Not all success factors are positive. The ones listed below possess the power to damage your visibility. Proceed with caution.
- Manipulative Links
- Thin Content
- Non-unique Content
- Meta Noindex Errors
- Canonical Errors
- Robots.txt Blocking
- Keyword Stuffing
- Hidden Text or Links
- Piracy / DMCA Notices
- Rich Snippet Spam
- Blocking Important JS / CSS Files
- Overly Long / Complex URLs
- Linking to Bad Neighborhoods
- Slow Speed
- Aggressive Ads / Intrusive Interstitials
- Over-Optimized Anchor Text
- High Quantity of Crawl Errors
- False / Misleading / Offensive
- Porn / Explicit Content
- Redirect Chains
- UGC Spam
- Sneaky Redirects
- Domain History
1. SpamThe whole point of Google is to deliver the opposite of spam, so producing spam isn’t going to help you rank. Spam takes many different forms. It may include, but isn’t limited to:If you’ve made it this far through SEO Success Factors, you know this is not what you want to produce.
2. Manipulative LinksGoogle hates unnatural links. To be fair, unnatural links are less of a big deal ever since Google released Penguin 4.0, which is very granular and often likely to ignore bad links than penalize you for them. That said, naughty linking practices remain a major cause of lower rankings, either through manual penalties or algorithmic actions.
Learn MoreLearn to avoid link schemes and follow the rules of link building.
3. Thin ContentContent that adds little value, uniqueness, or substance qualifies as thin content. Especially damning to Google are thin affiliate sites, which exist solely to lead folks to affiliate sites while adding little extra value.
4. Non-unique ContentWhile Google doesn’t penalize duplicate content, content that is non-unique can get filtered from search results. Aside from following the advice earlier in this guide on duplicate content, it’s best practice to have at least 2-3 sentences up to a few hundred words of unique content on each page to have a chance of ranking.
5. CloakingCloaking is generally defined as the practice of showing certain content to users, while showing different content to search engines – typically for sneaky reasons. Don’t do this. Sometimes cloaking is fine if done for the right reason, but these are usually edge cases.
6. Meta Noindex ErrorsThe meta noindex directive is a powerful tool that when used correctly helps with both crawling and indexing, as well as duplicate content issues. But noindex can also be abused and cause unnecessary errors. True to its purpose, using a meta noindex on a page causes Google to drop it from its index, and it won’t rank. In fact, meta noindex errors are one of the most frequent findings during SEO audits.
7. Canonical ErrorsAnother common error. If URL 1 has a canonical tag pointing to URL 2, then URL 1 isn’t going to be indexed or ranked (as long as Google respects the canonical.) Additional canonical errors include pointing a canonical to a page marked “noindex”, which can cause both pages to be dropped by Google’s. Ouch!
8. Robots.txt BlockingPages blocked by robots.txt—accidental or otherwise—likely won’t rank well in Google’s search results. An important distinction is that while robots.txt prevents crawling, it does not stop a page from appearing in search results. The best way to control this is through the noindex directive.
9. Keyword StuffingKeyword stuffing is the art of stuffing keywords where keywords shouldn’t be stuffed. Enough?
10. Hidden Text or LinksHiding text and links is a form of cloaking, because it shows something in the source code to search engines that users typically can’t see. While this was much more common in the early days of SEO, it’s still around today—sometimes accidentally! Hiding text, and especially links, often means a fast path to the Google penalty box.
11. Piracy / DMCA NoticesWhether you run a pirate site or not, the number of valid DMCA copyright removal notices your site receives can lower your search rankings. A single notice or two likely won’t hurt much, but a large number of such removal requests will likely hurt.
12. Rich Snippet SpamRich snippets are awesome when you want to make your search results stand out. Which is probably the reason so many people try to earn them with false information such as fake reviews and falsified event markup. But spammy structured data can get your site penalized. Google even has a form where your competitors can report you.
14. Overly Long / Complex URLsIn almost all SEO correlation studies, the total length of the URL is correlated with lower rankings. This is also the case with the amount of numbers and special characters in the URL, e.g., https://example.com/887600o!jshfj#jklsing0098019-874 The converse is also true: shorter, cleaner URLs tend to rank slightly better. Correlation is not causation, but this could be caused by:
- Deep folder structures, often far removed from high authority pages
- Superfluous parameters
- People being less likely to copy and share long, complex URLs
15. Linking to Bad NeighborhoodsJust like Google’s system rewards sites that link out to high-quality sources, the system also “trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighborhoods” (source). A bad neighborhood is one filled with spam sites, or sites that have been penalized. Gambling, shady pharmaceutical sites, and porn are often targets. Linking to these sites aggressively can put a serious dent in your search traffic.
16. Slow SpeedWe’ve covered the multiple outsized effects of making your site fast, but the opposite is also true. Slow sites can be degraded in search results. When Google first included speed in their algorithm, it was only supposed to impact the slowest of the slow, the bottom 1% off all pages. Since then, SEOs have observed the speed effect as a smooth curve along all sites. Don’t be pokey
17. Aggressive Ads / Intrusive InterstitialsGoogle is an ad company, and they understand ads fund the web. That said, there are two different ways that overly-aggressive ads can hurt your rankings:
- Google’s Top Heavy algorithm punishes sites with too many ads above the fold, or in the primary content area.
- The Intrusive Interstitial update punishes mobile sites with aggressive popups and interstitials