10 Unexpected Things That Can Harm Your Google Rankings

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Search engine algorithms use all kinds of factors to determine how high to rank a webpage. Many of us are aware of some of the obvious things that can harm a site’s rankings such as poor security, not using keywords or not regularly updating a website. However, there are other things that many of us aren’t aware of such as the use of hyperlinks and images. 


This post explores some of the lesser known things that could be harming your SEO, as well as some tips on how to fix them.

Duplicate content

Search engines like Google tend to reward original content. If two or more pages share exactly the same content, Google is likely to prioritize the webpage that published the content first. Meanwhile, the pages that contain copied content (aka ‘duplicate content’) are likely to rank much lower.

An example of duplicate content is an online sofa store using a product description for a sofa that they’ve copied directly from the sofa manufacturer’s website. While the sofa manufacturer may have no problem with you copying this product description, you could still find that Google penalizes you because it is not original content.

Similarly, you should be careful of using the same content on two or more pages on the same website. For example, if you sell three similar products from the same manufacturer, you should avoid using the same product description for each as this is likely to classify as duplicate content – and the rankings for all of them could be negatively affected.

Just how do you avoid duplicate content? By always creating original content where possible. While it may seem convenient to copy a product description directly from a manufacturer, you could be penalized for it. Instead, try to rewrite your own description. Using your own original product photos can also make a difference.

Keyword cannibalization

Keyword cannibalization is a mistake that is easily done. It occurs when two or more pages on your website target the same keywords. As a result, your own pages end up competing against each other.

For example, if you own a injury lawyer firm in Winnipeg and all of the pages on your website heavily target the keyword ‘winnipeg injury lawyer’ it could result in them all competing to rank with each other. This may not sound like a huge problem, but it can be due to Google’s indexing algorithm. Google typically doesn’t like to display too many pages from the same website for the same keyword, and may even view some pages as duplicate content. This could result in certain pages not showing up in the results – and some of these could be key pages on your website.

To prevent keyword cannibalization, try to focus on different keywords on different pages. These could be slightly different variations of the same keyword (for example, if one webpage is focusing on ‘winnipeg injury lawyer’, others could focus on keywords like ‘injury lawyer in winnipeg’ or ‘winnipeg personal injury lawyer’). Alternatively, you could focus on completely different keywords based on the content (such as ‘car accident lawsuit in winnipeg’ for a page focusing on car accident personal injury claims).

Broken links

A hyperlink that leads to a webpage that doesn’t exist is known as a ‘broken link’. These broken links can be very harmful to your rankings because they suggest to Google that your website is faulty or outdated. 

Broken links can occur as a result of mistyping the target web address when creating a link (such as accidentally leaving out a couple letters when copying the link). Alternatively, a broken link could be a webpage that has since been deleted, moved or lost as a result of an expired domain. 

You can prevent including broken links on your website by always testing links when adding them and regularly testing old links. For websites containing many pages with lots of old links, there are online tools you can use that can help scan your site for broken links, helping you to identify them so that you can fix them. 

Low quality links

Broken links aren’t the only hyperlink-related issue worth looking out for. Low quality links can also negatively affect your rankings. These are links that lead to irrelevant webpages, low authority webpages or unsafe webpages.

An irrelevant webpage could include a link for ‘bike hire’ leading to a car hire company that has no mention of hiring bikes. A low authority webpage could be a webpage that ranks poorly due to poor content (such as a blog post containing only 100 words or a website with lots of spelling mistakes and factual inaccuracies). Unsafe webpages are meanwhile any website pages that trigger security warnings from browsers. 

You can avoid being penalized for low quality links by always linking to secure, respected websites containing relevant content. Always research a site before linking to it to make sure it’s appropriate. 

Spam comments

Comments can count as content on your website. If a comment contains irrelevant information, duplicated content or low quality links, it can end up dragging down the search engine results of that page.

Such comments are typically left by dodgy companies trying to promote their product or service by any means necessary. This could involve copying and pasting some poorly written sales spiel, possibly containing a link to an unsafe website, which is then published in your comment section.

You can prevent spam comments by moderating all comments left on your site. Choosing to only post relevant comments will prevent your rankings being affected. This can also allow you to filter out potentially negative comments that could affect your reputation.

Uncompressed images

Images have a much bigger impact on SEO than many people realize. The file size of images is very important to consider as it can affect how long a webpage takes to load. High quality images with a huge file size can cause a webpage to load slowly, which can in turn harm your rankings.

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Compressing images is a means of reducing the file size so that your website loads more quickly. Image compression tools can help to reduce the file size without degrading the image quality and are worth using with images like large high definition photos. 

Stock images

Because Google favors original content, certain stock images could end up affecting your rankings – especially when paired with titles or text that is similar or identical to other websites that use the same image.

The stock images you need to be careful of are typically free stock images that are commonly found at the top of stock image library search results. There could be thousands or even millions of webpages using the same image – potentially with similar content. Avoid these images if you can. Instead, choose lesser used stock images. Even better, use your own original images.

Unrelated image file names

Before uploading an image, you may want to check the file name. Unbeknown to many people, the file name of an image can have a big impact on search rankings for that image and the page it is used on. 

For example, if you’re uploading an infographic on Facebook marketing stats, don’t use a file name like ‘IMG_453’ or ‘untitled’. Instead, make the file name relevant to the content on the image. This will have a much more positive impact on its rankings – not only improving its rankings in Google Image Search, but also increasing the rankings of the page on Google whenever someone searches the keyword used in the file name.

Too many ads

Displaying lots of adverts on a webpage may seem like a great way to build up some ad revenue. However, there are many drawbacks to overloading a page with ads. Not only can adverts get in the way of content and make your site harder to use, but they can also slow down the loading time of a webpage and increase the bounce rate, which in turn can reduce your rankings.

Be careful when choosing where to display adverts on your website. If the top of every webpage is full of huge banner adverts and visitors have to scroll down to read your website’s content, this is a bad sign. Similarly, if adverts take ages to load, you may want to consider cutting back on some advertising space. 

Too many videos per page

Video content can be good for SEO if used correctly. Because video can be very engaging, it can encourage visitors to stay on a webpage longer, which is good for a webpage’s SEO. What you don’t want to do is embed too many videos on a single page. This is because it can affect the loading time of the webpage, which in turn can have an impact on your rankings.

Try to stick to one video per page if you can. If you need to reference multiple videos, consider using hyperlinks to these videos instead. These won’t slow down your website as much, helping you to rank higher. 

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