There’s an abundance of articles on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) best practices on the web, and for a good reason. As Google’s SEO criteria algorithms change and adapt, so does the marketers’ approach to Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). But what such articles often overlook is that many old techniques aren’t just outdated but also harmful. Many such SEO techniques can kill your SERP rankings and damage your business. Thus, we’ve collected five such practices here for your reading convenience.
SEO techniques that can kill your SERP rankings
SEO criteria and algorithms weren’t always as robust as they are now. Less than a decade ago, Google was still fine-tuning its SERP algorithms, which let marketers artificially inflate their rankings. Eventual updates, such as Penguin, Panda, and most notably the Hummingbird algorithm update, allowed Google to tackle many such techniques.
Dubbed as “black hat SEO”, some of these shortcuts to success remain today. The most well-known ones are probably keyword stuffing and buying backlinks, but there are also others. However, such SEO techniques can kill your SERP rankings and hamper your efforts. As such, let us explore the five most important ones in some depth.
1 Keyword stuffing
Keyword stuffing is the practice of loading a page with excessive amounts of any given keyword. While it’s great to keep your content relevant through optimal use of keywords, stuffing is an apparent excess. This may not be an intentional black hat technique but may come down to inexperienced content writers that over-optimize. Either way, search engines will penalize such content and damage your SERP rankings in the process.
To avoid this, focus on using keywords within content in a natural, meaningful way. Search engines value relevant, valuable content, and modest use of keywords can achieve this. Furthermore, WordPress and other platforms offer SEO checkers, such as the Yoast SEO plugin, that can inform your keyword use. Consider the following minimum keyword use depending on text length, for example:
- 750 words: 3 times
- 1000 words: 4 times
- 1250 words: 5 times
- 1500 words: 6 times
Exact numbers will vary, of course, but a general rule of thumb should be to use your keyword roughly once every 250 words of text. You can certainly go higher without penalties, but overuse will look like a keyword stuffing attempt.
2 Buying backlinks, and backlink quantity over quality
An equally known yet harmful SEO technique is to “stuff” backlinks – going for massive quantities of low-quality backlinks, usually bought. Simply focusing on backlink quantity is not strictly damaging to your SERP rankings, but it’s often ineffective. Buying backlinks, however, can carry serious penalties.
Backlinks serve to increase your website’s authority, which is a vital SEO metric. Furthermore, they can increase incoming traffic. This is why many websites try to boost their SERP rankings by buying backlinks. However, what increases your website’s authority is relevant, quality backlinks from authoritative websites, not merely large amounts of backlinks.
That said, backlinks are still valuable, as they give search engines proper engagement and value signals. So you should not ignore them by any means, but you should focus on quality over quantity. And of course, you shouldn’t do so by buying backlinks; this SEO technique can kill your SERP rankings by having your website de-indexed.
3 Focusing on content quantity over quality, and content plagiarism
On the subject of low-quality backlinks, the same applies to low-quality content. Many websites follow the basic SEO principle of producing content regularly, but they do so by accepting massive amounts of low-quality guest content. Plagiarized content sometimes follows and is devastating in its own way.
This can harm your SERP rankings for a few different reasons. Most notably, guest content can underperform in two key areas; SEO and relevance. Low-quality content often doesn’t fully adhere to SEO best practices, and it can also drift away from your website’s niche. Both can deliver a lesser experience to your visitors, which in turn lowers your relevance score. Even worse, low-quality standards can let plagiarized content slip through, which can absolutely destroy your rankings. Such content can reduce your website’s authoritativeness and hamper your SEO efforts.
To avoid this, you can apply strict criteria for guest content – including thorough plagiarism checkers. You can also produce more content yourself or internally to ensure you deliver quality content to your audience. Naturally, you benefit from focusing on creating content consistently, but you should not underestimate the need for content value.
4 Excessive ads above the fold
Next, an often overused technique is adding ads above a website’s fold. “Above the fold” is the upper portion of your website that users can see immediately without scrolling. While adding ads there can ensure better ad visibility even when visitors otherwise bounce, it can also damage your rankings.
It’s relatively harder to find yourself doing this unintentionally, but it’s still possible. Earning passive income through ads or boosting your marketing efforts are common reasons why you may do so. However, Google has strictly warned against excessive ads there – and its page layout algorithm enforces this rule.
To avoid this, closely monitor your SERP rankings. If you find you underperform, check your page layout to ensure you don’t use excessive ads above the fold. If you leave this unchecked for long, you risk sending Google the wrong signals and damaging your SERP rankings in the process.
Finally, cloaking is a textbook black hat technique. Cloaking is the practice of fabricating content for bots while presenting human visitors with different content. This lets websites boost their rankings artificially without actually providing valuable content to their audiences.
There’s no way to “cloak” content unintentionally; if you’re doing this, it’s because you wanted to do it. But keep in mind that it’s an SEO technique that can kill your SERP rankings, and it’s frankly not worth the risk.
Conclusion: Black Hat SEO techniques can kill your SERP rankings
With the above in mind, it should be clear that many SEO techniques can damage your SERP rankings. Whether they’re unintentional over-optimization or intentional black hat techniques, you should avoid them all at all costs.
Andrew Johnson is a freelance digital marketing consultant and SEO expert. He’s a regular contributor to azcitationservices.com, as well as other publications.