Over recent years, several Google updates have taken to punishing the “black hat” SEO tricks that were once effective at raising a website’s profile.
Google robots, often called spiders, are getting smarter by the day, and have become remarkably astute when it comes to their online detective work. Today, in 2017, if those robots determine that your website is employing an undesirable SEO strategy, you can receive an unexpected penalty. This could be either manual (affecting a single website) or algorithmic (potentially affecting tens of thousands of websites), but whatever form it takes - your ranking may plummet.
Judging by our recent conversations with some Birmingham B2Bs about SEO, many companies in the local area risk being penalised.
The relationship between SEO and content in 2017 has changed. Google robots are now taking greater note of the quality of the content, rather than the frequency with which keywords appear. This is why there has arisen a trend for prioritising helpful, well-written content over the race for ever-sneakier ways to fill your webpages with greater numbers of keywords.
On that note, let’s look at the SEO practices you should avoid in 2017, and those you should prioritise.
What to stop
Black hat SEO includes any practice aiming to “trick” search engines into ranking a website higher. Without advocating these practices at all, some of these practices do still work. However, the risks of being clobbered with a Google penalty are soaring, and will continue to rise as search engine robots keep getting smarter.
If you or your marketing team keep using any of the following tactics, you need to take a long, hard look at your overall SEO strategy and ask yourself whether it is worth the risk.
- Keyword stuffing - The most famous of the black hat posse involves filling your website with as many instances of a keyword as possible, and disregarding the user experience. This is less effective now than ever before and more easily detectable, and extreme examples may see your website penalised.
- Buying reviews - This is a thoroughly fraudulent, unethical practice that still happens a discouraging amount. While Google robots may struggle to detect this breach, companies do get caught out - just look at Bell, which was fined $1.25 million for such a breach.
- Spam comments - These are often-automated comments which are unleashed across countless websites, with links going back to your own site. This black hat SEO tactic requires a lot of effort and also risks being slapped with a Google penalty, so it is no longer worth even an unethical marketer’s time.
- Automated content - This is ultra-basic content composed by a software programme rather than a human being, and most of it reads as poorly as you might expect. Readers will be turned off and search engines will recognise the copy as being low-quality. Until AI approaches true consciousness (an unsettling thought!), automated content should be avoided at all costs.
- Cloaking - Promising something in a link that does not deliver is a practice that both mars the user experience, and risks your website being penalised. Clickbait is still a widespread internet phenomenon, and failing to fulfil your promises will land you with a bad reputation and lose visitors by the truckload.
What to do more
Now that you know which SEO methods can poorly affect your usability, reputation, and rankings, here are some of the newest recommended tactics that we have noticed Birmingham and West Midland companies failing to do.
See if you can you recognise a pattern in the following list.
That’s right: it’s the overall user experience.
- Focus on mobile integration - Google will likely launch a mobile-first index in 2018/19 - meaning that websites will then be ranked according to their mobile versions, rather than desktop versions. Such a huge upcoming change in Google’s ranking methods underlines why your website’s mobile experience must match the quality of its desktop experience.
- User experience - Does your website contain empty pages, ugly images or layout, an unclear user path, or poorly-written content? Is your average visitor going to find your website attractive, engaging, and easy to follow? If not, prune back any content or pages that fail to contribute to a pleasing user experience.
- Rich snippets - Rich snippets are being discussed more and more by SEO insiders, influencers and innovators. Rich snippets are extra pieces of information that appear alongside a website’s listing on Google, such as the overall rating, number of reviews and product prices. Increasing the likelihood of Google adding rich snippets to your website listing will be a job for whoever controls the back-end of your website, but even then, snippets are currently a privilege, not a right.
- Increase long-tail keywords/phrases - With the rise of voice recognition technology and the growing intelligence of Google robots, using natural language is more important than ever. Google users are now less likely to type “best cinema movie”, and more likely to ask something like, “Which film should I see at the cinema in Birmingham this Friday?” For this reason, consider the kinds of questions that your prospective clients are likely to ask a search engine, and target those longer phrases too.
...Last SEO tips
As our list of the SEO best practices and black hat techniques shows, companies in Birmingham and beyond could still be employing tactics that Google now frowns upon. If this sounds like you, you need to recognise the punishments you could be risking.
Google and the other top search engines are now prioritising a fast, smoothly-run, informative, helpful, and high-quality user experience - and they will rank websites accordingly. Your website will only be rewarded in the search rankings if you focus as closely as possible on user experience - that, or risk being left in the dust wearing a scuffed and crumpled black hat.
Build SEO as an integral part of your digital marketing strategy. If you want to generate leads, you need to write quality content that your customers and potential customers are searching for, addressing their issues and helping to solve their problems.