Search Engine Optimization is still one of the most under-appreciated elements of web development. Time and time again I see sites that either have only bits and pieces of SEO effort implemented, none at all or worse – SEO that has been done all wrong.
At Search Engine Strategies Toronto in 2007 and 2008 I spoke on the topic of SEO Don’ts Myths and Scams. I covered the “don’ts” part of the panel and that’s what I’m going to share with you now.
Some of these may seem very obvious, some not so much and some you may not even agree with. This list comes from my experience working in a variety of industries and observations I’ve made over that time.
Don’t use the same title tag on every page
In fact, don’t use the same title tag on any page. It will work against you. There’s really no reason why you can’t come up with different titles for each page. Surely you don’t have the exact same page over and over?
Don’t overuse META tags
I see this happen so much. You really don’t need more than a few meta tags. Be picky about which ones to include. Example: META NAME=”GOOGLEBOT” CONTENT=”INDEX, FOLLOW”. This code tells Googlebot to index the page and follow the links. But guess what – that’s the default behaviour for Googlebot anyway. Do you like being told how to do your job? No? Don’t tell Googlebot how to do its job. Get rid of this meta tag, you only need it if the values are different.
Don’t stuff keywords in the META tags
Probably the oldest method of black hat SEO, it’s also the reason META keyword tags become completely irrelevant – at least in Google. There is some thought that Yahoo! might give some weight to this tag, but not much.
Don’t use hidden text
This might seem obvious, but I still see it far too often. Usually in one of two methods – either the white text/white background method (any color really – but if you’re using any color but a shade of grey, hire yourself a designer please) or the hidden div tag. Not only are these methods ignored by search engines (and yes, they know) but you could even face a penalty.
Don’t use doorway pages
Doorway pages are keyword filled pages for the benefit of search engines only – users bypass this page all together. Anytime you’re offering different content for users than you are for search engines is considered spam.
Don’t duplicate your content
Duplicate content is one of those items that I believe people panic at a little to easily. However, it is something to keep in mind. There’s no need to repeat the same content on other pages or other sites. Syndication is likely to happen in many cases, but not usually a problem since the other site is typically not cookie-cutter to your own.
Don’t publish before you’re ready
This is a highly overlooked issue. A lot of people test pages they’re working on in a live environment, with live links pointing to other live pages. The problem – if you have Google Toolbar or a site that gets crawled regularly – the spiders are going to find that test page you’re working on, whether you’re ready or not. Better to test it in an environment that’s not crawlable (by robots.txt).
Don’t use too many parameters on your URLs
The more parameters in a URL, the harder it is for spiders to crawl and index the page. Keep it to as few parameters as possible or, even better, use your .htaccess file to rewrite the URLs to something much more search engine friendly.
Don’t keyword stuff ALT tags
Similar to stuffing the META keywords tag, people often do the same for image ALT attributes. The problem with this, however, is this IS a ranking factor. If people continue to stuff and span it though, I’m sure we’ll see it devalued as well.
Don’t use images when CSS will do
There are almost endless things you can do with stylesheets. There are not many good reasons why important copy has to be buried in an image. Try to use as little images as possible.
Don’t use inline CSS
Have a LOT of code (compared to content) on a page isn’t a good thing. One way to trim down is to ditch your inline CSS and put it all in an external file. Once you’ve done it, you’ll wonder why you ever did it another way.
Don’t use Flash
Over the past few years, the engines (especially Google) have made huge inroads with crawling Flash. But it’s still not perfect and isn’t standard across the board. There is no reason why the guts of your site – the body and the navigation – should be Flash. Unless you’re using Flash for an animation that cannot be another way (see using CSS whenever possible), you shouldn’t be using Flash at all.