SEO providers run the gamut of quality. While most companies will provide a reasonable mix of good services, some are still actively using techniques that we know are bad. In some cases, bad SEO can yield quick short term results, but those results will not have long term impacts. And, in the worst cases, SEO practices can violate a search engine’s terms of service. These practices are known as black hat SEO, and they will actually result in penalties. Here are the top bad SEO practices to watch out for when evaluating proposals.
Automatically generated content, or robo-content, is site content that is generated by a script designed to create largely nonsensical text stuffed with target keywords. First of all, this content is useless to your users and results in a terrible user experience. Most importantly, auto-generated content is a known black hat technique that search engines are monitoring for, and it's not hard to spot. Once you get caught, search engines will penalize you, and in extreme cases they will completely deindex your site.
Meta tags are intended to help search engines properly categorize your pages so that content is more easily recognizable and accessible. Meta tag stuffing is the practice of stuffing your meta keywords tags with target keywords. This doesn’t work and it hasn’t for many years. In fact, as of 2018 the meta keyword tag is no longer used by Google, Yahoo, or Bing. If your SEO provider is doing this, it's time to switch. They don’t know what they are doing.
In some cases, it may seem like duplicating content and changing a few words is an efficient way to make some quick SEO gains. For example, if you provide goods and services to multiple locations, you may be tempted to create duplicate pages for different locations to increase your content and rankings. This won’t work. Search engines will discount duplicate content on your site, and if you duplicate someone else’s content you will be penalized by plagiarism. The correct thing to do is to create new original content for each page.
Link stuffing is the process of stuffing pages with links to high quality domains that are not related to the content. While it is true that linking to high quality domains can help with SEO, linking needs to be done strategically. Links should be relevant. Your links to text ratio should be optimized. And, the anchor text used for your links should be directly related to the link source. If you do engage in link stuffing, your links will likely be filtered by search engines through a process commonly known as the “sandbox effect,” and you may be penalized.
This is the practice of stuffing your content with keywords that are the same color as your background color. This makes them invisible to human readers. Not only is this an old trick that has long since been proven to be ineffective, the entire premise is dumb. Search crawlers are machines, not humans. This content is no less visible to them than any other content on your website, and it is evaluated the same way. Stuffing keywords without the context of useful content will look just like machine generated content, and you will be penalized as such. That being said, there are legitimate reasons for hiding content. Here’s everything you need to know about hidden text and SEO.
SEO at the Expense of UX
Search engines are developed to test websites for usability. Your search rankings depend on your site providing a good user experience. That means providing high quality content that loads quickly and is organized in such a way that it can be easily digested. Sacrificing UX to achieve the goals of your SEO strategy will result in lower ranking, because other webmasters will inevitably provide better content. Your SEO strategy should include optimizing your user experience for SEO.