Search engine optimization is a constantly moving and evolving field. It is easy to fall behind on the latest trends and best practices and get settled into a set routine of actions. Unlike other marketing channels where this might mean falling behind the competition, SEO differs in that not paying attention to developing practices can not only mean that your efforts will become less effective, but also that your existing strategies will actually hurt your business.

While some SEO tactics have merely become less helpful, there are now practices that were once acceptable that will cause rankings in Google’s search results to plummet. Here are a few that you need to stop immediately.

stop watch with google ranking logoSlow Website Speed

It is important to keep in mind that even when site speed isn’t clearly impacting a user’s experience that it could still be hurting you. Mere seconds (or less) of extra load time can cause your website to rank worse than a competitor’s that is just slightly quicker and has similar content.

Website speed is one of the relatively small SEO factors that gets overlooked a lot. A great way to deal with this issue on your website specifically is to use speed tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights and GTmetrix to measure how your page stacks up and where improvements can be made and then taking appropriate steps as we did here. Your users will probably thank you for taking the time to do it, and search engines may give you an extra boost in rankings as well.

Duplicate Content

There was a time when syndicating content on the Internet was absolutely fine. By and large, this is still the case, but if you’re doing it you need to make sure that you aren’t just providing duplicate content across your site. Google has recently said that syndication and content duplication is fine as long as it doesn’t become spammy. This means that there should be a mix of original content and syndicated content on your website, and that you should give the original source credit.

low quality rubber stampPoor Quality Comments

There was a time not so long ago where leaving thin or spammy comments on a well-respected blog with a link to your website was an acceptable strategy to increase your website’s SEO rankings. While many businesses and website owners are now aware that leaving spammy comments won’t help their SEO rankings (most blogs – including this one – automatically nofollow links in their comments section), it can also hurt your SEO rankings if you’re trying to actively use keyword-rich anchor text instead of appropriate branded links.

This does not mean leaving comments on blogs is totally without merit. Comments can bring value to the conversation outside of just trying to get a link, and help users get their name or business into a more public forum where they can build brand awareness by being a thought leader.

Footer Links and Hidden Links

As recently as a few years ago, finding all sorts of links in the footer of a web site was fairly common. The links provided SEO value, and it was fairly easy for larger websites and businesses to either buy or create websites specifically to have keyword-rich anchor text pointing back at their main business website to help it rank for specific keywords. Google cares more about the overall user’s experience across the web these days, and footer links are simply not of any value for navigation or best practice.

As a result, both footer links and hidden links are now a big mistake for SEO strategies. Hidden links are dishonest in terms of providing any value at all to users, and will result in search result penalties if you get caught by Google’s algorithm changes or their manual team. If you have links on your website, make sure they are there because they provide value to your users – whether it is further information about a topic or navigation to related content on-site. tthat is what links are intended for and if you are consciously including links that are only for search engines, chances are you will eventually pay the price with reduced organic traffic.

Directory Links and Purchased Links

spammy linksPurchasing directory links might have provided some short-term value in the past, those days are long gone. There are so many reasons this is a bad idea, ranging from the fact that you need to be amassing relevant high quality links instead of a ton of low quality links, to the fact that you need to be nofollowing any purchased or sponsored content in order to keep your website’s backlink profile from running afoul of Google guidelines.

While paid links shouldn’t be the basis of any SEO plan, purchasing links can still be a viable option for traffic generation. Links from sponsored content, banner ads, and paid referrals can still help your business or website to generate leads and traffic – but it should be coming directly from those sources – not adding to your SEO profile. The best way to make sure you’re not running afoul of any guidelines as you do this is to simply nofollow any links you’re paying for – much like press releases, this shows Google that the links generate value but that you know you can’t get positive SEO value from them.

Press Releases

Once upon a time, press releases were a very easy way to get a lot of links extremely quickly for any website. All you had to do was create a press release that had links back to your website and when it was picked up by the various news outlets your website could easily win some links. This strategy is now frowned upon by Google and can be the basis of a manual penalty.

While press releases can still provide value when it comes to referral traffic, exposure, and nofollow links, they should no longer be a major part of a SEO strategy. While it can be tempting to use them for easy links, the only real SEO value they can provide you with is helping to build a natural backlink profile that has links that are branded and nofollowed – showing Google that you are following their guidelines and have links that are for promotional purposes only instead of going for any SEO value.

Adobe Flash logoFlash Websites

If your website is still built using Flash it’s time for a serious overhaul. Not only does having a flash website mean that you’re missing out on droves of potentially valuable traffic from mobile users, it can also actively hurt your overall digital presence in terms of SEO rankings. This is because any content that is in flash can’t be read properly by search engine crawl bots, so it cannot be ranked by search engines.

Using flash instead of responsive design is a big mistake because responsive design is given preference on search results due to its superior user experience when it comes to mobile devices and tablets.

Poor Quality Guest Posts

Not so long ago virtually all coherent test on a blog was fair game and a good approach to link-building. There is now a much more serious focus on the quality of the content that you’re writing. Guest posts are still fair game, but using them as an attempt to win links is no longer acceptable.

This goes for writing guest posts as well as accepting guest posts. Taking on low quality guest posts makes your website more vulnerable to a penalty if the content is not up to standards consistent with your site

Not Considering Your Overall Backlink Profile

Keyword-rich anchor text links to specific pages had been considered as an important best-practice strategy for years. That’s changed, in part due to the fact that Google has said that websites should have a natural backlink profile.

image of charts showing equity passing links vs nonThis means that website owners need to consider how their overall backlink profile looks – ideally there should be a good mix of internal and external links, followed and nofollow links, branded, natural (“click here,” “for more”, etc) and keyword rich anchor text all mixed in evenly. If you’re only going for keyword-rich anchor text whenever you get a link to your website, odds are it could end up hurting you at some point because if your backlink profile is made up entirely of these links it’s pretty clear that your website isn’t “naturally” winning links.

Keep Up With Best Practices

Keeping up with best practices is important across all channels of digital marketing, but for SEO it is a required part of any good strategy. In order to expect positive results from any SEO strategy, best practice needs to be followed, and in order to do that you need to be sure that everything you’re doing for your website is still going to give you the results you’re looking for.