SEO Don’ts

Recently a client asked for a list of SEO dos and don’ts. The client is a franchise operation, and they wanted to help their franchisees get the best possible results on the web. I was happy to provide a checklist of SEO things to do to get a new web page visible.

A list of don’ts was another thing entirely.

I’ve seen lots of SEO don’ts. Based on my experience with clients, I could give you a list, beginning with this sort of thing:

  • Don’t hide your keywords on the front page in letters that match the background.
  • Don’t place links in directories of Malaysian massage parlors if you run a pet store in Ohio.
  • Don’t try to get links by having quasi-English articles with no real content posted at 0 PageRank article mills.

Chances are, the franchisees weren’t planning on doing these things. In every case, these were things done for my clients by people who didn’t know any better, but still charged for their services. Or possibly by people who did know better, but dishonestly did these things and charged for them. The clients paid to have these harmful things done, but they had no idea that they were being done.

So it may be that the real list of SEO don’ts for businesspeople, rather than SEO professionals, is something like this:

  • Don’t hire people who guarantee you some particular ranking in some particular number of days. Not because it’s impossible to achieve, but because it’s considered bad form in our industry, and honest SEO professionals don’t make guarantees like that.
  • Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do in the physical world. If you don’t have your business card up on the bulletin board at the local massage parlor, then you don’t need your business listed with massage parlors in directories. On the other hand, if your business is a massage parlor, then that’s exactly where you ought to be. But on your own continent, unless you make international house calls.
  • Don’t do things that sound dishonest or sneaky to you, such as hiding words on your website, because they probably are dishonest and sneaky. If you’re not sure, then ask your online marketing people why they’re recommending this move, and notice whether the answer sounds dishonest and sneaky.

Online marketing is all about trust. Google’s rankings are largely about whether or not your website is trustworthy. And there’s no reason for people to send money out into the ether to you if they don’t trust you. So most of the real SEO don’ts are about trying to sidestep normal growth by doing something shady.

You can feel fairly sure that the search engines are ahead of you on that.

Oh, and a poorly-designed, badly-written website is a definite SEO don’t.

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