The advent of the internet and its magical search engines have revolutionized how we find products and services and, with it, how companies market and sell them to us.
It was literally a new marketplace, with a whole new set of rules. The objective of these new rules (a.k.a. algorithms) was to make each search as accurate as possible. And the result? To give us results that best match our intention.
As with any set of rules, it didn’t take long for people to find ways to play the game. And game, they did.
Astute marketers worked out the secrets that governed these algorithms and set to exploit them relentlessly in the quest for visibility in this new online marketplace.
And those secrets didn’t stay secret too long. What started as cute ‘gaming the system’ became ever clumsier with every unscrupulous marketeer jumping on the bandwagon.
And the result? Searchers landed on pages of irrelevant drivel. Fluff pieces were designed purely to manipulate the rankings and draw more visibility to inadequate, often useless, offerings.
It didn’t take long for Google and co. to realize these practices were not only spoiling their reader’s experiences, the brazen manipulation was making a mockery of their service. Over time they have become more and more accurate at detecting content of genuine value to the readers, more and more adept at finding these attempts to cheat their system.
Today the search engines are fighting back. And this time it’s personal!
If you are still using any of the outdated, ‘black hat’ practices I’m going to cover here today, please understand that search engines have been getting steadily more determined to not only ignore them for ranking purposes, but to actively penalize sites who are deploying them.
In this article, we get you up-to-speed with the 7 biggest outdated practices so you can stay on the right side of the new, ever-evolving, ‘rules of the game’. Using these tips for google-friendly digital marketing, you’ll always be ahead of your competitors. So, let’s do it!
1. Keyword stuffing
This is the first thing that unscrupulous marketers jumped on in the early days, and it was the first one that the search engines clamped down on. For example:
We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at email@example.com.
Keywords were — and still are — a crucial component of any successful SEO strategy. But as the algorithms have become savvier at ascertaining what has genuine relevance for the searcher, they have become a much smaller part of the jigsaw and one whose abuses they are wise to.
You can’t get away with crude and excruciating repetition of your keywords to fool the algorithms anymore. And you certainly can’t get away with squeezing them onto your site, camouflaging the text to be the same color as your background either (yes, people really did that!)
In general, common-sense prevails here. If it feels unnatural or wrong, then don’t do it. There are a few general tips to guide you though (put them in your title, first paragraph and last paragraph). These show the search engines some content relevance, but don’t go overboard or seem unnatural. If your content is original and useful then it will be ranked as such.
2. Exact-match domains
Squeezing the keyword you were targeting into your domain name was also a tactic that was exploited for many years.
You get the point!
And it made perfect sense: as far as signals to help the algorithms determine what your site sold, what better than the name itself? It was an easy win for marketers, but it’s abuses again soiled the user-experience, so Google stepped in with their ‘Exact-Match Domain Update’ to prioritize other signals.
Our advice is not to use an exact-domain name unless it fits the direction you are taking with your branding anyway. If it fits your business, then sure, but it’s simply no longer worth it if you are doing it just to try and score an easy win.
3. Linking abuses: reciprocal links and buying links
“You rub my back and I’ll rub yours”
Search engines’ goals are to find the best, most trusted and most relevant answer to the searcher’s given question. One way they establish a site’s relevance and trustworthiness is by measuring how often other sites link themselves to your content.
For example, if the New York Times is linking to your blog then that’s a sure-fire sign that what you have written has relevance and authority. In Google’s robot eyes, your site piggy-backs on the previous authority built up by The New York Times.
I’m sure you see where this is going… Over the years, marketers traded backlinks to propel each other up the rankings. In fact, businesses sprung up that solely dealt with SELLING these links. And the party went on quite a while until the search engines hit back. Today it heavily penalizes anyone caught in the act.
Similar to our advice with the keywords: it’s still useful, still a tactic to be utilized. But if it feels dodgy and unnatural (say, swapping with popular site with zero relevance to your own), then you can be sure the algorithms are on top of it and you should be giving it a wide berth.
4. Separate pages for every keyword variation
Another popular tactic that the search engines have been stamping out is a variation on keyword stuffing. This tactic is composed of marketers compiling lists of every variation on a keyword and creating separate pages for each one. The result is typically pages fluffed out with repetitive and unoriginal content, often re-purposing the same old article half-a-dozen different ways to fill the white spaces.
Thankfully, the Hummingbird update put a stop to this one. If you find your site is still guilty then this is your opportunity to sort it out.
5. Over-using anchor text
Along with keywords and backlinking, this is another practice that, when done properly and organically, is hugely beneficial for your website. But if you try to abuse it to score a few easy wins, then nowadays it will backfire.
Your anchor texts — or internal linking — are necessary to let your reader know what to expect when they click on it. Exact-match and keyword anchors were factors that the engines looked upon favorably until they started to be abused, and recent updates have got wise and begun to pay less heed to such obviously over-optimized content. So don’t be tempted here either. It makes your content look clunky and it does you no good.
6. Duplicate content
“Content is king” on the search engines and has been for some time. Again, the less scrupulous out there tried to bypass quality control with a short-cut.
Firstly, there were brazen copy-and-paste jobs, ruthlessly cannibalizing other sites’ efforts to create original content that was of genuine use to the reader.
After they clamped down on that they started doing the old university-student trick of just paraphrasing existing pieces of work. Dragging it into the 21st century, in fact, with software that could do it for them.
Quite aside from the ethics and the copyright issues, the result was often a mumbled excuse for an article that marginally got the original points across.
Now there are a whole host of plagiarism checkers that are getting ever more adept at detecting synonyms and the slight twists of phrase that this practice relies on. And the engines themselves have the same technology to as they weed out the fluff and rehashes to ensure that truly original content is rewarded in the rankings.
7. Crappy content
This includes duplicate content, but oh so much more. Let me give you a few examples.
Repurposed articles that end up being rife with third-grade grammar errors and dodgy spelling. These are harder than the ‘Da Vinci Code’ to make sense of.
Articles targeting a keyword then fluffed out to fill 500 words, 1000, 1500 words (or whatever that week’s research suggested was the optimal length). Riveting.
You know the search engines want content, but if you try to cut corners with quality, then know they are on to you. Content creation isn’t easy. Don’t get sucked into trying to cheat the system. Create a solid SEO strategy, put a team together, and find the resolve to give searchers content of genuine value. The effort and investment will get paid back many times over.
As time has moved on, so have the algorithms. Long gone are the days of exploitation. Every day, the search engines are getting better attuned at ranking and rewarding GENUINE content and value.
As an SEO services provider myself, we make it our business to help your business, keeping our finger on the pulse of these updates to stay in-step with the times and their favored-practices. The outdated SEO practices that some businesses used to boost their visibility at the expense of the user-experience are on their way out. Viva the revolution! Take heed of the advice above and make sure you are a part of it.
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