SEMrush’s Director of Marketing, Michael Stricker, recently sat down with CIO.com to offer up his list of the Top 10 Technical SEO Issues affecting sites today. In an earlier blog post, Mike detailed his first five selections. Below, he makes his next five choices, providing his suggested fixes for each.
6) Exact-Match Anchor Text in Inbound Links, or Over-Optimization of Internal Links
When a link on your website leads from one page to another page with greater depth, one has the opportunity to apply those links to particular keyword -rich and relevant phrases. The resulting linked words, (most commonly underlined and colored blue) are called, “anchor text.” This kind of internal link is most powerful when used as a tool to accommodate readers in their search for knowledge and solutions.
7) News Releases
I draw a distinction between of keyword-optimized News Releases posted to free and paid wires, and Press Releases that convert newsworthy announcements that are actually picked up by web publications. Earned media is a traditional publicity concept that Google appears to respect. “Follow” links in releases were once a way to convey the huge PageRank of widely read P.R. domains back to the client site. This led to huge numbers of Press Releases being written and optimized for that purpose, without regard to user value. Such releases can be thin or light on content, shallow in that they lack purposeful, actionable information, or repetitive as month after month, similar releases get written to rank for the same keywords.
The answer may be to do what Wil Reynolds, founder of SEER interactive digital marketing agency, calls, “Real Company Stuff.” Write for customers, prospects, investors and financiers, not for the Search bots.
8) Over-Optimization – On-Site
If you are still thinking that SEO is a set of formulaic practices that can be applied to a webpage to improve its rank, let me disavow you of that notion right now. Google has improved detection of tricky methods using their crawlers, algorithm updates, artificial intelligence that mimics human behaviors, and when all else fails, Google will call in the human ‘raters’ to help decide if your website is really all that it appears to be. Tactics to trick the search engine into thinking that your website is more relevant to a particular topic have been subverted. What once propelled pages to higher ranks, now actually causes them to lose rankings. “Black-hat” or unethical techniques such as Keyword-stuffing in Keyword metadata, run-on Page Descriptions, exact-match page Titles and H1 headlines have all become liabilities when abused.
Exact-Match Domain Names have also lost their luster. They no longer are accorded any special relevance or topical significance. Keywords are still very important, but their use has become much more contextual. Think of their application more in terms of phrases, associated topics, related terms, and full sentences. Presenting a complete idea is preferable to a terse list of keywords.
The Google Hummingbird Algorithm is built around fast, accurate parsing of user intent from longer search queries and from new Voice-Based Search. As Mobile use grows and Google Now and Apple’s Siri become more popular, Google is intent on providing great search results. Position your website’s content to suit that approach. Consider search intent, and the user’s progress along the path-to-purchase when creating your content.
9) Over-Optimization Off-Site
Inbound Links are a double-edged sword. They have great value, but could just as easily bring your rankings to their knees if misused. Google prefers your links to accumulate ‘naturally’, and not to be built or bought. Google is always looking for evidence of human interest, interaction and appreciation. Google can discern ‘spammy’ link profiles very effectively by comparing genuine human link creation with engineered links. Foreign-language links from a foreign TLD such as .rom to a U.S. store are considered, spammy for example. Site-wide links as on a Blog’s Blog Roll, or from excessive footer links also trigger the ban-hammer.
The same goes for Link Anchor Text tricked-out with exact-match keyword terms and links that sprout among unrelated text on irrelevant websites. Paid Links on High-PageRank pages and excessive linking from unpopular profiles are also examples of SEO tactics that were once effective but have since become punishable by Google.
So what happens to those links that are still out there after you’ve changed tactics? There are many formerly productive links that have become toxic or poisonous to your website’s ability to rank. Work with an SEO who is familiar with recovery from Penguin and Manual Link Penalties.
Use a tool such as SEMrush to explore your Inbound Links and characterize them according to their value or ‘toxicity.’ Do not cling to links that may be damaging your link equity in the eyes of Google. Depending on the result and the source of any penalty, it may be necessary to ‘resign’ links by contacting web masters, tracking results and reporting to Google in a Reconsideration Request.
Your situation may benefit from use of Google’s Link Disavowal Tool. It is imperative to do this in the prescribed way. Otherwise, great effort can be applied, repeatedly, with no apparent result. Be prepared to apply PPC Ads, Display Ads, PLAs, syndication or Social Lead-Gen and Advertising to make up for lost traffic while you remediate your issues.
In the post-Panda world, your E-Commerce site won’t convert if shoppers don’t trust you. The wary relationship between searchers and websites has become a primary obstacle to E-Commerce. Searchers are uncertain of what unfamiliar websites may be trusted. Since Google considers Trust as a factor for purposes of rank, and that metric is based on your relationship to large, trusted websites that are well behaved, create appropriate outbound links to sites of Trust. Trustworthy websites include popular E-Commerce and brands (Apple, Amazon, Google,) government information sources (Bureau of the Census, USGS) and large institutions (MIT, Humana.)
Social Links, on the other hand, are not regarded as providing direct SEO value, but Google expects that certain kinds of businesses accumulate these signs of engagement. As such, a lack of those links may erode Search Engine Trust. Lacking Social Trust signals also misses the opportunity to provide the kind of Social signals that shoppers and users prefer over brand messages – that is, endorsements by their peers.
Ultimately, being genuine and providing value to users is far superior to SEO tricks. Google gets better all the time at perceiving the difference.
So, what are your choices for the Top 10 SEO Issues that are impacting sites today? Let us know in the comments!
Michael Stricker is SEMrush’s Director of Marketing. His industry musings can be found on Twitter and on our blog.