Finding and Removing Bad SEO, Part 1

Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist

Did you have someone do “SEO” on your site in the past couple of years?  Did they clearly explain what they did, or did they just take your money and do “something” you didn’t understand?

If so, you might want to take another look at your site, if only to make sure the “SEO” people you hired haven’t actually made your site less visible to search engines.  Legitimate search engine optimization is not an attempt to fool search engines; it’s making sure that the information on your site is fully exposed to search engines.  There’s a big difference.

There have been several times when we’ve worked with clients who’d previously hired an SEO firm.  They’d had minimal to negative results with the SEO that prior firms brought, and some folks on our clients’ management team were dubious (to say the least) about what Performics could bring to the table.  We’re quite happy to do the extra work it takes for us to win clients like these over.  We’re proud of the knowledge we’ve gained about search engine optimization, and we want to make certain our clients know exactly what we’re doing and why our methods work.

On some client sites, we’ve found “SEO” from previous companies that looked to be straight out of a playbook from 1995.  Finding bad SEO is fun for us, and we wanted to share some stories about it.  Consider this post a “Part 1” – in our next post, we’ll talk about how we solve these problems, and discuss how you can review your site for improper SEO.

During a review, we found that one client of ours had hyperlinks on their home page in white text on a white background.  In 1995, a search engine crawling the page would have found and followed the links, but a human visitor with a working browser would not have been able to see the links.  I’m not sure what that was supposed to have accomplished, but in 1995 that was a swell trick.  In 2009, however, search engines are well aware of the old “hidden links” maneuver, and they will actively penalize your site if you try it.

The shock was that this was a site that should have known better – their brand was internationally recognized and we were quite surprised to have found this sort of thing going on.  This is why we review our clients’ sites thoroughly for compliance, to make certain there isn’t any funny code added by an overly ambitious SEO consultant or employee who left the company years ago. 

This was exactly the case for another client we had.  As we reviewed their site for compliance, we noticed the following text on all of the pages:


We looked at the HTML code and found that each single letter of this six-letter word was an individual hyperlink.  Each hyperlink went to a different page in the site, e.g.

<a href=”01.html”>p</a><a href=”02.html”>u</a><a href=”03.html”>r</a><a href=”04.html”>p</a><a href=”05.html”>l</a><a href=”06.html”>p</a>

Why did they do this? We had no idea.  In our conference call with this client, we pointed out these weird links and I believe it was the marketing director who said, in an exasperated voice, “Another SEO firm told us to do that.”  Naturally we asked “What are these links supposed to accomplish?”, but they could not provide us with an answer. 

As SEO professionals, we weren’t fooled by these links; we knew immediately they were written solely for search engines.  The strongest indicator that there’s an SEO trick being attempted is when a page element makes no logical sense.  Put yourself in the shoes of your sites’ visitors and ask yourself: who’s going to see this link and decide to click on the “r” in purple instead of the “p”?  Who’s going to spend 45 seconds properly positioning the mouse so that it clicks on the exact letter they want?  We suggested that the client remove these links since they helped neither search engines nor human visitors. 

There are plenty more stories we could tell you, but it’s time to get back to work.  See Part 2.

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