As the person ultimately responsible for training SEO within our agency, I often find myself warning our teams and clients about the dangers of common spamdexing tactics like hidden text, doorway pages, and other boneheaded ways of gaming the ranking algorithm and making low-quality content appear higher than it would otherwise. We have many blue chip clients at Resolution Media with a lot to lose, who simply can’t afford to pump and dump domains the way that some small businesses do on a regular basis. For this reason, every tactic that can get a site banned in Google is also banned at Resolution Media. We are a white hat SEO shop that helps our clients get visibility in the SERPs by applying known white hat best practices and following Google Webmaster Quality Guidelines to the tee. We follow all the rules, and when Google enforces them, they work.
When spam gets through, however, it is not only embarrassing to Google, but embarrassing to white hat SEOs like me. For those of us who make Matt Cutts a minor Internet celebrity, know the names of the Google Webmaster Central Team by heart (or before John and Paul left the group, at least), and recommend optimizations based on their Quality and Design guidelines, it is extremely disheartening when the guidelines fail to apply to the SERPs. How can I tell my team and our clients that hidden text can get a site banned from the Google index, when hidden text is exactly what seems to be the ranking factor that is catapulting a result to the first position in the SERPs? Similarly, as SEOMoz pointed out recently, paid links are against the quality guidelines, but they are also very useful for ranking purposes. It’s hard for me as an SEO to continue repeating the Google quality guidelines ad nauseum when these words often mean very little in practice. It is with this in mind that I’m calling out the crap in the SERPs, with the hope that Google will start cutting it, and stop making a liar out of me.
Violated Guideline: Keyword Stuffing
This site violates so many guidelines that we often point it out in SEO 101 as an example of what not to do. So why is it ranking so well? That’s a good question that I’m not always sure how to answer when clients or team members ask.
Want page one rankings? Put 65 keywords in your title tag and it’s an instant number ten. Apparently SEO really is that simple. Or at least that’s what new students of search engine optimization might be likely to believe after looking at this SERP:
This next one I actually reported through the Webmaster tools interface, but, in spite of that, it is still ranking as well as it did several months ago when I reported it.
Violated Guideline: Hidden Text
One could argue that this is simply an example of an ignorant webmaster, and not a malicious spammer. In spite of this, it’s a clear violation, and a clear example of a web page trumping link popularity by repeating keywords within the body of the page. Does this PR 3 page warrant its number 1 listing, above a page that is following the quality guidelines and the national society for the profession—both with a higher link popularity? I’m thinking the engines would say no; and yet…
Here’s one that has gotten significantly better over the years, but that still has a long way to go:
Violated Guideline: Doorway pages
There’s so much quality content for prescription drugs in general, and yet the number six result is the lowest of the low. I understand that maintaining search quality is difficult when you rely on algorithms to filter content, but is it that difficult to keep college discussion lists out? It’s always the same low quality content with the same overstuffed title tag. I have a difficult time explaining to my team why this same phenomenon that has been happening since the early days of search, still does on a regular basis. If anyone can help me, I would appreciate it.
In the meantime, I will continue to help our team and our clients provide quality content to display for search engine users, and hope that Google continues to get better at keeping out the junk.
Been embarrassed by a SERP lately? Don’t be afraid to demand quality. If there are enough comments, someone might actually listen…