In our SEO Practice at TekPersona, we are often bemused by some of the basic mistakes that continue to occur on a majority of web sites; especially after the beat-down suffered by many sites by “Penguin”, Google’s latest and most impactful update to their website content compliance engine, ever.
Back on April 24th 2012, Google unleashed the Penguin to deal with SERP rankings that violated their Webmaster Guidelines, through use of either Black Hat techniques or other means. Google either penalized or removed offending sites from their index, essentially making those sites invisible to the vast majority of Internet users. Penguin served as a wake-up call to the SEO community and to those responsible for Internet content around the globe, with a message to clean up their act, or suffer the consequences.
SEO pros are baffled by how many of the very same mistakes that were made prior to the launch of Penguin – still prevail today. The following are the most common errors we continue to detect in our newest customers’ websites.
1. Not using “Rel = Canonical” & 301 Redirects
Sometimes, website owners fail to realize that their site URLs are viewed on the internet as both “yoursite.com” and “www.yoursite.com”. Because of this, your website is detected by search engines as having two addresses with the exact same content instead of one. This is a no-no, an event that Penguin penalizes for all the time. Stop, and do not pass Go, before setting up a 301 Redirect on your web server. Your webmaster knows how to do this, and if not, you need a new webmaster. It does not matter which page redirects to the other, but your preferred URL needs to be unique.
On top of that, you need to direct search engines to which version of your pages are Canonical (preferred). Because we prefer the “www” version for our website, we use the following tag:before thesection of index.html. This tag tells search engines that this URL is preferred, and to ignore other variations. On pages with similar content to others, we also use similar tags, so that search engines know which pages we want them to focus their crawling. The combination of rel=canonical, with a 301 redirect from either www-fronted URL to non-www-fronted URL will make sure that the Penguin does not smack you around for duplicate content.
2. Non-relevant Backlinks
Look, if you sell custom ink-pens for a living online, and your site is linked to the World Wrestling Federation, the Penguin is going to get you, baby. Since Penguin was launched, TekPersona has received many requests for assistance with once- popular web sites that were either knocked so far down in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) as to become invisible, or removed from the Google index altogether. The reason: Non-Relevant-Backlinks.
Prior to Penguin, Google in part determined your PR (Page Rank) and Site Authority from the number of sites that linked back to your pages. Thus, all sorts of shenanigans from Black Hat (cheating) SEO types occurred, like the use of link-farms or article spinning, that resulted in back-links from sites having nothing remotely related to do with the subject matter of your own. One company that came to us had more than 10K unrelated back-links, and was kicked off Google SERPs with the resultant loss of paying affiliates who counted on that site being found near the top of SERPs. Good news, there are both free and for-pay tools to assist you in getting rid of links that Google and other engines frown upon. Get them, use them, or remain invisible.
3. Multiple H1 Tags
This is basic, but we still see it every single day. You get one H1 tag per page. ONE. Highlight other content under H2, H3, and so on, but do NOT allow multiple H1s on your pages. If you do, you will really anger the Penguin, and you would not like him when he’s angry. Trust me.
4. Keyword Cannibalization
A very common mistake, but one that is sometimes necessary when you have to cover a lot of material in very limited space. It is a best practice to limit keyword focus on a page to only one or two. More than that, and the Penguin tends to get into a tizzy. Many websites (including ours) list many keywords (our services) on our home page, as it’s unavoidable. You should make sure that you are careful to focus on only one or two keywords at a time on other content pages.
Another method of Cannibalization is a set of keywords too close to each other in meaning. Example: “Wedding Photographer” – “Wedding Photography”- “Wedding Photos” – “Wedding Pictures” – “Wedding Portraits” This happens all the time, and means that Google and other engines might see this as: “Wedding and uh…stuff”
“Penguin” is Google’s attempt to “level the playing field”- Matt Cutts, Google
5. Forgetting Image Alt Tags
The number of sites that do not take advantage of the “Alt” (alternative) tag on their site’s images continues to amaze me. Not only are you making your site less accessible to those who are visually challenged, you have lost an opportunity to describe your images to others (and search engines) via a keyword. Last week we crawled a site with hundreds of photos, and not one had an image alt-tag. All those opportunities lost! Scandalous.
6. Endless Meta Descriptions
Yes, be descriptive and use keywords in your site’s Meta Description tag. However, do NOT write a book. The Penguin has a short attention span. After 156 characters, not words, CHARACTERS, the Penguin will not be paying much attention. As well, if your description appears in SERPs, this is the cutoff point for the words you want displayed about your organization. Keep what your company does short, focused and to the point.
7. Lack of up-to-date Sitemaps and Page Crawling Errors
This is another incredibly common mistake. When is the last time you used Google Webmaster tools to see how Google sees your sites? Many are shocked, SHOCKED to discover that Google for one reason or another cannot crawl your site. This is primarily true for sites created by one of those “Easy WebSite” companies. You know the ones who charge you extra for ‘mysterious SEO packages’? What they are doing in many cases, is simply blocking your pages from Search Engines until you pay them additional money. You pay them, they stop blocking you from getting indexed! The less-informed are misled to think the hosting company actually did something of value. It is a bad practice and needs to stop.
A sitemap is like a roadmap for the Search Engine bots that visit your pages and gather information about your website and its relevance to the searches that take place regarding your pages’ contents.
If you add new pages, an up-to-date sitemap will alert those bots to their presence, and crawl them for content. Without a sitemap, this detection takes much longer, or does not happen at all. Make sure you have a sitemap and keep it updated.
Google’s Webmaster Tools are free of charge. Sign up your site and check for crawl errors that might be keeping you from ranking on SERPs, even if everything else is fine. Make sure you have a robots.txt file in the root of your site, and test it on Webmaster tools to make sure that your website is open to search engines.
8. Page Titles & Keywords
Not using your keywords in your page titles is another very basic mistake, and an easy one to fix. Just use your keywords in your page names. This is particularly important if your web site is not named after what you do.
“about us” = Bad.
“about *your company name*. = Good.
This also applies to content pages. Don’t name your page “Services” when you could name it “*your company name* Services” The name of your business is (gasp) a keyword! Use it. The Penguin appreciates knowing who you are.
9. WordPress SEO
Way too often, users of WordPress rely upon SEO widgets to determine the strength of their content for a high SERP ranking. Unfortunately, these widgets are not smart enough to give you an accurate picture of your Penguin compliance. I am not saying they are worthless, but I have yet to see one give you a truly accurate grading for your SEO. If you are unfamiliar with Search Engine Optimization, you are better off hiring a consultant than trusting your pages to one of these tools, because they often are guilty of all kinds of over-optimization problems since they take a brute-force, rather than subtle approach to SEO. They also are prime perpetrators of the following, and most commonly seen problem of all.
10. Keyword Stuffing
Does your web site sell chocolate? Maybe a Chocolaty chocolate? Alternatively, how about a chocolaty chocolate made by chocolate experts who went to chocolate school, and know chocolate inside and out, and work from their chocolate factory on Chocolate Fudge Avenue? Don’t laugh, as we see this kind of original content from new clients every single day. The Penguin is designed to detect this kind of thing, and it will punish you in ways that cause you much grief.
Although the list of SEO mistakes that can be made is long, these are the 10 most popular ones made by businesses, and none of them are difficult to fix. Now that Google lets you index your pages immediately from their Webmaster tools, you should see the results of your fixes in days rather than what used to take weeks or months to realize. If you are not inclined to perform these fixes, contact a credible White Hat SEO company like mine. To evaluate such companies, ask them about these issues and if they cannot give you a credible, detailed description to why these issues matter, keep looking. SEO is crucial for websites that depend on the Internet to make money. Very simply, if your site is invisible in SERPs, how are customers going to find you?
- See more at: http://www.tekpersona.ca/SEO-mistakes-after-Panda-and-Penguin.html#sthash.8VvdcDy0.dpuf