Search Engine Optimization

Six SEO Techniques Which Will Destroy Your Website

8 Jul , 2009  

You sank my Battleship!1) Buy (or Sell) Links.  OK, this one is tricky.  If Google catches you buying links, you’re sunk.  But couldn’t you just do it all sneaky so Google doesn’t notice?  Probably, but keep in mind Google still hates it and will blast your site if they find out you’re doing it.
SOLUTION: Create awesome and compelling content so that people link to you naturally for free.  It works, but it’s easier said than done.

2) Free Giveaways/Promotions.  That’s right – Google will also penalize you for asking other blogs to link to you in a free promotion or giveaway.  In their eyes it’s just like buying links. I’ve done it, and I’ve seen it.
SOLUTION: Ask any blogger doing a promotion or giveaway for you to nofollow their links.

A former Google Quality Rater writes “If you publish a product review or giveaway and you don’t no-follow your links, Google will penalize both you and the company that sponsored your blog post.”

3) Uncloaked Affiliate links.  Why does Google hate affiliates?  It seems Google hates just about anything commercial – if it makes you money, Google doesn’t like it.  Unless of course you’re paying Google, as in buying Adwords for PPC.  Then they love you.  Not cloacking your affiliate links can cost you in the SERPs.  I’ve done it, and I’ve seen it.
SOLUTION: Cloak the links — 301 redirects work great — and nofollow them.

4) Linking to Spammy and Shady Sites.  Watch those commenters you allow to place dofollow comments on your blog – if you get enough people linking to sites which sell Viagra and pr0n via hacked links you’ll get slammed for linking out to bad neighborhoods.
SOLUTION: Moderate your comments, nofollow links, or both.  Others more experienced than I have blogged about it.

5) Inactivity.  The search engine landscape is changing all the time – if you’re not constantly working on promoting or building your site chances are it’s going to slip in the SERPs. You can’t just put up a 5 page brochure/pamphlet site and expect visitors to find you.   You have to work at it.
SOLUTION: Work at it.

6) Duplicate Content.  OK, this one won’t destroy your site, but it’s not going to help it any.  If your site suffers from internal duplicate content issues search engines may not be returning the pages you want visitors to see.  If your site has duplicate issues with content previously published on other websites, you may not appear at all.
SOLUTION: Nofollow links to duplicate content, block it in robots.txt, and/or use the new Google Canonical tag to specify the authoritative source.

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63 Responses

  1. Claire says:

    Hi Barry, good post. I’m not sure I 100% agree with #2, as I think that if you’re not blatant about “link to me to enter promotion”, you can do giveaways and contests – people will naturally be inclined to link to you, but you have to be careful how you position it.

  2. ITCN says:

    @Claire, that’s probably true – as with just about anything else, it depends on how you position it. But if you’re actively seeking promotion partners with big headlines like “Free Giveaway” it’s best to request they nofollow the link.

  3. Mark says:

    Good points to consider. Thanks!

  4. SanDiegoSEO says:

    #1 – Just make sure bought links are not a majority of the links you have to your site. if you have 5k natural links to your site 10 paid links won’t be doing any damage to your site. But if you’re new and have very few links, those same 10 paid links could kill you. Mix your linking portfolio up with articles, PR, paid links, and other contributions such as social media avenues.

    #2 – Um, Guy Kawaski doesn’t seem to have this issue. Make sure you only link to sites that you have reviewed and consider a value to your user base. Nofollow the sites you link to that are not a value, and you’ll be fine.

    #3 – Plenty of affiliate sites are being successful without using cloaked or redirected URL’s. You have to provide unique content in order to provide value to the search engine users. If the content you use is the same content that’s on every other website, you won’t be competitive in that market.

    Google just doesn’t want tons of similar sites that all say the same thing, clogging up their index. Provide a unique personal touch to all of your content and you should be able to compete in any industry.

  5. ITCN says:

    @SanDiegoSEO I’ve got some experience with #2 which penalized a few sites for awhile. I don’t mean paid reviews; I mean free giveaway promotions. For #3, I’ve also had some experience watching sites gets penalized when link cloaking was removed. It may be enough now to nofollow the link, but Google hates affiliates – I wouldn’t take the chance of not cloaking them.

  6. I am not sure if Google operate differently in the U.S., but here in the UK I know a lot of people who have done pretty much nothing but buy links and they have been ranking tops for years. Look through there links and its all blatant paid links. Look at any other competitive terms: web design, gambling and insurance and its all paid links.

  7. Nicky says:

    How do you watch sites get penalized? Do you just watch SERPs carefully or is there a better way?

  8. ITCN says:

    @David; they don’t spot all of them, but if they do, it will hurt a site’s trust rank in Google.

    @Nicky; keep an eye on the SERPs and your keyword traffic. If your traffic drops, analyze which keywords changed position and why. If your site is penalized, you’ll see a very dramatic drop.

  9. ad 3.) Google doesn’t even like affiliates when they pay for Adwords. Many PPC marketers resort back to Yahoo search marketing and even Miva.


  10. Thanks for this information, it has been great for further SEO work. I especially liked your section on “Free Giveaways/Promotions” it has cleared up this issue for me.

  11. Andrew Keir says:

    I think you might have missed the point of #2 bankman. It’s not running contests that is a problem, it’s asking people to link to you as the entry method they dislike.

  12. Jersey SEO says:

    Good post – thanks for sharing.

    To be honest, amongst sites we take on #5/#6 are generally the most prevalent, and seem to primarily occur from lack of direction and poor planning!

    Often one of the best tips we give our clients is to write a “plan of attack” for getting their website “out there” and/or “up there”!

  13. Maneet Puri says:

    Hey Barry,

    Nice to see your are back!

    I agree with #2 I know in many cases companies pay popular bloggers to post good reviews about their products on their blogs and also link to them. This highly displeases Google. I have seen it happening too. It happens big time with cosmetics and skin care products.

  14. jlbraaten says:

    Wow what a great post. I didn’t realize that cloaking your links is so important, but it definitely explains how a buddy of mine jumped up in the SERPs for doing this. He just wanted an easy way to track site exits. Turns out he got more than that. Great post!

  15. Link baiting on sites is a touchy issue but if you look at the issue clearly you’ll see that the nofollow requirement is the best solution.

    Anyone who argues about having to nofollow promotional links is basically admitting to trying to purchase SERP importance rather than relying on true testimonials for the straight traffic.

    Google keeps telling us that content is king yet there always seems to be those who don’t believe them.

  16. I try to emplane to my clients that a new website is like opening a shop miles out in the country side. When they hire me as a website designer, I build them a site that they need to tell people about and the best way to do it is to get links to their websites from similar types of sites. I also STRESS to them that they must change their content from time to time, preferably around 1 time per month as the internet is built on sharing new information. Some people listen and action these points and make a good success of their websites… other people dont .. and i dont need to tell you what happens to their websites.

    The points you have above are a great pointer to people who don’t have much of a clue were to start when it comes to owning a website and they are also idiot proof enough enough for the people too… well written and it is a good read.

  17. Outsource SEO says:

    “If you publish a product review or giveaway and you don’t no-follow your links, Google will penalize both you and the company that sponsored your blog post.” – Good luck enforcing that. There are perfectly good reasons why you might have talked about a product and linked to somewhere where you an buy that product. Google doesn’t know whether you’ve been given that product or bought it yourself and decided to talk about it on your blog. To blanket say “you must no follow” is ridiculous.

    Sooner or later all the scaremongering will end up with everyone nofollowing links, which then devalues the whole system and creates even more problems…

  18. David Jenkins says:

    I think the most important ones are the last two. Google prefers updated sites. This is a big issue. I would recommend updating 1 article per week. This is to keep you in the safe zone. Duplicate content falls into the same category. If you want to use it at least spin it. All it takes is 5-10 mins per article. Trust me it will go a long way.

  19. Mouli Cohen says:

    Another great post on the inner workings of the blogosphere. You make google out to be sort of a big bad sheriff, which I guess is not all that far from the truth. It’s tough to police a world without any hard and fast rules, but I guess Google has earned its right by dominating the search market.

  20. Rob says:

    Would also definately stress the importance of updated and fresh content. As soon as you have people linking to you naturally you’re know your content is good.

    Interesting point about the cloaking of affiliate links though.

  21. Peter says:

    Where can I find out some info about sandboxing and how to get around it?

  22. Jacob Stoops says:

    I agree, the free giveaway promotions has been getting some sites slammed by Google. Didn’t Michael Gray & Matt Cutts battle it out at a conference recently about this very subject?

  23. Brian says:

    Nice post Barry. I think I remember David Airey or someone getting in a lot of trouble with a contest he ran and asked for people to link back to him…it seems that if you are run a prominent enough website, Google will catch you. I guess there are subtle ways of asking people to link back to you for contests without saying it outright.

  24. Online Tips says:

    Excellent post, very informative ..
    I totally agree with you in all the points except the one about Duplicate content .. it’s proven now by seo gurus (jill from highrankings) and I saw also some articles on seomoz about it .. Duplicate content is a myth ..

    But yes, it will not help either ..

    Keep up the good work!

  25. Magnus says:

    I have never seen anyone actually punished for giveaways on the blog, are you certain about this?

  26. Daniel says:

    The tip for duplicate content is really good. Just add some nofollow tags =D

  27. William Atkin says:

    It may be best to hide affiliate links, but I have had sites with great rankings and unhidden affiliate links.

  28. Terry says:

    Adding too many incoming links too fast could destroy site. A year ago I bought cheap seo service. Two weeks later yahoo site explorer says my site has 4k incoming links – from guestbooks and forum profiles. Another week later my site gets filtered by google and is filtered to this day.

  29. Bryant Smith says:

    Giveaways can be okay, it all depends how you go about it. If your giveaway follows some of the normal giveaway strategies that seem really spammy, then Google might be able to pick up on it. But if you’re geniunely offering something of value to your visitors (and NOT an eBook!!), then it’s fine.

    Duplicate content is one to be careful about though, your sites can often have duplicate content (your CMS), and you may not even realize it. This is an easy one to overlook, but worth the time to make sure the right pages get the right rankings.

  30. “Linking to Spammy and Shady Sites.”

    That’s a tricky one for do-follow blogs like my own. Obviously I don’t approve a comment (or allow it to be do-follow) if the URL being linked to is not something I want to be associated with.

    But, you can’t keep an eye on all links forever, so in X months, some of your links you previously approved, might have sold their website or changed their content to sell viagra or something else/worse.

    I guess that’s just a chance one must take, when enjoying the benefits of being a do-follow blog.

  31. Hi Barry.

    Thanks… some good helpful info here on avoiding common pitfalls. I especially like your solution to #1 which is something we have been doing well at. Creating a blog and keeping it regularly updated with some really worthwhile info that your site visitors will find interesting seems great for attracting natural links. I agree though its not always easy to come up with new info and to keep it interesting. Guest contributors we have found can help with this though if you are determined to really push forward and get a high ranking blog… Pushing it out into Blog directories can also help with getting it found and linked to.

    The cloaking affil links was useful to me since I run a couple of sites which have quite a few affil links on them so will look at setting up some redirects… the link you put there seems most helpful on that… thanks.


  32. Frank says:

    i already knew all of this points and still i can’t help bu being struck at the power Google has got during these years. is it possible that we, bloggers, can NOT have any form of extra income apart from being affiliate to Google Adsense? True, there are other ads programs but guess what? Google says to you: ” yes you can do it, but you have to behave like that, you have to put nofollow, you have to do this and that” i really do not like this. Is it possible that if somebody asks me for a paid review, where i give my honest opinion about the product i am reviewing, i have to follow Google guidelines and and the end of it all, still wondering if i did the right thing and hope not to be penalized???

  33. Good tips, I wish everyone on the internet followed these.

  34. These are all great points that people should adhere to when doing SEO. As you said though, if you follow these guidelines alone, you will have a difficult time ranking well in a competitive vertical. You would have to be extremely successful with Link Baiting to compete.

  35. Amber says:

    I totally agree with you Barry., but I have a question on how SE’s treat product listing details in terms of duplicate content penalty.

    We do receive several SEO requests from clients who owns websites built with API’s and similar stuffs, but we refuse to work on them.

    An example of our client use to have a clone script. he came to us for SEO and when we analyze site we found it’s all duplicate contents as script doent allow to modify contents, they pull directly from and display in product listing.

    Also some times it’s really hard to modify a content such as specifications, features of a cell phone supplied by manufacturers. It should be used as it is?

    So we suggested a client to modify the script and he agreed with us (he also collected views from top SEO companies before that), instead of using an API script he went for an custom comparison engine. but it cost him huge (Time and Money)again cost of writers writing description is high, huge cost on adding product to database, and management cost.

    Bit confused on duplicate content issues! :p

  36. seotalk says:

    I didn’t know that using uncloaked links might harm your search engine rankings…

    Quite interesting

    I think i am going to run a few tests about it and see myself as well :)

  37. Clement says:

    Great tips. The major problem in the SEO game is that Google is is an umpire and player at the same time.That is not fair.

  38. Brad Harmon says:


    Wow, it seems like it is so easy to screw up with google when it comes to seo. Is the concern only when you link to lower PR sites? For example, if my affiliate links are going to a higher PR site will google penalize me for that?

    I have a few affiliate links on my site, but they are to well established companies that provide products and services related to my blog. I have tagged them as “nofollow,” but now it appears that just doing this is no longer enough.


  39. Porter says:

    Glad to see you didn’t flip out and say duplicate content is a horrible thing like the rest of the internet. Seeing as this post is rather old, and Google recently announced that duplicate content does indeed not harm you, I applaud you for intelligence.

  40. Darrell says:

    Hi Barry

    Its interesting to see which websites sell or buy links. G-man seems to ignore certain authority sites that are in essence selling links to advertise you products or services, yet do nothing to them.

    For example, Ezine articles, you can buy their premium monthly package, although I am not sure why for $100 buck per month, then in essence you are paying for a link – right?

    Yet, I doubt Google is going to penalize them. On the other hand, if G finds a blog farm, they will hit their re-index button and poof, all that hard work is gone.

    The duplicate content issue – well I have tested this out, more so because when I first got started in SEO, I didn’t of course understand things and got bad advice from a so called expert. I set up 150 blogger accounts under 1 account and was put multiple articles in say 10 to 20 of the blogs. Then submit another article to another series of blogs within my system. Well Google only indexed maybe 4 or 5 of the total.

    I deleted all but 1 of the blogs and kept the original which seems to be fine and giving some back links. But it was a real learning experience because I wasted a large amount of my time.

    While you don’t get penalized for duplicate content from what I have seen, its not helping you either to rank higher in the SERP’S.


  41. Hi Barry,
    I just entered the SEO/webmaster field and thought I had read all the relevant info on the internet about SEO mistakes. Well, this post was different. Well done. Does Article Marketing to a bundle of directory sites count as duplicate content? I would love to see an answer on “Duplicate Content” in a future post.

  42. Svetainiu Kurimas says:

    I have experienced #6 and can tell the story. My client simply wanted to have the same content on a different domain with the appropriate country TLD say original was on .COM and client felt it would be good to have it also on .CO.UK but did not want a redirect since there were plans to have some info not duplicated. Google simply took the one that was created earlier and simply redirected every search for the second to the first. When I did a SITE:seconddomain.tld it would bring up the first domain entries.

    I then changed about 30% of the text, i.e. switched word positions, cases and replaced some words and eventually Google recognized it as a separate website.

  43. Webmaster Forum says:

    The buying/selling of links and linking out to bad sites like porn, warez, etc. are pretty much the top 2 reasons why websites get destroyed by Google. Almost every website I have seen get destroyed, the cause was one or the other or even both.

  44. Steven Roddy says:

    Extremely helpful information. Thank you!

  45. tunbridewells design says:

    Hi Barry

    I Agree with #1#3 and#5 definitely buying links is illegal in terms of Google and some search engines.
    most webmasters or SEOs who tells linkbuilding for cheap will use cloaking(inserting invisible text(that wont appear to normal user) or keyword stuffing)which will gain traffic or backlinks initially but will get penalized for sure I remember working on a clients website who got huge traffic in the first quarter of the year(2008) but was soon penalized by Google they are not in SERPs for one year and they lost traffic and trusted backlinks then we need to write a letter to Google for re listing its really a big mess now they are getting listed but once the trust is lost then no matter how hard they try it wont work.


  46. I agree that the linking out to poor sites (porn/warez) etc. will get you penalised but I think that the link buying debate is not a black and white one. If it was this easy to get a site banned by buying links you would have unscrupulous website owners buying links for a competitor and then reporting it to get the competitor penalised. Google do penalise for it, certainly, but I think that it’s not as frequent as many people make out.

  47. Mike says:

    On #1 are some of the top directory’s selling links for example Yahoo directory charges 299.00 and directory charges 2999.00 to add your site. are these not 2 of the most trusted?

  48. Carlotta says:

    I think that the quality of contents, quality of links, quality of “good neighbours” are essential not only to have a good page rank, nut also for our reader’s FIDELITY.
    This is great to create a good, qualitative, product.
    Buying links is not honest.

  49. Alfred says:

    hmmm i remember commenting about this post and how i used your advice to improve my seo. its gone MIA now ?

  50. Toni says:

    I have only just set up my blog but I’ve been doing some commenting just over the last day and have seen sites with so much spammy comments is unbelievable. I don’t actually have a comments section on my blog. Perhaps I will change to Word Press instead.

  51. re: #5 Constantly adding to your website seems to be the nexus of blog inflation as posts and comments expand like the big bang, all in a race for SEO competition. I doubt that’s what Google intended but that’s what is today’s reality.

  52. Finally someone has mentioned “inactivity”, this is so true, I think it’s really important now to educate people that SEO isn’t a quick one week fix, its an ongoing process!

  53. Those are sure good tips! I was just thinking of giving away free gifts to subscribers but I guess I must reconsider!

  54. Excellent post.Many people does not realize how important it really is to nofollow the affiliate links.There is no reason why one should give inbound links to affiliate sites and bleed out PR.

  55. UK Boot Camp says:

    Excellent set of tips Barry – bookmarked these for further information, even though most are common sense it does help to clarify these to clients so will be a valuable source. Also nice to see it emphasised that you have to work at your website and their are no real worthwhile quick fixes.

  56. Wow great read, I really need to check out Googles Canonical tag because I repost a lot of articles. Thanks.

  57. Caspian SEO says:

    useful article as a firm i do SEO for are dead set on competitions as a link building solution. i guess Google must be searching for keywords like ‘review’, ‘competition’, ‘prize’ etc to find these posts and penalize them, but its a bit harsh for competition and review sites? how does this work?

  58. Another interesting solution to destroy your blog is called keyword stuffing…meaning that you add to each and every article of your blog dozens of keywords.
    Another technique is to add invisible links in your blog template

    another one is to pay 10 dollars to those SEO indian companies which will add your blog to one fanta-million directories

    etc etc etc

  59. I have read from several sources that hidden links will cause your ranking to go down, i am curious if this would include hiding h1 text to replace with images. anyone have a definitive answer to this as i have been hesitant to use this technique?

  60. ExpertsTown says:

    I’ve never thought that inactivity was so important. I agree completely wiht all items in this list but I think duplicate content can easily destroy your site, it’s very important. Google says in its webmasters guidelines we have to publish only original content.

  61. Those were really techniques which are unhealthy for a site… In cases where your site has this great reputation when it comes to search engine ranking and page rank, it might fall into a situation wherein it could be destroyed if site owners follow and uses some of these techniques. In maintaining for a site’s credibility, one should see to it that it follows certain rules.

    Specific techniques in which I hated so much are “buying links” and “duplicate contents”..

  62. zezebel says:

    Even if this post over a year old but it still give a relevant advice on what google will do with your website if you don’t follow their rules.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  63. charlotte says:

    This post really helps me a lot especially now that I’m beginning to like the SEO world. I have been doing some research on how to promote a site without disobeying the rules of googles and not to be tagged as spammer.

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