Stop pleasing Google!

Over the last couple of months, I attended some events, for instance, our own YoastCon, which was awesome! The thing that kept echoing in my head was the vast misunderstanding a lot of people have about websites and Google. One of my firm beliefs is that Google is becoming more and more ‘human,’ and should be treated that way. This means that in all your SEO efforts, you should consider the use for us human visitors first, and then check if that aligns with any SEO recommendations. Make your websites for humans, not Google. Or in other words: stop pleasing Google!

SEO from the internet stone age

What you see in most ancient websites, is huge white blocks without content at the bottom of every page. If you press CTRL/CMD+A, a pile of words appears. By using the same text color as the background color of the page, words were only available for the search engine that was reading the code instead of the page. Hidden words, that serve no other purpose than luring Google. Or rather Altavista, in that era. I hear you: nobody does that anymore. Oh, how wrong you are:White on white

I took that screenshot last week of a live site. The page actually says “site updated daily” and I think we even purchased our pinball machine there. It just lists a sh*tload of pinball machine names there. This will never work in the US . It’s spammy, it’s not serving anyone, but it solely served Altavista back then. To be honest, I think this has already or will eventually ruin your rankings and traffic due to that. It’s just that there aren’t that many pinball machine vendors in the Netherlands. This one just happened to have the pinball machine we wanted (Indiana Jones, with the revolver-shaped ball shooter).

Indiana Jones

Although GIF images might be back to stay, this same-color-text-on-background practice should vanish from the present-day internet. Again, stop pleasing Google. Write for humans.

Panda and Penguin changed SEO

Most SEO consultants have said goodbye to spammy, shady optimization techniques because Google actively penalized you for it since 2011. Panda, focused on quality content, ruined your rankings for the use of thin content (short copy, usually over-optimized for a keyword, use of too many banners, things like that). Penguin threw you out of the search result pages because your website had so many bad links from casino / p0rn / v1agra sites, blog networks or simply any other sites that were created to deliver links.

Google Panda and Penguin

We never practiced techniques that touched Panda or Penguin, by the way. It’s all short-term win, and we want to help you optimize for the long run. The thing the internet learned from Panda and Penguin shouldn’t be “stop trying to fool Google,” but “focus on your human visitors.” To be the first result, be the best result. Stop pleasing Google with your rubbish optimization.

And now, 2018 is just around the corner, and we’re still not focusing on our primary visitor.

2018: please your visitors, not Google

If you are like me, New Year’s resolutions are set in May next year, so you know what is achievable. But this one is easy. Let’s all start focusing on our non-automated visitors, starting now, continuing in 2018.


That means, among other things:

  • Include the right rich snippets, don’t add markup just to inform Google about all the other stuff you do.
  • Realize that meta keywords are only used by your competitor to see what you want to rank for. Google still doesn’t use them.
  • Don’t stuff your footer with all kind of irrelevant links. Keep it focused, make sure these links are helping your visitor. Google will find all relevant pages if you focus on a good site structure anyway. We have a course for that.
  • Prevent duplicate content. Don’t confuse Google with almost similar pages. Those serve no one.
  • Again, no white-text-on-white-background nonsense. Google recognizes it quite easily and will penalize you for that shady, ancient technique.
  • Stop buying links in an attempt to fool Google and get more low-quality traffic. Write quality content instead, trust humans to find it and have them link to your pages because you are worth it.
  • The same goes for trying to insert that automated comment on a gazillion blogs. a) most comment links are or should be nofollowed and b) you are not helping other visitors. Google is capable of filtering the main content <div> anyway.
  • Scraping feeds to create automated content for your website is plain stupid. Either for affiliate gain or just to add content to your website, this type of content, to lure Google to your site, doesn’t add any value to the internet, Google or any human. It just slows down Google, as it has to decide on whether this content is of any value to its visitors. It’s not most of the times. The source is.
  • Keyword stuffing: just keep a keen eye on the keyword density. This is something that we are actively working on for our Yoast SEO plugin. With for instance the rise of voice search, longer keyphrases become more and more common. Using a long keyphrase five times in your 300-word-article will look so unnatural, that it’s not a good practice at all, where using a certain keyword five times might fit there.
  • And what about synonyms? Google recognizes these, at least in English. Did you know our premium plugin supports multiple keywords? Use that to balance synonyms, for instance.

So, stop pleasing Google!

Start focusing on your visitors, on the people that want to buy your product or services. All the developments in Google that took place in the last years focus on one thing: quality websites for your users. That goes for Panda, but also for UX, responsiveness, speed optimization, etc. Mobile-first? Yes. And equally important user-first as well. So, please, stop pleasing Google! On behalf of the internet, I thank you.

Read more: When Google changes up: Should I abide every decision they make? »

23 Responses to Stop pleasing Google!

  1. Shoppers Gossip
    Shoppers Gossip  • 3 years ago

    Great article! When we are so focused on keyword, google etc …it is even difficult to concentrate on our writing. Let’s mind our business and google mind his business.

  2. Charles
    Charles  • 3 years ago

    A very good advice. Google is getting smarter and more human gradually. It’s no longer a good idea to follow spammy techniques to gain rankings on Google. I’ve always believed in quality content, and to give readers what they want. That’s how the future is going to shape.

  3. Giulio
    Giulio  • 3 years ago

    Yes, that’s actually so true! Too many seos build websites trying to please Google instead of users, I mean, you shouldn’t the opposite 100%, but try to find a balance between the two

  4. Brent
    Brent  • 3 years ago

    Surely no one still does the same background text color for keywords with a long list of not even relevant words.

    Want more organic visitors from google? Spend time boosting your reviews.

    If you do not have a mobile friendly website by this day and age you are way behind the times.

  5. Mac West
    Mac West  • 3 years ago

    Great read. It’s a slow process but I know it will pay out in the end.

  6. Vikash Kumar
    Vikash Kumar  • 3 years ago

    That’s great, After reading this I think I have to make new strategy in 2018 for ranking.

  7. Ron Collins
    Ron Collins  • 3 years ago

    Great article I would have thought that some of the tactics you mention in this article would have been long gone by now. Especially hidden text and paid links. I guess some people never learn. What I have found is that investing more on great content goes much further than spending money on blachat ranking tactics.

  8. Maria
    Maria  • 3 years ago

    Thank you for this reminder! So helpful!

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 3 years ago

      Thanks, Maria!

  9. simon7
    simon7  • 3 years ago

    Any chance you can expand on what you mean by:
    “Include the right rich snippets, don’t add markup just to inform Google about all the other stuff you do.”

    Are you saying if I add custom schema to my site Google will penalise this? Should I only add schema that Google currently uses in its Rich Snippets?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 3 years ago

      Just don’t fake it, Simon. Use the that’s applicable to your article, post or page. Don’t fill it with spam about everything else you do. Also, don’t just use what Google tells you to use. There’s a lot to be found in and even stuff Google says it doesn’t support, it probably will in the future.

  10. Anson
    Anson  • 3 years ago

    Very good info. Hope everyone will follow the right practice.

  11. Jawad
    Jawad  • 3 years ago

    Great i need time to move our site to wordpress to use your plugin actually i am using custom script for my game site did you also support non wordpress ste ?

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 3 years ago

      Yoast SEO supports WordPress, TYPO3 and Magento 2. Other platforms will follow in due time.

  12. Sujata Shah
    Sujata Shah  • 3 years ago

    Hello Michiel
    Such a great and very informative article. Your article is very helpful for new bloggers.

  13. Anil Agarwal
    Anil Agarwal  • 3 years ago

    So true.

    Stop pleasing Google bots, instead, start pleasing your audience.

    If you please people, Google pleases you. If you please Google search bots, even your audience won’t bear you. It’s as simple as that.

    Just make sure to avoid black hat stuff like;
    -buying links
    -keyword stuffing
    -rehashing content etc

    Find your target audience, know their problems and use content marketing to solve their issues. You’ll be safe that way.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 3 years ago

      Great comment, Anil. You’re absolutely right!

  14. zeb
    zeb  • 3 years ago

    In the whole article i was very much impressed with this message “don’t please google please your visitors” . When we get more visitors that is a real achievement to us.

    I also loved the way you have explained about the changes in the SEO caused by penguin and panda.

    Never bored a bit while reading,Thanks for the message.

    • Edwin Toonen
      Edwin Toonen  • 3 years ago

      Good to hear, zeb. Thanks!

  15. sdn17
    sdn17  • 3 years ago

    ‘This means that in all your SEO efforts, you should consider the use for us human visitors first, and then check if that aligns with any SEO recommendations. Make your websites for humans, not Google. Or in other words: stop pleasing Google!’

    So what about your dislike for sliders?

    And also, what if SEO is not that important because you get your clients (majority) in a different way? Does that still make sliders suck?

    • Michiel Heijmans

      Sliders, and video backgrounds for that matter, suck because they distract from the thing the visitor’s goal. Visitors tend to ignore, pay less attention, to all slides but the first. It’s not just me that has that opinion ;-)

      How does that fit this post, by the way? Do you believe people actually like sliders? And if so, do you have some user research on that? Because most user research that I read says the opposite ;-)

      • sdn17
        sdn17  • 3 years ago

        ‘Sliders, and video backgrounds for that matter, suck because they distract from the thing the visitor’s goal.’

        I fully agree with you for 95% of the websites that have useless sliders, just because they think it’s an informative or nice feature to spice up a website.

        As a photographer though, my visitors goal is exactly to see images. So if I show those images as big as possible in a slider, that slider won’t be distracting from my visitors goal, right?

        So if I leave out the SEO issues, I don’t really agree with you. If you would please Google, you would put those images underneath each-other with a description beneath every image. Very SEO friendly. But there are 2 ‘problems’ I personally see here. On a desktop website it’s boring, but most of all, a portrait image is not shown fully at once on your screen (if you go full width). That’s why I for example use an image scroller (slider) with very clear arrows left and right. No automatic movement though! And landscape and portrait images can be mixed up, with the image always adapting to 100% height of the viewport. So images are never been shown cut off / cropped. You always see the image as it was made exactly! That’s the way a photographer likes it. On my mobile site btw, I DO simply show the images underneath each other, as a landscape image will otherwise be cut off while viewing your phone in vertical way, as 99% of people do.

        • sdn17
          sdn17  • 3 years ago

          I do fully agree that a slider should not automatically move. That is just as dumb as background music on your website (don’t you hate it while playing your own music, when this annoying website has his own music!!). Always give the visitor the power to do and see what he likes.

          So I honestly think there are exceptions to the slider-rule, not just because I actually do use them.

          I also have a revolution slider on my home page (yes really!) which has more info underneath the ‘fold’ (I know this doesn’t really exist anymore). On google I’m still #2 result if you search for the most important keyword for my business.
          Apparently the penalty for pushing content below is not always present? I don’t know, this surprised me as well…

          If you want I can send you my website and you can judge :-)