When people begin to do anything routinely they tend to develop habitual behaviour. These behaviours will often develop subconsciously because we’ve seen them work on multiple occasions in the past.
In the constantly evolving practise of search engine optimisation, habits can be very dangerous. Methods that have worked historically can gradually become less and less effective, often before many people can realise.
A good practitioner of SEO understands that staying ahead means staying updated. Most commonly this means keeping informed on how the indexing algorithms of search engines are changing.
A bad SEO habit is an optimisation method that is at best obsolete and at worst damaging to a website’s SERP ranking. Therefore breaking these kinds of bad habits is as essential to effective optimisation as implementing good ones.
The following will discuss the 9 bad SEO practises that you need to cease immediately.
1: Lazy descriptions of images and their alt text
A big part of effective on-page optimisation comes in the form of the clever implementation of multimedia content. A proven method is to include relevant images throughout content to improve its readability and visual appeal.
Simply including the images is not enough and many people will overlook their optimisation. Some people might carry out a rudimentary level of optimisation but it will be stuffed with keywords rather than providing an accurate description of the image.
Search engines take into account how images are titled and described so it’s good practise to pay some attention to them.
An obvious first step is to make sure the images you are using aren’t left with their default file names that are riddled with irrelevant numbers. For example, if an image is of a blue house then a search engine will prefer it to be named “blue_house.png” not “pic0139.png”.
Alt text also needs to be cleverly optimised. It should not simply be stuffed with keywords but instead include a basic description of the image’s elements.
This goes for image deceptions as well. While an image relevant to the page’s topic will often naturally include a keyword in its description it’s important to write this in a natural way.
Why is this important? Image search has grown to be a notable chunk of search engine use and failing to optimise for this audience will mean a loss in potential traffic.
2: Obsessing over keyword rankings
Keywords are important for SEO, there’s no debating that, but focusing on their performance to the exclusion of other factors is a mistake. The traditional paradigm of how keywords work for optimisation is changing with the growth of new search technologies.
GPS or geographic based searches, personalised searches based on browsing history and the rapidly growing use of voice search mean that the implementation of keywords is changing. Voice search in particular demands the use of conversational long-tail keywords in order to help rankings.
Remember, as indexing algorithms get smarter the raw presence of keywords alone begins to matter less and less. What matters is the clever implementation of those keywords in content that diverse and of a high quality.
Search engines judge quality by bounce rates and user conversions because they affiliate high quality with user retention and effective persuasion. This means it’s just as important to focus on the performance of content in being rewarded by search engines as it is to focus on targeting relevant keywords.
3: Keyword stuffing
This is probably the most well-known bad habit in SEO but it warrants mentioning because how many people mistakenly engage in it.
When writing about a topic that’s related to your target keyword it can be very easy to unintentionally keyword stuff. It can be very hard for people to avoid repeatedly using a keyword throughout their content because that keyword is part of the subject matter.
Avoiding this means expanding your vocabulary and using synonyms to create content that is linguistically diverse as possible.
4: Attempting to manipulate search engines
Optimisation strategies can often walk a fine line between getting a website rewarded or punished by an indexing algorithm. SEO practitioners by their very nature have to walk this line in order to produce marketable results.
Because we are aware of the ranking factors used by search engines, it’s irresistible to deliberately tailor websites to appease said factors. Therefore content that has been optimised for search engines will always be somewhat artificial in nature.
Sometimes search engine optimisation is described as “playing” or “tricking” the indexing algorithms into ranking a site higher. This is inaccurate, especially as those algorithms become more intelligent.
The ever increasing focus on high quality content that has sincere backlinks means that the best websites, whether intentionally or not, will be ones that are genuinely good.
This fact leaves little room for manipulative strategies and as we’ve seen those strategies are becoming punished by search engines.
5: Failing to address a website’s technical issues
As important as quality content and link-building is for SEO it critical not to ignore the technical optimisation of a website. No amount of great writing is going to cover up a major technical flaw.
These technical flaws normally come in the form of broken links, improper redirects and content that is duplicated or unintentionally blocked. The bigger a website is the easier it is to overlook these issues.
Other technical flaws have to do with optimising loading time and the overall performance of a website. If a website is clogged up with elements that are poorly optimised it will result in a poor user experience which will see more people bouncing from your site.
Since search engines care about how long people are spending on a webpage making sure that slow loading times aren’t driving people away is critically important.
It’s also worth noting that even if a website is mobile friendly it might still perform slowly and result in people leaving the page as quickly as they came to it.
6: Link-building schemes
Links are important for search engine optimisation despite contrary opinions. Many people who have declared links as unimportant to optimisation have probably just seen link-building agendas start to fail.
This is because link-building is often done in an artificial way that serves as nothing more than a vehicle to spam links. As you probably know, indexing algorithms are active punishing linking strategies like this.
If optimising the distribution of links is less effective for increasing SERP rankings then how can links be useful? The answer is to encourage linking through the writing of quality content that is distributed in a sincere way.
A common example is the use of guest blogging. This is a way of distributing quality content to other websites in a mutually beneficial way. You get a backlink and they get some quality content to feature.
Guest blogging can be described a link building strategy but it isn’t as blatant in its purpose and ultimately relies on quality content being distributed either way. Search engines want to reward websites that share and network in a sincere way with content that is meaningful to their users.
Good guest blogging nowadays means pushing content to websites that are genuinely relevant, of high authority and don’t exist solely for link-building. Search engines have gotten very good at identifying article spam sites and punishing them. This means that even if your content is of a high quality it won’t perform well on those domains.
7: Creating a page for every keyword
As stated previously, keywords are still important for SEO but the ways in which they need to be used are evolving. Content that is overly-engineered to target a single specific phrase is becoming less effective.
This is most commonly seen in website landing pages where a single region and service are targeted. It’s becoming more effective to instead create landing pages that focus on relevant topics as part of a wider theme explored by the website.
In the past it was effective for people to target the different permeations of a phrase with their own individual landing pages. As indexing algorithms get smarter this type of artificial content naturally becomes less and less effective.
While targeting different versions of a keyword is still effective, it’s better to do this in a clever way throughout a single page rather than over many. Search engines want users to get the most out of a single click page visit so it’s important to keep this in mind.
You should till use keyword research to help you find different variations but make sure to keep their usage as concise as possible.
All of this ultimately means that optimisation practitioners need to focus less on cookie-cutter landing pages and more on genuinely unique page content that covers as much as it can without looking artificial.
8: Overuse of internal links
Internal links are a great addition to any webpage content. They give readers the ability to easily navigate to other relevant sections of your website and promote a healthy internal network of the site in the eyes of indexing algorithms.
But as we know with SEO, too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing. Just like keywords, it’s entirely possible to stuff internal links into content.
Like many things in search engine optimisation, falling into a bad habit can be easily overcome by focusing on creating genuine value for readers. Include internal links in a way that makes sense and flows naturally throughout the content.
Reward readers’ interest with links that encourage them to delve further into your website and engage with it further. Good internal linking will mean people spend longer in your domain and this will be recognised and rewarded by the search engines.
9: Focusing on search engines rather than the user
We know that search engine optimisation is about improving ranking in search engines but sometimes people misunderstand the correct approach. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day a search engine is designed to serve the best interests of its user base.
Think of search engines as the personal librarians of the users, they know what they like, they know what they don’t and they’re going to filter through the reading material for them. While your SEO efforts are going to be interpreted by search engines and not users, the end game always needs to be what the user is going to prefer.
This means the targeting of a user’s intent when they carry out an internet search. The goal is no longer to make your website as relevant as possible to keywords but as effective as possible in answering the user’s query.
Whether this means providing the users with information, products or services, search engines want to see users get what they need in as little clicks as possible. This is where audience research becomes particularly useful as you can work on your website to make it the best possible destination for your target audience.
The art of appeasing a search engine indexer and appeasing a user go hand-in-hand. This is even truer as indexing algorithms get smarter and prioritise sincere content with an increasingly human perspective.
Keeping the experience of users as the driving motivation behind your optimisation tactics is going to make the search engines happy and do wonders for your website’s organic rankings.
For anyone who has spent a long time practising SEO, picking up a bad habit or two is almost inescapable. What will make you a better digital marketer is your ability to recognise the faults in those methods, research what currently works and making a good habit out of that instead.
The common theme that connects many bad optimisation behaviours is that they are based on an outdated philosophy that treats search engines too much like a relevancy machine. The worst thing you can do in search engine optimisation is to underestimate the intelligence of indexing algorithms.
The continuing trend for search engine optimisation is that a focus on keyword intent and quality content to meet that intent is going to remain king for improving rankings. Making good habits of strategies that meet these qualifiers will be the best way to help you deliver the ranking results you are looking for.
Lucas is the Managing Director and the Head of SEO Strategy at SEO Shark. He has over 15 years of experience in achieving SEO results for small and medium businesses as well as multinational and ASX-listed brands. He is also an author of multiple publications about digital marketing.