A lot of website owners that were impacted by the Panda and Penguin updates, and many said they didn't even know why their sites were being penalized by one (or both) of the Google updates. Unfortunately, since Panda and Penguin are algorithmic penalties and not manual, there is no human Google employee site owners can appeal to. The search algorithm doesn't know what you intended to do with your SEO, it can only count what you did and rank your website accordingly.

Since the updates went live, I've spoken with a lot of site owners that had tried to manage their own SEO, usually because they couldn't afford to outsource it. While many of them had a little bit of SEO knowledge, it's the gaps in that knowledge that leads to a search engine penalty. When it comes to SEO, if you don't know the whole picture you might be missing the most important part.

Here are 3 pieces of SEO knowledge that can land your site in hot water if you don't know the whole story:

I Need Lots Of Links To Be Successful

Links are how the search engines decide if a website is important. If I want my SEO to do well then I need to build as many links as possible.

Links are really the bread and butter of SEO, but because they are so important they are often abused by site owners, sometimes without them knowing. Yes, the more links your website has directed towards it the more likely it is to be trusted and rank well in the search engines, but only if they are the right kind of links. More is not always better! Here is a short list of links that could actually hurt your SEO, rather than help it:

  • Links on unrelated websites
  • Link exchanges
  • Hidden Links
  • Links on pornography or gambling websites
  • Links that use too much exact-match anchor text

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the kind of links that you want to avoid building, but so many site owners get too focused on building as many links as quickly as they can; they stop looking for the quality links (which might be harder to get) and go for the easy win. In SEO, sometimes the easy win now will come back to haunt you when the search engines catch up.

Link building needs to be slow and diversified and, above all else, natural! Building too many links too quickly will catch the attention of the search engines (and not in the way you were hoping). You never want the search engines to think you are trying to trick the algorithm, even if you don't mean any harm. Slow and steady is the way to go when it comes to SEO link building. Make sure every link is worth it!

More Content Is Better

Everyone says that content is King, so I need to add a couple dozen pages to my site and write 2 blog posts a day in order to do well in the search engines.

You aren't 100% wrong if you think that more content can help your SEO"it can. But more content should really be more quality content. Creating a dozen new pages on your website so you can target 30 new keywords is only worthwhile if those new pages are well-written, useful to the reader and provide real value to your site. Creating thin content just so you can squeeze a few more keywords in will probably trip the dreaded Panda update that was designed to target sites doing just that. In my opinion, its better to consolidate that thin content into one high-quality page than have three pages that don't really say much (or say the same thing).

And yes, individual blog posts can rank in the search engines, helping increase your overall online brand presence and drive traffic to your site, but those posts need to be written to inform and educate your target audience, not just to rank. You want to write them with SEO in mind, but never at the expense of the user experience. Remember, content should always be written for the user, never the search engines. After all, the search engines aren't the ones who'll become your customers.

Keywords Are Very Important

Keywords are how the search engines know what searches to pull my website for. If I want to reach the most potential visitors I need to target keywords with the biggest search volume. This will help my site get more traffic and grow my business.

While keywords are incredibly important, arguably the foundation of your SEO program, its not the search volume you should be looking at when choosing which keywords to target. Its more important to target the right keywords based on the content on your site AND user intent. The keywords with the highest search volume tend to be broad (insurance, mortgage, IT), which means that someone searching using that keyword could be looking for a number of things. Are they looking for car, health, medical, or life insurance? Do they need a new mortgage, want to refinance or want to compare rates at different banks? Does someone need IT consulting, want to hire an IT director, take an online class about information technology? Which audience does your site target? Does getting more traffic mean anything if its the wrong kind? A farm where you can pick your own apples might target apple on their site, but does an influx of visitors looking to buy an iPad do them any good? Not really.

The broader a keyword is the more competition there is for it, meaning its much harder to do well for those search terms. Big name insurance companies like Allstate or State Farm probably have insurance under lock and key. A local insurance agent doesn't really stand a chance going after such a broad keyword, but they could probably do very well for a localized version like Boston insurance agency. Not only is that keyword less competitive, it goes after their real target market.