If you've been involved in SEO (search engine optimization) for a while, you may remember the time when you could create a web page and get it ranked at the top of any search engine with little effort.
All you had to do was load up the page with the keywords you wanted to rank high for, make sure your meta tags were stuffed with those same keywords, submit the page and within a few days or weeks you've captured a top 20 or even top 10 result.
The major search engines were pretty easy to figure out. Some focused on the first 90 characters on a page, others gave more weight to the title tag in your HTML, another paid more attention to the overall content and finally some used a combination of factors to determine a page's rank.
If you were an SEO expert, you knew what each search engine looked for and it was pretty easy to optimize your site for a top 10 rank.
Back then, you didn't get penalized much for keyword stuffing, hidden text, and some of the other tactics that can get you into trouble in today's world.
The bottom line is search engine optimization for the average webmaster was almost like a cakewalk years ago.
That was then. This is now.
Times have certainly changed! Those same methods described above will not only hurt your rank, they can even get your banned from the engine permanently.
There are no shortcuts to search engine success anymore. You have to work it. All those lazy webmasters who steal other people's content or use the tricks mentioned above are now discovering that the search engines mean business.
Confidential Google Report Disclosed
In early 2006, a Google employee broke a non-disclosure agreement and revealed a report that shouldn't have gotten out to the public. Actually the information wasn't surprising by any means.
In a nutshell, all we learned was that Google is cracking down on spam and sites that offer little content - a.k.a. "thin affiliates".
A thin affiliate is one that offers very little information and the main purpose of their site is to send visitors to the affiliated merchant's site in order to collect a commission.
Often times these sites have more external links than they do actual content. They also may contain several doorway pages (more on those later) that do nothing but link to the merchant's website.
The report even revealed examples of live sites that Google considers "suspect." Trust me...this is NOT a place you'd want to see your site appear. You can bet these sites won't be getting much traffic from Google anytime soon.
This report seemed to indicate that Google has hired humans to evaluate the accuracy of Google's search results. Can you blame them?
Google has always said their main focus is to provide relevant results. The main reason the engine has been so successful is because it gives searchers what they want.
If you've noticed, you don't see lots of ads, banners and other distracting revenue-sucking techniques on their pages. They want their customer, Joe Surfer, to find what he is looking for.
They don't want their index to be turned into a hodge-podge of doorway pages made by those thin affiliates. They want unique quality content that offers valuable information to their customer - the web surfer.
Search engine spiders are not humans. They are programs. They can only do so much when it comes to weeding out the good and bad sites. It only makes sense to me that Google would help protect its reputation by hiring real people to ensure their results are as clean as possible.
Without going into detail over the report (I wouldn't want Google to penalize me!), I've just outlined a few of the topics that were touched upon. You probably won't be shocked by what you read.
In fact, none of this may be new to you. But if you are performing any of these techniques, stop now!
SEO Techniques to Avoid
Useless Link Exchanges
Once upon a time, you could scout out other websites that were related to yours and swap links to help boost your link popularity. The more the better. These days the search engines are frowning on certain link exchange strategies.
The best kind of link exchange is one that offers a contextual link to both parties. So instead of creating a "page-o-links" that no one will even read, offer your potential link partner a contextual link in an article that is related to their site. Ask your partner to do the same for you. The search engines will see this link as a much better quality link than a link from a page chuck-full of other sites.
Let's say you have a website on dieting. Instead of creating a "list-o-links" page titled "Other Diet Resources" where you list 300 different partner links, write some diet-related articles and recommend a few of your link partner's sites within the context of the article.
Don't go hogwild with link exchanges. They are not nearly as valuable as they once were so I wouldn't spend too much time seeking out a bunch. If you can get a few, relevant quality exchanges that's fine
Nowadays, the real value comes in the one-way exchanges where someone links to your site and you do not have to link back. The best way to earn those is to create a site full of value.
Doorway pages are small, keyword focused pages that mainly serve the purpose of getting the visitor to your affiliated web site. They usually offer no value to the website as a whole, and often times they are cluttered with several different affiliate links.
Google is smart and can scope those kinds of pages out. You may be penalized if it finds these on your site.
Hidden or Tiny Text
This is an OLD tactic and it amazes me people still use this.
Using white text on a white background or making your text so small it is hardly visible to the human eye is one of the oldest search engine tricks in the book.
Many people would use this technique to hide tons of keyword phrases they wanted to rank high for by hiding the text at the very bottom or top of the page and make it match the background color so they are invisible. Others would use a tiny font to add these keywords in various places all over the site. The human eye may have a difficult time finding them but the search engine spiders would.
So as you can see, the above info is not shocking by any stretch of the imagination. Those are all very bad optimization practices and will never work for the long run. You may get lucky here and there but the engines will eventually find you and penalize you for it.
Too Much Duplicate Content
It's OK to use some of the article directories (ArticleCity.com or EzineArticles.com) and reprint some of their content. That's what they're there for and they are useful if you want to add information on a topic you may not be well versed in.
However, if 90% of your site is from these sites or if you are illegally using copyrighted material without a webmaster's permission then you deserve any penalty that Google gives you.
Google loves unique content. After all, it's what drives their success. They don't want the same articles showing up in the results so they pay close attention to duplicates.
If you don't like to write, try hiring a copyrighter to do the writing for you. Trust me, it will be worth it in the long run.
Oversubmitting to Directories
Submitting to a few relevant, high-quality directories is fine. Spending hours per day seeking out high PageRank directories is not. It's a waste of time.
In the video below, Matt Cutts (Google's lead engineer) tells you what Google thinks of most directories and which ones they value.
What You Should Be Focusing On...
Unique, quality content rules. Don't get stressed out about your meta tags, link lists, exchanges etc.
If you want the search engines to love you, build a website with lots of useful themed content. Promote your website in relevant places (social networking sites, forum signatures, blog commenting, etc.)
Once people begin discovering your site, many will link to you voluntarily (assuming they find it valuable) and THAT's how you get the search engines to respect you. It takes time, but it's definitely worth the wait.
Write for humans, not the search engine spiders. Forget about keyword density (the ratio of a keyword phrase to total body content), just write for real people.
Bottom line: Don't take shortcuts. Be ethical and work hard to build the best site you can. You'll be rewarded in the end.
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