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The Seven Less Obvious On-Site SEO Issues

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Your website might look great and work as you want it; but there could be elements behind it that are ruining its ranking potential. Aside from the usual SEO basics - avoiding keyword stuffing, making relevant content, above-the-fold advertising and ensuring the users come first - there are many more subtle potential problem areas. In fact, there are seven less obvious on-site SEO issues that could really affect how well your website ranks in the search engines. 

We will take you through the seven less-obvious on-site issues that are very easy to miss, but incredibly important.

Over-excessive listing

While it's fair to say that lists grab attention, this isn't always necessarily a good thing. There are sensible ways to make list posts and ways you should avoid. In terms of on-site content, it's important not to stuff tons of keywords into a list. For example, Matt Cutts from Google gave this very easy to understand statement about keyword stuffing in lists back in 2013;

"Keyword stuffing is almost like a grab-bag term to describe a lot of different things. You can be repeating and you can use different words. So you're talking about free credit cards, 'credit cards', 'weight-loss pill', you know; all sorts of stuff. It can even be almost gibberish-like..."

It's therefore sensible to avoid the simple listing of keywords or phrases in short succession or bullet points. These days, search engines expect a little bit of elaboration, so if you are thinking of listing keywords or phrases to increase shareability, consider the pitfalls and do what you can to make it interesting and relevant.

Links with no anchors

This practice is so easy to miss that you'd be surprised how many websites out there have this issue. All it takes is typing in an 'href' link in html and then forgetting to include the anchor text. It's that easy. You could even intend to update the anchor text, delete it and then forget to add the replacement anchor text in. While it may be incredibly easy to forget, an innocent mistake like this can result in a link to a URL that is entirely invisible to the user. While it's invisible to you, it's not to the search engines, meaning that they see it as cloaked; and that's not a good thing! As we'll now tell you...

Accidental cloaking

Cloaking, whether accidental or not, is one of the worst things you can possibly do on a website. In fact, Google explicitly forbids it, defining it as 'the practice of presenting different content or URLs to human users and search engines.' It's not really a surprise that Google punishes any websites that do this. After all, if a search engine is suggesting a URL based on content that the user can't see, they are bound to be disappointed with the site and not use it again. However, this doesn't always happen on purpose. There are a few ways where cloaking can happen by accident;

  • Text content is hidden or covered up by JavaScript animations and/or actions, such as tabs or pagination
  • The background colours and foreground text colours are identical or incredibly similar
  • Content is placed off-screen thanks to poorly formatted CSS

But don't worry, these are relatively easy to avoid if you take care when designing a website. You should always avoid matching background and foreground colours; even if the text is readable for the user due to other formatting elements. That can still be classed as cloaking by Google if it misinterprets it or identifies that it might be hidden on devices that can't handle the additional formatting. Similarly, every website designer and owner should also avoid the issue of 'sneaky redirects.' Google states:

"It's a violation of Google Webmaster Guidelines to redirect a user to a different page with the intent to display content other than what was made available to the search engine crawler."

Too much bolding or other formatting

It may seem like a good idea to placing your keywords in 'bold' or 'strong' tags, but you should avoid doing this at all costs. It's not standard practice and never should be. Why? Well, while bolding and italicising play a role within primary content, this should only be for emphasis rather than bolding keywords whenever they appear. Bolding should only really be used as a feature of content structure. For example, subheadings that feature keywords are often bolded, especially when placed in h2 or h3 tags. This use is acceptable, but bolding keywords throughout the text content is ill-advised and could well see your search engine rankings plummet. There are plenty of studies showing bolded keywords and the negative impact they have on rankings. In fact, Brian Chang from SEOPressor tried putting his keywords into 'strong' tags and within weeks, his results had dropped dramatically. Once he'd removed these 'strong' tags, his results improved again. Others have followed suit and found similar results. While results after bolding can be slightly unpredictable, there is nothing to suggest that bolding your keywords will improve your rankings by any significant amount. In fact, it is more likely to hurt your website enough to make it not worth the risk.

Linking to penalised sites

There's no escaping it; Google trusts websites less when they link to spammy sites or directories. Unfortunately, it isn't always that obvious that your site has linked to a 'bad neighbourhood' or penalised website. While you might think you've linked to a website that seems authoritative, it could use very spammy SEO tactics. You could even have linked to the very first source you found to support your argument but not realised it was a link farm. Whatever the reason, innocent website owners and webmasters often link to bad neighbourhoods without even realising. While Google can sometimes be understanding, there's no need to even give them the benefit of the doubt by linking to such sites. There are four things you can do to make sure you don't link to a penalised site;

  • Don't allow trackbacks on your website's blog
  • Constantly review your website's external links
  • Excluding your own social media profiles, the quality of links in your navigation should be extremely high
  • You should have clear guidelines on your website about the standards needed for citation

That being said, you shouldn't remove every single outbound link from your site. While linking to penalised sites is a very bad idea, authoritative outbound links are very good for your website. Also, the last thing you want is for your website to be a dead-end for links.

Confusing "nofollow" tags

There are many websites out there that need to hide some pages from the search engines. Be it to prevent duplicate content issues, hide back-end content, for split tests or to hide paywall content. But many webmasters confuse the 'nofollow' and 'noindex' tags. Essentially, the 'nofollow' tag will tell search engines not to pass PageRank through any links. However, it does not prevent PageRank from being divided by the number of links on the page; nor can you stop the PageRank damping factor. If you use "noindex, nofollow", you will tell Google to throw away all the PageRank that flows into the "noindexed" page. In contrast, when you "noindex, follow", you are telling Google that you don't want the page indexed, but do want the PageRank passed forward so that the links back to your site inherit that PageRank. The easy way to look at it is this: Always use this if you need to block your own content from the search engines -

Still using Frames

Google still supports the use of Frames and iFrames to an extent. However, it's widely acknowledged that the use of Frames (in particular) can cause problems for search engines. This is because they don't correspond to the conceptual model of the web. Essentially, Frames display content from other URLs on a single page, with one URL for each frame. Google will try to associate the framed content with the page containing the frames, but it can't guarantee that it will. Google suggests that if you're still using Frames, you should visit the Search Engines and Frames article on Search Engine Watch for advice and guidance. They also state that;

"If you use wording such as 'This site requires the use of Frames' or 'Upgrade your browser' instead of providing alternative content on your site, then you'll exclude both search engines and individuals who have disabled frames on their browsers. For example, audio web browsers, such as those used in automobiles and by the visually impaired, typically do not support Frames."

Many web designers and webmasters do still use iFrames, however. It's therefore important not to confuse the two. When used correctly, iFrames are far less likely to cause search engines problems. They can often be used to boost the functionality of a website and therefore improve the user experience. For example, a web designer could use an iFrame to display relevant content without forcing the visitor to leave the website.

Quickly identify your less obvious on-site SEO issues

These less obvious on-site SEO issues are not always easy to spot but they are massively important. So, if you've noticed that your site features any of these problems, make sure they are sorted quickly. That way you can reduce the chance of them having a negative effect on your site's rankings. At the Smart Domain Group, we specialise in designing websites for small to medium sized businesses. Working specifically with functionality and the end user in mind, we create stunning websites with engaging content and comprehensive search engine optimisation to ensure the website is found on the search engines. For more information on our web design packages, speak to the experts at Smart Domain Group today on 01634 810600.