One of the things I like most about search engine optimization (SEO) is the diversity of different approaches it offers that can work for it. You don’t have to use a one-size-fits-all, cookie cutter approach, and in most cases, you can’t.
Still, there are some approaches that almost never work, to the point of being counterproductive or destructive for most brands that attempt to wield them. Why are they still around? Some of them are obsolete practices, serving as remnants of strategies that used to work; in these cases, companies may not realize that search engines and best practices have changed. Others are the product of wishful thinking, created by a logic that on the surface seems sound, but doesn’t reflect reality.
Following these five approaches will almost certainly burn you, so stay away from them at all costs:
1. Keyword stuffing
Keywords are a somewhat divisive issue in the SEO world, with some people arguing that keywords are no longer a relevant consideration, while others claim they still have value for audience targeting and performance evaluation. In any case, no matter whether you’re using keywords as the strategic basis of your strategy or you’ve abandoned them altogether, stuffing keywords into your content in the hopes of ranking for queries containing those keywords is a bad idea.
You won’t stand much better chance of ranking for those queries, thanks to the semantic search of Google’s Hummingbird update; and to make matters worse, your content will be evaluated at a lower quality. Your users won’t be happy reading keyword-stuffed content, either; there really is no victory here.
2. Engaging in link schemes
Link-building is an essential component of an SEO strategy. However, participating in link schemes as a way to build your authority faster is going to hurt you. Google explicitly warns webmasters against the use of link schemes, which include paid links, link exchanges and exotic tactics like link wheels. As a general rule, any link built with the deliberate and exclusive purpose to increase search rankings may be considered an unnatural and harmful link; it could therefore be flagged as spam and drag your authority down.
Stick with organic link building tactics like guest posting to stay safe. For help, see SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide.
3. Publishing fluff content
Each piece of content you create adds a new title and a new page to Google’s index, provides more content for your users to read and search engines to index and provides more opportunities to acquire conversions and inbound links. So, it stands to reason that having more content is a good thing. The problem is, many novice search-optimizers are blinded by this thought, and start churning out content in high quantities rather than paying attention to that content’s value.
This is colloquially referred to as “fluff content,” and in the early days of SEO it might have helped you. Today, it will only bring down your search rankings and irritate your users, decreasing traffic and conversion rates.
4. Fixating on rankings
Keyword rankings are a good metric to measure for the health of your SEO campaign -- but they’re only one of several metrics you need to pay attention to. Assume, for a moment, that you hold 10 number 1 rankings for various keywords. That sounds great on the surface, right? But what kind of search volume are those specific keywords seeing? Are those people even clicking through to your site?
Assuming they are, are those keywords the kinds that would be input by future potential customers, or tire kickers? There are too many variables and metrics that influence the overall “value” of a position for you to obsess over a single metric like keyword ranking. That tunnel vision can compromise your interpretation.
5. Hiring cheap agencies or freelancers
Speaking generally, in SEO, you get what you pay for. Expensive agencies are expensive because they work hard, have more experience, offer more tools and spend time to make sure you’re satisfied. Cheap agencies are cheap because they blitz through their work without care, take shortcuts and probably outsource the work to even cheaper (and less qualified) people. Trying to save money this way could leave you with an inexperienced service provider, and if you aren’t careful, could land you with a Google penalty.
You have a degree of flexibility and forgiveness in SEO. You can piecemeal your strategy together based on your unique goals and circumstances, and even if you mess up, you’ll have enough time and freedom to correct your mistakes and still see a positive ROI in the long term.
However, the more you can avoid these destructive practices in your ongoing efforts -- even the seemingly innocuous ones -- the better poised you’ll be for clear, long-term gains.