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SEO | 5 min read

7 Risks To Your Google Rankings And How They Can Be Averted

30 December 2019 Written by Alexander Costello

High risk, high reward?


When it comes to SEO and improving your Google ranking, the answer to this question varies wildly.


Some risky SEO strategies have the potential for massive pay-offs, while others are more likely to slap an anchor on your website and pull it down the rankings.


So before you deploy a risky SEO strategy, take a step back and weigh the risk against the reward.


SEO risks that aren’t worth taking

You shouldn’t use these techniques, regardless of what you might hear. The risk just isn’t worth the potential reward.


Deliberate over-optimisation

Sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing.


SEO is the art of optimising your website through incremental refinements. Most sites can benefit from at least some SEO, and the goal is a fine-tuned site more closely aligned to Google’s ranking criteria.


But some webmasters can’t resist the temptation to over-optimise.


After being informed that using the right keywords is important for ranking, some webmasters cram them in at every possible opportunity. Have you ever browsed a website that links to every city in the country in its footer?

Something like “plumbing Manchester”, “plumbing Salford”, “plumbing Middleton”, etc.


This technique is called keyword stuffing, and Google frowns upon it. A sprinkling of keywords and semantically related phrases throughout your site is fine, but your priority should always be copy that reads naturally for human readers.


Overusing H1 tags can fall into this category, too. Google uses H1 tags (among other cues) to understand what a webpage is about. Overzealous webmasters see this as an opportunity to trick Google: Don’t be tempted.


Not using responsive design

In response to the majority of web traffic now coming from mobile, Google prioritises mobile-friendly pages in the SERPs. If your site isn’t responsive, it will get left behind. Simple as that.


Before the switch to mobile-first ranking, not having a responsive site was a risk but not a disaster. Now, with Google’s shifted emphasis, neglecting to invest in a site that works on all devices will lead to ranking penalties.


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Outdated link building strategies

Building links to your website is a crucial part of SEO, but it’s very easy to fall afoul of Google’s guidelines by mistake.


People who’ve been involved in SEO for more than a few years will know that cat-and-mouse nature of things. A successful link building technique gets discovered. It yields results for early-adopters, then people begin to take notice. Soon, everyone is on board and things start to get more spammy. Before you know it, the technique ends up driven into the ground, and Google penalises sites that use it.


The list of such techniques is long. Reciprocal links, link farms, comment links, bought links, directory links, and guest posts, to name but a few.


Deliberately using a link building technique that’s been publicly denounced by Google is asking for trouble. It’s a risk that’s not worth taking in any circumstance.


How to avert this risk:

Avoid pursuing low-quality links in any of the categories we mentioned above.


Only build links that add real value to human users, and ensure link building is only one part of a comprehensive SEO strategy.


Familiarise yourself with link building best practice, and don’t deviate from it. Resist the temptation of black hat techniques: While they may deliver impressive results in the short term, you will get spanked shortly afterwards.

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Scraping content

Duplicate content is a big no-no in Google’s eyes, and if your site has too much, it can impact your rankings quickly.


Obviously, a few duplicate paragraphs on product category pages probably won’t get you in trouble. But if you fill your blog with content scraped verbatim from other websites, Google will not look favourably on your site. Expect your rankings to slide as a result.


How to avert this risk:

Write unique copy for each page on your site. Run copy through a tool like Copyscape to flag duplication. Don’t knowingly scrape content from elsewhere!


If you do have duplicate content (for example, maybe you publish content on your company blog and Medium page) use canonical tags to indicate to Google which is the master copy.


Neglecting basic SEO

This can be tricky because not all webmasters are familiar with the SEO basics. While it’s hard to fall too far afoul of Google’s criteria by accident, neglecting the SEO fundamentals is a reliable way to prevent your site from getting the success it deserves.


If certain factors aren’t in place, a site will struggle. A solid bedrock of SEO best practice like keyword optimisation, intuitive site structure, a properly configured robots.txt, an up to date sitemap will put you in good stead.


How to avert this risk:

Either learn the basics of SEO or work with a professional SEO strategy who can ensure your site configuration will lead to success.


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SEO risks that are worth taking

Whereas neglecting SEO basics is unlikely to actively cause harm, the things in this section can damage your rankings if done incorrectly.


Refining URL structure

Restructuring a website is sometimes necessary, but doing it wrong can wreak havoc on your rankings.


Google relies on an understanding of your site and its structure to know where to rank it. Making sweeping changes without putting the relevant things in place can destroy this understanding.


But it’s sometimes the case that a website is built piecemeal over time, and navigation for human users is unintuitive as a result. In this instance, it’s a good idea to tidy things up and establish better navigation


How to avert potential risk:

Put together a plan before you change anything. Ensure the new structure makes sense, is intuitive, and that you have everything in place before starting.


When you’re ready, roll out changes gradually rather than overhauling everything at once. This lets you measure impact and refine ongoing rollout if you notice any problems.


Removing and consolidating content

Sometimes a full site restructure isn’t necessary, and deleting or combining certain pieces of content will do the trick.


The risks are the same here: Changing content Google is familiar with can disrupt rankings and visibility.


How to avert potential risk:

When removing content, direct people elsewhere if possible. Use 301 redirects to point people to alternative content, and build a custom 404 error page that directs users elsewhere.


When combining or consolidating content, remove the original instances to avoid duplicate content issues. Make sure to keep the page with the best metrics, so that you can continue to reap their benefits.

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Avoid risk altogether

If you find yourself wondering, “how do I rank higher in Google?” let us give you the answer:


Work with a good professional services SEO agency.


Their expertise and experience will let you sidestep potential risks to your Google rankings. They’ll make the improvements your website needs while keeping the potential for causing harm to a minimum.


If you’d like to learn more about working with an agency, here are some key reasons to consider partnering with an agency, and here are some questions to help differentiate the good from the bad.

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