Worst SEO Practices

In business, many people talk in terms of “best practices” and “worst practices”. To start with, I would like to say that this is a BS term cooked up so that people have a way to back out of doing things the right way. It’s a politically correct term that people hide behind. I hate it. Instead of saying “you did this the wrong way” or “you took a shortcut that cost us time and money” people say “you did not adhere to best practices” and that somehow makes it less of a bad thing.

So here I present my list of SEO worst practice, or, SEO mistakes, in no particular order. This is going to cover both SEO implementation and theory.

1. Overselling optimization

The first mistake many SEO specialists make is to oversell SEO. Whether it’s their services or just the concept in general, it is really easy to get worked up over how much of an impact SEO can have, and sometimes clients think that they’ll instantly get to #1 on Google for whatever keyword they want if they just reformat their page titles.

It doesn’t work like that.

It’s important for SEO professionals, or people bringing the concept to their companies, to make sure that their clients know that it’s a slow process that might not show enormous results for their keywords. If a small mom and pop burger joint wants to target the “hamburger” keyword, they will probably not do very well, due to the ENORMOUS competition. It’s important to make sure that expectations are realistic.

2. “If only I did this, I could trick Google and improve my rank!”

No. You can’t. Sorry.

The first thing a lot of people say when they are introduced to SEO (especially those with some sort of stake in the project, whether it’s a content person, or a designer, or a developer) is “if I did X I could have my cake and eat it too!”.

Sometimes people suggest various methods of cloaking, which is in layman’s terms hiding content from the search engine so you can target keywords that might not be relevant to the site. For example if you saw that the keyword “puppies” wasn’t competitive (yeah yeah, unrealistic, cut me some slack!) but your site was about the rise and fall of Enron, you obviously won’t rank for “puppies”. But! says the enterprising new SEO recuit. “If I create a fake page with puppy information and then automatically redirect to my Enron page, I can get lots of hits!”

Trust me: If you can think of an idea on how to trick Google, rest assured someone else has already thought of it, tried it, succeeded, gotten caught, and had the loophole closed. It’s not worth spending any time thinking about.

Cloaking and other black hat SEO techniques can (and will) get your site blacklisted from most notable search engines.

3. Concessions

Someone will always oppose SEO. People actively working on a project will all of course want SEO, because it’s not undesirable for most any site.

That said, one person will always oppose the practical implementation of SEO while praising the concept itself. This is, honestly, one of the hardest things to deal with. Whether it’s a content writer not wanting to retool their text, or a designer not wanting to sully their wonderful design with ugly formatting (bold etc), or a developer not wanting to rely on 301 redirects and external js/css files, someone will want concession after concession.

“Well, we’ll implement this aspect of SEO if we don’t do this other aspect of SEO to maintain balance” or something along those lines.

Ugh. What people need to understand is, plain and simple, these “rules” of SEO are not meant as punishment, it’s meant as a complementary system that feeds and grows on itself. One aspect of SEO is not enough, ever. All of them is ideal.

Make too many concessions, and despite tons of effort, you’ll see little to no gain.

4. Too much Javascript!

Kind of a minimalistic header, javascript can be a pain in the ass for SEO. It’s not bad on its own. Stick all your javascript in an external file, reference it in the head, and away you go, nice clean page.

But, sometimes, javascript can be a burden. For example, what happens if you have a javascript-driven popup link on your site? The search bot won’t follow that link because it can’t. You now have deadspace search engine-wise on your site.

It’s tempting to use javascript, but in moderation.

5. Keyword stuffing/forgetting keywords

Covering both ends of the spectrum, keyword stuffing is the act of putting as many instances of a keyword on a page, or having way too many keywords.

This ultimately hurts SEO because the engine knows what you are trying to do. Think of a search engine as a self-aware machine. It is Skynet but without the killing part (so far). It is much smarter than you think.

Stuffing keywords will get you blacklisted, but forgetting keywords will get you laughed at. If the content writers don’t want to rewrite the content for web copy, or you forget to update it, and there are no keywords, the search engine bots will get confused and you won’t rank highly for anything. How is it supposed to know what your site is about unless you tell it?

Best 6 ways to keep on top of technology trends

Technology trends” is a pretty vague and generic term, but it’s still applicable to many peoples’ jobs. For example, a web developer should know about upcoming technology, even if their company isn’t using that tech yet. Keep up on trends also keeps developers or other technology fields aware of other techniques that might just make things easier for a company. Worst case scenario, it let’s you as an individual know what the rest of the world is doing in case you want to jump ship.

Here are some of the best ways to keep on top of technology in its ever-changing yet totally-interesting glory.

1) Read Digg, Slashdot, and other peer-submitted sites

Sites like digg and slashdot are (or used to be) somewhat unique, in that the content is user-generated. This let’s you know that the information is relevant to readers. Of course, this is only useful if you know the demographics of the readers, but come on. It’s digg and slashdot. You can probably make some fair assumptions here and be right on target.

Reading news stories submitted by your peers is a great way to track trends. You’ll see upcoming technology that’s interesting, and you’ll see criticisms of technology that doesn’t work. In fact you’ll see a lot of criticism, but that’s also very useful, so you’ll be aware of all the negatives of something before jumping into it.

EDIT: Thanks to xionon for pointing out that Reddit is one I forgot to mention, but it is actually much more developer oriented.

2) Check out traditional news sites

By traditional news I don’t necessarily mean CNN and BBC and Fox news and places like that. Although these can be useful tools to learn about technology, most of the time this would be useful only for existing or already on-its-way-out technology, or technology that would appeal to people on a larger scale. This is changing, of course, but that still does hold a bit of truth.

A more relevant technical “traditional news” site might be something more like engadget, or gizmodo. These are traditional because they aren’t peer-submitted, but have their own editorial process to screen content. As such you know that the content coming through is at the very least somewhat well-written, and has passed some sort of screening process related to content so you get what the site advertises.

Of course, it being April Fools Day, those sites are a bit of an exception right now, but usually that’s true!

3) Build a social network of developers and other technical people

Whether this is through AOL Instant Messenger, Gmail, Twitter/blogs, Facebook, Myspace, whatever, building a network of technically-minded friends will really help you keep on top of things. One of the most important – and most fun – aspects of technical work is swapping stories with people who can appreciate your horrible socially-crippling nerdiness and, god forbid, actually identify and respect your inner geek.

Social crutch aside, you can swap ideas, learn new techniques, and hear about technology solutions you’d never have encountered otherwise merely by having friends and talking to them once in a while.

4) Attend conferences

This might sound boring, but go to official conferences. You get free swag, you meet other professionals, and this is a great way to build your network.

Plus, free swag.

It can help you understand a new topic to listen to a speaker who is an expert on the topic, as well. To be fair, it can also confuse the hell out of you, so make sure you’re attending the RIGHT conferences!

5) Join usergroups

Joining a local usergroup (through meetups.com or whatever that site is, or just looking through Yahoo! groups, or Google groups for a tech group) can have many great effects. One of which is free pizza once a week. Another is that you get a group of people, usually wanting to focus on a specific, similar topic or goal. Think of it as a study group for adults.

That said, you might want to tell your girlfriend that you joined a bowling league. If she doesn’t like bowling, break up with her. It’s probably for the best.

One example is in my area, obviously the Boston area, there’s a usergroup that’s been meeting to go over .NET 2.0 and onwards training, in order to get Microsoft certification. Much easier to study when you have someone to ask questions, instead of reading a book, friendless and alone.

6) Ask coworkers

Kind of a lame one to end on, but asking coworkers is often forgotten by many tech people. Coworkers can often have nuggets of knowledge (if I ever write a book I am calling it Nuggets of Knowledge) buried in their brains much the same way a squirrel buries acorns for winter. Spring is here, and you want the acorns of their intelligence. Dig them up!