When it comes to SEO, there are two types of factors: on-page and off-page. The former is plain to see, but the latter is hidden beneath the surface. Both are equally important, and both offer invisible elements that you may not be aware of. How can you alter something you can’t see?
The answer lies in understanding how these invisible factors affect your rankings and what you can do to influence them. Today I’ll show 10 hidden factors that can hurt your rankings, and how to avoid them.
10 Off-Page SEO Factors That Can Hurt Your Ranking (And How to Avoid Them)
Content professionals and marketers are all aware of SEO factors like links, keywords, and content marketing. On-page factors like this are hard to forget because they’re staring you in the face. It’s the ones you don’t see that can do the most damage when starting your blog.
Just like there are positive factors, there are also negative ones that can cause you to lose rankings or worse, earn yourself a penalty from Google. In the end, we all want an SEO friendly website, so here are 10 things to avoid:
1. Unnatural/Spammy Backlinks
While building backlinks isn’t easy, paying for them is absolutely out of the question. Buying links has been a major no-no in Google’s eyes since the dawn of the Penguin Update. Your backlinks should be pointing from relevant and credible sources.
How to Avoid This:
When you’re building backlinks, target websites that are within your niche. Earn them through outreach or guest blogging and vary the anchor text you use and the pages you link to for a natural backlink profile.
2. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content is something that I myself feared like the plague when I first started working on blogs. I was terrified that something would sound like something else and bring down all the work I had done. In truth, Google’s duplicate content guidelines don’t read like a terrifying declaration like some would have you believe.
In truth, Duplicate content is something you should be aware of, but not something to be feared. You should be mindful of the ways that it can happen off the page:
Placeholder pages with no real content
The same post appearing on multiple pages of a site
Separate pages with similar content
No preferred domain
Inconsistent internal linking
Here’s a great site to help you find duplicate content.
How do I Avoid This?
Don’t make the mistakes above and keep track of where your content is and how its displayed. Repetition is your enemy, so don’t let it get out of hand as you spread, syndicate, and share yoru content.
3. Poorly Organized Pages
Your website’s organization is a huge factor. While it may look nice and pretty for people, you should also consider the spiders that will be crawling your content looking for how it all fits together.
The amount of internal links, where they point, and how they flow all adds to optimized internal links, or a lack thereof.
How Can I Fix This?
Start by linking relevant pages together, This will help categorize and enrich the experience for users who are looking for more information on a specific subject. A more advanced option is to create static silo pages that direct users from your homepage to a silo, and then to a category and ultimately a post.
This flow sends link juice through all levels of your domain, thus benefiting the website as a whole.
4. Neglecting Broken Links
Broken link building has been a great way to earn backlinks since the dawn of SEO, but what about the broken links on your blog? Are they going to earn you penalties from Google? Here’s the breakdown:
404s are a perfectly normal part of the web; the Internet is always changing, new content is born, old content dies, and when it dies it (ideally) returns a 404 HTTP response code. Search engines are aware of this; we have 404 errors on our own sites, as you can see above, and we find them all over the web. In fact, we actually prefer that, when you get rid of a page on your site, you make sure that it returns a proper 404 or 410 response code (rather than a “soft 404”).
In the end, a 404 page will keep you from getting direct penalties, but what about the users? How would you feel if you thought you had the perfect answer to your question, only to be hit with a 404 page? Not good I imagine. You’d probably never go back to that site.
According to Sacramento Design Network, poor experiences and customer service like this can cost you up to 85% of your business!
What Should I Do?
While Google isn’t hitting your rankings for this, you’re missing out on opportunities for additional ranking by not fixing these broken links with better, more relevant content, or some kind of redirect. Take the time to fix these for yourself and for others to boost your off-page SEO.
5. Image Titles and Alt-Tags
The images you uploaded to your content are an absolute SEO factor, but did you know that they have their own off-page elements? If you upload an image with a bunch of numbers for the file name and a blank alt-tag, that picture isn’t doing your SEO any favors.
How to Fix This?
To help Google better understand your images, provide descriptive titles and alt-tags when you place them in your content.
6. A Lack of Unique Meta Descriptions
When you publish a post and it’s indexed by Google, the meta description by default is a chunk of the opening text. This doesn’t do a very good job of summarizing what’s on the page for the user or for Google.
What Should I Do?
In terms of the user experience and click-through rates, having a custom meta description will allow you to better showcase the content present on the page.
Including your keywords in the description will also showcase a good summary of what the content is supposed to be about.
7. Too Many Keywords
Keyword stuffing is a term that refers to an overabundance of keywords on a page. Whether it’s a repeating phrase or simply too many keywords crammed into a piece of content to the point where it’s no longer readable by users.
The exact threshold of what Google decides is too much is a subject of continued debate.
How Do I Fix This?
Boil down your keywords to the ones that you need and the ones that are most relevant to the topic at hand. Stick to these and use them sparingly to avoid any issues.
8. A Slow Website
The speed at which your website loads isn’t just something that affects your conversion rate. As it turns out, website speed is also a ranking factor. A slow website can spell doom for your rankings, and you may not even know it’s happening.
What to do?
Check your website’s speed with a tool like pingdom and if you find it lacking, start looking for ways to optimize your website’s speed through various tactics like optimizing images and utilizing content delivery networks.
9. No Sitemap Data
An XML sitemap is how Google explores your site and understands its structure. Without this in place, you could be losing out on valuable rankings.
Luckily There’s a Quick Fix:
You can use an XML sitemap generator to create the file. Once you’ve done this, head over to your Google Webmaster account to submit the sitemap directly to Google.
10. Spam Comments
Most comment systems will take care of spam for you, but it’s easy to let these kinds of things build up. These start to work against you fairly quickly.
Make sure your moderating your comments for spam. If you don’t have the time or the right program to maintain this, it’s best that you disable them altogether.
SEO is composed of both visible and invisible elements. Knowing what they are and how to avoid mistakes will skyrocket your SERP rankings. What invisible factors were you forgetting about? How do you ensure you’re not letting these things hurt your rankings? Let us know in the comments!
Carrie Davidson is a seasoned blogger who has helped launch numerous blogs in her online career. She is an expert in crafting excellent posts with great content and powerful headlines. You can find her online @carriedavidons1