Knowing where to focus your time and energy when it comes to executing SEO tactics that will have value and drive rankings, traffic, and conversions is key to building a long term strategy to grow your online business.
Below you will find the 12 most overrated SEO tactics that don’t work. I am sure some of you will disagree with me on some of them, which is ok, but if you disagree with me, ask yourself if the tactic you disagree with is a long term strategy that aligns with building a quality online business and brand.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself “would I feel comfortable explaining this tactic to Matt Cutts, Lead of the Google Spam Team, or would I hide my computer screen if he was standing behind me watching me execute it?”.
1. Mass directory submission
If you have a website or search Google, I am sure you have seen those ads for submitting a website to 1,000 directories for $99.99. They claim that you can get hundreds of “high quality” back links for basically no work. This is not a good tactic, especially for new sites. It can hurt your link graph and be a signal to the search engines that since you are receiving a large number of low quality links, your site is a low quality website as well. If you are going to do directory submission I would suggest reading this post to get some information about valuable SEO directories.
2. Reciprocal links
We have all received those emails from random people asking to trade links (most of us just hit delete after getting a good laugh from them). This is an old strategy that was popular years ago when SEO was in its infancy. People would send out a mass amount of emails to every site under the sun to try and get them to trade links with the purpose of manipulating rankings. These sites would usually ask for specific anchor text to try to enhance the manipulation. There is a great video about how to do white hat reciprocal linking (yes it’s possible) here.
3. Meta keywords tag
The meta keywords tag has stopped being used for ranking purposes by Google. Bing recently came out and said they do use it, but it makes up a very small portion of their ranking algorithm, and is more helpful to them when defining spam websites.
4. Thin content
With the Panda update from February 2011 it is no longer ok to create thin low quality content, spin articles, or outsource your content overseas to save a few dollars. The search engines (Google specifically) have become very sensitive to content quality and value it gives to the user. In our 12 Most Valuable Pieces of SEO Advice article, we note that quality content is one of the best pieces of advice for a website to take and is one of its most important assets.
5. Site wide footer links
This was a tactic used by spammers to inflate page rank. Google has become much better at segmenting content on websites and giving more weight to specific sections of a web page. Footer and sidebar links hold less ranking value (and in some cases close to no value) where as links contained within the body copy hold more value. This is usually due to footer and sidebar links appearing on every page of the website, and links located in the body of an article are unique to that article. The search engines can also get more contextual signals from links located in the body of an article by using contextual modeling.
6. Paid links
There is an ongoing debate about the value of buying links through link brokers or sites like text link ads. Google specifically says it violates their website guidelines here. Personally I don’t feel this is a long term strategy and holds a high risk of being devalued or getting your site penalized. About a year ago I contacted one of the big link buying sites to do some tests around paid links and found that if I told them I had a large amount of money to spend and told them the niche I wanted to target with my links, they would send me a spreadsheet of all the websites I could buy links on. You’re crazy if you don’t think that Google has done this same thing and then gone through and devalued those sites from passing ranking metrics.
7. Keyword stuffing
Keyword stuffing does not just happen in the body copy of a website. It can also happen in the title tag, meta keywords tag, or links. This does not help a site rank better, it is a poor user experience, and it can have a negative affect on rankings.
8. Article directories
This is an old tactic that attempted to build back links by submitting the same article or a “spun version” of an article to a large amount of low quality article directories. This is not the same as content marketing or guest blog posting (defined here), which is a valuable way to build links and market your business because it’s based on content quality, not quantity.
9. Using only exact match anchor text
Exact match anchor text means that if you were trying to rank for “Web Design Studio” all (or a large majority) of the links you get from external websites link to your site with that exact anchor text. A part of link building is looking natural in regards to link growth and diversity. There is not a site on the web that would have almost all their links pointing to their site with exact anchor text being used (well unless they were buying links, which is a low return, high risk tactic mentioned in #6.
10. Acquiring only followed links
In an attempt to give Webmasters more control over comment spam and other link spam tactics. Google released a rel=nofollow tag. This tag helped Webmasters tell Google that they didn’t endorse a link that was on their site which linked to another website. This caused sites to think that only links that didn’t contain this “rel=nofollow” tag (followed links) were valuable for SEO. Recent studies have shown that a good mix of followed and nofollowed links is natural for a website to have. Nofollow links have additional value such as passing user metrics that search engines use for ranking a page or determining content value. An example of a nofollowed link that has value is a link from Twitter or Facebook.
11. Keywords in domain names
The big question in the SEO community is if exact match domains, or domains that have a sites primary keyword in them such as blueshoes.com (for a site that sells blue shoes) has SEO ranking value. The value a URL holds when it has the keyword in it comes primarily from other sites linking to that site using only the URL. Google and the other search engines can then parse out the keywords and give some relevance for the keywords in the URL. So for example, if someone linked to blueshoes.com with the anchor text www.blueshoes.com, Google could parse out Blue and Shoes and help determine what that site was about.
12. Header tags (h3, h4, h5)
Header tags such as H1 and H2 tags do have value (although not as much as they used to). Once a website moves down the header tag chain to an H3 or H4 the value is almost gone. If you don’t have H3 or H4 tags in your current copy, or if you can’t easily work them into future content, then its not worth having them at all.
Hope this list helps you focus your SEO efforts on long term SEO strategies that will drive traffic, rankings, and conversions. Any more you can think of? Let me know in the comments below.
Featured image courtesy of C.P.Storm licensed via Creative Commons.