As search engine algorithms become increasingly sophisticated, and as the search engines publicise these advancements, many SEO practitioners have been led to believe that many of the keyword strategies they used to employ have been cracked down on.
However, a user will still find low quality and generally spammy sites on the first page of their results. You just need to spend a couple of minutes on these domains to realise they have nothing of any value to offer.
So how are they still ranking? Well, mainly because Google isn’t quite as smart as they tell us they are. There are still many SEO practices which still help you rank, even if they may be ethically questionable by some lights.
Having a popular keyword included in your domain’s URL will tend to make a website more relevant to that search term, (as far as search engines are concerned) than a website which has valuable content optimised around that keyword.
This ranking factors is a big barrier to entry as many low quality sites have control over these domain names and new-comers essentially have to pick over the left-overs. Many complain that it’s exclusionary to new websites, a system which seems to contravene the apparent democracy of the internet.
Google has said that they planned to eliminate this with the Penguin algorithm but it doesn’t seem to have worked particularly well.
Random Keyword Placement
Placing keywords in certain places on a page, such as the top left hand corner, will make them weigh higher than if they were placed in the body of the text, for instance.
These placements, logically, can’t possibly add any value to a visitor of that page and yet many search engines seem to take these as a stronger thematic indication of a page than a whole body of content on a subject.
ALT and Link Text Stuffing
Google isn’t that good at recognising when an infotip box, also know as a tool tip, (the little box which pops up when you hover your cursor over a link or picture, which explains the item) is being stuffed with keywords.
They are a lot more tolerant of this type of keyword stuffing because describing these items concisely often requires sacrificing readability. So many spammers take advantage of this concession.
Site-wide links are a necessary part of any website. As a visitor, one would expect to find the ‘Home’, ‘Contact us’ and perhaps legal statement links on each page of the site. Adding these make your site more navigable for webcrawlers.
But many webmasters include popular or branded keyword in the anchor text of these links so that the terms have a relevant presence everywhere on the site. Search engines appear to have a difficult time recognising this.
Anchor text is necessary as it explains what the content of the link is. Independently, these links should ideally contain a description of the page being linked. However placing freestanding links is a practice which is often viewed as suspicious by Google.
But in the body of the content, many place popular keywords in the anchor text when a more simple description, followed by the anchor text ‘click here’ would be more appropriate. These keywords are weighed higher even though they aren’t strictly necessary.
Given the high level of competition for rankings though, there’s little wonder that people engage in slightly dubious practises.
One either uses the most effective SEO methods at one’s disposal, or risks being surpassed in the rankings by low-quality sites which are prepared to abuse those methods.
We can complain about it all we like, but lack of optimisation often serves to muffle these protests, because, you know, nobody ever sees them.