7 SEO “Best” Practices That Now Seem Weird (and What’s Replaced Them)

by Sharon Hurley Hall

Last updated on August 7th, 2017

Search engine optimization (SEO) and conversion rate optimization (CRO) go hand in glove.

SEO can help you find out where you’re losing conversions and optimize to get them back again. But that’s only if you’re doing it right. If you’re still optimizing like it’s 2005, then you’ll have a very different experience, because SEO has changed — a lot.

Step into my time machine (I’ve always wanted to say that) and check out some old SEO best practices that seem weird now.

7 SEO Practices That Now Seem Weird

Image: Pixabay

1. Focusing on the Mighty Keyword

When I got started as a freelance web writer, all anyone could talk about was keywords. At the beginning, SEO was all about taking a single keyword or short keyword phrase with a high search volume and cramming that exact phrase into content as much as you possibly could.

Those in the know spent a lot of time working out the optimal keyword density and passing these directives on to writers. The idea was that the more keywords your content had, the more visible it would be in search results and the more traffic you would get — and it worked, for a while.

But that doesn’t work any more. Over the years Google has got smarter  about delivering quality to web users. So now marketers looking to win traffic have to deliver quality too.

Yes, keywords are still important, but mainly because of what you can learn about user intent. Give users what they want and need and your conversion will improve (and your content will be more readable too.)

Moz’s Rand Fishkin gets it right: he suggests that in assessing keywords today (because they still have some importance), you need to consider:

  • the opportunity
  • how that matches with searcher intent and your key goals
  • what content you need to service those goals
  • the potential reach and the value to your business

2. Obsession with Ranking

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a change in the emails I get from some less-than-ethical SEO marketers.

Back in the old days, it was all about guaranteeing a high page rank by any means necessary. Gaming search engines to get your site rank up and people to the page was part of the process. That’s changed too.

A recent infographic on the Quicksprout blog shows that the old-style obsession with keywords and ranking has been replaced with an interest in user engagement and ROI. In fact, ranking isn’t even listed as something SEOs focus on and keywords have dropped into fourth place behind analytics, content creation and social media marketing.

3. Ignoring Content Quality

Let’s talk content. I still remember when writers were asked to churn out content. Quantity was more important than quality, because the thinking went that if you had plenty of articles with the right keywords, people would come to your site and stick around. And a good web article was between 250 and 500 words — end of story.

A lot of web content in the old days was lightweight and low-value, precisely because of this formulaic approach. That won’t fly now.

Content quality is an important aspect of SEO. That means content that answers users’ questions with the necessary depth and breadth.  Provide value to your audience and you’re much more likely to win conversions.

All of Google’s algorithm updates have focused on reducing the amount of poor content users see while increasing the number of relevant results. But as Neil Patel points out, don’t get sucked into the long-form content trap either. Instead, focus your strategy on regularly delivering what’s appropriate and relevant to your audience, whatever the length.

4. Bulk Link Building

The other part of old-style SEO best practices (which would get you Google-slapped now) was building inbound links from wherever you could. Article marketing, directory sites, article sites, link networks, unacknowledged sponsored content — it didn’t seem to matter. Spammy link-building practices were the order of the day, till Google put the lid on them.

Again, quality rules over quantity. Today, large numbers of inbound links from questionable sources will devalue your site. A single link from an authority site, which you have earned rather than bought, is the way to go. And that’s what you get from creating quality content as mentioned above.

A high quality recommendation can lead to conversions — that’s how SEO works now.

5. Forgetting about Social

Maybe it was just my experience, but when I first started writing web content (in the days before Twitter), people uploaded the content to their website then used some of the shady practices above to get people interested. At the start, it was rare for businesses to use social bookmarking sites, and many of them didn’t appear to have content strategies.

Even when Twitter started and Facebook went public in 2006, no-one knew what to do with them at first. It was more about shooting the breeze with the people who got it. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Social media is now a key part of both SEO and CRO because social signals show which content people are interested in and what’s relevant to them.

That’s why making it easy for people to discover and share your content and landing pages is so important. And content marketing can amplify those social signals when you have a strategy for sharing content across multiple sites.

6. Ignoring User Experience

Old-style SEO didn’t take much account of user experience. In fairness, at the time, many users were less discerning about what they expected from a website. But improvements in technology and increased familiarity have changed that, so users won’t put up with websites that don’t work for them. That’s even more true for mobile device users.

Get user experience right and you will avoid pogo sticking; get it wrong and users will click away and never come back to find out about your brilliant offer.

In other words, good user experience equals good conversions. And poor user experience equals no conversions at all.

7. Forgetting about Authority and Reputation

There have always been high profile businesses with a good reputation, but in old-style SEO that didn’t always translate to a similar online presence. Frankly, mistakes were made (some companies are still making them). But it’s not too late to change.

In SEO today, it’s all about authority and reputation. For websites, page rank has been replaced by domain authority and page authority, based on a wide range of ranking factors, as the Rand Fishkin presentation linked above shows.

He adds that the authority and reputation of your brand are also important, and there’s a lot more work to do to make this obvious. He says that in order to be successful at SEO you need to be clear about who your target customer is, who influences them and what channels you need to use to reach them.

You need to understand where customer issues align with your business goals. And you need to work out how you’re going to spread the word and make people see your business as the go-to destination rather than one of your competitors.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Are you still relying on old SEO best practices? How have you changed your approach to SEO for conversions?

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Sharon Hurley Hall.

27 Comments

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Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website.

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  1. Croc says:
    July 7, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Very nice tips Sharon , thank you to share with us .

  2. Rayhan says:
    January 29, 2016 at 9:47 am

    Very helpful post for the newbie bloggers like me. I think we should follow all of the mentioned things when doing SEO.
    Thanks.

    • Bhaskar says:
      May 2, 2016 at 7:08 am

      Yes Rayhan we should follow these tips to be good in SEO. Thanks Sharon for sharing your thought and ideas of SEO specialist like Neil Patel. I use to follow his blogs and update my knowledge.

      I am looking for a good blog on long tail keywords, can anyone help me?

  3. Alan Bleiweiss says:
    October 23, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Most of these were never best practices. They were tricks and scams to fool the system without regard for long term evolution. Abusing existing weakness is never a best practice.

  4. Sharon Hurley Hall says:
    July 15, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Hi George, as it happens, there are a few tips in this article on the mobile friendly update

  5. George Marie says:
    July 14, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Hi, Sharon. Great post about changing nature of SEO. One thing that your blog made me think about was how much Google’s mobile update has impacted small business owners. It used to be that you didn’t have to worry about having a mobile website if you’re a small business. Now, without being mobile-friendly, your business won’t even reach smartphone users.

    I work for a predictive analytics company called diib here in Salt Lake City. Do you have any good tips for making your SEO mobile-friendly?

  6. Jesse stoler says:
    July 2, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    First off, this was a wonderful read Sharon! It’d be hard to disagree vehemently with any of the well-reasoned things you have to say here.

    The only point I really want to make concerns section #4, “Bulk Link Building.” I concur wholeheartedly that spammy link building practices such as link networking and article marketing are inadvisable, I’d like to state that there is a middle ground between “link earning” and paying for links. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with contacting webmasters about your site and attempting to persuade them to link to you. As far as I’m concerned, that’s just smart and targeted manual promotion. I’d be curious to know where you stand on this.

    Nice work again, and have a lovely day!

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      July 3, 2015 at 12:16 pm

      Hi Jesse, the trouble with that is that the approach has been overused by those using spammy practices. I can’t tell you how many pseudo-friendly emails I get whose aim is to persuade me to link to something. Having said that, occasionally, someone will take the time to do research and will send me something that really interests me. In that case, and I’m only speaking personally here, I’m likely to share it on social media. It would have to be stellar for me to consider adding a link on my site.

  7. Anil Saini says:
    July 1, 2015 at 8:59 am

    Hi Sharon
    Nice article.. i am still confused about the content length. as Neil said on SEJ that he always write more than 2000 word count content and small size content are treated as thin content in google search. is that true?
    thanks

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      July 1, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Hi Anil, thinness of content isn’t just about size, and while Google is after depth, padding content to reach a particular word count won’t help with SEO. I’m pretty sure Neil has said that 1) he has had tremendous success with long-form content 2) deliver content at the appropriate length for your audience and purpose. In other words, there’s no one size fits all recipe. 🙂

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      July 1, 2015 at 11:08 am

      Sharon is right. For SEO value, you need to have more than 400 words, but if your audience prefers short bites, give them 400 to 600 words. If they like meaty chunks of content, write 1000+ words. The key is to know your audience and what type of content gets them engaged.

  8. Richard says:
    July 1, 2015 at 2:36 am

    Great article, Sharon!
    It is incredible how smart Google is already. Their search algorithm can answer very complicated questions and can bring display very relevant results for very long queries. They have to adapt to users behavior, because when we are looking for something specific, we use long tail keywords to find the appropriate websites. So this is the new trend I see, everyone is pushing content and try to rank for as many long tail keywords as they can, hoping that they will also get good search results for, general, high traffic keywords.
    Backlinks are still important, but from I what I see, is better to not have any backlink rather to have hundreds of poor quality. This are just my thoughts…

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      July 1, 2015 at 9:48 am

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Richard. The only thing I can predict is that the algorithms will get smarter, so in another year or two, SEO might look different again. 🙂

  9. Aarti agrwal says:
    June 29, 2015 at 8:43 am

    Hi Sharon,
    Its is very Useful Information SEO is important Part Of Blogging Life SEO is Changing Day by Day But i like Your Information Great Points and ideas Thanks a lot For Sharing me Keep on,
    Have a great day

  10. toko kaos film says:
    June 28, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Very good stuff, Sharon. I am delighted that “keyword obsession” has been replaced by analytics, better content, and social. Change is good!

  11. Cathy Goodwin says:
    June 28, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Sharon, Thanks for clarifying these concepts (which can be hard to understand).

    I still remember the days of link swaps, when I first came online. I have to say I’m glad to see them gone. Now the challenge is to explain to my clients that if we need to focus on identifying the target audience; creating genuinely useful, engaging content; and making it easier for them to say yes. I especially like your point about keywords as a guide, not the essence of the copy. Now if I could just convince my clients who give me a big keyword list before we start …

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      June 29, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Many of us have those conversations, Cathy, but there’s hope: I’ve seen a gradual shift, with more people looking for quality.

  12. Mike Jones says:
    June 28, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Only SEO problem that is hurting most is that you cannot get targeted traffic on new website. And nobody has 5 years to waste in SEO. Only results that you can get theses days are but fixing technical errors from the website.

  13. Rani Kubersky says:
    June 28, 2015 at 2:55 am

    Interesting, informative points about ideal SEO practices. It is important, however, to recognize that long-form pieces are not always detrimental. While varying the nature of content produced is crucial, visitors are oftentimes looking for data and details (especially within a B2B model). Don’t shy away from writing a longer piece if it will produce more meaningful results for the reader.

    • Kathryn Aragon says:
      June 28, 2015 at 9:16 am

      The key is your last phrase: Test to learn how you can provide meaningful results for your readers. If you can do that in 600 words, great. But if it takes 2000 words, by all means, go for the long-form article. Great point, Rani.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      June 29, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Agreed, Rani. It’s about providing what your readers/users want, rather than obeying arbitrary restrictions.

  14. Yasin Rishad says:
    June 28, 2015 at 12:27 am

    Hi Sharon,

    Seo is changing day by day. We have to be up to date with latest seo tactics. Now we should look on user experience. I loved your word on poor user experience equals no conversions at all.

    Social media is now an ranking factor to get higher ranking on search engine. Social signal is now as vote for the content. And quality content is king as before. Lsi keyword is now important to get ranked on different keyword.

    Thank you for your useful tips on how seo has changed.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      June 29, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Yasin.

  15. Alvin chua says:
    June 27, 2015 at 3:50 am

    I agree with building domain authority instead of just links or social signals. However, I disagree with the point that SEO is not about rankings. The other on site stuff is known as conversion optimization, and as far as the term SEO goes, it IS about rankings on search engines.

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      June 29, 2015 at 8:25 am

      Thanks for sharing your views, Alvin.

  16. Brian says:
    June 27, 2015 at 12:24 am

    Very good stuff, Sharon. I am delighted that “keyword obsession” has been replaced by analytics, better content, and social. Change is good!

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:
      June 29, 2015 at 8:24 am

      I agree, Brian. From a writing viewpoint, the focus on quality really works for me. 🙂

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