Search engine optimisation is a turbulent world – it seems as soon as you’ve identified a scalable technique that’s having a positive impact on your rankings, Google starts hinting it might be against their Webmaster Guidelines. So here are six nightmare SEO scenarios and what you can do to mitigate the impact on your site.
1 – A guest blogging penalty
Anyone who keeps a close eye on the SEO community will have read articles on if/when Google will introduce a penalty targeted at sites which have built links using guest posting. It’s certainly true that the search engine’s anti-spam team has suggested guest blogging can in some circumstances contravene its guidelines. The nightmare scenario for many SEOs would be a Google penalty that wipes out all their guest blogging efforts overnight.
But, the chances of this actually happening are very, very slim. Why? Well, for starters it’s possible to guest blog for some very high quality sites – the Guardian and Moz for starters. This alone would probably preclude the application of a general penalty on guest posting.
Secondly, most guest posts contain links to sites other than the one the guest blogger is looking to promote, so the penalty would lead to a lot of collateral damage.
What could happen is that links from low-value sites with a large number of poor quality posts are devalued by Google. Now, strictly speaking, this wouldn’t be a penalty but it could lead to a drop in rankings if your site has relied on such links in the past.
To avoid this you need to focus on getting quality backlinks from good blogs (you can learn more about that here). At the same time you should make sure that you employ link building methods other than guest posting, just to be on the safe side.
2 – Negative SEO
Google used to claim negative SEO was nigh on impossible, but it recently updated its guidance to say it does all it can to stop third parties harming your site.
So how worried should you be about a black hat SEO targeting your site and damaging its rankings? Well, the answer is “it depends”.
If you’re concerned about people buying a load of spammy links and pointing them to your site you probably don’t have to worry at all – most of these links will come from sites that Google has already taken action against, so they will have no impact, good or bad, on yours.
Remember, the point of a Google penalty is really to remove the positive boost a certain technique has had, rather than a wholly punitive way of damaging a site that has engaged in behaviour Google doesn’t like. Although it’s possible someone could hurt you through acquiring paid links, the chances are they’ll have to do you a favour beforehand.
The real worry with negative SEO comes on the technical side of things. As Martin MacDonald explains in this post, getting something as simple as rel=canonical tags wrong can leave you vulnerable to techniques that will see you slide down the rankings. If you fear someone really does want to damage your rankings, stop worrying about links and start making sure your technical SEO is up to scratch.
3 – Black hats target your niche
There’s nothing more frustrating in SEO than following Google’s Webmaster guidelines and then being outranked by someone who clearly doesn’t. Going toe to toe with people who are buying high value links isn’t fun. Broadly speaking you have two options – the first is try and beat them at their own game and the second is to wait it out and hope Google penalises them sooner rather than later.
Obviously the first has risks attached, if you’re buying links and you’re caught you can expect your rankings to drop. But of course waiting it out isn’t ideal either – if a competitor has pushed ahead of your on your money terms, you’re going to end up losing out financially.
There are positive steps you can take, such as creating great content to attract strong, natural links, that should help you compete with the black hats in the “right way”. It’s also worth reviewing Rand Fishkin’s White Board Friday on why certain content ranks well. This will help you understand other factors that might be at play.
4 – Google targets your niche
Of course, it’s not just direct competitors who will push you down the rankings, increasingly Google is keen to offer users a range of ads, information content and pictures, often at the expense of organic listings.
With the top link being pushed down right to the fold on many devices, Google itself is increasingly cannibalising natural search traffic. Why? Because, essentially, it wants people to click its adverts – that’s how the search engine makes its money.
So what can you do? Sadly, the answer is not a lot, at least when it comes to SEO. You’re never going to outrank the knowledge box or AdWords – they’re hardwired into position at the top of the SERPs.
Your only real choice is to focus on other channels for generating traffic such as social media. Diversity is vital and if you’re relying heavily on Google for traffic, then you could see visitor numbers drop off sharply for any number of reasons. Putting all your eggs in one basket is always a bad idea when it comes to online marketing, so it pays to branch out.
And remember, don’t have nightmares.
Guest post by Will Stevens of 123-reg. Will writes on a range of tech and SEO topics including inbound marketing and link building.