingbird, the search will first return a local weather report based on the understanding that most people will be interested in knowing what the weather is going to be like, not what the history of meteorology is according to a Wikipedia article. You get the Wikipedia article too, but Hummingbird assumes a context based on a preprogrammed understanding of how people use search engines.
The reason why this is important to keywords and optimization is that quality content is more essential now than ever. Thanks to Hummingbird, littering your website with mindless keywords is even more pointless and damaging because of the context based system which is designed to return results to actual humans with relevant interests and not robots who tally a score and calculate a result.
2. “Gaming” Google with Backlinks
The two main aspects of SEO are on-page and off-page SEO and in case you were wondering, don’t worry- you can hurt yourself with both. Google Panda covers monitoring the quality of your on-page SEO by checking your keyword density. Keywords are part of on-page SEO because they govern how you organize the content on your website. Off-page SEO involves trying to generate links leading to your website from other, ideally, quality websites. This is called acquiring backlinks. One quick and dirty way to get backlinks, like everything else in this commercial market based society, is to just buy them.
The problem: The only problem with purchasing backlinks is Google really doesn’t like it when you do that. In fact, this is kind of considered cheating Google’s system or “gaming” because Google thinks that backlinks should only be acquired naturally by going out and interacting with others on the internet, sharing information and working together. Of course, since there is money to be made people will do what they can to make it and purchasing links can speed up that process if you are smart about it. If you are careless about it then it’s totally going to backfire in your face.
Google Penguin is the Panda for this very purpose. That is, Penguin is designed to go around and search for websites that are trying to take advantage of the linking system by purchasing backlinks to increase their authority and increase their traffic. Penguin will penalize your website by giving these links a negative ranking, creating the opposite of the intended effect.
Unlike Panda, Penguin is not yet a permanent part of Google’s algorithm and it often only runs every eight to ten months leaving websites that have been hit without more than half of their usual web traffic for the better part of a year. During which time you are supposed to clean up the backlinks and just reflect on your sins I guess, because you can’t be redeemed until Penguin runs again.
Of course, if Penguin were to start running in real-time like Panda that would only mean more frequent and consistent penalties for websites purchasing backlinks, which has been a substantial market for SEOs for a long time and likely isn’t going away, Penguin or no Penguin.
The solution: Be careful about how many backlinks you purchase and especially what kind. Or probably even better, don’t purchase backlinks.
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