13 Avoidable Content Mistakes That Can Harm Your SEO

Last Edited September 11, 2023 by Garenne Bigby in Search Engine Optimization

avoidable content mistakes seo

Search engine optimization is a great way to drive traffic to your website for very little financial cost. As a whole, great SEO will work while you are sleeping, but often times what might seem like a good idea to a novice is actually a huge mistake that might actually be violating Google's Webmaster Guidelines. Take a look at these completely avoidable mistakes so that you can make the best decisions possible regarding your content and it's success.

1. Automatically Generated Content

This “auto-generated” content has been created through a program. Many times this will be made up of paragraphs that are made up of text that does not make any sense to a reader, but will contain only keywords for a search. Automatically generated content can be created in a few different ways, including: text that has been generated through scraping RSS/Atom feeds or search results, text that has been generated by using automated synonymizing or obfuscation techniques, text that has been generated through an automated process like Markov chains, and text that is translated using an automated tool that will have no human to review it before it is published. It can also be generated when content is combined from multiple web pages but with no sufficient value added.

2. Hidden Text and Links

Hiding text and links within content with the intention of manipulating search rankings is a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. It is possible to hide text by putting text behind an image, putting white text on a white background, using a font size 0, positioning text to appear off-screen, and hiding a link through the use of one character as the link. It is possible to see if your own site contains any hidden text or links by looking for anything that can't be easily seen by those who visit your site. With all things considered, not all text that is hidden is truly considered deceptive. If a site employs a component that is not easily accessed by search engines, hidden text may improve the overall accessibility of the website.

3. Link Schemes

Another violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, link schemes are when a link is created with the intention of manipulating a page's ranking within search results—including any activity that will manipulate links that go to your site as well as those that go out from your site. Activities that would qualify as link schemes are: using programs that automatically creates links to your site, guest posting campaigns or article marketing that has anchor text links that are rich in keywords, excessive partner pages that exist only for cross linking, and buying or selling links that pass Google's PageRank.

Unnatural links are also a violation of Google's guidelines. This is when links are placed on a site but they have not been approved by the website's owner. Avoid these mistakes by creating relevant and unique content that will gain popularity on its own. Then, other website will link to yours by choice.

4. Scraped Content

Content that has been taken from larger, more reputable sources with the thought that it will increase the volume of pages within a site. When a website contains only content that has been scraped from other sources, it might not provide any value to the users, as it does not contain any information that is unique or useful. It could also classify as a copyright infringement. It is worth it to take the time and create your own content that is original and will set your website apart from the thousands of similar sites on the web. Having content that is fresh will make your site more useful and will keep your visitors coming back. Scraping can include: content that is copied from other sites that has been modified only slightly and is republished, content that is republished without adding any new content or value, sites that produce content feeds from various sites and don't provide any unique benefits to the user, sites that embed content like videos or images from other sites and don't add value to the user.

5. Cloaking

Cloaking is when human users are presented with different URLs or content than what is presented to search engines. It is a major violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, as it will provide users with a result that is different than what they have anticipated. This includes when search engines are served with a page full of HTML while users will see a page that is made up of Flash or images, and when a keyword is inserted into a page only when a search engine is requesting the page, as opposed to when a human is requesting it.

Google provides recommendations for making your content accessible without the use of cloaking, like when employing JavaScript or Flash, knowing that search engines have a hard time accessing it. Cloaking is a common practice when a website has been hacked.

6. Sneaky Redirects

Redirecting is when a visitor of a website is sent to a different URL from the one that they requested initially. While there are some good reasons to set up a redirect, other times a redirect will be deceitful to search engines or display content to users that is different from what was made available to crawlers. This is a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, as it is deceptive and may take a user to a URL that is different than where they wanted to go, and may display different content to users and crawlers. A deceitful redirect may even be when users on a desktop are sent to a normal page while those on a mobile device are directed to a totally different domain that is spam. Do know that using JavaScript to redirect users can be a practice that is legitimate as long as it adheres to the guidelines outlined by Google. When moving your site and you have access to the website's server, a 301 redirect is the best option.

7. Affiliate Programs

Google's Webmaster Guidelines advises its users to put together websites that are made up of original content and are able to add value to users, especially if you are aiming to participate in affiliate programs. Usually, the affiliate websites will feature product descriptions that are used throughout the affiliate network. Because of this, websites that only have content from affiliate networks will not do well in Google's search engine rankings, because there is not enough content that is unique, thus it is not differentiating itself well enough from other websites on the internet. Google sees that these websites without much depth don't provide much value to users, and will not give them priority rankings.

That being said, not all websites that participate in an affiliate program are considered to be “thin”. A good affiliate will add value by offering their own reviews of products, comparisons, and ratings. How will you know if you are adding value by participating in an affiliate program?

  • Your content will be able to create a community of your visitors, building loyal readers that are passionate about your content.
  • Your content will be updated and relevant.
  • When selecting your affiliate program, you will choose one that is made up of products that are appropriate for your target audience, adding value to your site while being relevant to the interest of you as well as your audience.

Websites that are made up primarily of content that can be found elsewhere on the web is likely to perform poorly through Google's search results. Well-performing content will be relevant, unique, and will provide value to users.

8. Doorway Pages

A doorway page is a website that is created in order to rank high for particular search queries. The reason that they should not be used are because they may lead to many similar pages in search results, there in which the result will end up taking the user to basically the same destination. They may also lead a user to an “intermediate” page—one that is not as useful as the page that is the ultimate destination. Some examples of doorway pages are: pages that are made to funnel visitors to an actual usable or relevant part of your site, more than one domain name that targets specific regions that will all funnel into one page, and similar pages that are very close in search results.

9. Creating Pages with Malicious Behavior

The act of distributing products or content on a website that knowingly behave in a way that is different from what a user expects is a violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. This does not exclude anything that works to manipulate content on a page that is unexpected, downloading or activating files on a user's computer without their consent, or purposefully disobeying Google's Unwanted Software Policy. Google works hard to give users search results that are relevant to their queries but will also keep them and their computers safe on the internet.

You should aim to avoid behavior like:

  • Installing Trojans, spyware, malware, or viruses on users' computers.
  • Manipulating the content on a page so that a user thinks they are clicking on one thing but it is actually a different part of the page.
  • Injecting unwanted files in a download
  • Including pop-ups or new ads or promoting software that does this.

10. User-generated Spam

One of the guidelines that does not pertain to content creation but to the actions of malicious users. It is possible for visitors to generate spam on a website that can impact the way that Google assesses the site. This can result in Google manually taking action on the entire website. Spam content created by users can be: comment spam posted on blogs, spam posts on forum threads, and spam accounts on free hosts.

To prevent this user-generated spam from harming your site, you should be actively monitoring your site so that you can remove user-generated spam the moment that it is discovered.

11. Irrelevant Keywords

Using keywords that are not relevant to your content is known as keyword stuffing. This is when a web page is full of keywords or numbers with the intent to manipulate the ranking of a website within Google's search results. Many times, these keywords will be in a group or in a list while being totally out of context and will not form a normal sentence structure. Doing this can end up in a negative user experience and will damage a website's ranking. You should put your attention on creating content that is rich in useful and unique information that uses keywords in a way that is appropriate and flows well with the context.

Keyword stuffing will:

  • Repeat the same phrases or words so many times that the flow is not natural.
  • Consist of blocks of text that list cities/states that a web page is aiming to rank for.
  • List phone numbers for no reason.

12. How to Prevent Comment Spam

Comments are a great tool for webmasters to build a relationship with their readers and interact with them. Sadly, this is sometimes used maliciously by spammers who employ software or scripts to make and post spam. Comments that look like advertisements and link to weird websites are a type of commonly used comment spam.

If the comment section as a whole is not adding a lot of value to your website and you're getting a lot of spam, consider turning the comments off. Many popular blogging sites will allow for turning comments on and off for individual posts.

If you don't want to turn comments off totally, you can moderate them. This means that no comments will appear until you have reviewed them and then approved or denied them. It does take some time, but ultimately it will improve the experience of your users.

The most popular anti-spam tool is a CAPTCHA system, while you can deter spam by blocking malicious content from showing up in search. Ask your followers to flag or report span when they see it. Once a spam profile has been located, check the IP address to see if it a repeat offender and have them blacklisted.

13. Report Paid Links, Spam, or Malware

Notify Google when a spam website appears—this is taken very seriously and will be investigated. The same goes for paid links as well as malware. Google clearly outlines all of their rules in their Webmaster Guidelines, and when you take action to report this malicious behavior, you are helping the entire webmaster community by taking out the bad guys that are weakening the quality of the search results.

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite:
Founder of DYNO Mapper and Former Advisory Committee Representative at the W3C.


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