How to fight SEO spam

5 Actions To Fix SEO Spam Penalties


I’m going to give a breakdown of some poor SEO actions that had been made by a previous agency, so you know what to look out for and if you are unlucky enough to be affected, what you can do to fix it.

This site was particularly a challenge as the previous SEO company had used spammy tactics, resulting in no page one results.

I’ll detail how I fixed these issues to get some outstanding results for the client.

This one started out as a real horror show to begin with but fortunately had a happy ending.

The Challenges Faced

SEO Horror Story

This client had been with a web design agency that built the original website for 6 months’ worth of SEO with almost no results to show for it.

To make matters worse, when the client came to us, they showed us the monthly reports which were a combination of made up metrics and provided almost no value to the client at all.

What was missing from the report was any mention of the number of visitors to the website and no tracking of any kind of conversions. Ultimately you want the success of your SEO campaign to be measurable somehow, otherwise how do you know what the value of the project has been?

As an example, the company were trying to demonstrate they had made website speed improvements to the site. What they had in fact done was set the speed test to a server in the US, and then changed it to one locally sourced in the UK where the site was based.

The result was two screenshots showing a speed improvement that would naturally happen due to the location of the servers running the test. I assume they forgot to remove the server locations from the image, or had that little faith in their clients that they would be able to distinguish the difference?

On top of this, the SEO work that had been completed was something straight out of 1999. All the work would be considered spam by Google’s Penguin algorithm update.

The client was seeing almost no activity from their website and ranking for nothing except for their brand name on the first page.

So all around, this was poor on just about every front imaginable…

The key issues that we needed to fix right away were to:

  • Move the website to a better hosting for improved site speed. (their website was INCREDIBLY slow)
  • Remove the spammy keyword efforts by refreshing all the website content
  • Remove the endless amount of useless tags created to generate keywords in Google Search Console (more on that later)
  • Clear up the spam used in the image alt tags
  • Setup clearly defined, well optimised service pages

There were other areas in which we worked on, for example citation and link building. For this article I’m going to focus on the on-site work as this alone got some great results.

Fixing Bad SEO

Keyword Spam

For those that aren’t aware, in 2012 Google released an algorithm update to their search engine called Penguin, whose role was to de-rank websites which used spammy tactics to gain results.

Some examples of this were:

  • Keyword stuffing – using the same words/phrase repeatedly in a single article to try and rank it
  • Link Schemes – This was were a website would generate as many possible links to their site as possible from unrelated usually spammy websites themselves for the sole purpose of ranking higher in Google.

This website provided a perfect example of a site that may have worked pre-2012, but remember, it’s now 2018 and this not only doesn’t work, but will hurt your rankings.

The keyword spam produced here was lengthy to say the least. Each web page was tagged with any possibly related keyword that a cleaning service website would want to target. The same had also been done through the alt tags in images as well as categories being created to achieve the same without any relevant content linked to it.

How to avoid SEO Spam

1. Website Speed Issues

The Problem

This is a quick one to touch on but very important from both a user experience and SEO perspective. The hosting for this website was nothing short of awful.

The server response times were upwards of 5-6 seconds. When you consider that users generally expect a site to load in less than 3 seconds, I dread to imagine the number of clicks lost due to slow page load times.

The Solution

Switching the websites hosting, before making any major changes, saw a significant improvement on load times which were now within the 3 second mark.

We also optimised the image files and introduced website caching which further improved on this and got this down to under 2 seconds load times.

2. Remove Tag spam

The Problem

In WordPress, you have the option to add tags to posts and pages. The idea being that in a blog post you can mark up what the post is related to, and a user could search for other articles related to the same area.
The issue here however was this had been used to created 100’s of tags related to any keywords that the previous agency could think might be relevant to the cleaning service. Whether this in itself could have a site flagged for spam is unclear, however Google were picking these up as keywords but none were ranking anywhere close to the top 3 pages.

The Solution

The tags issue was particularly interesting. The way in which this company were reporting to the client was based around the idea that they were growing the number of keywords which the website was showing up for.

The problem with doing this, is that although they may show up for the report, NONE of them were ranking anywhere close to the first or second pages of Google. So, these were essentially completely useless as they generated no traffic.

This was an eye-opening insight into a way in which a rogue SEO company can look like they are doing good work, when in fact it was completely useless.

This work proved to be time-consuming, but within 2 months we started to notice ranking improvements for some keywords which were now page 2 or touching page 1.

3. Re-write the Website Content

The Problem

The content had been keyword stuffed as well as being non-user friendly to read, it was likely part of the problem with rankings.

The content didn’t read naturally to be appealing to potential customers and was littered with repetitions of the same keyword.

The Solution

This one required to go back to the drawing board by discussing with the client their services and creating a clear layout of those to be displayed to both the user and presented to search engines.

The decision was made to group domestic and commercial cleaning into two separate pages with child pages of services related to each. These pages were then internally linked in an appropriate way to help the search engines understand how the services were linked.

4. Image Alt-Tag Keyword Stuffing

The problem

The bad news was that not only had the previous agency stuffed keywords using tags on the pages, they’d also decided to include as many keywords as possible into every image on the site.

For those that don’t know, one of the ways in which search engines read your website is by reading the alt text which is a text input that describes the image used.

Although this isn’t the originally intended use for alt tags, when used properly, it’s a great way to help search engines understand what that page is about.

The solution

We removed all the keyword stuffing and wrote out individual alt tags for each image used which naturally described the image in a way that helped but wasn’t overusing the target keywords for that page.

5. Optimising Title Tags and Headings

The problem

This one is incredibly basic to anyone that should know even the basics of SEO.

The title tags hadn’t been used properly, so the same title tag had been used across all pages of the website and was keyword stuffed.

What did make a nice change was the headings hadn’t been used to keyword stuff, however they were generic titles focussing on the brand name rather than each service. This wouldn’t help Google to verify the content of the pages.

The solution

Each page had its own uniquely written title and H1 (Heading Tag) which clearly showed the user and search engines what that particular page was about.

For example, for domestic cleaning the title tag was setup as Domestic Cleaning Services *Location* | *Brand Name*

This helps the search engines better understand what the content on the page is about.

The Outcome

Cleaning Service Client SEO Results

The results speak for themselves, once the spam was removed, the pages all fixed and making sense, and some link building had taken place the website quickly flew up the rankings. To date the website is ranking for 40 keywords on the first page with 13 of those in the top 3 positions.

The client is happy as they are now consistently receiving calls and form submissions to request a quote through the website.

Remember it’s always best to do some research of the company you are looking to use for SEO. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for poor SEO agencies to pull the wool over your eyes.

Make sure you look for a reputable company with a solid track record of results for their clients and that they’re not offering SEO services as an after thought to building you a website.

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments or send me an email and I’ll be happy to help.

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