SEO has gone through exten­sive evo­lu­tion­ary changes over the years, and con­tin­ues to do so every day.

While most tra­di­tion­al mar­ket­ing tac­tics (for the most part) still hold true in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing today, SEO changes have quite dras­ti­cal­ly changed the land­scape.

Most, if not all, of these changes have helped improve the web – and search, in par­tic­u­lar.

Yet, some peo­ple still cling to the “old ways” and try to use out­dat­ed SEO prac­tices to improve their brand’s organ­ic search vis­i­bil­i­ty and per­for­mance.

Some of the tac­tics worked a few years ago, but now just aren’t as effec­tive as they used to be.

Yet many novice mar­keters and/or small busi­ness own­ers are still using these “zom­bie” SEO tech­niques (tac­tics that should be dead, but aren’t for some god­for­sak­en rea­son).

Not only are they inef­fec­tive, but many of the 12 out­dat­ed SEO prac­tices below are poten­tial­ly dan­ger­ous to the well-being of your brand, web­sites, and oth­er dig­i­tal prop­er­ties.

1. Keyword Abuse

There are so many ways web­mas­ters and “mar­keters” con­tin­ue to mis­un­der­stand key­words’ role in gen­er­al SEO ini­tia­tives, and how they should be used in the day-to-day strat­e­gy.

Let’s take a more gran­u­lar look at spe­cif­ic types of key­word abuse and mis­man­age­ment, includ­ing irrel­e­vant usage, writ­ing for a spe­cif­ic key­word den­si­ty, and key­word stuff­ing.

Irrel­e­vant Key­word Targeting/Confusion

All too often, novice SEO prac­ti­tion­ers try and fit their con­tent and mes­sag­ing with­in the con­fines of their key­word research (and not much else).

These “mar­keters” will shape the con­tent and its meta­da­ta to rep­re­sent key­words it’s not prop­er­ly aligned with, nor the prop­er intent of the users con­duct­ing the search­es for the high-vol­ume key­words being tar­get­ed.

This caus­es brands to like­ly lose the atten­tion of read­ers before ever hav­ing the chance to com­mu­ni­cate a real mes­sage with them.

If the key­words mar­ket­ed for don’t align with the con­tent on the page, the dis­con­nect will hin­der the suc­cess of con­tent even if it’s oth­er­wise of good qual­i­ty.

Don’t try to mis­lead users and direct them to con­tent that is mis­rep­re­sent­ed by high-vol­ume key­words in order for increased vis­i­bil­i­ty.

Google knows what this looks like, and it can tru­ly be defined as an obso­lete SEO prac­tice (as well as a “black hat” tech­nique, in many instances).

Key­word Den­si­ty

Writ­ing for a spe­cif­ic “key­word den­si­ty,” like many key­word-focused mar­ket­ing tac­tics, is just miss­ing the mark.

Google no longer depends on key­word den­si­ty (or the ratio of spe­cif­ic key­word usage to the over­all page copy) to deter­mine whether a web­page is an effec­tive source for answer­ing a search query.

It is so much more advanced than sim­ply crawl­ing for key­words; search engines like Google use a mul­ti­tude of sig­nals to deter­mine search results.

While key­words remain impor­tant to the top­ics and ideas they rep­re­sent, they are not the life­line for rank­ing for high-val­ue search queries.

The qual­i­ty of con­tent and how the mes­sag­ing is deliv­ered are the life­line for that.

Key­word Stuff­ing

This is prob­a­bly the old­est trick in the book.

SEO is about key­words, right?

So, load­ing up our web­pages with key­words — espe­cial­ly the same high-val­ue key­word we are aggres­sive­ly tar­get­ing through­out the web­site — is going to help us show up high­er in search, thus out­rank­ing out com­pe­ti­tion?

Absolute­ly not.

Search engines have, for a long time, known what key­word stuff­ing is and what kind of text com­bi­na­tions are unnat­ur­al. They notice these as attempts to manip­u­late search results and demote the con­tent as such.

Yes, there may still be valu­able con­tent that uses sim­ple key­word stuff­ing, either inten­tion­al­ly or unin­ten­tion­al­ly, that is not demot­ed because of its actu­al val­ue to users.

Back in the day, web­mas­ters try­ing to game the sys­tem would go as far as putting every key­word vari­a­tion of a high-val­ue key­word in the web­site foot­er or, even more sketchi­ly, make those key­words the same col­or as the site’s back­ground, effec­tive­ly hid­ing them from humans but not the search engine crawlers.

Web­mas­ters have also tried this with links. (Don’t do any­thing like this.)

Remem­ber, you’re writ­ing for humans, not search engines.

2. Writing for Robots

It’s impor­tant to under­stand that writ­ing unnat­ur­al is, well, not nat­ur­al.

And search engines know it.

The belief is: writ­ing for the web means we should repeat a sub­ject by its prop­er name every time it is men­tioned, work­ing in vari­a­tions and plu­ral/non-plur­al ver­sions of the word so that “all bases are cov­ered.”

When crawled, the crawlers see the key­word repeat­ed, and in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ver­sions, thus lead­ing the page to rank well for the key­word vari­a­tions used (over and over … and over again).

This isn’t going to work any­more.

Search engines are advanced enough to under­stand repeat­ed key­words, their vari­a­tions, and the unfa­vor­able expe­ri­ence of gen­er­al­ly bad con­tent.

Write for humans, not search engine crawlers or any oth­er robot.

3. Article Marketing & Article Directories

Any attempt to game the sys­tem doesn’t usu­al­ly work out in the world of SEO.

But that doesn’t stop peo­ple from try­ing.

Espe­cial­ly when these tac­tics offer notice­able improve­ments to a brand, its web­site, and/or its asso­ci­at­ed dig­i­tal prop­er­ties.

Sure, arti­cle direc­to­ries worked. And they worked pret­ty darn good for a long time, too.

Com­mon­ly con­sid­ered one of ear­li­est forms of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, arti­cle syn­di­ca­tion was low-hang­ing fruit to those in the know. And it made sense since the idea was sim­i­lar to oth­er chan­nels like TV and print that already use syn­di­cat­ed con­tent reg­u­lar­ly.

But Google even­tu­al­ly caught on, unleash­ing its game-chang­ing Pan­da update in 2011.

Pan­da chewed up the search land­scape, tar­get­ing con­tent farms and direc­to­ries, as well as oth­er web­sites offer­ing crap con­tent (whether it was sim­ply bad/false, hor­ri­bly writ­ten, makes no sense, or stolen from some­one else).

The idea behind arti­cle mar­ket­ing doesn’t make sense in today’s world, where your high-qual­i­ty con­tent needs to be orig­i­nal and demon­strate exper­tise, author­i­ty, and trust­wor­thi­ness.

4. Article Spinning

Typ­i­cal­ly done with soft­ware, arti­cle spin­ning is the black-hat tac­tic of try­ing to recre­ate qual­i­ty con­tent using dif­fer­ent words, phras­es, and orga­ni­za­tion.

Essen­tial­ly the end result was a gar­bled mess of an arti­cle that made the same points as the source mate­r­i­al.

It’s no sur­prise this isn’t effec­tive any­more.

While AI is get­ting bet­ter all the time at cre­at­ing con­tent, any­thing gen­er­at­ed by a machine is still of a low­er qual­i­ty than what a human can pro­duce – some­thing orig­i­nal, help­ful, and of sub­stance.

5. Buying Links

This one is still bit­ing web­mas­ters many years lat­er.

Like most SEO tac­tics, if it seems shady, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t do it.

Buy­ing links is no dif­fer­ent.

Once upon a time, it was rou­tine prac­tice to quick­ly pay to get a high vol­ume of links point­ing at your site.

Now we now that back­link pro­files need to be main­tained and opti­mized just like the web­sites we over­see, and low-qual­i­ty domains with far too many back­links point­ing to a web­site may be dan­ger­ous to a website’s health.

Google can eas­i­ly iden­ti­fy low-qual­i­ty sites, and it will also iden­ti­fy when those sites are send­ing an abun­dance of links out that they shouldn’t be.

Today if you want to legit­i­mate­ly help boost the author­i­ty and vis­i­bil­i­ty of your web­site, you need to earn links, not pay some­one to build them man­u­al­ly.

6. Anchor Text

Inter­nal link­ing is a char­ac­ter­is­tic of any good site struc­ture and user expe­ri­ence.

This is typ­i­cal­ly done with anchor text, an HTML ele­ment that allows us to tell users what type of con­tent they can expect if they click on a link.

There are var­i­ous types of anchor text (brand­ed, naked, exact-match, website/brand name, page title and/or head­line, etc.), but some have most cer­tain­ly become more favor­able than oth­ers, depend­ing on the usage and sit­u­a­tion.

In the past, using exact-match and key­word-rich anchor text were stan­dard SEO best prac­tices.

Since Pen­guin, Google has been bet­ter at iden­ti­fy­ing over-opti­mized con­tent.

This goes back to the Gold­en Rule about pro­duc­ing well-con­struct­ed con­tent that is user-friend­ly and nat­ur­al.

If you’re opti­miz­ing for search engines and not humans, you’re like­ly going to fail.

7. Obsolete Keyword Research Tactics

Key­words have cer­tain­ly gone through some dras­tic changes over the last five to 10 years.

Mar­keters used to have a pletho­ra of key­word-lev­el data at their fin­ger­tips, allow­ing us to see what works well for our brand and what doesn’t, but also to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of idea tar­get­ing and user intent.

Much of this went to the way­side with key­word “(not pro­vid­ed)”.

In the years fol­low­ing, tools popped up that tried to repli­cate key­word data. But to ful­ly recre­ate it cor­rect­ly is sim­ply impos­si­ble.

And yet, even with that now-stripped key­word data, mar­keters are required to do key­word research of their own to get an under­stand­ing of the indus­try, the com­pe­ti­tion, the geo­graph­ic region, etc.

To do this, many mar­keters turn to Google’s free Key­word Plan­ner. While the data in there has been sub­ject to some scruti­ny over the years, it’s a free Google-owned prod­uct that gives us data we pre­vi­ous­ly couldn’t real­ly come by, so many of us con­tin­ue to use it (myself includ­ed).

But it’s impor­tant to remem­ber what the data actu­al­ly rep­re­sents for key­words.

Com­pe­ti­tion” in the Key­word Plan­ner per­tains sole­ly to paid com­pe­ti­tion and traf­fic, thus it is prac­ti­cal­ly use­less to build an organ­ic search strat­e­gy around this data.

Some alter­na­tives to this are the Moz Key­word Explor­er tool and SEMrush’s Key­word Mag­ic Tool, both of which are paid tools.

Google Trends is help­ful for this type of com­pet­i­tive analy­sis, too, and it’s free.

8. Pages for All Keyword Variations

This was once a use­ful tac­tic to rank well for all the vari­a­tions of high-val­ue key­words tar­get­ed by your brand and its mes­sag­ing.

For­tu­nate­ly, algo­rithm updates like Hum­ming­bird, RankBrain, and oth­ers have helped Google under­stand that vari­a­tions of the same word are, in fact, all relat­ed to the same top­ic.

The best, most-use­ful con­tent around these enti­ties should be most vis­i­ble due to the val­ue it offers users on the top­ic, not just one vari­a­tion of the word.

Aside from the fact that this will lead to bru­tal site self-can­ni­bal­iza­tion, it makes a web­site con­sid­er­ably hard­er to use and nav­i­gate since con­tent will be so incred­i­bly sim­i­lar.

The neg­a­tive user expe­ri­ence alone is rea­son enough not to do this. But the added fact that Google knows bet­ter than to over­look this prac­tice makes it a no-brain­er.

This tac­tic evolved and even­tu­al­ly helped lead to the incep­tion of many con­tent farms that were tar­get­ing traf­fic sole­ly for their key­word val­ue and vis­i­bil­i­ty.

This was attrib­uted to the “old way” of opti­miz­ing a web­site — for key­words and search engines, rather than users and their intent.

9. Targeting Exact-Match Search Queries

The tac­tic of tar­get­ing exact-match search queries in hopes to rank for those queries sole­ly for the traf­fic num­bers — and not because the search query or its answer actu­al­ly per­tained to the busi­ness opti­miz­ing for it — became a some­what pop­u­lar prac­tice before the full deploy­ment of the Google Knowl­edge Graph.

Mar­keters would strive to rank in the top spot for exact-match search queries to trig­ger a break­out box and an increased click-through rate for their sites.

10. Exact-Match Domains

Hav­ing high-val­ue key­words in your URL makes sense. To some extent.

But when it becomes con­fus­ing or mis­lead­ing (i.e., it results in a bad user expe­ri­ence), you have to draw the line.

A main best prac­tice for domains is to keep it con­sis­tent with your brand.

Brand names should be short, con­cise, and some­what mean­ing­ful.

Why wouldn’t you want the same from your domain?

Google would val­ue exact-match domains a long time ago because it made sense to use it as a sig­nal.

The behav­ioral data now has helped Google make changes like this (and many oth­ers) that are com­mon sense, clean-up moves.

Run a good com­pa­ny and offer great prod­ucts and/or ser­vices under the brand name, and Google will do work of mak­ing your brand vis­i­ble when it’s rel­e­vant to the peo­ple search­ing for it.

11. XML Sitemap Frequency

We should nev­er try to manip­u­late search engine crawlers so that our web­site is crawled more than oth­ers because it believed new con­tent was pub­lished or sub­stan­tial site changes were made.

But, since web­mas­ters did that in the past, the sitemap is used quite dif­fer­ent­ly than what was once intend­ed.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, web­mas­ters could give a pri­or­i­ty num­ber to each page of a web­site list­ed in the sitemap rang­ing from 0.0 to 1.0.

Since that was nev­er quite used cor­rect­ly, crawlers don’t even hon­or the fre­quen­cy rat­ing.

Instead, search engines just crawl the con­tent it deems it needs to crawl

Make sure you adhere to XML Sitemap best prac­tices. Sitemaps are an incred­i­bly impor­tant ele­ment for every web­site.

12. Bad Content

Face it. There was a time in our world when crap­py con­tent could still rank well.

Oh, how times have changed.

Stolen con­tent, thin con­tent, key­word-stuffed con­tent, non-cred­i­ble con­tent — there was a time when all of this could get by search engine crawlers and regur­gi­tat­ed back to users as wor­thy results.

But no more.

We know what it takes to make qual­i­ty con­tent that is reward­ed by search engines because they tell us what’s right and what’s wrong.

If you want to suc­ceed at SEO today, you must do what’s right.

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