Ten years ago, if you called a website design company and asked, “I think my website needs SEO, what can you do for me?” many of the recommendations you’d receive would be practically useless for today’s Internet. In addition to being useless, some of them could now actually hurt your website’s chances of ranking well on Google.
Maybe they would discuss their plan to “submit your website to search engines,” “add keyword metatags,” “increase the keyword density,” “get you in lots of directories,” or even “post hundreds of blog comments.”
Sure, all of this may have been reasonable advice at the time, but Google has changed significantly over the past ten years (and even over the past two years). The complex algorithms used to decide how search results will be ranked are in a constant state of evolution. Therefore, tactics that were favorable to the way Google once worked would stop working when the next change was put in place.
Google’s objective in all of this is to create the best possible search engine that provides exactly what a searcher is looking for, so that if millions billions of people depend on Google for quality search results, Google can sell even more ads (highly targeted, relevant ads) that appear alongside the search results those searchers are looking at.
Unfortunately, while SEO is a completely different ballgame than 10 years ago, many of the tactics that existed way back then persist to today’s common understanding of SEO, leading to misconceptions about what still works in 2014.
To help bring some clarity to the matter, here are just 6 of the once common Search Engine Optimization tactics from the past decade that should finally be put to bed.
1 ) Submitting Your Website to “Hundreds” of Search Engines
Automated submission to search engines is a much older tactic from the earlier years of the Internet and has been dead for several years, but it’s not uncommon to receive sales pitches from the occasional spammer advertising a (now useless) service that claims to submit a website to hundreds, or even thousands of search engines.
There was a time when major search engines didn’t routinely crawl the Internet on their own to update their index, and it actually may have helped to send a submission of a website.
Submissions of this sort are ineffective, and a waste of time. Consider:
- Google has stated that automated queries of this type are against their Webmaster Guidelines.
- Google and the other major websites already crawl the Internet through links. If you really want to submit a site to Google, they’ll let you do it, but they basically tell you it’s not necessary (and there are better ways to communicate with Google about your site).
- Even if this tactic worked, it would be a waste of time to worry about hundreds of rarely used other search engines that your audience doesn’t even know exists. Do you know anyone who can name more than 10 search engines off the top of their head? The overwhelming majority of searches are done on Google (which is why this article, and most of our SEO efforts, are focused on Google), and most of the rest are done on Yahoo or Bing (or a site that uses results from one of the three).
Google is smart enough to find your site, but to ensure your website is fully indexed, Google offers advanced options through Webmaster Tools to ensure that your website is crawled correctly and in that sense, submission is still possible.
However, anyone promising a magic pill solution through submitting your website all over the place should be avoided.
2 ) Using Keyword Metatags
Metatags are code contained in a web page used to provide information about that page. They are not visible on the the page itself, but can be read by search engines and other programs that crawl through the code. One type of metatag is the keyword metatag, which is simply a list of keywords that relate to a particular web page, stored in the code of that page.
Once upon a time, a big part of SEO included filling out the keyword metatags for each page of a site as completely as possible. All you’d have to do is type up a list of keywords you wanted a page to rank for, and then add it to the code.
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? Unfortunately, it’s not. The once useful keyword metatags are now irrelevant to search rankings. Google couldn’t have made it any clearer than when they announced (back in 2009) that “Google does not use the keywords metatag in web ranking.”
Curiously, due to this tactic’s popularity in the past, many still spend a significant amount of time preparing lists of keywords to add to the keyword metatag of each website page, hoping it will give them that special edge. It doesn’t.
Save your SEO time for more meaningful tactics.
3 ) Keyword Stuffing
Keywords stuffing is when you “stuff” a keyword for which you want to rank well into a web page as many times as possible. The annoying thing about keyword stuffing is that keyword stuffing keywords into a keyword stuffed website used to kind of work, which encouraged keyword stuffers to keyword stuff keywords into more and more keyword stuffed pages. Then people would have to read these keywords on the keyword stuffed page that they’re trying to read. You could just use keyword stuffing to keyword stuff your way to the top! (Although visitors would leave your keyword stuffed page to go find a website that didn’t use keyword stuffing).
The paragraph above is an only slightly exaggerated example of the approach many have used, and if you made it through the whole thing, I congratulate you (bonus if you did it without getting a headache).
In the earlier days of search, one could make sure a certain keyword was used lots of times throughout a page, and this could be enough to become a top-ranked page. Google will now call shenanigans on that, and not only will this tactic not bring you the glory of top search rankings, but it can actually lead to a penalty against your site.
It’s a good thing that this doesn’t work any more, and we’re all better for it. Nobody wants to write paragraphs like the one above, and more importantly, nobody wants to read paragraphs like the one above.
Yes, it’s important to use a targeted keyword strategically on the page, but there are natural, Google-pleasing ways to do this.
4 ) Bad Links
Links have been a key part of Google ranking since the very beginning, when the founders of Google developed PageRank at Stanford in the ’90s. The idea is smart – the popularity of a website was gauged by how many other websites linked to it, and this signal of popularity led to higher ranking.
Once the word spread that more links equalled higher rankings, the name of the game was getting as many links as possible to a site, regardless of where they came from. This led to the widespread use of what are now considered to be spammy link-building tactics. At the time, it led to many lower quality sites rising to the top of Google.
Google cares about assigning value to natural links that link to websites with meaningful content. It does not care about rewarding those who hustled the most to accumulate bogus links to a page that doesn’t offer much value to visitors. So, Google had to get better and better at weeding out the links that are trying to manipulate it.
Some types of links that are now waste of time:
- Spammy directories – there are many low quality directories out there that exist solely for the purpose of SEO. Google is onto it, and devaluing these links.
- Paid links – Google is actually getting smart enough to pick up on the relationships between a website and paid partners that it links to. If you’re going to pay your way to the top, Google would prefer that you advertise through them with Adwords.
- Links in blog comments – Spammers continue to do this, even though it no longer works, because there is a special “no follow” code in the comments sections of most blogs that prevent Google from recognizing these types of links.
Google provides a whole list of “link schemes” that violate their guidelines, and can therefore lead to a drop in rankings.
So be careful—if the method of getting a link feels unnatural, there’s a good chance Google will feel the same way. Focus on creating natural links, or ideally, creating quality content that others will naturally want to link to and share.
5 ) Over-Optimization at the Expense of User Experience
It’s an empty victory if your website works its way to the top of search results only to have potential customers click the link, grimace, and hit the back button two seconds later (otherwise known as “bounce”). A bad user experience isn’t good for getting new customers, it certainly isn’t good for your brand, and now, more than ever, it isn’t good for ranking well on search engines.
As web technology has evolved and the talent pool has grown, Internet users are pickier than ever. The average internet user has grown accustomed to attractive looking websites that load fast, are easy to read, and show up nicely on whatever device they’re using. If visiting a website isn’t easy, users leave. Google knows this, and more and more, sites that have been carefully optimized aren’t ranking as well, because the user experience is difficult, confusing, or lacking in some way.
Here are some common pitfalls of over-optimization that can detract from the user experience, and therefore the effectiveness of the page:
- Not writing for humans. As noted in #3, stuffing keywords over and over throughout the page doesn’t work.
- Including lots of redundant links on each page, or links that don’t add value to what the visitor is looking for.
- Too much text, and not enough interesting or meaningful imagery.
- Building many landing pages targeting specific keywords, but with thin content.
- Messy code that takes too long to load.
- Writing Page Titles and Page Descriptions (both of which appear in search results and not on the page itself) that are purely focused on what may help rank for Google, rather than what a searcher will actually want to click.
- Not optimizing for mobile devices. Google now gives preference to responsive websites, which adapt to the device being used (desktop, tablet, or phone).
There are still tactful ways to perform on-page optimization while still creating a good, effective user experience. Taking an “If you build it, they will come,” approach will produce more results than “If they come, then you’ll build it.”
6 ) Complete Dependence on Search Engines
There was a time when if you didn’t rank well in search engines, you were essentially invisible on the Internet. In 2014, this isn’t necessarily so. Internet users use more than search engines to find what they are looking for:
Want to find out what people are saying about something that happened on television 2 minutes ago? Do a search on Twitter.
Looking for a book? Go to Amazon.
Need a gift for a friend? Search for ideas on Pinterest.
With the arrival of social media, search engines aren’t everything, and website traffic doesn’t just come from search. There are now more ways to reach your audience that don’t depend on what Google provides. It pays to spend time enhancing your presence on social media platforms to attract visitors in new ways.
In addition, having a good social media presence works to boost your search rankings. SEO is no longer done in a vacuum. It is now becoming interconnected with content marketing and social media marketing strategy. Putting all of your eggs in the SEO basket while ignoring other important mediums can work against you.
10 years from now, when we’re comfortably riding in our Google Driverless Cars (hopefully flying cars by then), using a more aesthetically pleasing version of Google Glass to do a search on Google, the game will most likely have changed again. Maybe we’ll be reminiscing about how “simple life was back in the days of Facebook and Twitter.”
What we do know now is that Search Engine Optimization is no longer the wild west it was ten years ago. As Google has evolved and the Internet has grown, there is a higher sense of civility in how websites are able to rank higher. It’s less about shortcuts and manipulation, and more about creating value for visitors through sustainable, natural practices.
This article highlighted several of the tactics from the past which don’t work, and this begs the question, “What actually does work for SEO?” Stay tuned for the next post in our SEO series to learn more about today’s recommended tactics.
Want to find out how Cazarin can help you with an effective SEO strategy for your website? Contact us today.