Keyword Stuffing and The Perils of Bad SEO

A conversation recently came up among the web designers of a photography and images site I founded. One of the designers was convinced I needed to mention a certain keyword phrase several times on our front page to get it to rank higher with Google.

Recently I was struggling to get a different phrase to rank highly in Google. I had mentioned the phrase in the title, the headline, the description, the meta keywords, the alt attribute for images, and had it twice within the text. To test a theory, I changed the page so that the phrase was mentioned only once in the page text, only once for an image alt attribute, and used a variation of the phrase (instead of the exact phrase) in the headline.

Almost over night, our rankings for that phrase improved markedly in Google and began sending traffic our way.

One test hardly proves a theory. But similar observances have been reported on highly regarded search engine optimization (SEO) websites in recent months. We do know Google frowns upon keyword stuffing in all its forms, and Matt Cutts has said as much in his blog several times.

I recommend all webmasters avoid keyword stuffing and over optimization if they wish to rank highly with Google. Web pages should be designed with humans, not search algorithms and bots, in mind. Here are several practices to avoid at all costs:

Tag Stuffing

This pertains to the practice of adding a keyword or phrase repeatedly within your meta tags, descriptions, titles, text content, and alt attributes. Web pages have been severely penalized by, and even removed entirely from, Google rankings for engaging in this practice.

Meta Keyword Stuffing

Some web designers believe they can rank for a multitude of keywords by putting as many words and phrases as they can think of in the meta keyword field. This tends to have the unintended effect of confusing the search engine as to what your content is about. Too many keywords leads to the search engine failing to zero in on your key topic. Even worse, it can lead to penalization and lower rankings for all keywords and phrases.

Invisible Text and hidden links

By changing the text color to match the background, words can be hidden on a webpage to give it more mentions, without affecting what people see. Of course Google frowns upon this and will severely penalize a website deliberately hiding text for the purpose of improving SEO. Besides those extra mentions are probably hurting, not helping, your SEO efforts.

Hidden links are a most egregious practice, where designers try to send visitors to a link by hiding it in a place where they might accidentally click on it. I’ve heard of websites being completely removed from Google after being caught hiding links on a webpage. Don’t even think of doing it.

Duplicate Content Tagging

This is often unintentional, but it still needs to be addressed. Repeating the same webpage title tag and description on multiple pages of a website is considered a duplicate content issue with Google.

Web designers need to ensure each page on their domain has a unique page title and description. Google makes this easy for you by providing a list of duplicate content issues within its excellent Webmaster Tools webpage.

Instead Create Content for Humans

Here is one design practice which is never going to anger the search engine police, and is likely to improve your SEO efforts significantly. Create engaging content full of useful images and text. Tell great stories. Educate and inform.

Strong content encourages visitors to stay longer on your site, and become repeat visitors. Time on Site and Repeat Visitor metrics are available to Google, so don’t think that they are not used as a search ranking weighting.

Engaged visitors do not bounce. A small percentage become evangelists for your brand, spread the word about you, and link to your website without you having to ask. These actions strengthen your position in Google more than an extra mention of a keyword phrase ever could.

When working on my SEO and web design, my number one goal is to attract more engaged visitors. Total visitors are nice, but it’s the engaged visitors which purchase our products, read our blog posts, and tell everyone they know about us. Just a few of them can make our jobs much easier by creating links for us, and giving our webpage free advertising. Is there a better form of advertising than word of mouth? Determine how your engaged visitors are finding you, and try to attract as many of them as possible.

Keep your users in mind when designing your website, and spend less time designing for computer algorithms. You might be surprised at how effective this methodology is.

Daniel Padavona is the lead web designer and founder of Warmpicture Royalty-Free Images. Daniel is an avid photographer, blogger, web designer, and enjoys hiking during the warm weather months. He often works with photographers looking to set up their own websites and diversify their income stream away from traditional stock agencies.

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