Search engine optimization is an important part of web design, but how does one go about attracting the critical eye of search engine spiders without drawing their ire? The first thing to understand is that search engine optimization is one thing, while spamming is quite another, and search engines are continually working to improve their algorithms in an attempt to filter out the spammers – who are trying to manipulate the system – from the legitimate sites that are providing valuable content and just trying to improve their site rankings.
I was recently removed from Google’s index for trying to manipulate the system – not as a spammer, but simply to improve my page ranking. My recent experience and subsequent research have, at the very least, given me some insight on what not to do:
- Don’t do what I did. It’s called “cloaking”, and I learned the hard way that it’s at the top of the list of things to avoid unless you want to get banned by Google. It turns out that spammers have been doing this for years – hiding text and links by making them the same color as the page so that people searching for, shall we say..certain popular subjects…might just stumble upon their site(s). Cloaking is also done by including text behind an image or setting font sizes to 0. Don’t do it. If you’re going to have text or links, make sure your visitors can see them.
- Don’t go crazy with keywords. Too many keywords can be worse than too few. Remember: Google is trying to produce quality search results for the people who are conducting searches, and for keywords to be effective they have to provide a glimpse of the actual content that exists on the page. According to Google, “filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking”. Focus on writing quality content with keywords in mind, but don’t make keywords determine what you’re going to write about.
- Don’t use Doorway pages. Google defines doorway pages as “typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination.” Most search engines prohibit their use, and the use of these pages is particularly unacceptable if the keywords you use in the doorway page are not related to the content of your site.
- Avoid duplicate content. Don’t post the same thing in several different places on your site or to multiple domains that point to the same place. Google looks for fresh, unique, and distinct content and views duplicate content as contributing to a negative user experience. It will notice if you repeat yourself and will penalize you accordingly. At the very least, they will decide what domain is valid and remove the others from their index.
- Don’t do too much, too quickly. Google is able to track the growth of sites, and if your site grows too quickly they may suspect you of spamming them. Release material slowly and consistently, again focusing on presenting unique content, both within your site and compared with other sites.
- Don’t link to a bunch of other sites just to increase your page rank. Your site’s ranking is partly based on Google’s analysis of the sites that link to you, and if those links are not relevant to your site or of good quality, your ranking will suffer. Google encourages links, but the best way to generate links is to create useful content that others will find valuable and therefore want to share with their readers.
As I recently learned, it doesn’t take Google long to decide that something on a website is in violation of one or more of their guidelines and the website will be promptly removed from their index. The good news is that it is possible to get back in their good graces by modifying your site according to their guidelines before submitting your site for reconsideration. Like I said in my previous article, they won’t tell you if or when you can expect to reappear in the search engine page rankings; if they decide that the site is in compliance, you’ll be back. But better to avoid being banned in the first place by using some common sense and creating content with the visitor – not the search engine – in mind.
For more information on these and other Google guidelines, visit Webmaster Central.