5 Killer SEO Tactics of Yesterday That Will Get You Killed Today

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5 Killer SEO Tactics of Yesterday That Will Get You Killed Today

I’m willing to bet you came across this article because you were looking for the latest and greatest tactics to be found in the world of SEO. No shame in that. We all want to keep up with the algorithms and maybe even get out ahead of them a bit. But as you read your daily dose of web marketing posts, looking for some new strategies you can use, tread carefully. Many of the “killer” SEO strategies you’ll read about today will be the very same strategies that will get you killed by algorithm penalties tomorrow.

As web marketers, it’s important to stay ahead of the algorithms. But in order to do that, sometimes you have to take a look back at what once worked but doesn’t any longer. You’ve heard it said those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

If you don’t want the past to haunt your web presence, take a lesson from these five killer SEO tactics from yesterday that will get you killed today.

1) Keyword-Focused Pages

Why it Killed Yesterday

One of the primary roles of SEO from the beginning has been to optimize content to rank for keywords. In the past, many SEOs told you to target only one keyword (or phrase) per page in order to keep it focused. I never subscribed to this strategy, but I did understand the concept of having a narrowly focused page on a particular topic.

While keyword density has been a dead SEO tactic for years now, keywords on the page still mattered. And the more “focused” you kept each optimized page, the better chance you had at ranking for the key phrase you are targeting.

Old keyword tactic

Why it Will Get You Killed Today

With the Hummingbird update, Google has basically rethought how they want to analyze pages and implemented some new technology to do it. Instead of focusing on the keywords themselves, the search engines are now looking at the ideas represented by the keywords. In other words, it’s not the keywords that the page is ranking for but the topic.

When you optimize content for keywords, you’re being shortsighted. Remember, Google has access to billions and billions of pages of content. And they have the computing power to analyze that content in order to understand what makes one page better than another. If you want to rank for “snow skis,” but your content fails to say much about things that skiers find important (other than they type of ski they use), you’re going to miss the mark. By a long shot.

Google knows what’s important to skiers because they’ve analyzed thousands of pages of content written by those very skiers. They know the language, the lingo, the style and, ultimately, what skiers want to know about their skis, ski slopes and performance in a variety of snow types. Just repeating the word “snow skis” over and over again just won’t cut it.

How to Kill it for Tomorrow and Forever

Does all this mean that we no longer optimize pages for keywords? No. But now it’s less about the keywords and more about optimizing the content for the topic. So if you’re selling snow skis, you need to talk about different ski types, the terrain for the skis, ski flex, width, etc.

Yes, you’ll use the term “snow” and “skis” on the page and probably more than a couple of times, but you’re not focusing on those words. Instead, you’re focusing on the function, perception and value of the skis in relation to the skier.

Keyword optimization today

Keep in mind that in order to rank for your given keyword, you don’t have to write the be-all, end-all authoritative piece on snow skies. In fact, that may not work well for the audience you’re trying to reach. Not everyone is ready for Every Skiers Guide to Skis, Terrain, and Downhill Performance. Determine what message you need to get your visitors to take the next action, and then write the most authoritative piece you can with that focus.

Focus on the topic in relation to the visitor’s need. You can literally write dozens of authoritative pages on a single topic, all with a slightly different focus. Each of those pages will rank for different sets of keywords, which should tie directly into what type of content a particular searcher is looking for.

2) Link Buying

Why it Killed Yesterday

Before Google, search engines relied primarily on on-page optimization to determine how a page should rank. When Google came around, they changed all of that by adding links as a core part of their algorithm.

It made sense. If we all used on-page factors, then getting a top ranking was just a matter of adding your keywords slightly better than the next guy. Unfortunately, this led people to optimize pages for things that were not necessarily relevant in order to draw in the traffic. Google realized they can’t rely just on what someone says is on the page but by what other people say about that page.

Enter links. Every link to a page is, essentially, a vote for the page. The more votes a page has the better it should rank.

Enter SEOs. Knowing that these votes can dramatically alter the search engine rankings, SEOs started buying links en mass to increase rankings. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear SEOs say “I just bought $10,000 worth of links for my client.” And as long as buying those links helped improve rankings, that $10,000 investment could translate into $100,000 in new revenue.

Why it Will Get You Killed Today

In 2012, Google rolled out the Penguin algorithm designed to target manipulative link building practices. While links remain an important part of the search engine algorithms, paying for links as a way to manipulate the algorithm is severely penalized.

Wary of unnatural link-building practices, the search engines are looking for links that are truly earned. Essentially, link buying is out. But do the search engines really know if you bought a link or not? They can’t be certain, but there are a number of tell-tale signals. Trigger enough of these, and you’ll be in the hurt.

How to Kill it for Tomorrow and Forever

If you do buy links, do it only for advertising purposes. As such, be sure to use a nofollow tag on each and every purchased link. This will allow you to get the traffic without being seen as manipulating the algorithm.

You can still engage in natural link-building practices. But that means no quid pro quo. Feel free to contact other site owners, pointing out something of value on your site and ask if they will link to it. They might.

As important as links are, social media has, essentially, taken their place. Not in terms of algorithmic importance but in terms of the best way to build natural links. Engaging online with your followers, pushing out great content and commenting on other’s content will build relationships that will often turn into links without even asking.

3) Anchor Text Optimization

Anchor text

Why it Killed Yesterday

Almost since links became part of search engine algorithms, anchor text has been used as a signal of the relevance of the page being linked to. If you are pointing someone to content about car batteries, it makes perfect sense to include the words “car batteries” in the link text. We do this all the time with navigation because, well, at the risk of repeating myself, it makes perfect sense. You don’t have a navigation link that reads “batteries” that goes to light bulbs!

In fact, search engines will use anchor text in a link to get an initial idea as to what a page is about without ever having to visit that page. That link text can be the very first signal the search engines get about a page. It’s no surprise then that SEOs optimize link text with keywords to promote the relevance of pages to the search engines.

Why it Will Get You Killed Today

As part of that “optimization,” SEOs would often go out and secure large numbers of links for the target keyword, all pointing to the same page. The results would be a pretty abnormal link signature. After all, how many people are likely to link to the exact same page of a site using the exact same anchor text?

Maybe a few, but a few algorithm tweaks allowed search engines to sniff out manipulation. Whether you’re paying for links or getting them for free, having your site get hundreds of similar links just raises too many red flags, even if you do spread them out over time.

How to Kill it for Tomorrow and Forever

Does that mean you should never use keywords in anchor text? Not at all. It’s still a signal. Search engines are just looking for excessive manipulation of link anchor text. One way to avoid setting off the penalty alarms is to not get a surge of new links without new content to back it up. If you just produced a new piece of content that gets shared over social media, search engines can see that those links were likely earned. However, one hundred new links to a page that’s been around forever will likely look suspicious.

Another way is to make sure any new links you secure do not use the exact same anchor text. As much as you may have control over this, have your link text incorporate more of the sentence around your keywords than just the keywords themselves.

On your own site, continue to use your keywords within navigation and breadcrumbs. This will always make sense. In your body content, if you see an opportunity to link to another page, take it. Feel free to include the keyword within the linked portion of the text, but follow the same guidelines as in the paragraph above.

4) Link Sculpting

Why it Killed Yesterday

Years ago, the search engines got together and created the “nofollow” tag. Designed initially as a way to discourage blog comment spammers, the tag quickly turned into a requirement to mark paid links. It was a way for us to notify the search engines which links should not pass any link value to the linking page due to it not being a free, organic link.

It didn’t take long for SEOs jump on that as a way to “sculpt” how link flow should be passed through the site. Essentially, SEOs believe that if you had ten outgoing links on a page, and you nofollowed all but one of them, the “dofollow” page would receive 100% of the outgoing link value.

Got a page that you don’t want “stealing” link value from other pages? No problem, just add a nofollow tag to all the links and it’s just as if that link wasn’t there! If Page A has three links to Page B, you would nofollow two of those links so only the value of one of those links was lost.

Link sculpting doesn't work this way

Why it Will Get You Killed Today

The problem with link sculpting is it never really worked. According to Google, a nofollowed link doesn’t prevent the link value from flowing out of the page, it just prevents it from flowing into the linked page. The link value is still lost.

If you have the same ten links, all but one nofollowed, the dofollow link passes only one-tenth of total value available. The other nine-tenths is lost. Gone. Kaput.

how nofollow tags work

Nofollow tags should not be used for internal site links. They should only be used for external links to other sites that you don’t want to pass link value to (or are paid ad links). When you fill your own site with nofollow links to your own pages, you’re just hurting yourself. You’re not hoarding page value, you’re causing it to disintegrate into thin air.

How to Kill it for Tomorrow and  (maybe) Forever

So link sculpting doesn’t work, and we don’t want to lose page value by adding links that don’t pass it on. The problem is, sometimes there are hyperlinks that have to be added to your site that are designed to perform a function rather than going to other site pages. Those links, essentially, are causing you to lose page value.

The solution, then, is to eliminate the hyperlink from those functions. Just as if someone was using their mouse to click on a tool, those clicks don’t count as hyperlinks. Similarly, if someone wants to logout, view cart, socialize a post, write a review, sort, filter, compare, email page, etc., those functions also shouldn’t count as a link to a page. But as long as you are using HTML hyperlinks for those actions, they most likely do count as links.

Instead of using HTML, however, you can use JavaScript to trigger the on-click function. Some functions will lead to other pages, but that doesn’t make them function any less. A great example of this is social sharing. That’s a function for the visitor but it’s not a “new page” for them to visit. They do the function and come back. No need to build hyperlinks for those functions when a functional JavaScript will suffice. While Google can follow JavaScript links, there is evidence that they don’t allow link juice to pass through them.

5) Thin Content

Why it Killed Yesterday

“Content is King!” We’ve been hearing that mantra for years, and it has largely been true. Search engines like sites with content. Content is how they determine what each page is about. Content is the meat of the web. Without content, there is nothing.

Any website has the potential to rank for thousands of keywords, but only if there is content built around those phrases. Blogs became a great way to add more content, targeting searchers seeking information on those keywords. As long as you could produce the content, you had a way to rank well and get more traffic.

Why it Will Get You Killed Today

While content may be king, too many websites were pushing out content for the sole purpose of ranking, without any regard to the quality of that content. Content producers were ranking and drawing in thousands of visitors which brought in millions of dollars of ad revenue. The only problem was, the visitors were not finding the content valuable.

To combat this, Google rolled out the Penguin update targeting sites with thin and not-so-valuable content. Many sites that earned their living selling ads on these crappy content pages saw their livelihood come crashing down as the search engines made room for sites that invested in producing a higher-caliber of content.

How to Kill it for Tomorrow and Forever

Don’t worry about producing a ton of content. It’s not the amount of content that matters anymore, but the quality of each piece of content you produce. Got something worth saying? Take the time to make sure it’s valuable to your visitors. Instead of writing 10 articles of little value, maybe you can write one article that is much more complete and authoritative.

Your goal, as a content producer, is to be known as an authority on your subject matter. That’s hard to do when you produce content that isn’t worth much. Think of your content as an extension of your reputation. Good content improves your reputation. Junk content reduces your reputation. Better content is more likely to get noticed, linked and produce business.

It’s easy to get caught up in algorithm chasing. But instead of chasing the algorithms, we need to have the algorithms chasing us. That means that we avoid the flash-in-the-pan “killer” tactics that are here today and gone tomorrow. Instead, look to build long-term value in everything you do.

That’s no guarantee that everything you do today will be valuable tomorrow (or forever for that matter!), but you definitely decrease the likelihood that your efforts today will result in a penalty tomorrow. Stop looking for new and killer SEO strategies. Instead, look for opportunities to build relevance and value with your visitors. Do that, and you’ll always be killing it!

Which outdated SEO tactics would you add to this list?


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Stoney deGeyter
In-post Photos: Images by Stoney deGeyter

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!, and President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading web presence optimization firm... Read Full Bio
Stoney G deGeyter
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  • Mari Kane

    Wow, this is a terrific post! And very timely for me as I’m going to be speaking about SEO twice next week and writing about it on my blog. I will certainly link to this story – using keyworded anchor text and a dofollow link, of course. Thanks!

  • Erim

    Nice article, Stoney. But in this sentence:

    “To combat this, Google rolled out the Penguin update targeting sites with thin and not-so-valuable content.”

    Don’t you mean Panda?

    • Stoney deGeyter

      HA! Yeah, good catch. I’m always getting that mixed up. Should know it by now but it’s the two blasted P’s!

  • SteveB

    Thanks for such a great post, I have to explain to customers about the importance of relevant content and using keywords in the content they supply. Your ‘snow skis’ is a great example of how I can explain to them the importance of quality content without over cooking it and going down the keyword stuffing road.

  • John Goatbirth

    This post made me sit up and listen, as I was lying down when I read it. Fabulous, I now know what I need to kill on the SEO front. I will arm myself with a samurai blade and perhaps a bazooka – those damn keywords won’t see me coming. They’ll never see the white of my White Hat of SEO! Slay the SEO of badness!!

  • Soumya Roy

    Link Sculpting, is not new to me, I knew this technique long back but never used or thought in that way. The idea of using javascript links are really good and logical, even we can use css cursor pointer to make those elements feel like hyperlinks. Good idea!
    BTW we always teach these in our optimization course at Promozseo.

    Best Regards
    Soumya Roy

  • Ben Greenwood

    Excellent article – I’m going to print that for prospective clients. As many still live in the Yesterday, unfortunately.

    • Stoney deGeyter

      Yes, unfortunately, too many people do still.

    • Craig

      That’s a great idea, but what scares me is the amount of SEO companies that are taking advantage of ignorant business owners! It is really bad and one cannot expect business owners to know the in’s and out’s of search. It is up to the industry to accurately portray SEO with honesty – its the only way the industry can maintain credibility!

  • Scott Brerton

    I especially like the first point. Too many people getting keyword optimization wrong and taking a ‘if we write it, they will come’ approach to optimising their page’s content. Yes content should be natural and be focussed on ‘scratching the users itch’ but we still need to optimize for keywords.

    I like the distinction that you make about optimising for the topic of the page. Each page should have a theme and we should be optimising for that. That way you’ll often find yourself ranking not just for your target keywords but a lot more longtail phrases too.

    • Stoney deGeyter

      Topic focused pages can rank for quite a number of long-tail phrases, especially those tightly focused on the overall topic. Gone are the days of trying to optimize one keyword per page. Though I never subscribed to that anyway.

  • Rudy

    saying that buying or building links will get your site penalized is exaggerated. Buying thousands of generic blog comment links sure. Guest posting on relevant niche websites ? No and i don’t see why it should

    • Stoney deGeyter

      Yeah, you can still buy links, but I would tread very VERY carefully when doing so. I would also avoid paying anyone to guest post on their site. If they have to charge then the content probably isn’t worth it or their site isn’t going to pass the link juice you think it might.

  • Pawas

    Excellent post Stoney. When I saw the title, I just had to read it. You are so right about these SEO tactics dying.
    What I would like to add to this is exact match domains. This too is dying. No more can we get a keyword rich domain and expect to get free traffic and leads from SEO forever. Although, I still see a few exact match domains doing well in search, but I believe that is because of those sites authority and content.
    contentmarketinginstitute.com for instance, it ranks for almost any search related to content marketing. I believe it has more to do with rich content and their sites authority, that contributes to their rankings. Or is it the domain? Or maybe a little bit of both.
    We are planning to launch a website that would generate leads for honeymoon tours here in India. I was compelled to buy something like honeymoondesinations.com. You know. But then it was too long, too spamy and did not feel powerful enough. Finally we decided to go with lovedesinations.com. My partners were worried that this choice could mean a drop in sites capacity to rank and acquire traffic.
    And then I told them exact match domains were almost dead.

    • Stoney deGeyter

      If an exact match domain is available, I’d jump on that. You will never get penalized for it. The reason Google doesn’t want to give preference for them is because it has little to do with the quality of the site and primarily to do with who got there first. But there is plenty of value in an exact match domain, provided it falls in line with delivering a great customer experience.

    • Kevin Pike

      I wouldn’t call EMD’s dead either. For example, I was searching this morning for “Google keyword tool” (forgot they call it Planner now) and was shocked to see two EMD’s rank in top 5. These were outrankings SEJ and other powerful domains.

      • Stoney deGeyter

        There are a lot of reasons EMD rank, but it’s not necessarily because it’s a ranking signal. But if they tend to rank for those other reasons, then there can still be a good strategy for getting those.

    • Brandon Prettyman

      One potential benefit of having an exact match domain is that when link to your website using your domain name as anchor text you automatically have a relevant keyword in the link. While certain exact match domains can go overboard becoming too spammy I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity for one just yet. For example, I have a personal website (brandonprettyman.com). Its purpose is to rank for my name. When I link to it on other websites using my domain name I have useful anchor text built in. Your example of honeymoondestinations.com. Perhaps too long and not as powerful but I wouldn’t go as far as to call it spammy (if the site really was focused on honeymoon destinations).

  • Kayla Eide

    Great article! The Link Sculpting section was especially educational. Thanks for writing it up.

  • Bob Stein

    Very good article. I would add the building and interlinking of microsites which used to reap tremendous benefits is now pretty much out the window. Mass blog commenting is a thing of the past as is stuffing forum footers with tons of anchor links.

    • Stoney deGeyter

      Agreed on all counts, though I never thought much of the mini-site strategy. Seems to be more hassle than benefit.

  • Jeff

    I hope my competitors do not ever get to read this article. I hope they continue with their stone age seo tactics.

    • Kelsey Jones

      Hahah Jeff! Glad you found us and this post first!

  • Brandon Prettyman

    I enjoyed the article, thank you for putting it together. I am still surprised that people ask me about link sculpting today. I totally agree that is now a waste of time (not sure if it ever was very valuable).

  • Dale Limin

    Hi Stoney, this article is very informative and worth reading. On the keyword-focused pages, I will say that it is better if you don’t mind keyword density, just focus on the topic and what you suppose to write even if you didn’t mention your main keywords as long as the article is valuable and related to those keywords, it will be good. Link buying, I like what you said “If you do buy links, do it only for advertising purposes. As such, be sure to use a nofollow tag on each and every purchased link.” We all know that link buying is not effective anymore and will not increase our rankings, better if you build quality contents. Once the other bloggers saw your articles the will voluntarily mention your post on they blog/s and create link.

    Overall, I really like this post and this will served as a good knowledge investment for the readers.