Search Engine Optimization

Key SEO Mistakes That Will Kill Your Ranking Gains

Last Updated: June 13, 2024By

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a top priority for every website, especially when traffic generation,  revenue generation and sustaining profitability levels is a major priority. SEO is a cheap and sustainable way to achieve your website goals to drive traffic, sales, revenue and sustain profitability for online businesses. With over one billion websites on the internet today, competition for top positions in the search ranking isn’t so easy. It involves careful monitoring, analysis, evaluation and continuous improvement.

While the Google search essentials provide some clear guide to what should be done, the exact factors and the weight they carry in the determination of how Google search algorithm rank websites remain a Google patent. The Google webmaster guidelines have provided some deep insights, nevertheless, some clues have emerged from Google employees especially Mark Cutts and John Mueller.

But despite the efforts you put in to achieve better and improved ranking, there are certain conditions that will impede your ranking abilities no matter how much effort you put in. That is the subject of our discussions in this post. We will identify the mistakes webmasters make that kill their ranking no matter the efforts they put into SEO. It is hoped that while you will be properly guided to avoid these mistakes, you should also know what to do when they occur to be on the safe list of Google.

Key SEO Mistakes That Kill Ranking Gains

Generally, mistakes can be very dangerous in every human endeavor. So also it applies in the world of online search engine ranking competition. In this post, our focus is on the things that can kill whatever ranking gains you have achieved from any position you may be occupying.

Below are SEO mistakes that can be very devastating to your search engine rankings.

Over Optimization

Over-optimization involves having an unnatural or too remarkable improvement in SEO. This can become more harmful when they occur all at the same time to achieve a perfect optimization strategy to rank for a keyword or set of keywords.

Here are some known signs of over-optimization which should guide your SEO efforts and you should try to avoid:

  1. Ranking for Irrelevant Keywords: Your optimization strategy must be careful to avoid ranking for every text and keyword especially when they are irrelevant. Google has often identified spammy behavior with ranking for senseless and irrelevant keywords because they do actually tell Google that the post or content is poor quality and could depreciate the quality of its search. Google will not want to serve its users with such poor quality content and so the ranking will have to be significantly dropped or even removed from its search results. Read more on How Best to Use Keywords in Your Website Content
  2. Unnatural Link Type: When building links, some people fail to realize that there are several types of links. Focusing on a single link type results in an unnatural behaviour and results in a bad link profile. These are activities Google perceive as manipulative and will penalize for. We suggest a link building strategy that reflects a natural pattern with links coming from different websites around the web and from related industry websites while showing different patterns. If you build links using just social media and you are not getting links from other sources, that would be unnatural and could signal a poor quality website which Google will not want to give high ranking.
  3. Keyword-Rich Anchor Text: Webmasters understand that the proper use of keywords help Google to understand websites and to properly rank them. Some webmasters try to take advantage of this strategy to focus on keyword-rich anchor texts in the content instead of writing and using links naturally to add value and to guide users on sources of further information. The point here is that you should not try to rank based on exact match anchor texts in your content. Instead, write naturally for human users and not just for search engines or ranking purposes. You may want to read more on this in this post where Google explains that keyword-rich anchor texts are unnatural.
  4. Pointing All Internal Links to Top Level Navigation Pages: Some webmasters try to promote their top pages and therefore point all or most internal links to their top level navigation pages like the home page, contact us page, services page and similar pages. This creates an unnatural link profile and Google does not encourage this practice. The result is usually a significant drop in ranking and in some cases can result in a complete removal of the website or page from Google search.
  5. Aggressive Link BuildingBuilding too many backlinks too quickly can cause a big problem. Some webmasters have recommended that a website should limit its link building to 30-100 links daily. At Todhost, we disagree with that and will rather suggest that you should not focus on the number of links you are able to build daily but you should instead focus on the quality of links and content you can create for your website over time. We strongly advise that you allow links to your website to flow naturally from the quality and value seen in those links and not just emanating from an aggressive strategy to earn links.
  6. Footer Links: Footer links are certainly a pointer to over optimization. Adding a footer link gives you an incredibly large number of linked pages. Imagine having a footer link that appears on a news website with over ten thousand articles. Gaining such an incredible amount of links will certainly invoke Google’s red flag and you can be sure it will have a negative impact on your site ranking if it does not even trigger a penalty.
  7. Targeting Search Engines in Content Creation: Outside keyword stuffing, some content creators are known for targeting search engines instead of normal human users. Google is smart at identifying this strategy. We advise you to avoid it because it can seriously hurt your ranking gains. Do not build your content with a target keyword mind to the extent that you fail to allow your writing flow naturally for human users.

Other Forms of Harmful SEO Practices

Here are additional SEO mistakes that will hurt the ranking potential for both new and existing websites. Fortunately, Google has explicitly outlined these forms of unacceptable behaviour and webmasters are strictly advised to run away from them,

Here are they:

Exact Match Domains

Some webmasters are known to have targeted exact match keywords instead of choosing a healthy, unique domain name that matches their brand name or some unique combination. Targeting keyword-rich domain names was once a good strategy for ranking and came with real gains until Google started cracking down on this strategy because it obviously could give an undue advantage to low quality websites. The suggestion here is that you do not need to target an exact match to rank high, rather, it is suggested that you should work to gain advantage by building trust through quality content and improving your website user experience.


Cloaking refers to a manipulative strategy that presents different content to users and search engines with the aim or intention to manipulate the search engines and gain higher ranking while misleading users. Google itself provide some examples of cloaking to include:

  • Showing a page about latest fashion to search engines while showing a page about discount hotel bookings to users
  • Inserting text or keywords into a page only when the user agent that is requesting the page is a search engine, not a human visitor

Vulnerable websites can be susceptible to cloaking. For example, a hacked website can be a victim as hackers may try to hide some content from human users and website owners while something else is being presented to the search engines. It is important to review your web pages and while editing, use the html code view to uncover any hidden content.

Doorways Pages

Doorway pages are created to rank for specific, similar search queries and are designed to get top ranking and then redirect users to a desired destination page. Google gives some examples of doorway pages:

  • Having multiple websites with slight variations to the URL and home page but containing links that only direct users to a desired destination. So basically, doorways are built with well optimized keywords to gain high ranking while the action keywords and anchors direct users to another website which is the actual destination the doorways were designed to serve.
  • Another example from Google are pages generated to funnel visitors into the actual usable or relevant portion of your site(s). They are manipulative essentially and only serve to drive traffic to another website. There are people who create news websites only for the purpose of advertising their shop and will clog the entire pages of the news website with ads pointing to the e-shop. Sometimes, this involves creating huge content to build traffic but using the content to pull traffic to the relevant sections of the site.

Hacked content

Any content that appears on a website without permission from the website administrator is hacked content. This content will usually deface the website and are offensive. Most hacks are caused by security vulnerabilities. This could be an outdated plugin or extension used on the website, incompatibility of plugins and extensions with website version and similar other vulnerabilities. Weak passwords have also been associated with website hacks where a brute force attack guesses a password correctly and is able to insert content into a website. Examples of hacking include:

  • Code injection: Hackers can inject some malicious codes into a website Javascript or web pages. Sometimes, this can hide content into your machine also.
  • Page injection: Security flaws can allow hackers to add pages or overwrite pages on your website.
  • Redirects: Hackers can simply redirect your website to another and display undesirable and unpermitted content.

Google recommends some tips for fixing hacked sites and we have a detailed guide on how to Keep Your Website Safe From Hackers.

Hidden text and links

Placing texts and links in pages in such a way that are not to be easily viewable by human visitors is an unacceptable behavior. It is manipulative and will kill your ranking gains. Google itself cites some examples of hidden text or links that violate acceptable SEO behaviour. These include:

  • Using white text on a white background
  • Hiding text behind an image
  • Using CSS to position text off-screen
  • Setting the font size or opacity to 0
  • Hiding a link by only linking one small character (for example, a hyphen in the middle of a paragraph)

Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing is an old practice of using keywords multiple times and in such a way that it gives undue advantage in ranking. The aim is usually to manipulate rankings in Google Search results. It is important to mention that Google states sees keyword stuffing as unnatural way to use keywords in website content and gives some examples including:

  • Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
  • Blocks of text that list cities and regions that a web page is trying to rank for
  • Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural.

Keyword stuffing does not pay anymore and should be avoided. Use your keywords in a natural way that does not indicate any attempt to manipulate search engines to rank the page for the keywords.

Further reading: An SEO Guide on How to Rank for a Keyword

Link spam

Link spam are poor quality links that do not actually add value to content but intended only to get an external link directed to a site. They are usually out-of-context links and could include comment links, forum links,, user profile links, links from unrelated sites and from countries that website products do not primarily serve. Any such links created to just get a backlink can be considered as link spam.

Those who indulge in link spam understand the importance Google places on links and are just desperate to get higher ranking by all means even with poor quality links. But Google is smarter and can identify and punish for such violations so link spam is no longer a good SEO strategy. Again, Google gives some examples of link spam:

  • Buying or selling links for ranking purposes. We have discussed how damaging this could be in this article on 10 Costly Search Engine Mistakes to Avoid
  • Link exchanges in which websites link to each other or partner pages and websites that are just created to link to a page and increase its link profile.
  • Automated programs or services that create links to a site
  • Low-quality directory or bookmark site links
  • Forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature, for example:
  • Adverts that do not block link credit either by marking the link as “no-follow” or “sponsored”.

Google acknowledges that buying and selling links is a part of online business but wants such links to be qualified with a rel="nofollow" or rel="sponsored" attribute value to the <a> tag.

Machine-generated traffic

Some traffic is simply unnatural and machine-generated and Google frowns at such unwholesome practices. Attempting to mislead Google with machine generated traffic either by sending automated queries to Google or using other means are violations of the Google webmaster guidelines and Google comes very hard on websites involved in such practices.

Malware and malicious behaviors

Malware is any software or mobile application specifically designed to harm a computer, a mobile device, the software it’s running, or its users. Google checks websites to see if they host malware and other malicious content. Sometimes, a file can contain some malicious software that could run some scripts on your machine without your content and this could be uploaded to your website without your knowledge. Malware and malicious content can affect the behaviour of your website and its user friendliness which will inadvertently affect your website performance. You need to scan and check your files for this kind of activity in order not to be in trouble with Google.

Misleading functionality

Simply understand that your website is expected to provide the services it claims to provide and not mislead users with its claims. Any misrepresentation or claims that are not true is seen as an attempt to mislead visitors and will cause a significant ranking drop.

Scraped content

Scraped content is content that is copied from other sources on the internet without adding any extra value to the content or making reference to the original source. While you are guided by an existing content, your best bet is to make your content original. Google give example of scraped content to include:

  • Sites that copy and republish content from other sites.
  • Sites that copy and slightly modify content from other sites.
  • Sites that reproduce content feeds from other sites.

The solution to all these is to be original, writing creative content that provide value and attract natural inbound links to your site.

Sneaky redirects

A sneaky redirect will attract users to a page and when clicked will redirect users to something completely different. It is deceptive and only used as a ploy to increase traffic to a website. Redirection is ordinarily legitimate and can be used to boost user experience but sneaky redirects are deceptive.

Spammy automatically-generated content

Some websites run scripts that automatically generate content with the sole aim of manipulating search engines to see them as sources of fresh content. Automatically generated content offers no value to users but only uses keywords and relevant anchor texts which are simply intended for ranking gains, Google dislikes this practice. Google sites some examples of spammy auto-generated content to include:

  • Text that makes no sense to the reader but contains search keywords
  • Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing
  • Text generated through automated processes without regard for quality or user experience
  • Text generated using automated synonymizing, paraphrasing, or obfuscation techniques
  • Text generated from scraping feeds or search results
  • Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value

Thin affiliate pages

Google has become increasingly interested in user experience and sees thin affiliate pages with content copied from affiliate links and used on websites without any additional value as amounting to low quality content.

This is very true of template based websites where the affiliate page is just replicated for everyone who uses the template. The suggestion will be to build up your affiliate page to be unique with valuable content that distinguishes your affiliate offer from those of other similar template users.

User-generated spam

These are spammy content that had been posted by third-party users. Websites that allow third party registration without any editorial control. Forum boards, comments on blog posts and file uploads can be particularly vulnerable to user generated spam.

Copyright-removal requests

When Google receives complaints about copyright violations, it verifies those complaints and if they are found to be valid complaints Google will demote content on the page, not just the content that generated the complaint but other content on the page as well to prevent similar violations which may have occurred on other pages from reaching users. Google can also demote pages when there are valid complaints about counterfeit goods and court-orders.

Online harassment removals

Google wants the internet to be safe and will penalize online harassment which is the use of information and communication technologies by an individual or group to repeatedly cause harm to another person. Online harassment may involve threats, embarrassment, or humiliation.

Google has policies that allow the removal of certain types of content if it violates its terms and online harassment is one of such practices not allowed. When such cases occur and are valid, Google could demote other content on the page to prevent users from accessing other offensive content which may have been posted on the site.

Scam and fraud

Google hates scam and fraud. That is simple enough. These are practices that Google cannot allow in its search. As much as possible, Google will identify scam and fraudulent websites and prevent them from showing in its search. According to Google itself, scam and fraud come in many forms, including but not limited to impersonating an official business or service through imposter sites, intentionally displaying false information about a business or service, or otherwise attracting users to a site on false pretenses. Using automated systems.

At Todhost, we will terminate fraudulent websites once we verify a complaint about a fraudulent website running on our servers or we receive a valid fraud complaint about a domain which has been registered through our system.


The surest way to achieve steady and sustained gains in search engine ranking is to play by the rules. But the rules are always changing and some of what was allowed yesterday have become bad today. The guiding rule therefore is not to attempt to manipulate the search algorithm by any means.

Avoid all tactics that attempt to compel Google to give you higher ranking and keep an eye on Google news for latest information on the changes Google is introducing. Achieving good search engine rank takes time and you should be patient for your efforts to pay off while you maintain consistency in building and improving your website quality.

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