When your site starts ranking in Google, good things begin to happen. Ideally, you attract more traffic and make more money as you rank for the most relevant keywords. This is not a blog post about all those good things.
This is a blog post about the funky (and occasionally unpleasant) side effects of ranking well.
SEO Side Effects
Don’t let the possible side effects discourage you from adopting good SEO habits and aiming for great search rankings. Most of the things on this list are pretty innocuous. In every case, the benefits of first-page Google rankings far outweigh the inconveniences.
Some side effects, like weird keyword rankings, don’t need your attention at all. Address others as they arise, especially negative SEO campaigns against you.
Keep in mind that these are all signs that you’re doing something right. It’s just like a video game – if you’re encountering lots of bad guys, it means you’re going the right way! This applies to your entire business, not just your SEO; the more successful you are, the more crap you’re going to deal with from people who would rather tear you down than build themselves up.
We’re assuming that you’re tracking your metrics in some way. Basic awareness of what’s going on with your website prevents a lot of problems from escalating.
If you’re not tracking things like backlinks, comments, keyword rankings, and website performance, start with that.
Google Search Console and Google Analytics are free, and between them, you’ll be able to track everything mentioned in this post. Set up your analytics as soon as possible, because tracking is going to be very, very important. You’ll want that historical data. Trust me, future you will be really irritated with present you if you leave this for later.
Great. Let’s talk about your SEO side effects.
Weird Keyword Rankings
As you start to rank for the keywords you want, you’ll also occasionally rank for strange keywords that have nothing at all to do with your website.
The better your website ranks, the easier it becomes to rank for even more keywords. This is one of the reasons why SEO campaigns usually start by targeting lower traffic, less competitive keywords. Your website starts showing up on the front page from time to time, which increases your traffic, which tells Google you’re legit, which boosts your rank for other keywords, and so on.
Google decides the keywords for which you rank by the words you use on your website pages. Those algorithms are smart enough to be a little creepy, but they’re not yet perfect.
A post like this one could potentially rank for keywords like “SEO side effects” or “negative SEO” and it would make perfect sense. But there are lots of other words on this page, too. If some random person decided to Google the phrase “smart enough to be a little creepy,” this post could show up in the results.
Occasionally ranking for a weird keyword isn’t a problem.
However, if you notice that a lot of your keyword rankings don’t closely match what your website is all about, that’s a sign that your website content isn’t doing a good job of explaining who you are and what you do. You might be dealing with content drift on your blog. If it’s not your blog, you might consider hiring a professional copywriter to rewrite your site.
If most of your keywords are relevant, an occasional oddball is perfectly normal.
You’re familiar with spam comments, right? If not, they look like this:
Spam comments are usually fairly obvious. They might sort of make sense, or they might be a random salad of words.
The higher you rank, the more spam comments you’ll get on your site. A good spam filter will catch most of them.
When you start ranking particularly well, though, the spammers take it a step further. They email you constantly to offer, of all things, SEO services.
Does this email text look familiar?
Hello, web Master. I notice your site isn’t rank well Because you have some duplicate content problem. I can fix with special seo service, just $499 month.
Not all SEO spam emails sound so robotic, but many do.
For some inexperienced website owners, they can sound pretty scary. When a “SEO expert” emails you to tell you they’ve found problems on your website that might get you on Google’s blacklist, you might pause and wonder if there really are issues with your site.
Rest assured, if there are real problems with your site, you’re not going to find out via spam email.
The better you rank, the more often spammers claim you’re making some kind of grievous error.
You’re probably not.
Ignore these emails, just like you ignore all those emails from Nigerian princes and internet pharmacists.
Bounce Rate Fluctuations
Bounce rate is a way of measuring how many people come to your site, only visit one page, and then leave without going deeper. It’s shown as a percentage, as in X% of your traffic left without clicking around.
A high bounce rate tells you that you need to encourage people to click deeper into your site. While a “good” bounce rate varies, most people consider anything under 50% pretty healthy.
Blog posts tend to have a much higher bounce rate than other website pages.
Blogging is also a great SEO habit.
Logically, that means that search engine traffic coming to your blog often has a higher bounce rate than traffic from other sources. This might not be a problem, but if search traffic drastically increases your bounce rate, it’s time to tweak your strategy.
Before you start making changes, check your time on page metric. If bounce is high and time on page is low, people are leaving without reading. You might address that by:
- Speeding up load time
- Improving your section headings and first paragraph
- Simplifying your website design
- Making sure your site is functioning correctly
- Adding attractive images
- Ensuring your site is mobile responsive
High bounce rate with a high time on page is a little less problematic. Visitors are probably reading whatever is on the page. They’re just not sticking around and looking at what else your site has to offer.
Features as simple as a “read the next post” button at the bottom of the page may reduce bounce. Internal linking is great for SEO and for your bounce rate, and anything that encourages readers to visit another page helps make your post stickier.
Competitor Spam Comments
Spam comments from robots are a little annoying. Spam comments from your competitors are a lot more irritating.
Competing websites want backlinks from you, and they don’t want to give you any value in return. They’re smart enough to know that emailing you and asking for a charity link probably isn’t going to do the trick. Still, they want backlinks, and they want to spend the least amount of time and effort possible to get them.
That’s where blog comment backlinks come in.
Comment backlinks are usually super low quality, but to your inexperienced competitors and the Fiverr freelancers they hire, quality isn’t important.
There’s a right way to do comment backlinks. You can use this strategy to build a few backlinks if you want: read blog posts within your community, then participate in the discussion by answering questions, joining conversations, or making a thoughtful and valuable statement about what you read.
When you leave your comment, there will be a place where you can fill in your website information. That makes it count as a backlink, albeit a low quality one. Never just drop your link in a comment.
Your competitors will probably not follow those procedures on your blog. It takes time and effort, which makes it unpopular.
Here’s what competitor spam comments usually look like:
In case that’s too small, the comment from Deb at Central Oregon Ortho says:
Thank you for explaining the difference between a dentist and an orthodontist. That is good to know that orthodontists are doctors and need doctoral degrees. That is interesting that the only difference is their degree they have. I’m glad that I can go to an orthodontist and get the care I can get from a dentist.
This comment isn’t valuable to anyone. On top of that, it’s intentionally misleading. You can tell by the link – this is someone at an orthodontist’s office commenting on a blog post about orthodontists, but acting like they’ve just now learned what an orthodontist is.
Odds are, this orthodontist hired a cheap SEO service to generate backlinks for them. Maybe they answered one of those emails…
Once they have one comment approved, they’re likely to try to drop links throughout your blog posts. Mark comments like these as spam so that your competitors can’t continue using your website to boost their own business.
Google says that negative SEO doesn’t exist.
As you start ranking well for more competitive keywords, a competitor might launch a SEO attack against you. They do this by buying a package of backlinks to your site from low quality spam websites. Since link relevance and quality is a ranking factor, having a lot of bad links pointing to your site hurts your rankings.
According to Google’s official stance on the issue, negative SEO is impossible. They claim that they no longer penalize a site for bad links. They say that they just ignore them.
According to empirical data, though, negative SEO still hurts your rankings. It also puts you at risk of getting a manual penalty from Google, which could get you blacklisted. That means your site doesn’t show up in any Google results, ever.
Negative SEO isn’t super common, and if you fall victim to a SEO attack, disavowing those bad links promptly can prevent serious consequences. Your rankings will probably still drop a little, and it’s a pain to monitor and disavow all those links, but it’s not going to spell disaster.
How do you know if someone has employed negative SEO against you?
You should regularly track who links to your website. Google Webmaster Tools (or Search Console, they’re the same thing) will show your backlinks, or you can use a tool like ahrefs if you prefer.
If you notice a spike in backlinks, take a closer look at who’s linking to you. Links from low authority directories, off-topic websites, and sites in foreign languages were probably purchased by a competitor trying to hurt your rankings. Disavow that junk.
Spammy backlinks can come up other ways, too. It’s smart to monitor your links and regularly disavow anything that looks fishy.
What You Should Take Away From All This
Growing pains happen. In every area of your business, progress and success lead to new challenges. Your SEO and marketing strategies are no different.
Better rankings are good for your website and business. There are a lot of inconveniences and problems when you’re not ranking for anything, and as you level up, you overcome the beginner-level problems and start dealing with the challenges of your new position. That’s pretty much how life works in general.
By anticipating things like bounce rate fluctuations and possible SEO attacks, you can stay on top of your metrics and address a lot of problems before they actually become problems.
Meanwhile, keep up with your good SEO habits! The front page is waiting.
Headline: When You Rank, It Pours