Partially indexed, poorly ranked, penalized and possibly banned: such is the unpleasant fate of a Web site that's not duly optimized for the search engines. Even if you mastered all 15 best practices outlined in the first part of this series, your site may not be safe.

The mission of search engines is to supply their visitors with relevant results, so penalizing or banning sites that appear to interfere with that mission is a necessity. Understanding which practices adversely impact your search engine rankings is a prerequisite to a well-optimized site.

Whether inadvertent or not, any of the following worst practices could doom your site to suboptimal traffic levels. Here are 28 critical "must nots" in SEO:

Worst Practices

Worst Practice N/A Will stop Won't stop
1. Do you use dropdown boxes for navigation?      
2. Does your primary navigation require Flash, Java or Javascript to function?      
3. Is your Web site done in Flash, or overly graphical with very little textual content?      
4. Is your home page a "splash page" or otherwise content-less?      
5. Does your site employ frames?      
6. Do the URLs of your pages include "cgi-bin" or numerous ampersands?      
7. Do the URLs of your pages include session IDs or user IDs?      
8. Do you spread your site across multiple domains?      
9. Are your title tags the same on all pages?      
10. Do you have pop-ups on your site?      
11. Do you have error pages in the search results ("Session expired," etc.)?      
12. Does your File Not Found error page return a 200 status code?      
13. Do you use "Click here" or other superfluous copy for your hyperlink text?      
14. Do you have superfluous text like "Welcome to" at beginning of your title tags?      
15. Do you employ auto-redirects?      
16. Do you have any hidden or small text meant only for the search engines?      
17. Do you engage in "keyword stuffing"?      
18. Do you have pages targeted to obviously irrelevant keywords?      
19. Are you doing automated submitting, resubmitting or deep submitting?      
20. Do you incorporate your competitors' brand names in your meta tags?      
21. Do you have duplicate pages with minimal or no changes?      
22. Does your content read like "spamglish"?      
23. Do you have "doorway pages" on your site?      
24. Do you have machine-generated pages on your site?      
25. Are you "pagejacking"?      
26. Are you "cloaking"?      
27. Are you submitting to FFA ("Free For All") links pages and link farms?      
28. Are you buying expired domains with high PageRank scores to use as link targets?      

1. Do You Use Dropdown Boxes for Navigation?

Search engine spiders can't fill out forms, even short ones with just one dropdown. Thus, they can't get to the pages that follow. If you're using dropdowns, make sure there is an alternate means of navigating to those pages that the spiders can use.

2. Does Your Primary Navigation Require Flash, Java or Javascript?

If you expect search engine spiders to execute Flash, Java or Javascript code in order to access links to further pages within your site, you'll usually be disappointed with the results. Some search engines have a limited ability to deal with Flash and Javascript. But, nonetheless, it's not search engine friendly way to go.

3. Is Your Site Done in Flash or Overly Graphical with Very Little Textual content?

Text is always better than graphics or Flash for search engine rankings. Page titles and section headings should be text, not graphics. Page content should not be embedded within Flash files.

4. Is Your Home Page a "splash Page" or Otherwise Content-Less?

With most Web sites, the home page is weighted by the search engines as the most important page on the site (i.e., given the highest PageRank score). Thus, having no keyword-rich content on your home page is a missed opportunity.

5. Does Your Site Employ Frames?

Search engines have problems crawling sites that use frames (i.e., where part of the page moves when you scroll but other parts stay stationary). Google advises not using frames: "Frames tend to cause problems with search engines, bookmarks, emailing links and so on, because frames don't fit the conceptual model of the Web (every page corresponds to a single URL)."

Furthermore, if a frame does get indexed, searchers clicking through to it from search results will often find an "orphaned page": a frame without the content it framed, or content without the associated navigation links in the frame it was intended to display with. Often, they will simply find an error page.

6. Do the Urls of Your Pages Include "cgi-Bin" or Numerous Ampersands?

As discussed last week, search engines are leery of dynamically generated pages. That's because they can lead the search spider into an infinite loop called a "spider trap." Certain characters (question marks, ampersands, equal signs) and "cgi-bin" in the URL are sure tip-offs to the search engines that the page is dynamic.

Worse yet, if the URLs have long, overly complex "query strings" (the part of the URL after the question mark), with a number of ampersands (which signify that there are multiple variables in the query string), then your page is not likely to get included in the search engine's index.

7. Do the Urls of Your Pages Include Session Ids or User Ids?

If your answer to this question is yes, then consider this: search engine spiders like Googlebot don't support cookies, and thus Googlebot will be assigned a new session ID or user ID on each page on your site that it visits. This is the proverbial "spider trap" waiting to happen, so search engine spiders are likely to skip over these pages. If such pages do get indexed, there will be multiple copies of the same pages each taking a share of the PageRank score, resulting in PageRank dilution and lowered rankings.

If you're not quite clear on why your PageRank scores will be diluted, think of it this way: Googlebot will find minimal links pointing to the exact version of a page with a particular session ID in its URL.

8. Do You Spread Your Site Across Multiple Domains?

This is typically done for load balancing purposes. For example, the links on the home page point off to, or, or and so on, depending on which server is the least busy. This dilutes PageRank score in a way similar to how session IDs in the URL dilute PageRank.

9. Are Your Title Tags the Same on All Pages?

Far too many Web sites use a single title tag for the entire site. If your site falls into that group, you're missing out on a lot of search engine traffic. Each page of your site should "sing" for one or several unique keyword themes. That "singing" is stifled when the page's title tag doesn't incorporate the particular keyword being targeted.

10. Do You Have Pop-Ups on Your Site?

Most search engines don't index Javascript-based pop-ups, so the content within the pop-up will not get indexed. If that's not good enough reason to stop using pop-ups, you should know that people hate them—with a passion. Also consider that untold millions of users have pop-up blockers installed. (The Google Toolbar and Yahoo Companion toolbar are pop-up blockers, too, in case you didn't know.)

11. Do You Have Error Pages in the Search Results ("session Expired," Etc.)?

First impressions count . . . a lot! So make sure search engine users aren't seeing error messages in your search listings. takes the cake in this regard, with a Google listing for its home page that begins: "Sign-In Access Error." Not exactly a useful, compelling or brand-building search result for the user to see. Check to see if you have any error pages by querying Google and Yahoo! for Eliminate error pages from the search engine's index with a meta robot tag no-index tag.

12. Does Your File Not Found Error Page Return a 200 Status Code?

This is a corollary to the tip immediately above. Before the content of a page is served up by your Web server, a HTTP header is sent, which includes a status code. A status code of 200 is what's usually sent, meaning that the page is "OK." A status code of 404 means that the requested URL was not found. Obviously, a file not found error page should return a 404 status code, not a 200. You can verify whether this is the case using the Server Header Checker and then into the form input a bogus URL at your domain, such as

13. Do You Use "click Here" or Other Superfluous Copy for Your Hyperlink text?

Wanting to rank tops for the words "click here," eh? Try some more relevant keywords instead. Remember, Google associates the link text with the page you are linking to, so make that link text count.

14. Do You Have Superfluous Text Like "welcome To" at Beginning of Your title Tags?

15. Do You Employ Auto-Redirects?

A redirect (where the URL changes automatically while the page is still loading) can cause a page to not get indexed or its PageRank to dissipate—particularly if the redirect is temporary (status code of 302) rather than permanent (301). Temporary redirects don't pass PageRank, and links that go through a click-through tracker first tend to use temporary redirects. Don't redirect visitors when they first enter your site at the home page; but if you must, at least employ a 301 redirect. Especially don't redirect visitors immediately as they enter your site from a search engine, as that is deemed a "sneaky redirect" and can get you penalized or banned.

16. Do You Have Any Hidden or Small Text Meant Only for the Search Engines?

It may be tempting to obscure your keywords from visitors by using tiny text that is too small for humans to see, or as text that is the same color as the page background. Google and Yahoo! are on to that trick.

17. Do You Engage in "keyword Stuffing"?

Putting the same keyword everywhere, such as in every alt tag, is just asking for trouble. Don't go overboard with repeating keywords or adding a meta keywords tag that's hundreds of words long. Google warns not to hide keywords in places that aren't rendered, such as comment tags. A good rule of thumb to operate under: if you'd feel uncomfortable showing to a Google employee what you're doing, you shouldn't be doing it.

18. Do You Have Pages Targeted to Obviously Irrelevant Keywords?

Just because "britney spears" is a popular search term doesn't mean it's right for you to be targeting it. Relevancy is the name of the game. Why would you want to be number one for "britney spears," anyway?

19. Are You Doing Automated Submitting, Resubmitting or Deep Submitting?

In other words, are you simultaneously submitting multiple pages deep within your site? If you're going to submit your site to a search engine, search for your site first to make sure it's not already in the search engine's index and only submit it manually if it's not in the index. Most sites submitted to search engines are spam. It would be easy to assume that your site is spam, too.

20. Do You Incorporate Your Competitors' Brand Names in Your Meta Tags?

Unless you have their express permission, this is a good way to end up at the wrong end of a lawsuit.

21. Do You Have Duplicate Pages with Minimal or No Changes?

Although you might like occupying multiple spots in the search results, the search engines don't appreciate duplicate pages clogging up their indices. Be forewarned: the engines can spot offenders very easily.

22. Does your content read like "spamglish"?

Crafting pages filled with nonsensical, keyword-rich gibberish is a great way to get penalized or banned by search engines.

23. Do You Have "doorway Pages" on Your Site?

Doorway pages are pages designed solely for search engines that aren't useful or interesting to human visitors. Doorway pages typically aren't linked to much from other sites or much from your own site. The search engines strongly discourage the use of this tactic, quite understandably.

24. Do You Have Machine-Generated Pages on Your Site?

Such pages are usually devoid of meaningful content. WebPosition Gold can churn out keyword-rich doorway pages for you, automatically. Yuck! Don't use it; the search engines can spot such doorway pages.

25. Are You "pagejacking"?

"Pagejacking" refers to hijacking or stealing high-ranking pages from other sites and placing them on your site with few or no changes. Often, this tactic is combined with cloaking so as to hide the victimized site's content from search engine users. This is a big no-no! Not only is it very unethical, it's illegal; and the consequences can be severe.

26. Are You "cloaking"?

"Cloaking" is the tactic of detecting search engine spiders when they visit and varying the HTML code specifically for the spiders in order to improve rankings. This is only acceptable in a very limited use: namely, as a way of simplifying search engine unfriendly links. If you are in any way selectively modifying the page content, this is nothing less than a bait-and-switch. Search engines have undercover spiders that masquerade as regular visitors to detect such unscrupulous behavior.

27. Are You Submitting to Ffa ("free for All") Links Pages and Link Farms?

Search engines don't think highly of link farms and such, and may penalize you or ban you for participating on them.

28. Are You Buying Expired Domains with High Pagerank Scores to Use as Link targets?

Google underwent a major algorithm change a while back to thwart this tactic. Now, when domains expire, their PageRank scores are reset to 0, regardless of how many links point to the site.

* * *

If you adhere to the advice laid out for you above, you'll be well on your way to a "best practice," search-engine-optimal Web site. Go astray, and your rankings and perhaps even your reputation with the search engines could suffer. I wish you luck with your optimization efforts!

Stephan Spencer is the Prof Expert of an upcoming virtual seminar on Search Engine Optimization, based on this series of articles. To learn more about the upcoming seminar, click here.

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image of Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer is the founder of Science of SEO and an SEO expert, author, and speaker.

LinkedIn: Stephan Spencer

Twitter: @sspencer