Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a jungle out there – of bots and spammers and little men in black hats. Even the most seasoned SEO officer can lose themselves in the flora and fauna of the SERP lists.
Found yourself lost in strange lands? Dodge the digital bullet with our handy guide to some classic SEO problems.
- Link rot
‘Link death’, ‘link breaking’, ‘reference rot’… Sic transit gloria mundi. Nothing is immune to the ravages of time; over months and years, as URLs change and pages move, SEO-building links gradually become defunct.
The most common cause of link rot is when a page or website ceases to exist. Any link that once pointed there now results in a 404 error, eliminating its SEO value. The phenomenon is especially common in social media, where accounts are deleted all the time. A target domain name change, or site reshuffle, will result in similar problems.
Although link authors can’t be responsible for preventing link rot, they can attempt to minimise it. WordPress and other CMS platforms feature plugins to search out defunct links. You can even leverage broken links on other websites to your advantage, by approaching webmasters with replacement pages that – oh! – happen to be based on your site.
- Featured snippets
Once, when you Googled something, it offered you multiple websites to answer your question. Click on the second or third, and that site gets a nice, healthy click. Bingo.
But now when users type a question into the search bar, the engine feeds an answer straight to your results page. These ‘featured snippets’ – or ‘rich answers’– are taken from relevant sites and are fully attributed. But you never have to click on the actual link. So it’s bad for SEO, right?
Not really. Snippets might theoretically spare users from visiting your site for answers, but in reality they increase traffic. And they don’t always come from the first search result; in fact, they’re often taken from ones further down.
Want to optimise your site’s content for featured snippet selection? There are a few tricks. Conversely, to take your site out of the running, insert the tag <meta name=”googlebot” content=”nosnippet”> somewhere on your page – the plague of Googlebot will pass smoothly by your door.
- Black hat SEO
‘Black hat’ is a term applied to SEO methods that seek to manipulate or ‘play’ the system. Though Google tends to eventually catch offenders, it can take time to do so. In a world where culprits are always finding new loopholes, detection techniques require constant adjustment to work effectively.
The most popular techniques to boost SEO at the expense of good content include invisible writing – key words inserted into text that bots will detect but humans cannot – and cloaking. The latter involves feeding unreadable SEO content to bots, which benefits the site ranking accordingly, while presenting more user-friendly content to human readers.
Though ‘white’ and ‘black hat’ SEO may seem rather polarised, grey areas do exist. Occasionally, dedicated link-building schemes overstep the mark into manipulative territory, and it’s important to know where that boundary lies.
- Long-tail keywords
We all know the basic theory behind keywords. If you’re a shop selling bicycles, you want to come up when the word ‘bicycle’ is entered into Google – maybe even ‘pump’ and ‘tyre’. So far so good.
Except competition for those keywords is going to be crazy. How on earth can your small bike repair shop in West Kensington come up first on a worldwide web search? Often, it’s impossible to rank well for generic terms.
The answer to this conundrum is long-tail keywords. Maybe you can’t rank for ‘bike’, but ‘bike repair shop West Ken’? Yes, sir, you can. Long-tails tap into your niche market and render you ‘findable’ to clients who know what they’re looking for – i.e. the ideal customer.
So remember: when deciding on keywords, don’t just focus on the obvious. You want to be targeting specific, long-form searches as much as the everyday. In fact, the former is probably going to get you further in the long run.
Finally, the SEO’s nightmare: the no-follow link. Let a publisher insert this HTML around your content’s links –
<a href=”http://www.website.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Anchor Text</a>
– and you can say goodbye to all that delicious SEO link juice you hoped to gain.
There’s no doubt that no-follows are dramatically less effective than do-follows. They basically tell Google’s bots to ignore them, thus negating rank value. But that doesn’t mean they’re totally useless.
No-follows can increase traffic to your site, benefit sales and get your name out there. Research suggests that can even improve rankings, despite what Google says. All links on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are no-followed, but that doesn’t affect their core function: selling your brand’s name to the public.
Finally, no-follows can be useful to use yourself, particularly for paid links, embeds and comment sections. Learn when it can be to your advantage to use no-follows, and they’ll become a handy tool in your arsenal.
Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internship jobs and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.