What’s the one fact marketers of all disciplines can all agree on? Ranking on search engines without adopting bad SEO tactics is challenging.
There are billions of web pages indexed on Google, with only 10 organic search results shown per search results page.
Understanding unethical SEO practices is crucial to your SEO strategy and can determine where your site ranks among these.
This article will explore ten bad SEO practices Google doesn’t want you to adopt.
But first, let’s understand the term “bad SEO.”
Table of Contents
What is Bad SEO?
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a set of practices you can employ to rank high on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Image via Semrush
What is defined as bad (black hat) or good (white hat) SEO depends on what is in Google’s webmaster guidelines.
Black hat SEO practices are typically aggressive and don't care about the user experience.
Their main goal is to manipulate the algorithm and search engine bots while the readers' needs come after. That is if they are considered at all.
While they can help you rank faster, the effects of black hat tactics are often short-lived and attract serious consequences from Google.
Bad SEO Practices and How to Avoid Them
The goal of digital marketing is to create awareness. And you certainly do this by optimizing your site’s content for search engines.
However, ranking high on Google takes a long time, which can be annoying.
That’s probably why many marketers fall victim to the lure of bad SEO practices that offer quick results.
After all, who doesn’t want to rank high for less than half the work?
But it’s not as good as it may look at first glance. The results of black hat SEO don’t last long and may get your site blocklisted.
Let’s get familiar with how some of these bad SEO practices work and how they violate Google’s guidelines.
1. Stuffing Your Articles With Keywords
Stuffing content with keywords is one of the most common bad SEO practices.
We get that using related keywords throughout your content is a traffic magnet. It’s a way of alerting search engine crawlers that they might find your content valuable.
And it works.
However, using too many keywords within your content is a very bad SEO practice and can hurt readers’ experience.
Image via Junior to Expert
Not only does it make content less readable and unnatural, but it also signals the search engines that your website is not genuine.
It shows that you’re trying to manipulate the algorithm to get higher rankings and are not there to provide valuable and informative content.
Google considers several more factors, other than keywords, in ranking content when users make search requests. These factors are discussed in detail in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
Image via Google
So, for higher placement on Google SERP, write content that’s useful and relevant to your target audience. Use keyword variations to provide context to Google, but don’t stuff the same keyword too many times.
2. Having Duplicate Content
Google rewards uniqueness and relevance and punishes ingenuity. And publishing another creator’s work as your own content is considered ingenious.
You don’t have to copy an entire web page for your content to be viewed as duplicate content. Search engines also interpret having similar text blocks with other sites as duplicity.
Image via Backlinko
Scenarios where you can be flagged for duplicate content include:
- Spinning content using AI (artificial intelligence) chatbots and platforms
- Re-publishing the same content from your other web pages
- Writing content based on the structure as that on other sites
- Having too little content on your web page
Reproducing content is a bad SEO practice because it confuses the search engines.
Sites with duplicate content rank lower. It’s the algorithm’s way of dissuading marketers from mindlessly plagiarizing content and not exploring unique ideas.
Image via Semrush
To fix this issue:
- Use 301 redirects to make the old web pages with duplicate info out of reach for Google bots and users.
- Block search indexing attempts using the noindex tag.
- Use canonical tags where possible. It lets the search engine bots know which page should be treated as the original.
- Minimize the level of boilerplate text you have on your website.
3. Masking Link Destination and Hiding Text
Cloaking is a bad SEO tactic that involves masking text and links to create two versions of content.
One version is visible to the readers, and the other is visible to the search engine.
Image via BigTrunk
This can be done by using small font sizes, hiding text behind images, or making it the same color as the background.
Search engines have strict guidelines against such techniques as they go against the principle of providing genuine and valuable content to users.
Even worse, cloaked content can be malicious to readers.
There are other cloaking practices besides hidden texts and links. These include:
- User agent cloaking: Using user agent to determine which cloaked page version to be presented to users.
- IP cloaking: Redirecting users to a target site through a higher-ranking URL.
- HTTP Accept-Language cloaking: Using users’ HTTP Accept-Language header to determine which content to show to a site visitor.
To detect hidden text and links, Google uses advanced algorithms and manual reviews. Websites that use these methods may face penalties, such as a decrease in rankings or removal from SERPs altogether.
However, Google only frowns at content the readers can’t find or access but not hidden tabbed content.
Hidden tabbed content is content hidden to enable users to quickly scan a web page. These types of content are hidden but not inaccessible to the readers.
Hiding tabbed content behind “read more” or dropdowns improves users’ experience, making your site more popular among users.
Also, avoid spammy content and irrelevant keywords you’d otherwise want to cloak. Remember, you only need readers that are interested in your content.
4. Participating in Paid Links Schemes and Link Farms
Remember, backlinks and social signals are essential to ranking high on Google because it positions you as an authority.
Paid linking is the practice of buying links to trick the search engines into thinking that a website is an authority on the subject.
Link farms refer to a group of websites that link to each other for the sole purpose of manipulating search rankings. Here’s an illustration.
Image via Twaino
This act is run like a network of bad actors, selling and trading links in large quantities.
Using link farms or buying links may temporarily boost your website authority and manipulates search engine rankings, but is bad in the long run/
Google is quick to penalize websites involved in paid link schemes, as its algorithm is designed to detect unnatural links.
And what happens when you are found guilty?
You either lose your SERP rankings or, if you are unlucky, your web page will be removed from Google’s index.
Instead, follow these tips:
- Create high-quality content to organically earn backlinks
- Reach out to relevant websites for guest posting
- Utilize social media platforms and use hashtags
- Answer questions on forums and add relevant links to your answers
Use backlink gap analysis to know where you are lacking in the backlink department and create a strategy to supercharge your link-building efforts.
5. Having Poor Website Speed and Responsiveness
Website speed and responsiveness are essential to user experience and search engine rankings.
Slow-loading pages and not optimizing your site for mobile devices can negatively affect your website's performance.
When consumers find slow-loading pages, they become frustrated and are more likely to leave rather than stick around waiting for them to load. This can hamper user experience and increase bounce rates, which is bad for SEO.
High bounce rates indicate to search engines that the website may not be providing an acceptable user experience, which could lead to lower rankings.
Google places a premium on user experience as a ranking factor.
As a result, websites that value speed, responsiveness, and easy navigation tend to rank higher.
When creating content, you should prioritize readability over fancy designs. Consider the size of the individual media elements.
Are they too “heavy?”
Your website loading time will increase if they are, sending your customers back before they can consume your content.
Compress images, videos, and other media for faster and more optimum web performance.
Attrock’s TinyImage tool comes in handy for such tasks. It helps you compress images to a smaller size without sacrificing their quality.
Image via Attrock
If your website is underperforming and you still don’t know why, Semrush is an impressive tool that can help.
It provides a detailed report that can help you identify the reasons for your website’s slow speed.
This report is an excellent place to start when figuring out how to improve an underperforming website.
6. Accepting Low-Quality Guest Posts and User-Generated Content (UGC)
Populating your website with lots of content makes sense, but not at the cost of quality. There are many bad SEO practices that focus on quantity, not quality, of content.
Accepting poorly written guest posts is one such bad SEO practice that can damage your site's rankings.
Posting regularly on your website is good for business. The algorithm is alerted that the website is active and that you are constantly looking for ways to provide value to your readers.
But when you accept guest posts, ensure that they’re relevant to your audience. Don’t accept posts just to keep your website populated with fresh content.
This way, your readers always have a great experience visiting your blog.
If you find it difficult to manage this yourself, you can always hire an editor to create guest post submission and quality guidelines. You can get one part-time using freelance platforms like Upwork.
7. Using Irrelevant or Misleading Anchor Text
When adding links, whether internal or external, it is essential to use an anchor text that best describes what you have linked to.
It tells search engine bots and readers what kind of content they can expect.
Image via Seobility
The problem is marketers often make many mistakes when placing links on anchor texts. Some of these include:
- Not using a relevant anchor text
- Using generic anchor texts like “click here”
- Overusing exact match and branded anchor texts
- Using the same anchor text to add multiple links within a piece of content
What should you do, instead?
Use a good mix of different types of anchor texts, ensuring that all are relevant. Switch between exact and partial match, naked URLs and title tags anchor texts.
That’s how to do it:
Image via Zenbrief
8. Not Updating Your Content Regularly
When it comes to SEO, time can be your ally or enemy.
Good SEO tactics can have long-lasting effects only if readers consistently find your content valuable.
If the content is not updated for a significant amount of time, it may lose its ranking on search engines.
Even if the subject remains the same, statistics may change, and links may be broken, negatively impacting the content's ranking.
The thing is:
Google considers old content as inferior. This is because the inaccuracies in the content can both be irrelevant and harmful to the reader.
It also limits how well bots crawl your site.
Your site ranking low is Google’s way of punishing you for making it work harder than expected.
To improve your ranking on the SERP, first know what content needs updating.
Conduct regular content audits to see what needs improving.
We recommend you use Semrush for a comprehensive report of your site. It shows your site’s health and the pages that need fixing.
Image via Semrush
List out the outdated pages. Rank them based on:
- Traffic generated
- Relevance to your audience
- Conversion and engagement rates
That way, you are able to decide what content you need to keep, update, repurpose, or delete.
If done properly, you can improve your website/content performance.
9. Adopting Intrusive Interstitials Ads
Let’s say you had a stressful day at work and are trying to cool off by reading an article.
Only a few lines in, you see an ad covering the content you just began reading.
How would you feel? Annoyed, right?
Unless you can’t get the same content elsewhere, you wouldn’t put up with such a frustrating experience.
Such ads are called intrusive ads.
Image via Search Engine Land
Bad user experience aside, Google disapproves of intrusive interstitial ads for other reasons as well.
For starters, they take up a lot of search engine crawler resources and reduce page loading speeds.
However, sites optimized for desktops won’t face the same problem. This is not significant since websites are first optimized for mobile viewing.
With certain conditions met, intrusive interstitials won’t affect your ranking.
They either have to:
- Be interstitials with legal obligations and warnings
- Access dialogues to access content
- Easily dismissable banners
Here’s what we mean:
Image via Search Engine Land
10. Linking to Too Many SItes
In your bid to make your content valuable and useful, you might fall into the trap of linking to too many sources.
Having a sea of links within your content can have the opposite effect on your ranking.
The thing is:
An overwhelming number of your website traffic will come from smartphones. Readers in this category may accidentally click the links and leave your site too soon.
In the event that readers are considerate enough to return, further accidental link clicks can frustrate them. And this may result in an increased bounce rate and lower site ranking.
On the other hand, Google analyzes outgoing links and checks for their relevance to the article.
Is it an attempt to just rank higher or provide genuine value for the reader?
If the former is true, your site falls down the pecking order on the SERP.
Regularly check your Google Search Console account for messages similar to the one displayed in the screenshot below:
Image via Online Ownership
To rectify the issue:
- Remove the unnatural links indicated in the message
- Compare anchor texts, URLs, spam score, and the niches of the linked sites
- Unlink from target sites with high spam scores or in an irrelevant niche
Monitor and adapt your SEO strategy as search engine algorithms and user expectations continue to evolve. Employ the tactics discussed here for better results and avoid bad SEO practices at all costs.
Q1. What does bad SEO mean, and why is it important for Google rankings?
A. Bad SEO refers to unethical practices aimed at manipulating search engine rankings.
It is important for Google rankings because search engines prioritize websites that provide value and a positive user experience. Employing bad SEO tactics hampers user experience and can result in penalties and lower rankings.
Q2. How does Google's ranking algorithm work?
A. Google's ranking algorithm evaluates numerous factors, including relevance, authority, user experience, and backlinks, to determine rankings.
The algorithm aims to provide users with the most relevant and valuable content to users based on their search queries.
Q3. Why is keyword stuffing considered a bad SEO practice when keyword usage is fundamental in ranking on Google?
A. Keyword stuffing is using the same phrase or keywords repeatedly. While optimizing for keywords is good, overdoing it is bad for SEO. Stuffing your content with keywords degrades the quality and its relevance.
Q4. Why can't I duplicate content from high-ranking websites?
A. Duplicating content from high-ranking websites is considered a bad SEO practice because Google values original content and penalizes plagiarized content.
Moreover, it doesn’t comply with Google’s guidelines, so this bad SEO practice may get your page blacklisted.
Q5. Can participating in paid link schemes boost my rankings?
A. While paid links may temporarily boost rankings, the effects typically reverse over time. Loss of traffic and visibility is often the penalty if you get caught using the bad SEO practice.
Q6. Does following good SEO practices guarantee a high Google ranking?
A. A good SEO strategy improves your chances, but there are no guarantees when it comes to SEO. However, following bad SEO practices can almost certainly affect your SEO efforts negatively.
All it takes is one bad SEO tactic to tank your website's ranking.
Instead of taking the fast route of adopting bad SEO tactics, build a sustainable online presence, and prioritize ethical and effective SEO strategies. It is a better investment in the long run and preserves your brand’s authority for longer.
A good SEO strategy includes white hat SEO practices and requires ongoing effort.