SEO has changed enormously over the last decade (and even in the last year!) but sometimes you’ll still come across websites using techniques that were used back in the day to game the system. These sort of black hat SEO techniques aren’t just ethically dubious, they also often make for a terrible user experience. And the cherry on the top is, Google is getting better and better at spotting black hat SEO, and websites which use it expose themselves to seriously negative SEO consequences – exactly the opposite of what business owners are trying to achieve.
So, what makes SEO professionals wince in 2020? Here’s our list of what not to do if you want your website to rank well in 2020 and beyond.
Creating content for keywords
Google’s algorithms are increasingly focused on search intent: in other words, what the user is looking for when they enter a search term. As far back as 2013, marketing analytics SaaS provider Moz was already telling SEOs to focus on topics, not keywords. This is even more true today, in light of Google’s BERT update in late 2019. Google describes this update as “the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search”; in other words, seriously eventful. This is bad news for SEOs who were relying on repeating the same keywords again and again to make Google think that their website was the be-all-and-end-all on a topic. Instead, a good SEO strategy involves developing interesting, relevant content that adds to the authority of your website – exactly the sort of thing that human readers want to read, and what Google has been asking SEO professionals to do all along.
You may be wondering: does this mean keywords are irrelevant to SEO in 2020? Not exactly. Keywords are still the most fundamental way to track how your website is ranking on Google – but the way to gain organic search traffic is to write high-quality content tailored to topics, and written in a natural way.
Content cloaking and automatically-generated gibberish content might have worked a decade ago, but Google is smarter than ever and the Internet doesn’t need more spam.
For business owners, choosing an SEO professional is the equivalent of entrusting someone with your digital reputation – and unfortunately, there’s no shortage of cowboys who take shortcuts which can damage your search engine rankings. Backlinks are an important part of SEO strategy, but you’re not going to get great backlinks by buying them in the SEO equivalent of a back alley. High-quality backlinks take time, and involve creating content that other website owners will want to share and letting them know that it’s there. It’s a little bit of SEO and a little bit of PR – and not even a little bit of spam. Even if Google doesn’t figure out what’s up straightaway, it can still come back to bite you later.
Not auditing your website
Technical SEO still matters! Especially for larger and older websites, it’s easy to end up with a multitude of technical issues. Broken links are a particularly common culprit – other websites go down, you stop selling a product, you change an URL and forget to add a redirect, etc. Duplicate titles are another common error; it’s surprising how many websites use the same title for every page! You may also have missing alt tags in your images, which can be a missed opportunity to explain to Google what the image is and how it’s relevant to your website. Regular auditing helps you catch problems quickly and fix them, before they impact both UX and SEO.
Optimising for the wrong keywords
Getting found is great, in principle, but getting found for the wrong things is almost certain to be entirely pointless. For the most part, you want people to visit your website because you want them to do something – buy a product or service, become aware of your brand or your cause, act in some fashion, etc. By optimising for the wrong keywords, you’ll attract low-quality leads whose search intent doesn’t match with the action you want them to take.
What should you be doing instead? Think strategically about who the right audience is for your website, and what they might search for to find you. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and a good digital marketing agency will engage proactively in SEO keyword research to find out what your competitors are ranking for, what keywords you should be ranking for that you’re not, work out how competitive those keywords are, and come up with a strategy to help you both capture both the low- and high-hanging fruit.
Not using anchor text wisely
You’ve no doubt seen no shortage of anchor text that reads like this:
“To read about XXX, click here”
That “click here” is your anchor text, and it plays an important role in your SEO strategy because it succinctly signals to Google what the website you’ve linked to is about. Anchor text is a great opportunity to improve your rank for a target keyword, as long as you don’t overdo it – keep it natural! For example, “Read more about XXX”.