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?

SEO – How to sell it to your company

Learning about Search Engine Optimization is one thing. Anyone can load up some articles, read about some techniques, and try to apply them to your website. But what do you do when your company needs to adopt SEO practices?

Here’s something I learned through trial-by-fire: selling the concept of SEO is an incredibly easy task. Selling the practices, though, is difficult. Everyone wants to reap the benefits of increased traffic and better placement, but no one wants to commit to changing their behavior and work style.

Anecdotally, I recently took the plunge and introduced the concepts behind SEO to the company I work for. The idea was met with enthusiasm, for sure. The tasks were laid out, and it was decided that, experimentally, we would try it on one of our products.

This is where first resistance was met. Interestingly enough, the people who were fine with changing their ways were not the ones I expected. Content writers were fine with changing how they wrote, PMs were fine with building it into their schedule, Marketing was fine with a new method of keyword analysis and selection, and all three of these groups were fine with working together. In terms of the technical side of things, though, there were some bumps.

Briefly mentioning to some colleagues of mine some SEO concepts, I usually ran into disagreement. Things like how to redirect a page, or not to use Javascript to link were met with dissenting opinions. After some time, I was able to convince them, but at first there was backlash. I suppose that when you’ve been doing something for a while, it’s tough to hear that you should do it differently.

Another roadblock was from the design side. They wanted to have a specific way of naming images to make it easier for them, namely the idea of adding a prefix (m for menu, l for link, etc) to every image, including the page name in there, and using underscores. I suggested that, instead of using image names to convey organization, use folders and subfolders. /images/home/topnav/keyword-image-name.jpg, for example. That idea did not go over very well, not to everybody, and so the image names were not optimized.

To show you how important image names and other image-related factors can be, consider that just yesterday, I received a spike in traffic on this blog. After some investigation, it turns out I have received a TON of referrals from google image search, because my Macbook review page is the first result in a google image search for the term “macbook”. This garnered some serious traffic, so don’t try to argue that image names are irrelevant!

Another roadblock in selling SEO to the company as a whole is people who want to use SEO to cover their asses, or just improve their products before it is ready. One of the more important aspects of enterprise-level SEO is having a process in place. A process will severely reduce overhead for SEO and make it virtually transparent, once initial education costs are over with.

It can be tough in the meantime, as word of SEO and related success is sure to spread around the company. If you are the one taking this initiative, prepare yourself to get an onslaught of requests to implement SEO into sites. You’ll get lots of questions, like “how long would it take to implement on my project”, and “just tell me what to do so I can do it myself”. You’ll need to know how to deal with these kinds of requests, since your sell will likely garner these kinds of requests once or twice a day.

In short, you want to sell to the people that will allow you to quietly set up a process that will eventually get disseminated to the rest of the company. It can be really tough to do, sadly, but the payoff is more than worth it.

How to find and avoid SEO scams

A friend of mine brought this topic to my attention recently (thanks T!), so I thought I would riff on it a bit.

 Search engine optimization has become a pretty hot topic recently. Everyone wants a piece of the SEO pie (which is a topic I am saving for another day … oy vey), but where do you look for enlightenment on the subject? The market is chock full of people who know their stuff – even though many people disagree on certain finer points or how to specifically implement things, most people agree on a lot of ideas and topics.

Unfortunately there are a lot of people who simply do not know what they are doing who are making assloads of money off of it. How do you spot the good from the bad?

The best defense against people running an SEO scam is a little bit of knowledge. You can find tons of free advice on the internet. I mean, tons. There are forums, communities, portals built off of the idea of sharing thoughts on optimization. If you are truly clueless about SEO, I can tell you right now that it would be a waste of your money and time to attend a seminar headed up by a guy whose website looks like this: http://www.1seomichigan.com/ .

This guy’s site, Michigan SEO or whatever he wants to call himself, is an SEO disaster. This is his sales pitch to the world, and he failed. Miserably. And then, what’s more, he tricks you.

SEO basics

 First of all, the basics of SEO are not present. You may notice as well that the site looks hideous. How pretty your images are does not matter, fortunately. Anyway what does he do wrong?

Right off the bat, there is a large chunk of the top of the screen that is made up of images. That is not great, because keyword position on the page (also called prominance) can affect SEO. Next, the header there is large, and yet does not help his SEO as much because it is styled with CSS instead of using a CSS-styled <h1> tag. Header tags matter, yet they were ignored here.

What I’m trying to get at here, folks, is that this guy doesn’t use basic SEO techniques on his website. There are more, rest assured that it’s not very good from an SEO standpoint. Using a neat SEO keyword tool I found while cruising around one day, I did a keyword analysis of his page. Ideally you want a few keywords (I usually use 4 keywords, sometimes of multiple words) with between 4-7%. More than 7% is okay, but more than 10% is bad. This is “density” on the page so your keywords need to be used a lot. The more words, the more times the keywords need to be used to even be considered keywords.

Now look again at that guy’s site. He has a LOT of words. Lots. He has more than a homepage should ever have. So looking through his page for keywords, there are, literally, none. The highest density is around 2.86%. To really be considered a true keyword, you should have at least 4%. To be considered a minor keyword, you’re looking at between 3 and 4%.

According to my friend, this guy recommends you have 10 keywords of 4% each, and so your keywords should account for 40% of your page’s content. This is, obviously, terrible advice. And to put the icing on the cake, he doesn’t even follow his own advice. He recommends 10 keywords at 4%; he has 0 keywords above 3%.

Sales pitch

This guy’s sales pitch is his images. Clearly, they are there to attempt to show off his awesome SEO skills with which he uses to own Google. Let’s look closer at these claims, and I can tell you why they mean nothing.

Claim #1: 7 out of the top 10 sites!

Myth: This makes him a good SEO person

Fact: He is using obscure search terms in that image, to make himself look better.

Seriously, look closely. Sure he has 7 sites on that page. But look at his search term.  “bonacure michigan” is the term. Guess how many TOTAL sites use that term? 184. Guess how many people a month search for “bonacure michigan”? How useful is that 7/10 now?

Claim #2: These are our keywords, we beat out 160,000 sites, we occupy 3 spots

Myth: This proves that his SEO methods work

Fact: Not so. Again, he uses an obscure keyword. While it may or may not be impressive to you that he has three sites in the top 160,000 sites, remember that most likely very few people are actually trying to optimize for “ope michigan” or whatever that term is. With your website you will have competition, people who are actually TRYING to beat you will if you listen to this guy’s advice.

Keep this in mind: if this is proof of greatness, I am at least ten times as great as this guy at SEO. Do a search for my name plus SEO, “James martin SEO”. This blog is the first result, and I beat out over a million people for that spot. Again, though, how useful is that? Not many people search for that!

Rampant claims

This site, and keep in mind that this guy, for the sake of this article, represents all SEO scammers everywhere, makes grand claims about Flash here. Some of them I made myself, and was corrected by Adobe. He claims:

MYTH: Search Engines Cannot Read Flash

TRUTH: Search engines see Flash as a Black Box. It cannot see what is actually going on inside of it – so a lot of your text and words get read as artwork…. Which doesn’t do you a whole heck of a lot of good!THE REAL WORD PERSPECTIVE: As of this writing only
one search engine can read the keywords that you place inside
of your Flash movie….
This is somewhat wrong as well. There are ways you can take Flash and make it useful for SEO. I have talked about it before on this very blog. Ways like SWFObject can allow you to stick content where the Flash goes and the search engines can see it. Plus, Google can index Flash content. Not superbly awesome, and it (rightly) ranks it way lower than actual html content.

Scammers will use Flash as an example of something to avoid at all costs. This is not true. You should avoid using all Flash, for sure, but you can use Flash on your site without worrying if you have a competent SEO person behind the helm.


I could go on about what this guy is doing wrong. So how do you find someone who is doing things right? The best way would be to search for meaningful terms. The next would be to learn a little yourself about SEO and apply that knowledge to the SEO person’s site.

Of course, if you’re learning about SEO in general, what good is hiring someone? The benefit here would be to help you apply SEO to your specific site, instead of to teach you the basics.

You can also remember that if you plan on spending a lot of money learning SEO techniques, you could always contact me instead! I probably charge less.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me James Martin, or leave a comment below!

Do image names really matter?

I find people asking me this question all the time lately. Image names, file names, do they really make a difference? Alt tags are important, obviously, but what about filenames?

Luckily, the answer to this question is easy. Yes they matter. That’s it. That’s the answer.

To be a little more precise, image names make a big difference in search engine optimization. If you don’t care about search engines then I guess you can stop reading right here. If you actually care about web traffic, though, search engines should make a huge difference.

One good way of seeing what the content on your page looks like to a web crawler is to use a program like LynxViewer. Lynx is a command-line based browser that is neat to use but not widely popular for many obvious reasons. My apologies if you are reading this on Lynx. Obviously you can’t view images in a command line (ASCII aside) and neither can the search engine crawlers.

They can, however, see image names and alt tags. Alt tags are best considered the same as content on the page. Don’t put anything in an alt tag that you wouldn’t want written as content, because that’s how it’s seen. Image names, though, are completely obscured to the user (unless they really want to find out, but honestly out of the thousands of images you see every day how many do you check?). This makes it awfully tempting to want to name it something useful for the developer. Popular examples are rightMenuAboutPage.gif or headTopWhiteCorner4.gif. Sometimes we use auto-generation programs to get image names and end up with 3459584711938.gif.

These filenames are hurting your optimization efforts. rightmenuaboutpage is not a word, much less a keyword you want to optimize for, but Google and other search engines give weight – arguably more than alt tags – to file names. In essence you are dilutingyour keyword pool with gibberish.

Okay so what do I do about it?

Another tempting methodology is to name your files better, but with underscores. white_elephant_ears.jpg tells me that you have a picture of a set of white elephant ears. It does not tell this to search engines.

I know, I just said that search engines give weight to filenames. That’s still true. The problem with the above elephant example is that it uses underscores. This is interpretted by a search engine as an actual character as opposed to a space. It’s the equivalent of putting ANY character there. You might as well use “t” instead of an underscore because it’s the same thing to a search engine crawler. whitetelephanttears.jpg.

The solution is to use dashes. It has been proven in the past (search around) that dashes do better than underscores when optimizing images for search engines. white-elephant-ears.jpg is the equivalent of telling google “white elephant ears”, which is presumably what you want. This technique will help you increase keyword density, add new relevant keywords, and increase search engine traffic (in theory).


Really, if you don’t have keywords, or some sort of descriptive word to use as a filename, you should get some. This won’t work as well without useful text in the filename. Still, a slightly irrelevant filename will do better than 458712937.jpg.

Ultimately a combination of useful filenames and descriptive keyword-oriented alt tags will go pretty far in increasing search engine ranks. I read a blog just this morning about a guy who increased his traffic threefold from search engines merely by optimizing his images. Obviously there’s no guarantee that you will see these same kind of results, but it will certainly be a step in the right direction.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin.
Email me, or comment below!

The importance of RSS feeds in SEO

After reading a particularly misleading article on rss feeds in search engine optimization, I decided to throw my hat into the ring.

RSS feeds are used all over the internet these days. Blogs come with them pre-configured for you. Browsers are beginning to integrate RSS Readers directly into their functionality. If you’re using IE7, you can see an icon on the toolbar menu.

RSS Feed Icon

If this icon is orange, click it to see the RSS feed on the page you are currently viewing. If it is grey, there is no feed on the current page. For firefox users, there are plugins you can download to mimic this feature. My favorite is Sage, although it is not as nice as the IE integration. You can also subscribe to feeds using these feed readers. But what is an RSS Feed and an RSS Reader?

An RSS Feed is a method of content distribution, Really Simple Syndication. As a web publisher, or blog writer, when you create a new piece of content, you want regular readers to know about it as fast as possible. An RSS Feed is basically an XML document that describes your page’s content. When this is updated, people who have subscribed to it can see the change in their browser without even visiting your site. They can read the new article from their Feed Reader.

An RSS Feed Reader is a plugin that we talked about that you can use to create a bookmark of content. Everytime you check for new content, instead of visiting all your favorite sites, you can merely click a single button and it checks for you. New articles show up with previews and the ability to see the content in your browser without visiting the site.

 Very handy for compulsive webheads like myself.

This may seem undesireable to webmasters, but it’s not. The first thought in many people’s heads is “but if people can see my content without visiting my site, I will lose hits!” Yes, this is true, at first. However, your content is also reaching regular readers. If someone subscribes to your feed, they can be considered a “regular” in my book. You can also implant ads into your feed if you wish, although this may turn some people off.

What RSS feeds are NOT is a way of “inputting content” into your own website. You can, in theory, strip the content out of an RSS feed from another website in order to populate your own with content. However, this is for all intents and purposes stealing content. You may be taking copyrighted materials and copying them illegally, which can get you blacklisted by search engines. Even if it not illegal, it is still immoral.

There are syndicated feeds that allow you to take the content of them to display them on your site, though. This is not, or at least, should not, be the main focus of RSS feeds.

However, RSS can play a big part in search engine optimization. It may be a more indirect effect, unlike most other techniques. You can generally actually SEE a change with SEO, whether it’s titles, content changes, whatever. With RSS Feeds, though, you’re relying on getting your content to as many people as you can. Hopefully, they will blog about it or link to the article on their site. Even if they read it without visiting your site, links to your site will help out immensely for Google, who is very link-centric when it comes to search result placement.

So the upshot of all this is using RSS to distribute your content as quickly as possible increases the likelihood of more people reading it (it’s easy). This in turn increases potential links to your site, hopefully with decent anchor text. This gets you more new visitors at the expense of seeing regular visitors in your stats. This also increases your likelihood of moving up the search engine rankings.

Registering your RSS Feed with syndcation sites will also give you immediately linkbacks to your page, as well as greater content exposure.

RSS Feeds are also fairly trivial to set up. Even if you have your own personal site instead of a major blog site, coding your own RSS functionality is no big deal for any halfway decent programmer – it’s merely a matter of creating an XML document that matches a certain schema.

The best part of all is that there’s no real downside to having an RSS. If you screw things up, it won’t hurt you, so there’s no real reason not to have a feed in this day and age.

Speaking of RSS feeds, there’s a handy RSS feed button located on the right sidenav of this blog! Feel free to use it!

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin.
Email me, or comment!