The world of search engine optimization is a constantly evolving field. It is easy to fall behind on the latest trends and best practices and get settled into what is currently working for you or your business as a long-term strategy. Unlike many other marketing channels where this might mean falling behind the competition or having your strategy become worthless with time, SEO differs in that not paying attention to developing trends can not only mean that your efforts will become less effective, but also that your old strategies will actually begin to hurt your business.
While some SEO tactics have become less helpful, there are also old strategies that were once acceptable that can now cause your business' rankings in Google's search results to nose-dive. Here are just a few that you need to cut out of your existing strategy right away if you're still actively doing them.
There was a time not so long ago where leaving thin or spammy comments on a well-respected blog with a link to your website was an acceptable strategy to increase your website's SEO rankings. While many businesses and website owners are now aware that leaving spammy comments won't help their SEO rankings (most blogs - including this one - automatically nofollow links in their comments section), it can also hurt your SEO rankings if you're trying to actively use keyword-rich anchor text instead of appropriate branded links.
As recently as ten years ago, finding a website with all sorts of links in the footer was no real surprise. The links provided SEO value, and it was fairly easy for larger websites and businesses to either buy or create websites specifically to have keyword-rich anchor text pointing back at their main business website to help it rank for specific keywords. Google cares more about the overall user's experience across the web these days, and footer links were confusing, annoying and frankly very strange to see everywhere with a few exceptions such as internal website navigation links and partner websites.
As a result, both footer links and hidden links are now a big mistake for SEO strategies. Hidden links are dishonest in terms of providing any value at all to users, and having them can reduce your organic traffic by as much as 25% if you get caught by Google's algorithm changes or their manual team - as Expedia so painfully found out earlier this year when they hid links inside of wordpress templates. If you have links on your website, make sure they are there because they provide value to your users - whether it is further information about a topic or navigation to related content on-site. At the end of the day, that is what links are for and if you are consciously including links that are only for search engines, chances are you will eventually find yourself in trouble because of them.
Once upon a time, press releases were a very easy way to get a lot of links extremely quickly for any website. All you had to do was create a press release that had links back to your website and when it was picked up by the various news outlets your website could easily win some links. This strategy is now frowned upon by Google and can be the basis of a manual penalty.
While press releases can still provide value when it comes to referral traffic, exposure, and nofollow links, they should no longer be a major part of a SEO strategy. While it can be tempting to use them for easy links, the only real SEO value they can provide you with is helping to build a natural backlink profile that has links that are branded and nofollowed - showing Google that you are following their guidelines and have links that are for promotional purposes only instead of going for any SEO value.
This should come as no surprise, but if you're actively trying to buy links in bulk you're probably going to run into some SEO-related issues in the near future. While buying packages of directory links might have provided short term wins in the past, those days are very much gone. There are so many reasons this is a bad idea, ranging from the fact that you need to be amassing relevant high quality links instead of a ton of low quality links, to the fact that you need to be nofollowing any purchased or sponsored content in order to keep your website's backlink profile from running afoul of Google guidelines.
While paid links shouldn't be the basis of any SEO plan, purchasing links can still be a viable option for traffic generation. Links from sponsored content, banner ads, and paid referrals can still help your business or website to generate leads and traffic - but it should be coming directly from those sources - not adding to your SEO profile. The best way to make sure you're not running afoul of any guidelines as you do this is to simply nofollow any links you're paying for - much like press releases, this shows Google that the links generate value but that you know you can't get positive SEO value from them.
Building a Website with Flash
If your website is still built using Flash it's time for a serious overhaul. Not only does having a flash website mean that you're missing out on droves of potentially valuable traffic from mobile users, it can also actively hurt your overall digital presence in terms of SEO rankings. This is because any content that is in flash can't be read properly by search engine crawl bots, and as a result any useful content you might be providing to users won't be seen and ranked appropriately by search engines.
Furthermore, using flash instead of responsive design is a big mistake in that responsive design is given preference on search results due to its superior user experience when it comes to mobile devices and tablets. Ultimately, having a site in flash means that your website is being hurt directly because your content is hidden and indirectly because you're missing out on a potential way to increase your rankings that you aren't taking advantage of.
Low Quality Guest Posts
There has been a lot of talk over recent months over the merits of guest posting. There was a time when almost any type of coherent content on a blog was fair game and a very decent way to amass links that would help to bolster your SEO rankings. There is now a much more serious focus on the quality of the content that you're writing. Guest posts are still fair game, but using them as an attempt to win links is no longer acceptable.
Slow Website Speed
Website speed is something that everyone who owns a website has stressed over at some point (hopefully). Often though, it is something that is focused on when the site is simply not loading or so slow that it is clearly negatively affecting the experience of users. It is important to keep in mind that even when site speed isn't clearly impacting a user's experience that it could still be hurting you. Mere seconds (or less) of extra load time can cause your website to rank worse than a competitor's that is just slightly quicker and has similar content.
There was a time when syndicating content on the Internet was absolutely fine. By and large, this is still the case, but if you're doing it you need to make sure that you aren't just providing duplicate content across your site. Google has recently said that syndication and content duplication is fine as long as it doesn't become spammy. This means that there should be a mix of original content and syndicated content on your website, and that you should give the original source credit in writing, if not let Google know through a canonical tag right on your website where the original content is located.
Not Considering Your Overall Backlink Profile
There was a time when you could actively just try and get keyword-rich anchor text links to specific pages. There was no reason to look at your domain's inbound links from a top down point of view to see what your mix of links looked like. That's changed, in part due to the fact that Google has said that websites should have a "natural" backlink profile.
Keep Up With Best Practices
Keeping up with best practices is important across all channels of digital marketing, but for SEO it is a required part of any good strategy. In order to expect positive results from any SEO strategy, best practice needs to be followed, and in order to do that you need to be sure that everything you're doing for your website is still going to give you the results you're looking for.
If you have any questions or comments please let me know in the comments section below or by tweeting at us @BFMweb.