We all know how hard it is to let go of something that used to work great but doesn't anymore. It seemed that just yesterday you could use this amazing, clever SEO strategy, and your rankings would go up. It worked great for years. Can we pretend things haven't changed and stick to the tactics that we are used to? Alright, maybe they won't work as well as in the beginning, but they'll still work… Right?
No, of course not. It's all different now. SEO is different. And you have to move on. I'm sure you've done this with most of your SEO tactics already, but is there something you're still doing in the old-school way? Let's check and see if there're things that keep you stuck in the old but harmful SEO comfort zone.
1. Keyword stuffing
This one is the most obvious on the list. "Keyword stuffing" refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords. These keywords appear in a list or group, out of context, or repeated an inadequate number of times in an attempt to appear relevant to search engines. The result looks something like this:
" Our barber shop is the best barber shop in New York. In our barber shop we offer barber shop services. If you're thinking of going to the NYC barber shop, please contact our barber shop at barbershop.com."
Obviously, that's bad copywriting. That's not done for any kind of usability, it's done for search engines. Search engines, however, aren't fools. They easily recognize keyword stuffing, and you don't only risk losing rankings over that, but you risk getting penalized since the Panda update of 2011.
What to do instead:
While mindlessly stuffing your content with keywords won't do you any good, you can still take search engines into account and optimize your content for comprehensiveness. When analyzing your content for the intent behind it, Google uses a number of factors, one of them being Latent Semantic Indexing. It learns the relationships between the terms and the context they usually appear in. So if you make your context as clear as possible to Google, including terms that are usually used in this context, it will make your content more relevant in Google's eyes.
To bring this idea to life, you can use WebSite Auditor's TF-IDF tool. It searches for terms and concepts at the pages of your top ranking competitors, and then selects the most important and relevant ones depending on their usage by the competitors.
- Download WebSite Auditor here if you don't have it yet.
- Start WebSite Auditor and create a project, or open an existing one.
- Click on Content Analysis > TF-IDF, select a page you want to optimize, and enter your target keywords. The app will calculate the TF-IDF value for each term usage on the basis of the content analysis of your top 10 ranking competitors for your keywords.
- After that you will see a table of terms that form your association cloud.
- Check the Recommendation column that will advise you on the usage of each term that may be found on the pages of 5 or more of your competitors. You can implement this advice for your page right in the app's Content Editor.
2. Including all possible versions of the keyword in the title
You'll see the pattern throughout this article, the pattern being: don't focus on keywords, focus on readability. Same goes for the title — somehow, a mistake I see rather often is including all possible versions of the keyword in the title, like this:
Basically, the authors put the keywords first and click attribution second in their priority list. While it used to be a popular strategy, these days it's just bad SEO. Here's why: clicks are most likely the signal Google uses in the SEO algorithm. This link, however, won't get many clicks: it looks spammy, untrustworthy, has no call-to-action, and doesn't provide much information.
What to do instead:
Write a title as you would write an ad: it should be attractive, informational, and most of all clickable. This one, for example, is much better:
The main rules for the title include being short (Google will cut your title off if it's longer than 512 pixels, which is about 55 characters), relevant (with the keyword being as close to the beginning as possible), and include a strong call-to-action. For an incredibly comprehensive guide on how your title, URL, meta description, etc. should look like for higher CTR and rankings, jump to this article.
3. Heavily using anchor text on internal links
An internal link is a link that points to another page on the same website. An anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink that often appears in blue (for example, in Google before you click on it).
Using internal links is essentially good for both the user and the search engines (as it should be with every aspect of SEO!). It's helpful because it allows the user to navigate a website and easily find the information for which they came to this website. Internal linking defines the hierarchy of a website, for example, your homepage will tell you the basic info about your company and the range of your services; pages about each one of your services will have the info about prices, times, etc. The homepage will then link to each of the pages. Theoretically, it also provides the smooth path for spiders to crawl the website. So it's good and helpful for everyone.
However, if there are loads of keyword-rich anchor texts in your internal links, Google gets suspicious. It looks spammy, manipulative, over-optimized. To be fair, if it looks like this to Google, it probably is. As this has been a practice once, people tend to hope this tactic can still help their SEO. In fact, it's probably doing the opposite, and you're probably walking on eggshells since 2012, when the Penguin update rolled out.
What to do instead:
The critical thing about internal linking is that your site structure should be shallow and logical, so focus on that instead of keyword-stuffing your links. Ideally, you should keep all your important pages not more than 3 clicks away from the homepage.
You can check if this is the case in WebSite Auditor by starting a project for your site, going to the Pages module, and checking with the Click Depth column.
For a more comprehensive guide, jump to this article on how to improve rankings with internal linking.
4. Creating pages for each keyword variation
I bet that sounds old-school to you. And you're absolutely right. Creating pages for each keyword variation was a tactic used years ago, when keywords, not intent, dominated the Google's indexing methods. You'd want to have the maximum capacity to target each possible keyword individually.
Now Google knows that there's one intent behind light bulb, lightbulbs, CFL light-bulb… you get the idea. So what it wants to find while crawling the Internet is one rich, useful page targeting them all. There's simply no point in creating separate pages anymore.
What to do instead:
Throw your effort into creating well-structured, informative, and visually appealing landing pages for your products and services. Fit your keywords in a natural way into your content, headline, title. Here're you can find the guide on how to build perfectly optimized landing pages.
5. Using outdated link building tactics
Despite Google's evolution, backlinks still play an important role in its algorithm. And even for Google, it can be difficult to recognize honestly acquired links from links built to manipulate Google's rankings. Based on this knowledge, many SEOs still attempt the outdated version of link building: spammy, irrelevant, mass link building. And what is worse, many clients want exactly that from the SEO agencies! So long that the boost in the rankings happens. Well, for better or worse outdated link building isn't worth it. The results are short-lived, while the tactic is truly risky.
So what does outdated link building entail?
- Forum signature hacking
The reason it won't work is because most forums have disallowed using linked signatures — the tactic has been abused by SEOs in the past, and links generated from signatures are also largely no-follow. Google isn't a fan of such links either: for example, a study done by Ahrefs showed that removing such backlinks can lead to an increase in search traffic.
- Spam blog commenting
Somehow people still do that a lot. It's like they don't know that blogging platforms have put no-follow tags on comment links a long time ago.
- Spammy Footer Links and Tags
Another classic black-hat SEO tactic used to be getting backlinks from other websites' footer space. No surprise, it doesn't work like this anymore. The tactic has been hit by both Panda and Penguin updates, and there's simply no chance for you to crawl to the top of Google while using this tactic.
- Creating PBNs
A private blog network is a tactic of using a set of websites under your control to build links to your website(s). Google targets these sites and penalizes them since 2014.
- Link Exchanges
This old-school tactic means exchanging links to get as many links as possible, no matter the relevancy, validity, or simple ethics. Although completely uneffective these days, it still exists among especially stubborn SEOs.
- Link directories
Link directories are mostly the things of the past: they used to serve as a way to categorize websites, but lost most of their purpose as the search engines evolved. Most link directories quickly turned into a space of link building for the purpose of link building, with no value to visitors whatsoever. Google recognized that, and for a while now it doesn't attribute much vakue to the links that come from link directories. Also, your site will probably get penalized if you're submitting to thousands of link directories that look like they've been last updated in the 90s.
- Paid links
Paying for links has been a violation of Google's guidelines for a while now. However, a rare marketer doesn't get emails offering paid links at least once a week, which means the tactic is far from dead. Of course, paying for links is much easier than earning them in most cases, and you might be careful and clever and lucky. My advice is still not to risk it. Google is a multi-billion dollar company that employs the smartest people on planet Earth, and they are on the hunt for both link buyers and link sellers. I'm pretty sure one day they'll catch one of you and it all will go down.
- Article directories
Article directories started off as a way to share useful content. Predictably, this quickly turned into a link farm. The Internet got flooded with low-quality content produced by software. Users left article directories for good, and only marketers stayed to build more links. Until Panda update — since then, even marketers should avoid article directories like hell. That is unless they are very specific, readers-oriented, and with strict guidelines. You'll find one or two directories like these in every niche. Others can't bring you anything but a Google penalty.
- Low-quality/irrelevant guest posting
There has been loads of buzz around guest posting for SEO. The main takeaway from all this discussion is this: guest posting is okay if you're doing it mainly for the purposes of PR, such as increased exposure, demonstrating your expertise, building a personal brand, etc. The backlink you get in this case is more of a nice addition. This approach to guest blogging means that you'll be providing the user with rich content, which is relevant to you and your target audience, as well as to the hosting website. Guest blogging is not okay if you're doing it solely for link building, i.e. your content is thin and irrelevant.
what to do instead:
If most of known link building techniques are harmful and dangerous, what is there left to do in terms of improving your rankings with links? It might be counterintuitive (although shouldn't be if you read carefully), but first you might have to remove some links for your rankings to go up. Even before that, you'll have to find them.
Fire up SEO PowerSuite's SEO SpyGlass, create a project for your website if you do not have one, or open an existing project. Wait for the app to collect the list of your site's backlinks, switch to the Backlinks dashboard, select all those links and click Update Penalty Risk. Navigate to the Link penalty risk tab and click on the header of the Penalty Risk column (this will sort the links by penalty risk). All links with a penalty risk above 30% are worth looking into — these can potentially be low-quality links. All links with a penalty risk over 60% need your immediate attention.
Make sure to reach out to the site owner asking them to take down the link, or disavow them if you don't hear back from the site owners or if you have a huge number of links to get rid of. You can create a disavow file right in SEO SpyGlass in a few clicks. To do that, select the links you'd like to disavow, right-click the selection, and hit Disavow backlinks. Most of the time, you'd want to disavow links on the domain level; so make sure you select Entire domain under Disavow mode. Then, go to Preferences -> Disavow/Blacklist backlinks and hit Export to save the disavow file to your computer, and upload it to Google Search Console.
For a complete backlink audit, jump to this guide.
Now after you got rid of the low-quality links, it's time to build the better and safer ones — here you'll find a complete guide of quality link building techniques and how to build those. The guide will help you build links through valid guest posting, researching competitors' backlinks, etc.
6. Creating thin content
Writing high-quality articles for your website takes loads of time, money and effort. It's only natural SEOs and business owners keep trying to find a way around it, even though Google's Panda Update that's meant to stop sites with poor quality content was introduced so long ago. However, as of today there's simply no way around it. If you produce content that no one will read, it won't affect your rankings in a good way.
What to do instead:
Check your website for low-quality content straight away, as it might be affecting your rankings. In your WebSite Auditor workspace, locate the Word count column. If it's not there, right-click on the header of any column to enter the workspace editing mode, and add the Word count column to your active columns. Sort the pages by their content length by clicking on the newly added Word count column.
Surely, word count is not everything, and in fact in some cases a tiny article could work very well. A word count under 250 words is more of a good indicator to locate problematic spots across your site and look into these cases in details.
And then start creating rich, engaging content that your target audience will enjoy, and don't forget to optimize for the comprehensiveness. Make it relevant for a wider range of topics, i.e. cover more types of context than you would for every keyword variation.
Over to you:
These were the most common old-school SEO tactics. Are you still using some of these? Do you enjoy the adrenaline or do you feel it's worth the risk? Are there some other outdated SEO tactics that make you cringe every time you see them? Let me know in the comments!
By: Alina Gorbatch