Everybody’s an expert online, or so it would seem. With the overwhelming number of tips and tricks that are sure to get your website ranked on the first page of Google, how can you (a business professional in charge of growing your company’s prospects and leads) know what still works or what used to work, but now only hurts your website?

The fact is, Google is ever changing and they are also very misleading. What they used to say was a best practice, is now frowned upon and will result in your website being kicked out of the rankings.

So here are my 5 tips to help you navigate the search ranking madness.

#1. Poorly Optimized Content

I see it every day with new client websites or prospects, they have a reputable offline business, but their website is nothing more than an online business card. The only content that is on their site is their address, a phone number, and some basic details about their business. Nothing truly valuable, nothing that highlights their services.

What I typically advise for these such clients is to present themselves as an educator. Create some valuable content that prospective customers would find interesting and helpful. Write articles about your services that explain what to expect when a new customer contacts them. Position yourself as an expert in your field.

These does two things. First, it gives you more authority on the topic. Visitors to your website will see you as an expert and will anticipate you having the solution to their problem. Second, it gives the search engines context and content to digest. By giving the search engines more contextually relevant content, and including basic industry related keywords in your content, the search engines will also see you as an authority, and give your website a boost in its rankings.

#2 Keyword Stuffing — Over Optimized Content

I know. I just told you to add more content to your website. But the next most common issue I see with businesses that take a do-it-yourself approach to search engine optimization is they go overboard with on-page optimization.

An example of this would be a Plumber in Portland, who is trying to get their website to the top of the search engines for “Portland Plumber”. So they put that phrase “Portland Plumber” everywhere on their website. They put it in the title of their website, they put it in the H1 tags, they put it 5 times in their articles with underlines and italics and links to other pages on their site.

Google isn’t dumb. When they see a website that is trying too hard to rank for a specific keyword, they don’t just ignore you, they actually slap your website silly with a Penguin penalty and send you to the back of the line.

Websites that have been penalized by Google with Penguin over optimization penalties are extremely common now. But not with just the businesses that took a DIY approach, but also with businesses that took the budget SEO approach and hired the cheapest SEO expert they could find. These “experts” may have given your website a temporary boost, but as soon as Google updated their Penguin algorithm your site was now a liability, not an asset.

3. Spammy Backlinks

This brings us to our third tip. Usually when a business starts reading up on SEO they hear how important backlinks are. And wouldn’t you know it, they can buy 10,000 backlinks for $5 on Fiverr.com! What a deal…. right?

Again, give Google some credit, they hire the most brilliant minds to make sure their search engine returns the best results for their users. Do they want to just show the website that buys the most backlinks?

This is indicator #2 that Google looks at before handing out a Penguin penalty. If they see a bunch of keyword specific low quality backlinks pointing to your website, you’re in trouble.

The problem is, when you hire a low cost SEO company or consultant, this is likely what you were to get out of their service. You get what you pay for.

4. No Backlinks

But, you can’t neglect backlinks entirely. Google has done such a good job at scaring businesses and the fly-by-night SEO companies that they are now hesitant to build quality backlinks to their websites. Google has convinced them with their propaganda and scare tactics that any backlink is bad.

The fact is, Google still relies on backlinks as a primary indicator for which websites are popular. Google has stated they want to show popular websites, not make websites popular. This means they are looking to rank websites that are already being talked about, used, and relied on by users in that industry. Backlinks are how Google can determine this.

However, you cannot just go out there and buy backlinks as we discussed in point #3. You have to know what backlinks to buy, where to buy them, and exactly what those backlinks should look like and say. Otherwise the risk of doing more harm then good is very real.

5. Doing the work in-house

I’ve already referenced this a couple times in this article, but so often I see businesses who are convinced that they can simply perform the SEO work themselves, or hand it off to their IT person and expect the same results they would get from a SEO expert.

Here’s the truth about SEO professionals. You simply cannot afford to hire them full-time. The good ones are far too expensive. A SEO expert that studies the industry, performs experiments, has years of knowledge and expertise to draw from is already making more money for themselves then you could afford to pay them to work solely for you. I don’t know a single top level SEO that would take a job paying even $150k per year if it meant their time was devoted to just working for somebody else’s business.

And I’m sorry, but your IT guy may think he or she can do SEO as well as a professional because he or she lives on the internet and can do everything from setting up your network, automating backups, designing your website, and whatever else he or she does. But would you ask a nurse to perform open heart surgery if your life was on the line? Would you be comfortable with a legal assistant defending your business in the court of law against a frivolous lawsuit?

I’m sure you get my point. Just because you know computers, or know the internet, does not make you an expert at SEO. That’s why over $26 Billion dollars were spent on Search Engine Marketing last year alone.

When something as important as the security and growth of your business is on the line, you need to have someone you can trust and rely on to partner with you and help make decisions that will grow and protect your business. Especially when a few seemingly minor mistakes could end up costing your entire online reputation with Google.

There are some excellent SEO professionals out there. My recommendation to you, if you’ve recognized the important of growing your business online, and you’re serious about doing it right. Find a SEO professional that you can trust and feel comfortable with. It really is an investment in your business’ future.