We’ve talked a lot about which SEO practices matter when Google is determining your website ranking, as well as how to improve the search engine optimization on your site. What we don’t always talk about are the SEO practices that can absolutely tank your search rankings. If you’re found guilty of the worst SEO sins, your success (and mere existence) online could be in jeopardy. In order to make it into SEO heaven, your ethics will need to guide your actions. If you give into these seven deadly sins of SEO, praying may not help much — but embracing white-hat tactics might. In today’s post, we’ll talk about the SEO sins you’ll want to avoid at all costs, as well as some famous SEO sinners you might not have known about. The Seven Deadly Sins of SEO
Lust: Obsession with Search Engines
It’s understandable that you may be a bit preoccupied in your quest to improve your search rankings, but if every part of your SEO strategy is geared towards pleasing Google’s bots, your desire will likely backfire. There are actually humans searching, too! Google’s goal is to provide content that’s useful for real people, which means there’s a lot that their algorithm learns from human behavior. If you write for a bot audience instead of a human one, your rankings might end up being worse than before, simply because your copy and content won’t be easily understood. You shouldn’t neglect the people who are conducting search queries. Without addressing _their_ wants and needs, there’s not much to gain.
Gluttony: Keyword Stuffing
When you optimize your site, you might assume that more is better, but that’s not the case with keywords. If you include an overabundance of the same keywords on a page, the content will signal to Google that you’re too hungry for ranking improvement. There’s actually something called an Over-Optimization Penalty, which Google can certainly employ if they deem you’ve committed this sin on your website. You should absolutely use keywords so that both bots and humans know what your website is about, but overusing them is selfish and indulgent to an extreme degree — and Google doesn’t like that.
Greed: Buying Links
Purchasing a link placement on another site is considered a black hat SEO practice that is in direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. While it is a surefire way to ensure a link is placed (sometimes on very reputable, well-known websites), it’s extremely risky. Some businesses are willing to take the risk if it means a potentially greater reward, but unfortunately, their thirst to get link juice passed on to their websites may go unquenched when Google inevitably takes notice. If you pay for link placement on other sites or accept payment for link placement on your _own_ site, it’s extremely likely that Google will find out about it and penalize you accordingly.
Sloth: Duplicating Content
According to Backlinko, updating and republishing older blog posts with newer images and content added can increase organic traffic by as much as 111%. But without the “new” component, your search rankings will suffer. It may seem like posting content from another page on your site could help you rank on a specific keyword, but Google sees this practice as lazy and unethical. The same goes for copying content word-for-word that you found elsewhere on the internet. That’s outright plagiarism, which can of course land you in legal hot water, and will also leave you facing the wrath of God (a.k.a. Google).
Wrath: Purposefully Misleading SEO
There are numerous black hat SEO tactics you should avoid, but you’ll _definitely_ want to steer clear of those that are intended to deceive Google’s web crawlers. These include invisible text, web cloaking, and “bait and switch” techniques. Google has gotten a lot better at recognizing these tactics more quickly — which means that if you’re caught, prepare yourself to feel the fury. The search engine will not take kindly to those who intentionally try to fool its bots or its users.
Envy: Negative SEO
In a perfect world, SEO is used to improve the visibility of your brand by creating useful content and giving Google clues about the services you provide, but unfortunately, some people are too focused on outranking the competition. Instead of focusing on improving their _own_ search rankings through known best practices, these people will purposefully try to harm their _competitor’s_ rankings by making them look guilty of SEO no-nos. They might post fake negative reviews, engage in low-quality link spamming to another website, post duplicate content from another site on their own site to confuse Google’s bots, or attempt to slow down another website’s speed to impede the user experience. If you’re tempted to engage in this sin, ask yourself whether this is really how you want to conduct business — and whether doing so might put you in the Bad Place.
Pride: Lack of Mobile Friendliness
If you’re _aware_ of the need to have a mobile-friendly website and simply ignore it, you’re letting your pride get in the way. You might assume that if you’ve been doing just fine without a mobile site, it’s perfectly acceptable to continue without one, but the internet is always evolving, and website owners have to evolve right along with it. Thinking your reputation negates your need for a responsive site illustrates the ego at work. The truth is that with mobile-first indexing becoming a reality, your search rankings could really struggle without a site that’s consistently viewable on mobile. Plus, with more and more consumers searching and shopping on mobile devices than ever before, ignoring these users only stands to hurt you — just like a prideful attitude.
The Bigger They Come, The Harder They Fall
It’s not only individual website owners and small businesses who can be penalized for these SEO sins. In fact, there have been cases of extremely well-known brands — even websites with stellar search rankings — that have been taken to task by Google because of their immoral SEO practices. Here are just a few famous examples.
- FORBES: Forbes uses interstitial web pages without getting into too much trouble since they aren’t technically forbidden, but the company has been punished by Google for other tactics. They were caught buying and selling links at least two separate times — and tried to blame it on ignorance.
- JC PENNEY: The retailer might seem harmless, but even they’ve been known to commit SEO sins. When the company utilized “link farms” to obtain backlinks for popular terms during the holiday shopping season, their search rankings soared. When they were finally found out, thanks to a story in the _New York Times_, their search rankings plummeted — within hours!
- OVERSTOCK: Overstock.com actually tried to manipulate their search rankings by offering product discounts in exchange for link placements. They targeted colleges and universities for this deal, and seeing as .edu sites are seen as reputable, the tactic worked for a while. But when a competitor tipped off Google, Overstock was penalized — and lost $1.05 billion in revenue because of it
- 1-800 FLOWERS: The flower arrangement company also engaged in a link-buying scheme that went awry: in an effort to improve their search rankings for Mother’s Day-related keywords, they bought links from various sites. These keywords are incredibly competitive, yet the company ended up nabbing the second position on page one for them. The problem? 1-800 Flowers already _had_ that position before they bought the links. And thanks to an exposé in the _New York Times_, the company wasted money AND put their reputation (and future rankings!) at risk.
hile you might be tempted to do just about ANYTHING to improve your search rankings, you need to be careful. Committing any of these SEO sins could cost you everything. After all, you’ll never get to heaven if you break Google’s laws. That said, if you love your web user as you love yourself, everything will probably turn out fine. And of course, it helps to have guidance from some SEO angels along the way!