05 Nov 2008

10 Reasons Why Your Website Looks Like Spam

I’m sure you know exactly what the Google Webmaster Guidelines say about spam.  If you’re just playing at this SEO thing, here’s the quick version: don’t trick the search engines with hidden text, hidden links, keyword stuffing, duplicate content, or doorway pages.

Having said that, there are an awful lot of web pages out there that aren’t spam, but certainly give off a spammy vibe.  People like me will notice these things right off the bat, and that’s a bad first impression. Normal web users might not know why a web page like this doesn’t feel right to them, but they may get the sneaking suspicion that maybe it’s not such a reputable business or quality resource, and they’ll look elsewhere for their needs. If your website is one of these websites, your bounce rate is going to be rather high.

So what are the tip offs that set off the “spam” radar? (Even if you’re not actually spamming.)

Exhibit A: You use the default WordPress theme.

It’s not illegal or anything, but using the default WordPress theme shows the sort of laziness generally displayed by MFA spammers with dirty, dirty splogs.  Because they buy up hundreds of domains that do nothing but scrape content and slap on some AdWords, they don’t care what the pages actually look like. In fact, they want to be so unattractive that people want to click on ads just to get away from the ugliness. You’re not a dirty splogger? Congratulate yourself for not being sleazy! Then kick yourself for not taking more pride in your website, and take five minutes to find and install a free WordPress theme that doesn’t suck.

Exhibit B: Too. Many. Ads.

Okay, I can’t fault you for wanting to monetize your website. My own sites are monetized. But seriously, when you have more ads than content, you put the MFA sites to shame. And people like me might be looking extra hard to make sure you have some sort of valuable content that separates you from the real spammers.  It’s a fine line, so you have to be very careful you don’t cross it and actually become a spam site.

Exhibit C: The spammiest-domain-in-the-world.com

You can have a beautiful website that is easy to navigate and is very user friendly, but people may not ever get there if they see you’ve got five keywords in your domain name separated by hyphens. Sure, hyphens are not inherently evil. But too many hyphens makes you look cheap and untrustworthy. And that’s before you even get off the SERP.  Just don’t do it. If the good non-spammy keyword rich domain names are taken, then find a brandable domain name. (Think Zillow. Expedia.)

Exhibit D: Link Pages

You may call it your “resource page.” How many of those are resources are affiliate links or reciprocal links you traded back in 2003?  Link pages tend to be suspect even if you’re really just trying to give your visitors a list of resources for which you receive no form of compensation. It’s really looks better to make your links contextual, interwoven throughout your site content.  If you absolutely must have a link page, you need to be absolutely sure it has real value for your users, relevant to your site content.

Exhibit E: You don’t look “real.”

Do you have an About Us page? Contact page?  Copyright notice? Privacy policy? If you sell stuff, do you have a shopping cart? Customer service information? Shipping info? If you don’t, you look suspiciously like a thin affiliate site.

Exhibit F: Too many redirects.

It’s good to use a redirect when you shake up your site navigation, so that users following otherwise dead incoming links can be led to the new home of the proper landing page.  But have you ever clicked on a link and seen more than three URLs switch out in the address bar before ending up on an actual page? If you’ve moved things around several times, you need to tidy up your redirects, or else people (your competitors, who are going to be trigger happy on the spam report button) might wonder what you were cloaking and hiding on those interim pages that never loaded.

Exhibit F: You bought the .info

It’s unfair, but so many spammers have bought up the .info domains that it’s truly unusual to find a legitimate .info page.  That’s all I have to say about that.

Exhibit G: Your title tags look like <meta name=”keywords”>

Your title tag should be readable.  You can be descriptive without a comma separated list of your targeted keywords. The title tag is what people see on the SERP. Make it user friendly.  A list of keywords is not user friendly.  You look like you have nothing better to offer than a list of keywords, and that’s not good. Pick a keyword phrase or two and put it in sentence form.

Exhibit H: Barely unique content

As the head of the WBP writing team, it makes me sad to see barely unique content out there. The less-evil cousin of the MFA site doesn’t scrape content from other sources. The articles you read there will pass Copyscape. Why?  Because they paid someone (likely overseas) a dollar or two to re-write someone else’s content to become “unique,” even when the resulting rephrasing leads to some awkward reading. So okay, they may pass a cursory plagiarism test, but these sites have a “look,” very similar to the default WP theme sites.

Exhibit I: RSS Feeds

If you have a web page essentially one big blog or news feed, you have the burden of proof that says your feed is valuable to users. If you have ads on that feed, you may not be able to avoid the spam label for scraping. Make sure you add value to the feed by adding some form of narrative or editorial. You need to provide some kind of unique content, or else you’re no better than the sploggers.

Exhibit J: Sales letter sites

You’ve got this AMAZING product with PROVEN results and TRUSTED testimonials. See the pictures of these happy customers?  You have a LIMITED TIME offer to get the SPECIAL price. You use lots of BOLD TEXT in PRETTY COLORS to drive the point home. Users have to scroll down the page for 45 seconds to find the obligatory lead generator contact form where they must provide their email address to LEARN MORE.  Affiliate site?  Legitimate offer? You be the judge, but it sure looks like spam to me.