SEO Fail: How Doing Too Much Can Push Google Away

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Search engine optimization is a topic that's too big to cover in one post, but here's a good basic definition: the more relevant your content is to terms that people search for, the higher your blog appears in rankings related to those terms.

Simple enough, really, but then think of how many other websites are competing to show up for the same terms.: thousands, hundreds of thousands, sometimes billions with a B. In order to stand out, there is effort required, especially for very competitive terms, but there's a real danger in sometimes overdoing it.

Links Are Good, Except When They're Bad

When it comes to Google, it used to be that links were like publicity: there was no such thing as a bad one. Now, links can hurt your site as much as they help it if they're deemed low quality. It's not just links on your site either – if too many of your links come from shady sites, they can keep your pages from ranking in the top spots for searches.

What makes a link bad? Well, you usually see them smoking under the bleachers, disobeying authority… no, not really. Bad links – by Google's definition – are any that are obviously designed to manipulate PageRank, part of Google's algorithm for determining the most relevant results. Here are a few link types that Google particularly dislikes:

Automated Links – Do all of your links come from dropping “hey, follow my blog at http://www._______.com” in comment boxes? It's not just the blog owners who think you're a spammer, and Google may start throwing you the cold shoulder if you get too aggressive with it.

Overly Optimized Links – This is actually something that's more common from brands that buy links. If you've ever seen keyword links like “Ladies Gold Rolex Watches” linked to a site you've never heard of, then you know what an overly optimized link looks like. Typically, it will have very specific keywords as the anchor text. What is anchor text? The HTML code for your site looks something like this:

<a href=”http://www.myblog.com”>My Blog</a>

“My Blog” is considered the anchor text. Now when this matches your domain name, or the title of a post closely, you're generally okay.  You put yourself in danger when the anchor text is something like  “Fashion Term 1”, “Fashion Term 2” or something not clearly related to your site, or a certain page.

Anchor text used to be a strong indication to Google of what a website or webpage was about, so it carried a lot more weight. Now, it's actually an indication to Google that you may be building automated or paid (more on that next) links, or selling paid links designed to help someone rank for a certain term.

Paid Links – If this is a significant portion of revenue for you, and you want free, organic search traffic, find a different source of revenue. While even SEO experts don't agree that it's a fair practice, Google will come down hard on websites that it suspects of selling links, and brands it suspects of buying them.

Officially, Google is okay with paid links as long as they use the rel=”nofollow” attribute. You can make a link “nofollow” like so:

<a href=”http://www.myblog.com” rel=”nofollow”>My Blog</a>

Most links from social media site are no follow, which is their way of saying to Google “I'm not vouching for the quality of this link.” While “nofollow” links don't directly help your search rankings by passing on PageRank, it's actually abnormal for sites to not have any “nofollow” links. So those social mentions do let Google know that people are talking about your site, and if they're popular enough they can actually attract unsolicited links. If you're linking out to someone who has paid for a link, add “nofollow” to preserve your link reputation. You can also use JavaScript links, which do not pass PageRank, and are generally not considered to be manipulative.

It's a way to say to Google “hey, I'm playing by your rules, so make sure you give me credit for the editorial, unpaid links that I have coming in and going out.” And on that note, don't feel that you have to slap a nofollow tag on every offsite link you make. Linking out to reputable, relevant sites helps associate your site with theirs, which is completely okay.

In Google's ideal world, links to websites occur because someone else reads your content and thinks it's good enough or important enough to share with their audience. While it's tempting to take the “you want links? I'll give you some links!” message to heart, and get as many links as you can, overdoing it can push Google away and push your own site far away from any of that sweet, free search traffic you were going after in the first place.

Tools to Find Out What Your Link Quality Looks Like For SEO

Google Webmaster Tools

If you've sold paid links, and find yourself with a drop in PageRank or search traffic, check Google Webmaster Tools once you've connected it to your site. If the problem is shady links, you may actually receive a notification, and be able to take steps to clean things up.

Open Site Explorer

This is a tool from the company formerly known as SEOmoz. With a free account, you can check your website to see how many links you have and what the quality of those links are. If you're looking for more links, try typing in a blog similar to yours to see which sites are linking to them.

Majestic SEO

Similar to Open Site Explorer, this is one of my favorite tools for checking backlinks. It's a little more advanced, and doesn't offer as many step by step explanations as to different terms, but is a go-to for lots of SEO pros.

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14 Responses

    • YM Ousley

      The current recommendation from a lot of professional SEOs is a mix of brand terms (i.e. your blog name), the URL itself without any anchor text, and some links containing keywords. That’s typically what a link profile looks like for companies that aren’t spamming or buying links in order to get ahead, and lately it seems to be what Google favors when deciding how legitimate a site is.

      Reply
  1. Angie Nelson

    Excellent (and important) advice! Those paid link offers can sometimes be tempting, but it is best to pass if you plan on being here awhile.

    Reply
    • YM Ousley

      Absolutely! Without naming names, there’s a popular blog that has a current PageRank of 0 because of paid links without nofollow tags. Fortunately, a lot of their traffic comes from social, so it probably doesn’t mean a drop in site visitors, but it’s certainly not a good indication of how Google views the site and will rank it.

      Reply
  2. Debiparna

    Thank you so much for finally doing this post!!i remember sending jenine a panicked msg here on ifb after finding out about this!

    Reply
  3. Shaqinah Fakar

    Hmm… I haven’t been too fussed about SEO but because I’ve only just started my blogging experience, I’ve been checking out other people’s blogs and commenting. I never go with the totally insincere (and equally insignificant) “Follow my blog” anywhere in the comment, but I do sign off with my site’s url. Would that contribute to making it a bad link??

    Reply
    • YM Ousley

      Most comments these days are nofollowed when it comes to links. If you’re just starting out, it’s better than nothing, but focus on links from social network activity, other bloggers and websites to diversify your link profile. If all of your links come from comments, it can be a negative signal to Google.

      Reply
  4. A Griffin

    I think Google has been way to aggressive lately. My traffic on my site is 1/4 of what it was a year and a half ago and I’ve done nothing wrong. Nothing shady nothing. Just a posted to a few high PR directories like everyone says to do. I never leave links in comments. Every once in awhile I will in a relevant forum discussion.
    My PR started at 3, now it’s 1 all in about 2 years. I even have 16k google+ followers. I’ve played by all the rules and have optimized the shit out of my site. I just don’t get it. Anyway, I did a full sight audit the other day. Found a lot of shady sites linking into me. Hopefully it helps. I think it’s lame we get punished for other people linking into us. It makes no sense.

    Reply
  5. Juss Russ

    I also feel as though Google is going over board on their spam filtering techniques. I mean all this goes on and many of the general public are un aware. I guess we are un aware because we don’t practice it which puts us in the clear but it is interesting to know that you can improve organic search traffic simply by developing your site more clearly using some of these search engine optimization techniques. I’d be interested in seeing how far google will go with these techniques for determining positions in the SERPs

    Reply
    • Santechnikas Kaune

      I think “Google” want to search users show valuable content and if website have it – will be in TOP positions. Good or bad content show time, which they spend on the website. So, “Google” better create one more “Adwords” ad, but not waste time do create more obstacle to SEO.

      At this moment in 1 page we see only website’s with good content. So these plugin’s only help to show search engine’s what about talking page.

      If website has a lot of users, you can do a lot of backlink’s and not worry “Google” ban.

      But if website doesn’t have content, 3 user per day, so DO NOT a lot of SEO.

      Reply