December 16, 2008

5 Search Engine Ranking Killers You Want to Avoid at All Costs

There are many things you can to work your site to help it perform better in the search results. There are exactly hundreds of different ways that are analyzed, many of which you, as the site owner, have direct and immediate control over.

But for as many factors there are that you can manipulate to give you better ranking performance, there are other things that when not properly addressed will do a fantastic job of preventing your site from performing as well as it could and should. While this is not a conclusive list of search engine ranking killers, these five issues can, cause serious damage to your site. Fixing these five rank-killing issues will undoubtedly clear the way for better optimization performance.

Little or No Content

Can sites with very little content rank well for certain keywords? Absolutely. It doesn't take a lot of content to get a keyword to the top of the search results. However, when sites have very little content there are far fewer keyword ranking opportunities to be had.

Having a fair amount of content on your site gives you greater opportunity to integrate important keywords. That's not to say you should go throw a bunch of text onto your pages just so you can fit in more keywords. Don't do that. But with proper keyword research you can look for opportunities to work keywords into places where they fit naturally, without forcing and without having to increase the content unnecessarily.

Something else to look out for content-wise is using text in images instead of standard HTML text. Yes, image text looks prettier, but it reduces the value of the content substantially.

Improperly Designed Navigation

There are a lot of ways to screw up your navigation. While Flash navigational elements are not the problem they once were (at least for Google), navigation built with JavaScripts and form fields that must be selected are still search spider stoppers.

A common problem with navigation is too much or too little links, not using proper words in the links and using images with no ALT text. These are all easily remedied, however the number of links in the navigation may take a bit more consideration.

Navigation should not be a site map to all your pages (unless your site is relatively small), but it does need to link sufficiently to all your site's primary sections. Over-linking in your navigation won't kill your rankings, but it will prohibit the search engines from fully understanding the site architecture and importance of each page, which can affect how those pages ultimately perform. Under-linking can keep important pages out of the index or getting proper relevance and importance attached to them, which will inhibit ranking potential.

Flash Sites

While the engines are getting good at indexing Flash, websites built entirely in Flash are still a no-go. The biggest issue is that the content can be indexed but Flash sites contain no architectural framework and, worse, no individual pages that can be indexed. While a 10 page site can be optimized for ten distinct keyword groups, allowing each page to achieve top placement for those keywords, the same cannot happen with a Flash site.

Essentially, those ten pages would be crammed into one page. Attempting to target all those keywords into that one page would essentially negate the overall impact and importance of all the keywords and would likely cause the site to fail on all counts.

Duplicate Pages

If your site contains a lot of duplicate content, or duplicate pages on differing URLs, you could be in for a world of trouble. This is common with ecommerce websites that place products into multiple categories and uses dynamically generated URLs based on the path taken to get the product. For many such sites, a single product page can be found via half a dozen or more URLs. In this scenario, a site with 10 products has 60 pages of content, most of it duplicate.

When the engines start indexing pages, they see page after page of duplication, which they really don't want. So instead of sorting through it, they simply leave. The second downside is that the URLs they do keep in their index may not be the URLs you want appearing in the search results. And finally, with so many duplicates, the link value you are passing to these product pages is split half a dozen ways making each of them only marginally as effective as they could be.

Improper Title and Meta Description Tags

Title tags are probably the single most important piece of real estate on your website. It is important that you take the time to customize all your title tags, making them relevant to the specific pages and integrating proper keyword usage.

One of the primary issues with Title and Meta Description Tags is duplication. Developers and site owners get lazy and just copy/paste the same content into page after page after page. Or, perhaps, dynamically generated sites don't allow for page by page customization of these tags. Customizing these can be a significant help to the optimization process.

Every day we run across sites that have one or more of these five rank-killing problems. Working on these site's is often very exciting because we know just a few small changes can make a huge difference in site performance. Unfortunately, we also run across sites that simply cannot make these changes easily without undergoing significant reprogramming of their back end platform.

Those that are willing to invest the time and effort to make their sites more search engine friendly find that they competition becomes less competitive. On the other hand, those that don't go out of their way to fix these, and other rank killing problems, find themselves constantly struggling to gain traction against their competitors and/or maintain their current dominant positions.

Your competition will be doing all they can to displace you or keep you from moving up in the search results. With that in mind, you then need to do utilize every possible avenue that will help you move past your competitors. Eliminating search engine ranking killers such as these is the first step in a long journey to your goal.

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