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Archive for April, 2012

Why SEO is Slowly Killing Your Website

Every web guru and internet expert claims they know the inside secrets about search engine optimization. With their “killer SEO” techniques, you can sit atop the search engine rankings and achieve total world domination. (Or something like that.)

The thing these “experts” won’t tell you? That “killer SEO” is not hyperbole. It’s a fact: SEO can slowly drain the life from your website when it’s taken out of hand or not considered at all.

Is your SEO plotting to kill your web presence? Here are some common indicators your search engine optimization has gone to the dark side:

1. Poor Research

Keyword research is a tricky beast. Many companies make the mistake of picking keywords based on internal business lingo instead of language an actual client or prospect might use to search. They make word decisions based on guesses about user needs instead of hard core data about search patterns.

In general, clients search differently than you do.

Sometimes, the words you use in your industry aren’t the same words your clients or potential clients are using to search for your site. Many times, keywords that seem like no-brainers to you and your colleagues are the last potential visitors would type into the Google search bar. When you use keywords in your content or meta tags that people searching aren’t using, it’s like speaking to an auditorium with no people.

When you conduct research, make sure to put yourself in the role of the person you want to find your site. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If someone had never heard of your product or service, how would they describe it?
  • When would your product or service be useful? In what situations would they use it?
  • What’s important to these users (what information are they looking for)?
  • What words would they use?
  • What questions do they have that need answering?
  • What other websites in your industry might they visit?

When you answer these questions, you’ll improve your research and the quality of the keywords you utilize. Even more importantly, you won’t waste valuable content space on words that actually hurt your web presence.

2. Poor Content

Content can be described as just about anything—photos, video, or copy—that appears on your website as information for consumption. This section addresses words and written content. However, these tips should be followed when considering other content types as well.

“First and foremost we care about trying to get the stuff people really will like—the good, the compelling content—in front of them.” – Matt Cutts, Google Software Engineer

Let’s summarize: if you’ve been spending all your time worrying about SEO and very little time focusing on content hoping to gain recognition from search engines, you’ve put your eggs in the wrong basket.

There are three big content no-nos. Violate these at your own risk:

Writing weak or unsubstantiated content

If your website copy could be described as “fluffy” or rife with marketing speak, you might want to take a second look. Content for your website should have valuable information that helps visitors by answering questions and satisfying their need for knowledge about your product or service. Any claims or statistics should be substantiated: always provide links or cite your sources.

Keyword stuffing

Surely, a medieval practice such keyword stuffing would have been lost as we evolved into the modern internet era? Sadly, no.

At some point, all of us have clicked on a link with high hopes of a great website on the other end, only to find a keyword-packed mess of a page with no valuable information whatsoever. Here’s a hint: if you sell lights in Minneapolis, MN if every other phrase is “minneapolis lighting,” or a variant thereof, your content is stuffed. Redo for the sake of the internet, and your website.

Keep in mind: Google does not take kindly to bounce rates. If visitors land on your site hoping to get good information and find a never-ending string of keywords instead, they’ll leave. The result? Your website will be penalized. When you write for your website, utilize keywords in a moderate and appropriate way. Be natural with your writing, because you really don’t have to try too hard to get those keywords integrated into your text.


In a similar vein as keyword stuffing is the whole bait and switch tactic. It’s just plain shady. Irrelevant content can be anything from using keywords that don’t relate to your product, page titles that are unrelated to the page content, or labeling links inappropriately. (Certainly, you’d expect a link that read “Oprah’s favorite things” to take you to Oprah’s favorite things, not a page for a secret rainforest super fruit antioxidant supplement.)
When you create your web content, be transparent. Content and labels should correspond and be cohesive. Keywords should be relevant and actually relate to what you’re talking about. Links should take visitors to related pages, information they’d expect to land on.

A good rule of thumb: don’t surprise your visitors. Don’t make them guess. Give them exactly what they’d expect to find.

3. Poor Design and Structure

Too often, sites with really great content don’t get the full benefits of SEO because they forget to tend to the technical side of the equation. While you may have to talk to your website developer or designer about integrating some of these techniques, the extra effort is worth it.

Here are some common structure flaws that aren’t doing anything to help your site:

Lack-of or shoddy meta tags

Meta tags are small pieces of data included in your website code that don’t affect how your website looks. They are, however, used by search engines to reference and categorize your site in addition to being used in search listings. Google, for example, will use your description meta tag in its snippit (the short text preview displayed in a web result). According to Google’s Webmaster Central Blog, they “frequently prefer to display meta descriptions of pages (when available) because it gives users a clear idea of the URL’s content.”

So what does this mean for you? A few things. First, it means that potential clients will read these descriptions when your site pops up in search results and choose to ignore or visit your site based on what they read. Second, it means that search engines care about these tags, and you should, too. Finally, it means that if you’ve never created meta tags for your site, or your meta tags don’t do your website justice (they’re irrelevant, poorly crafted, aren’t user-friendly), it’s time to craft meta tags that accurately represent what appears on your web pages.

Non-relevant URLs

Are your URLs short, sweet, and relevant? If the answer is no, redo them. When your URLs are short, contain meaningful keywords, and relate to the page’s topic, you’ll benefit in search. Long, vague, and unrelated URLs just make the search engine’s job harder. And why would you want to do that?

Dirty, messy code

When you’re thinking of the architecture of your website, you want it to be developed in a way that makes it easy for search engines to crawl and categorize. Dirty code drags down search engines: it makes it hard for the spiders to make their way through. On the other hand, clean code is efficiently structured and simple. Spiders are free to roam through, unhindered. (Imagine walking through a jungle without a machete versus making your way on a walking trail.)

How can you tell if your code is clean? Load time is a good hint. If it takes a while for your website to load, it could be in need of some refreshing. But, have an experienced web developer take a look, too.

The bottom line:

There’s no SEO silver bullet. There’s no one “trick” that will get your website to the top. But, when you take a comprehensive approach and avoid the pitfalls above, you can increase your chances of search engine success.

SEO, when done right, can help your website appear higher in organic search rankings. Done wrong, it can hinder (sometimes kill) your ability to succeed online.