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Know what Search Engines Hate and Avoid the Google Death Penalty
by Lidija Davis
Effective search engine optimization (SEO) is not just about knowing what to do, sometimes it is more important to understand what you should never do. Some Webmasters, in their excitement and haste to optimize their site for search engines, inadvertently do some stuff that is considered really, really bad.  And thus, the problem begins.

Not understanding what search engines do and do not allow, plus over eager site creators often results in your site being penalized, or worse, incurring the “Google Death Penalty” when Google permanently ban your site. 

What Search Engines Hate

Link Farms

Link farms are a group of Websites that all link to other pages within the group.  Often there is no relevance between them; they are set up solely to ensure members of their group have many ‘links’. 

While it is true that search engines look at the number of links a site has when determining ranking, they now look at the quality of links.  Linking to Stanford or having Stanford link to you is much better than having a dozen useless, irrelevant links.

There are many link farms out there—keep away from all of them.

Misleading Content

Don’t be tricky and include misleading content – ever! 

Not only is there a good chance users won’t return to your site, search engines wont like you much either.  For instance, if you are offering cool fonts at five dollars a pop – say so.  Don’t use the words “free fonts” in your content, meta tags or title tags.  It wastes everyone’s time, ruins the search experience and ultimately puts you in the search engines black books.

Keyword Stuffing

Also known as keyword loading, is the phrase given to web pages that have too many occurrences of a particular keyword in the hope of being noticed by the search engines. 

As there is no rule to follow in terms of how many keywords you should include it makes finding the right number difficult.  Google’s search evangelist Adam Lasnik explained to me last week that the magic number is “42.”  If you cannot understand this – watch The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy . 

There is no ‘magic’ number.  Adam explains you should have a “smell” test.  If it looks wrong, “smells” wrong, the Googlebot will probably think it IS wrong.  So if it reads ok, smells ok….your site is fine.

Invisible text – a variation of keyword stuffing

Invisible text is text a search engine sees clearly, a user does not.  An example of this is when the same color is used for the text and for the background of a page.  Until, or unless a user selects and highlights the area, the text remains hidden. 

Cloaking

There is still debate within the SEO industry as to what exactly this means, but given Google is a major player, we took their version from the Google Webmaster FAQ’s.

“The term cloaking is used to describe a website that returns altered WebPages to search engines crawling the site.  In other words, the web server is programmed to return different content to Google than it returns to regular users, usually in an attempt to distort search engine ratings.  This can mislead users about what they’ll find when they click on a search result.  To preserve the accuracy and quality of our search result, Google may permanently ban from our index any sites or site authors that engage in cloaking to distort their search rankings.”

A great example of this is the German Website of BMW that in February 2006, presented users with a standard looking page that had lots of pictures of cars and not too much text.   Exactly what you would expect from a car dealer—however—Google’s spider saw an entirely different thing.  It saw a page filled with text, no images.  To add insult to injury, not only did BMW Germany cloak their site, they then went on to use the German words “gebrauchtwagen” (used car) and “neuwagen” (new car) over, and over and over, which you now know is known as “keyword stuffing” and considered very, very bad.
 
Google promptly removed them from the index, and then reset their PageRank to zero. 

As you can see, there is much to understand about optimizing your site for search engines, so what should be your next port of call? 

Google, Yahoo! and MSN all have Webmasters guidelines.  It is worth your while having a look, familiarizing yourself with their expectations, and then ensuring your site exceeds them.  By following the guidelines, the search engines will be in a better position to find and index your site—and this leads to better rankings for you.

Yahoo!’s Search Content Quality Guidelines

MSN’s Guidelines for Successful Indexing

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines

If you are really eager, an article worth reading is one written by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Rajeev Motwani and Terry Winograd while they were at Stanford University.

The PageRank Citation Ranking – Bringing Order to the Web – January 1998

 

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