SEO best practices are always evolving. It’s tempting for businesses to adopt the latest shiny-object SEO tactics in their never-ending quest to rank high in searches. But in the rush for Page 1, too often companies skimp on the less-shiny foundational powerhouses of successful SEO strategies.
While it’s definitely worth the time and energy required to adopt leading-edge SEO techniques, like featured snippets, schema markup and voice search, companies should not neglect SEO’s tried-and-true foundational tactics. In fact, they should continually strengthen these SEO best practices.
But also, marketers must reinforce their SEO strategies in ways that are not spammy—because Google will penalize “black hat” practices. Three of the leading SEO practices that Google penalizes are:
Instead of spammy tactics, marketers should perform white-hat link management, create quality content and use the right keywords smartly. This post shares insight on how to reinforce these foundational SEO best practices in 2018, while avoiding tactics that will get your site penalized.
One note before we jump in: If your on-page SEO is not pristine, the below best practices won’t be able to help you much. Have a look at this checklist to ensure your strategy is solid.
“When we analyzed one million Google search results, we found that the number of sites linking to a page correlated with rankings more than anything else.” — Backlinko.com
Link building has been an important part of SEO since the beginning. The more high-quality links to a given page, the higher it ranks—whether it’s a lot of links from semi-popular pages or a few links from top-ranking pages. Guest posting has been one of the most popular tactics for link building. But, as with any popular and successful practice, it’s been abused. As a result, Google changed its link algorithms. Now, if companies don’t do link-building right, their sites can be labeled as spam. A challenge for 2018 will be determining how to include guest blogging and other forms of content sharing as integral parts of a “legal” link-building strategy.
What’s Out — Spammy Guest Posting
In May 2017, Google issued a warning against excessive guest posting on questionable sites: “When Google detects that a website is publishing articles that contain spammy links, this may change Google's perception of the quality of the site and could affect its ranking.”
What’s In — Authority, Reciprocal Links, Outbound Links and Quality over Quantity
Link building is not expected to disappear, but it will be more important than ever to create a strategy that seeks out quality links. A successful SEO strategy will move toward relationship building and helping a brand develop powerful contacts and links in the long term. This creates the need for a more diversified link-building strategy that includes the following characteristics:
Authority — Authority relates to the quality and volume of links created over time on any website. The more authority a website has, the more link juice it can pass on to other sites. Aim to only link to other website with high authority in your industry. When you do, over time, your own site will build authority.
Quality over Quantity — When building links, don’t go for numbers. Instead, target the highest-quality domains and ensure those links are created naturally and organically. Also, too many links will not only overwhelm your readers, but can also harm your SEO. There is no ideal number. One expert said that one good backlink is better than 100 low-quality links.
Reciprocal Links — These are links that are both from your website to a quality site, and from the quality site to your site. Reciprocal links are often pre-arranged by companies with mutually benefitting audiences.
Relevant Inbound and Outbound Links — Internal links to other pages on your website and outbound links to other websites are important. Create relevant internal links within your own content so that visitors can continue learning about your company. Create relevant outbound links to other sites from which you obtained the research for your content.
What to Do Now — Start a Link-Building Campaign
A link-building campaign is the process of actively trying to increase links to your website. Use these tactics:
Google has made it abundantly clear that providing quality content that answers users’ questions is the way to get both rankings and engaged traffic.
When it comes to content, Google saves the first page for companies that provide their visitors with quality experiences. As a result, the content of a site is crucial when it comes to ranking in 2018. In fact, the importance of quality content has increased dramatically over time. Gone are the days of generating tons of low-quality, content-farm-ish copy. Today, content has to be excellent, add value and engage visitors. Even the best new SEO best practices won’t work if you publish poor-quality content.
What’s Out — Low-Quality Content
Content is the engine of the internet. Yet, too many companies still produce a flood of low-quality content—and they’re paying a high price as a result. Google’s ability to separate good from poor quality content is improving constantly. Steer clear of the temptation to take shortcuts and save money producing low-quality content.
What’s In — Relevant, Newsworthy, Quality Content
Go out of your way to make great content. Each page must have well-written, informative, useful and in-depth content. Invest heavily in your content and it will pay off in brand messaging and traffic. Great content will engage visitors and will invite them to share. Focus on the following content creation tactics in 2018:
Create Relevant, Newsworthy Content — Before you start writing, ask yourself: What is it about this content that my readers will find compelling? What questions does it answer? What solutions does it provide? Google has developed algorithms that rank companies with the best answers higher. Further, content that inspires real engagement (measured in click-throughs, shares, tweets, etc.) gets a significant boost on search engine results, as well.
Make Your Content Credible — Show your site’s credibility by using original research, citations, links, reviews and testimonials.
Compose Useful Content — Useful content is the SEO Holy Grail. People go online to learn things. So give them information they can use. Build content that’s instructional and helps solve problems.
What to Do Now — Use a Content Strategy Tool
HubSpot recently launched a new tool, called Content Strategy. It helps marketers identify and create clusters of web pages and blog content around each of their core topics, with the goal of achieving better search rankings and more and higher quality traffic. The tool helps companies avoid wasting time creating content that doesn’t work so they can focus on creating content that customers want to read—and search engines want to rank. Other tools, such as SEMrush, can also help you build this strategy.
These tools help in these ways:
“Keyword research is always going to be essential.” — Moz.com
Keywords have been around since the beginning of the Internet. But black-hat users abused the search tactic, resulting in Google changing its algorithms. However, keywords are still a vital component of successful SEO. When used properly, they can increase the amount of targeted traffic that comes to a website. Rather than abandon keywords, companies need to double-down, but in the right, “white-hat” ways.
What’s Out — Keyword Stuffing
Gone are the days when keyword stuffing would get you ranked on page one. Keyword stuffing is the practice of loading a webpage with keywords to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. In the past, companies could put their main industry keywords and search terms all over their web pages and get high ranking. Google caught on and nipped this in the bud. Now, Google penalizes websites for this outdated tactic, demoting keyword stuffed sites to spam.
What’s In — Keyword Proximity, Density, Frequency, Prominence and Stemming
SEO-optimized content still includes keywords. But instead of stuffing, the new strategies to employ are keyword proximity, density, frequency, prominence and stemming.
Keyword Proximity — Use your keywords in prominent areas of web pages and keep them a reasonable distance apart.
Keyword Density — Manage the proportion of keywords to the total number of words on a webpage. There’s no hard-and-fast rule on density, but a basic rule of thumb is anywhere from 2 to 8 percent. Use a few variations of the right keywords sprinkled throughout the text, and place them where they sound natural and make sense
Keyword Frequency — Similar to density, this requires you to monitor the frequency with which specific keywords appear in your text.
Keyword Prominence — Keyword prominence refers to how prominent your keywords are within your web page. In other words, how close to the beginning of the web page, sentence, title, H tag and meta description your keywords are placed.
Keyword Stemming — Along with using your exact keyword matches, also use variations of keywords in semantic groups, such as singular-plural, related suffixes and synonyms.
What to Do Now — Set Up a Keyword Library
With all the new rules and penalties around keywords, choosing the right words every time you create new content can be frustrating. Enter keyword libraries (aka, keyword database), a repository of a company’s essential keywords. Keyword libraries give content creators quick access to the keywords they should use in their content. One approach is to populate a spreadsheet with a list of researched keywords. You can also use HubSpot’s keyword tool. Both approaches will make it easy for anyone involved in creating content to find the right keywords. Here’s how:
Rather than just jumping on the latest SEO shiny-object practices, first shore up the three foundational SEO best practices—link building, quality content and keywords. While they are under Google’s spam microscope, these practices are still going to be essential for successful SEO strategies in the coming New Year. Your effort will be well worth it when you start experiencing increases in search traffic, higher rankings, more frequent search engine crawling, more visitor engagement and increases in referring link traffic.