18 SEO Killers You Must Clean Up and Avoid for 2013

There’s a lot of talk lately of Google having finally killed SEO through their Panda and Penguin algorithms, which continue to ensnare more and more websites with every new update.

So is SEO Really (Finally) Dead?

When you look at some of the Google organic traffic losses that companies have faced since the very first Panda algo (aka Google Farmer) hit in February 2011, you might certainly think so.

Analytics data showing losses of over 50% of Google organic traffic is not uncommon for afflicted websites:

See Search Overview chart

And traffic that used to increase over time, suddenly took a huge dip:

See Visitors Overview chart

These patterns certainly make it look as if SEO could be dead.

But Is It Really?

In order to answer that question I went back through the multitude of lost traffic site audit reports I’ve been doing since early 2011. I looked for website problems that were consistent through many of the sites I reviewed.

It didn’t take long for me to conclude that, while SEO was certainly not dead, SEO tricks and shortcuts were definitely on life support – if not already completely dead.

So if you relied on tricks and shortcuts, then yes, for you SEO is dead.

In fact, it’s likely that the very things that helped you before are the ones that are hurting you now. But even for those of us who have always used best SEO practices, some things have changed.

Today, and for the foreseeable future, SEO is much less about optimizing for specific keywords, and much more about technical issues, social signals, and the overall trustworthiness of a company and its website.

When I went through my lost traffic website audits, I found no less than 18 specific problems that had likely contributed to the huge losses of organic Google traffic and the subsequent loss in conversions and sales that so many companies have been facing.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Duplicate content
2. Keyword stuffing
3. Doorways
4. Footer links
5. Auto anchor text
6. Spammy comments
7. Low-quality pages
8. Poor presentation
9. Content below fold
10. Technical problems
11. Poor writing
12. No content
13. Splitting link pop
14. Merry-go-rounds
15. Unnatural links
16. Semi-hidden text
17. Rich snippet abuse
18. Trustworthiness

While some of the above were deliberately done to or for the websites in order to increase organic website traffic (back in the day), others were more inadvertent – with some issues overlapping others.

For instance, duplicate content can be caused by technical issues, but it can also be done deliberately as an easy way to add more content to a website. And keyword stuffing is often done in conjunction with having content below the fold, but not always.

For the most part, the issues can be broken down into a few overall categories:

* Technical issues
* Content issues
* Usability issues
* Linking issues
* Outright deception

Over the next few months, I’ll go into more detail about all of the above SEO problems and issues, and show you some specific examples in future articles. For now, however, here are the main takeaways you need to know to do good SEO in 2013 and beyond:

Fix Technical Issues First and Foremost

Technical issues affecting SEO have always existed and smart SEO consultants have always made fixing them a high priority. But after Panda and Penguin, fixing them is more important than ever. Technical issues that are a problem for SEO run the gamut from bad content management system (CMS) setups that create duplicate content to having a sitewide navigation that’s basically invisible to search engines. Whatever your specific technical issues may be, now is the time to fix them. If they’re not already hurting your site’s SEO performance, they likely will be after a new Panda or Penguin update.

Think Less About Optimizing for Specific Keywords

I know this seems counterintuitive to everything I’ve been preaching to you for years, but it’s a very important point. When you do SEO with the goal of optimizing for specific keywords that you want to rank for (as we’ve always done), it can end up hurting you now. What happens is that you focus too much on those specific words and end up putting them in too many places on your pages and within the website as a whole. But now this is not as helpful to search engines as it used to be. In most cases this will actually lower your rankings and traffic for those specific keyword phrases. Instead, reread what Karon Thackston recently recommended (and which Matt Cutts from Google confirmed) and use much more of a variety of words within your content. Be sure to keep my new SEO mantra in your head: “Less is more.”

Have a Real Content / Social Media Marketing Strategy

Forget about old-fashioned link building. Google now really does consider it to be web spam. (Yay!) If you can add a link to your own site just by submitting it somewhere, you can assume that it won’t count for much (or anything) by Google. In other words, forget about useless directory submissions, article directories, link wheels, forum signatures and comment spam. That’s all done, kaput, a useless waste of time.

Instead, hire real writers and put them to work writing blog posts and other informational content on a regular basis. Be sure that what they’re writing is truly of interest to the people who might buy your products or services (aka your target market).

Learn where your target market is hanging out online, be it Twitter, Facebook, Google+, industry forums and blogs, and hang out with them. Make friends with them and be sure you make them aware of all the helpful, informational content on your website, as appropriate. Be especially sure to let them know when any new content comes out that they might be interested in. Remember to share their content as well, and don’t be afraid to ask them to share yours.

Most of All, Earn Google’s Trust

If your site is poorly written or keyword stuffed, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google. If all the links pointing to your site are using one specific keyword phrase rather than just being the name of your company, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google. If people can’t easily find what they came to your site to find, or if they keep going around in circles on your site, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google. If you have a number of sites all selling the same products when one would suffice, it’s not going to look very trustworthy to Google.

If you truly want to earn Google’s trust, you (and your site) must be trustworthy. Stop trying to trick them into thinking your site is something it’s not, and start making it be that something. Having a business and a website was never supposed to be easy. While Google had let most of the above slide for a long time, they really are putting their money where their mouth is now. So forget about trying to find the latest shortcuts and get to work!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area
since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen. If you learned from this article, be sure to invite your colleagues to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so they can receive similar articles in the future!

About the author


Jill Whalen

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen. If you learned from this article, be sure to invite your colleagues to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so they can receive similar articles in the future!


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  • Nice article! Incidentally for your own SEO practices I received this post via email subscription – your post title instantly grabbed my attention hence reading more. I am in complete agreement with 90% of your advice. You have certainly prompted me to revisit our site to correct any technical/comment/keyword issues. I would have however disagree with your info relating to link building not counting for much – of course If its spammy then I would think not. Do you have any factual info relating to link building not counting for much? Also your mobile site gives me an error (comment to short) when posting this comment.

  • Thanks for sharing these great insights Jill, I’m definitely going to be passing this onto a few friends who need to be brought up to speed on current best practices.

  • I think its about time the web was cleared up like this by Google, there is lots of crap out there and they just get in the way of honest sites. Stick to honest, best practises and just add worthy, readable content to the internet and you will reap the benefits in the long run. Top tips and great advice 🙂

  • Amazing, there are some “trivial” things yet important to notice. Duplicate content, descriptions, and titles are of course crucial things should be fixed as soon as possible. Yes, CMS (and some SEO plugins) may give us a lot of benefits such as automatic optimzation (auto links, title tags generation, etc) but if we are not careful, the may bring bad effects.
    Great post, thanks for reminding me!

  • Love this –> “If you can add a link to your own site just by submitting it somewhere, you can assume that it won’t count for much (or anything) by Google.” It’s exactly what I’ve been thinking.

    IMO the best way to build backlinks is put your nose to the grindstone and create a quality site that other people want to link to. Quit spending all your time and effort trying to scam the system and focus on providing quality on your site.

    I do disagree, though, on article marketing. When used for its intended purpose – which is syndication, not link building – article marketing still plays a valuable role. Unfortunately, most of the general directories are full of dreck now because webmasters use them for link building.

    The keyword stuffing issue has me a little nervous. I usually don’t “plan” where to place keywords and how many times they’re used. I just write naturally. But I’m wondering what Google considers “stuffing” now. If you use it twice? Three times? They’re so fickle sometimes.

    Great article! I’ll be sharing 🙂

    • Totally agree with you! Textlinks with keywords still work. Backlinks still work.And tricks, well in one case it worked for about 3 weeks after the site dropped. So no more tricks. But still good old-fashioned ‘natural’ link building brings best results. IMO, there’s too much panic because everyone is talking the talk of others and NOT testing what works and what not.

    • SEO will never die! Only spammy tactics. @andi, I agree that one should test out strategies themselves.

  • Great post! Thanks for all the information. We need to check through our site. We have been concentrating on a set of specific keywords in over 100 posts. Wondering if we need to change some up, or just change style of posts going forward?

    • Yes, use variations of your keyword. If selling shoes, the words footwear, boots, sandals are alternates that can be used.

    • A doorway is a specifically designed page that is used primary for search engines. A well designed page will be search engine friendly and human customer friendly.
      The type of Doorway pages discussed here are keyword stuffed and/or with long tail keywords that just site traffic without any other purpose.
      Penguin hasn’t gone above and beyond, but they are working hard on taking spammers out. There is a few problems with this; as Google makes millions upon millions from some major players in the “Spammer” community. Therefor it’s best to read your own analytics and SLOWLY make changes and let Google know. Many factors play a role on how well you are doing to an overall search engine.

  • Jill, I agree with you – but the big continual issue that never seems to go away are the companies like Text Link Ads that continue to not only exist, but thrive on selling page rank-passing dofollow links for exorbitant fees. These companies continue to be the #1 reason why big brands remain at the top of Google for competitive terms (do a reverse audit of anything ranking high for a competitive term, especially in the loan industry, and you’ll see the top rankers have thousands of keyword loaded dofollow backlinks that were all paid for). Google seems to be doing nothing to stop this, even though it is allegedly against their TOS.

    • Absolutely right, Carol. Not everybody is into social media and it is not right for every business.

  • These I think will also factor in the over all strategy used. It’s true that there is no point in link building anymore unless you are just starting off. Social signals are the key. Avg. time on site and bounce rate are the real factors from here on. The SEO game just got real!

  • I have to agree with pixelrage, I’ve also done my own audits and most if not all big brands are loaded with paid backlinks..and in the loan industry especially. You even see tons of spammy comments that dont get slapped. I suspect it’s because those same companies have HUGE PPC campaigns going on with Google.

  • Can’t help thinking GOOGLE has cut off its own GOOLIES with these recent updates and punished the very people that made it successful in the first place, that can’t be good in the long term.

  • The challenge I find most is creating “new” and unique content for a site that is for a service business. I have added a blog but it gets zero traffic…who really wants to read about pressure washing after all! The web is more of a popularity contest than ever and “voter fraud” is getting severly punished!

  • Are you only speaking of highly competitive national sites or also local? There are 70,000 advertising specialty products distributors in the US alone. How can they get cred? Being listed on local search engines, YP’s, directories, and supplier dealer locators won’t add any benefit?

    BTW. I am not seeing what you are seeing and 90% of my clients are very small, local businesses.

  • Great article, Jill. Being a Newbie to Internet marketing, anything like your article is a great help. Yes, honesty is the best policy even on the internet.

  • I agree with PixelRage, and others here who find this to be nonsense.

    Time to think outside the Google box. We’ve just posted a few tips:
    Running your Biz Without Google – 5 Tips for Sales Success

    In truth, there are valid reasons for webmasters to have engaged in many, or even all, of these supposedly bad practices for legitimate purposes. (The guy with the dog breeding site said “dog” too much? Come ON.)

    If this wasn’t Google we’re talking about, we’d all be discussing how these relentless and seemingly arbitrary algorithm updates are the desperate flailings of a dying company. These so-called SEO killers are 100% subjective (who can technically measure “good” writing or link “abuse”), and as several people point out, many horrid sites seem to slip by these supposed quality gates, while others are unduly punished.

    BTW, one could argue that SEO gets a giant boost from all this busyness, being that he or she can now be paid to undo all the now out-of-fashion stuff that they (or a competitor) did before.

  • Very insightful post. It builds up courage to move on despite the constant algorithm changes.

    • Nayanna — Why? How can you be “encouraged to move forward” to kneel to the rules of an overly powerful group that keeps changing the rules and causing business people (especially small or new ones) to lose money?

      I’m not picking on you personally, as lots of commenters here are a bit too okay with continuing the Google dance, while the music plays faster and faster.

      They say that, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” In this case, insanity is to keep chasing down each Google update, hoping to improve traffic, but still dropping like a rock.

      If we could vote for whether Google can be allowed to control search traffic for the next 4 years, maybe I could understand your excitement…

    • Nayanna, algorithm changes will mean absolutely nothing as long as you follow the rules and use only pure organic white hat to optimize your site. My clients never do a Google dance when algos change. No tricks, smoke or mirrors. Just plain good old white hat and common sense.

    • Barb, I don’t know anything about your service, and have no idea how your clients are doing. So, don’t take this personally.


      Yesterday’s “White Hat” has recently become tomorrow’s spam-n-scam, and that’s the real problem.

      Says the GOOG: “Everyone step to the left. Wait, wait, NO… everyone who stepped to the left, now go right, or be shot on sight!!!”

      I’ve known people who faithfully submitted their sites using methods that were recommended by your own predecessors in the SEO world, and those guys are really hurting because once-common practices have recently become targets of Google’s purging fits.

      Anyone getting on a soap box about “White Hat” kind of turns me off because I know from my colleagues’ experiences that the definition has shifted — and it’s GOOGLE who’s doing the shifting, and the shooting. So…

  • I have alot of links on other sites to mine and it still works. I put keywords in the page title, headings, and in the beginning of paragraphs….still works for me.

  • Thanks for the inputs Jill. Google is consistently changing and its our job to adopt and satisfy the need to our customers (both online & offline). Managed- diversification of links should replace spammy tactics that we all knew died since the 1st panda. SEO is not dead, It evolved.

  • Google make it so hard. I run a hotel booking website but now Google have got into that market and their link appears first on every search page now.
    Looks like I have to SEO for Poision 2 and below now.
    Argghhh, How much money do they need!!!

  • Jill

    Point ‘6’ spammy comments, maybe ‘Site Pro News’ should monitor and maybe filter some of the comments regarding this post, i.e. ’18 SEO Killers…, cheap glasses’.

    What surprises me is the amount of so called SEO practitioners who still perpetrate almost all of your 18 specific problems.

  • What’s wrong with footer links? Why it’s a SEO killer?

    Shall I move them above fold instead of the content? LOL Obvious that’s not good.

    Really, what’s wrong when the footer links have the same attributes like the rest of the links (no white links on white background, no tiny letters and other similar worthless tricks)?

    • The best way to rank on Google is to be Google. Otherwise, just move ALL of your content above the fold (great for blogs), be sure that no word is used more than once (you’ll need 20 synonyms for your keywords), and make sure 100% of your backlinks come from PR9 sites. Don’t forget to put on your “white hat.” If you don’t have one, try tin foil. That’s all you gotta do. LOL

      The footer links thing puzzles me, too. Most modern sites have a whole site map in the footer. So surely that’s not a problem. (If CNET does it, is it so bad?)

      The truth that nobody is telling is that 0% of the 18 SEO killers are measurable enough to be sure you’re doing it correctly. Google has some specific measurements that they’re not giving out, and cagey Matt Cutts is as up-front as a Cheshire Cat.

  • Finally the day came, all SEO tricks would be punished by Google, less and less websites would be lucky to avoid punishing. In China, Baidu has also strongly enhanced the unit spam algorithm, we SEOers have to face it and enhance quality of our websites.

  • Good SEO is still going to be useful. It is when you are trying to game the system that things go badly. Continue to do the job, just do it right!

    • See, this is exactly the vague nonsense I was talking about. Here are the words that prove my assertion that none of this is truly measurable or that it is anything more than fashion and whim.

      “Good quality links” — NO objective measure, except after the fact when Google decides it’s a low quality link. Links to your site from this very SEO website used to mean something, now it means you’re spamming.

      “measure of authority” — okay, what measurement, then? Do you have a magic “authority” yardstick? Didn’t think so.

      “no way to measure quality writing” – Now, we’re talking. No measurement by Google, you, me, or someone else. One person’s typo-filled faux-article may be another (less fussy) person’s rough hewn informational treasure.

      “Stay white hat” — Puhleeeze! You can’t stay white hat. Nobody can. Time will prove it. Just do what you’re doing — then don’t be surprised when one day, you, too are bumped to Google’s curb.

      BTW. aren’t you and Argen Corporation the same thing?

  • Agree with you Jill, we need to work very hard to pleased the majesty. Google is the owner of the internet, so we have to follow their rule if we want to be exist in online business. Although now all blogspot site show up in page one, because blogspot is part of google. That’s the one and only way for non google user, work harder. Thanks for this awesome article full with spirit.

  • Very informative post. After following Google since Panda I have noticed that great content which gives value to the visitor is to me the number 1 thing on my list. This also gives me no reason to fear Google and their many, many updates in search rules. I also have not seen any drop in traffic as my content is updated regularly. Thanks for a great article.

  • Thankfully more than ever before the value of relevant content has gained prime prominence on the web – more than those half illiterate SEO’s sitting out there spamming the net with blog postings, and link submissions etc etc.

    Content was and is the king on the internet and will be. And for all those SEO’s who know no other way of befooling the customers with spamming seo – wimp out please.

  • All your 18 Points are excellent. Google has certainly changed a lot and now its the time we bring about a change ourselves to see the Best possible results for our website.

  • Seo proffesionals may tell you to forget about links, but links are still what gives you PR and PR is still what ranks you highly.

    This wont change. If you are penalty free and have good quality genuine links you are still king of castle.

    I can show you 100 sites that have an alexa around 4,000 that obviously this is the case still. No i CANNOT out rank them for a keyword in an article. They will ALWAYS rain supreme no matter how much Google tells you to “concentrate on quality content” this is just manipulation. Sure you need quality content but PR WINS.

    What does happen now however, is Google is picking up more text so you might find yourself ranking highly for a term that someone wrote into Google. BUT this is just because that sentence does no exist from another site with a higher PR. Whats going to happen in another 5 years when the web is more populated again? you WONT rank for that sentence anymore because its been said by someone else with a higher PR than you.

    What Google means to say is. Don’t try and build PR through manipulation. Focus on getting quality content which will build your PR naturally.

  • Links will always be a factor in ranking with the search engines. It is also important when you are looking for traffic. If your users can not find you, you are out of business.

  • SEO seems to be becoming more a case of hit and hope, the organic search results seem to be so arbitrary and often loaded in the favour of big adwords spenders that you begin to wonder if there’s much hope at all.

  • The big elephant in the room that no one seems to be talking about has NOTHING to do with stuff that gets your site punished by Google. Its about the shrinking pinhead of Authority Sites that are given preferential treatment and dominating Page One SERPS.

    Millions of web pages have been shoved off to page 2 or beyond – and normally that results in 50-80% or more traffic loss immediately.

    The big SEO LIE going in to 2013 is that if only you do X/Y/Z – or if only you don’t do these 18 SEO things that you’ll magically return to your websites former rankings. Baloney. This is game the VAST MAJORITY of us are never going to win ever again – and thats explicit by design. Google is quite deliberately shrinking the internet down to it’s own little Who’s-Who mini net of Authority, and we’re not really invited to that party.

    I dunno about ya’ll – but I got better things to do with my life – and other ways to get traffic than to play this losing game with Google.

  • […] Setelah anda membuat isi content yang bekualitas, anda juga dapat memberikan kemudahan lebih bagi para pengunjung website, misal dengan membuat internal linking terhadap kalimat atau kata-kata yang mungkin adalah sebuah definisi atau merupakan induk halaman, contoh: Definisi Market Place dan biarkan untuk internal linking ini untuk membuka di halaman yang sama, karena jika terlalu banyak link website kita yang membuka di halaman baru maka itu dapat mempengaruhi kepercayaan pengunjung, simak artikel mengenai 18 hal yang mengurangi kualitas website anda. […]

  • These are still so applied in SEO for 2014-15! Even though I still notice websites having footer links and Penguin did not even touch them!