The basic idea of SEO is the same: perform a series of ongoing actions in order to maximize your chances of being found in the world of online search. But SEO has grown from a pool of specific, objective techniques that trick search engines to a series of best practices that give users a better experience. This shift is ongoing, and as a result, today’s best SEO strategies are a hybrid of old-school optimization tactics and more generalized, subjective choices like website design and user experience.
Unfortunately for some search marketers, these changes are too gradual to be easily noticed and too unpredictable to chart out. In order to be successful, you have to stay current and weed out your ineffective strategies as they become obsolete. If you continue to follow these old strategies, it’s possible that you’ll eventually face a rude awakening with a sudden and sharp drop of traffic.But it’s more likely that the repercussions will be gradual and barely noticeable, in the form of lost opportunities for more web traffic.
These possibly-detrimental SEO strategies are completely obsolete, yet people still continue to follow them. If you want your campaign to perform its best, make sure you’re not following these out-of-date strategies.
Back when SEO was all about ranking for a selection of specific keywords, alt text for images was vitally important. Alt text is still important, but not in the way it used to be. For example, let’s say you have an image of a child on a rocking horse embedded in a blog for your real estate website. The older practice, which people still insist on using, would be to optimize that image with alt tags containing one or more target keywords. The oldest practice would be a gimmick like “real estate realtors real estate agents,” with a slightly more modern practice focused on minimizing keyword density like “real estate agents require advance notice in order to best service their customers.” Both of these practices are obsolete, though many sites still try to jam keywords into the meta tags of their images.
Alt tags are still useful. When a user performs an image search on Google, the search engine scours the web for images based on their onsite descriptions. That means you can still generate traffic based on whether or not someone searches for your description. However, your alt tag needs to be 100 percent relevant to the image to avoid getting penalized. An image of a child on a rocking horse has nothing to do with real estate agents. For that image, a tag like “child on a rocking horse” would suffice.
Link building is another SEO strategy with a number of public misconceptions. In the early days of SEO, backlinks were a major source of page rank, with Google and other search engines strongly favoring sites with the greatest number of backlinks pointing back to their domain. Major updates leading up to and including Google Penguin have refined the criteria for what constitutes a “good” link, forcing link builders to scramble and ensure that each of their built links is relevant, appropriate, and not obviously intended solely to increase page rank. Unfortunately, many search marketers are still under the false impressions that more links is always better. It’s true that link quantity is an important factor in generating search results, but link quality is far more important. If you only focus on the numbers of link building, you’ll be compromising your campaign.
Focus more on the quality of your links. Don’t go out of your way to hit a certain quota in terms of numbers. Instead, spend a certain amount of time link building by performing research, finding the best opportunities, and taking whatever you can get. Even better, adjust your content marketing strategy to favor high-quality content with a potential to go viral, such as infographics, videos, or highly informative blog posts. Doing so will increase the likelihood of naturally attracting thousands of people to build your links for you—and what’s better than letting your fans do all your work?
Here’s the scenario: you’re trying desperately to rank for a handful of keywords in a given niche, and you have two or three close competitors who are trying to rank for those same keywords. You see them ranking on page one, while you’re stuck on page three or four. Using a backlink checker like Open Site Explorer, it’s possible to see where your competitors are building their links, and by examining the code of their site, you can see what meta tags and descriptions they’re running. In the older world of SEO, it would be possible—and encouraged—to mimic this strategy, building backlinks where they build backlinks and writing similar meta tags and descriptions. But search algorithms have grown too complex for this strategy to be effective. You’ll essentially be wasting your effort, and you’ll lose any opportunity you have to rank as a unique business.
Competitive research is still viable and valuable, but not for the reasons you might expect. You shouldn’t be looking at what keywords your competitors are ranking for, nor should you simply post backlinks wherever your competitors are posting. What you can do is examine your competitors’ websites as a whole, taking note of features they lack and what types of content they post. Adjust your strategy to fill the holes your competitors leave, and position yourself as the more desirable (and more unique) company.
In all three of the obsolete strategies I mentioned above, keywords were a significant component. In this section, I’ll tell you directly that targeting keywords for your campaign in general is an ineffective and obsolete strategy. SEO used to demand search marketers to perform hours of painstaking research, determining which keywords were the least competitive and most valuable to go after, with weekly (or even daily) monitoring of keyword positions to measure their success. While rankings can be a good thing, the focus on keywords is no longer relevant.
Google’s algorithms are too complex to be reduced to simple keyword queries. With local search data, semantic search functionality, and the increased relevance of long-tail keywords, the entire strategy of targeting keywords is simply no longer useful for the average search marketer. Instead of trying to rank for a specific keyword, your goal should be providing an ideal user experience. Instead of selecting a few dozen keywords of interest for a campaign, select a handful of key subjects to write about. Think in terms of broad directions and valuable website features, not in terms of narrow keywords and numbers.
There was a time when following these strategies would be extremely beneficial, allowing you to climb to the top of the SERPs. But today, they’re little more than remnants of a dead era. SEO is about creating a valuable user experience for your visitors and customers, and while there are still objective actionable tasks that can improve your chances of ranking, most old-school strategies are useless.
Your best course of action is to stop thinking about “SEO strategies” entirely. Search engine optimization will always exist because there will always be ways to maximize your chances of getting seen online, but it’s important to break the old mindsets of trying to achieve ranks for specific keywords. Instead, focus on giving your users the best possible experience. The rest will come naturally.