Today I'm going to talk about the biggest SEO mistakes I've made.
When I first had my own blogs, I wanted to be really aggressive. But first, an important distinction (just in case you aren’t an SEO marketer):
- White Hat SEO is when you do everything clean and by the book. Google likes this a lot, and gives you gold stars for it.
- Black Hat SEO (and “Gray Hat”) is where you're really pushing the boundaries to try to get the best results you can get. Google doesn’t like this, and will peg you for it.
It's good to know both sides of the SEO coin so that you'll know what you're talking about in any given context, no matter what questions are thrown your way.
I remember one scenario where I was trying to take advantage of new games that were coming out. When a new game comes out, people are going to search for walkthroughs, they're going to look for guides, they're going to look for cheat codes. We made a site called Portal 2 Walkthrough for a game called Portal, which was really fun.
We wrote some content, we went on Textbroker, and we paid maybe $50 per article. Got about ten articles written and we just started building low-quality links to this site. Before you know it, we went from a site that had zero traffic to thousands and thousands of visitors. I think we got up to 11,000 a day, and this is massive traffic for a site that's brand new. We felt like we hit the jackpot.
Within a week or so all that traffic became virtually zero; we lost everything. That's because Google's algorithms are very, very good at detecting whether you're doing something shady or not. So, what I would say here is you want to test everything so you know exactly what you can and can't do.
It's good to know both sides of SEO so that you'll know what you're talking about, you'll have had the experience, and you can kind of move forward accordingly. You can't just turn a blind eye to it.
It's worth it to torch your own site (I mean, you're not putting a massive investment into it) versus, let's say down the road you have a business that's doing a couple hundred thousand dollars or maybe a couple million dollars, and you decide to get a little aggressive. And then, all of a sudden, you lose everything and you might see your revenues drop 40-50%.
So that's one of the SEO mistakes I've made.
I would do whatever it took just to get more traffic as quickly as possible (and make a quick buck). I used to rank really high for some terms that were number one for things like online casino, web hosting, credit cards, auto insurance, etc. Some of the most competitive terms in the industry. I found a hack that worked really well, especially in the hosting industry.
Every time someone would download a theme, I would put in their WordPress theme a footer link that said “Web Hosting” and it would go to one of my websites. I skyrocketed all the way to the number one position in Google for the key term Web Hosting. I was making a shit ton on affiliate commissions.
Funny enough when I was doing this whole process, I got hit and they pulled my website, but the number two and number three sites copied my strategy and they stayed around longer. It was because I was also more known in the marketing space that I got hit.
When I was doing this, I got really greedy and really aggressive, so I didn't know how to design WordPress themes. Heck, I still don't even know how to do that, but I convinced other people who had WordPress themes to release an update of a newer version, add some bells and whistles, and throw some footer links into all their themes that would link to my website.
(Source)After all that time and money on SEO, the lesson I learned is: you need to think long-term. Click To Tweet
These short-term tactics, hacks and tricks work for maybe a few months or even a year or two if you're lucky, but five, ten years down the road they won't. If I knew then what I know now about SEO and marketing, I would have been way further along in my career because I would've stuck with only the white hat tactics and built up a much bigger business. It would've taken longer, but that business would be way more sustainable.
Learn More: Effective SEO Techniques that Work in 2017
It's really helpful to learn about the black hat tactics out there. People talk about link wheels, and you can talk about private networks, but here's the thing: you've got to think about the concepts around black hat SEO. This is something I advise Googling so you can learn the concepts around it.
Let's take for example a link wheel. Basically, a link wheel is when you have a one-hub page. So this is your main page. It might be, say, around web design and that page is going to link to other pages around web design. You might be talking about certain flat design, you might be talking about different icons, typography, things like that.
The idea behind this is that you have these different pages cross-linking to each other and also other sites, and it becomes a link wheel, and they all link back to the same site.
The black hat strategy is to use low-quality links from, let's say, a private network that you might have or you might buy links from a forum. Then all of a sudden, because all these sites are supporting each other, they're all cross-linking to each other. The idea is that they're all going to help move you up.
This is something that works, but think of this way: if you took this tactic and changed it into a white hat tactic, it's going to be a lot more powerful.
Imagine if you did things the right way, and you had some very strong pages, and they all support each other, and you're helping the user have a really good experience, and you're trying to deliver them value at the end of the day. That's going to provide you long-term results.
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Another tactic that I really regret, and I got hit with a Google Panda penalty for this, was low-quality content.
I realized, early on, that one of my domain names had a ton of authority, so I just started popping up a ton of pages similar to my Portal 2 Walkthrough site with 11,000 visits a day. I was creating low-quality content, and I did this in a few ways.
I created a form section on my website, and I just got a ton of people to send information. I wasn't moderating it, I was becoming lazy, and then Google notified me that there was low-quality user-generated content. A lot of it was spammy.
I slowly went in there and cleaned it up, but I was lazy as I mentioned, and I didn't do it quickly enough. I had low-quality content from poor translations. I realized that expanding internationally gets you more traffic, so I used a plug-in to automatically translate every single piece of content on my website.
As you already know when you use Google Translate or any of those tools, the auto translations suck!
So I had a ton of poor quality content and eventually I got hit with a Google Panda penalty because users were going to my website and they were quickly bouncing because they could not find what they wanted, or they were duped, right?
They thought they were going to get something relevant, and they were like, “Oh this is just a bunch of spam or garbage content, let me hit the back button.” After months of doing this, I got hit, and it took me about four months to recover and get out of that penalty.
Here's a mistake that I made fairly recently (we're talking about in the last year). On Single Grain, we've had our design for about two or three years, and it was about time for a refresh. We went ahead and did that and the site looks a lot better now, but what I actually noticed as of today, actually, was that our organic traffic dropped by 35% (the last two weeks versus the two weeks before that). This is across the board.
The key lesson here is when you're doing a redesign, make sure that you have all your bases covered! And if you don't know how to redesign with SEO in mind, make sure you are Googling this and finding out some information around it.
Make sure you have the right redirects in place. Instead of a 302, have a 301 in place. That's what happened in my case. First of all we had a lot of different internal links for a each of our blog posts. So, before we would have five or six internal links linking to related posts from each blog post. We have a couple hundred blog posts, and when you remove that plug-in right there, you're removing a ton of internal links.
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A lot of our navigation links have been replaced with links that have UTM parameters behind it. Google sees pages with a UTM parameter next to it as separate pages or new pages. That's something to keep in mind because now these are linking to other pages with UTM parameters, and when we changed all our navigation links, we removed a ton of internal links.
That's why our organic traffic has decreased by 35%. This is something that you need to fix sooner than later, and I'm actually talking to myself. It needs to happen now because you'll only have a finite amount of time before Google just says, “Okay, we're not going to give credit for that anymore.”
Here's another lesson that I learned the hard way. Bill Gates once said, “Content is king.” I took that to heart, and he is right. The more content you have the better ranking you'll get.
Just look at Wikipedia, they rank for everything under the moon. Reason being is they have more pages than almost any other sites out there and if you type in, “What's the rarest species of Elephants?” they probably have a page on that.
So with my websites, early on, I started writing a shit ton of content. I'm not talking about like ten, twenty posts, I'm talking about hundreds and hundreds of content pieces. Really detailed articles, and I thought my search traffic would skyrocket.
Guess what happened? Nothing. My search traffic did not go up. Why? Because I did not have enough links pointing to my articles. You need a good mixture of backlinks and content.No matter how good your articles are, without external sites linking to them, they won't rank well. Click To Tweet
One of the senior Google people mentioned about a month ago that the two biggest factors when it comes to ranking on Google or SEO success are: links and content.
Nothing has really changed over the years besides Google making things harder, which is why you see a lot of people kind of shying away from SEO. That's just something to keep in mind, because you have to play the long-term game and really be patient at the end of the day.
This post was adapted from Marketing School, a 10-minute daily podcast in which Neil Patel and Eric Siu teach you real-life marketing strategies and tactics from their own experience to help you find success in any marketing capacity. Listen to the podcast version of this post below: