How to Fail at SEO

SEO. Something you vaguely remember dealing with, what was it, back in 2012? Yeah, you’re not alone in neglecting your site’s search engine optimization. We’re here to tell you that SEO is alive and kicking in 2019. In fact, it’s just as important as ever. It’s also as easy to do poorly as ever.

Yes, SEO still matters. Unless you fail at it by not following these tips.

Google still rules the search world, and they still power that search with algorithms that are updated occasionally to move the focus to different areas of a site to determine where it ranks on the search engine results page (SERP). As long as this is the case, SEO will remain a topic of much debate and, indeed, much utility for those who stay away from these surefire ways to fail at SEO.

By relying on the “one keyword per page” method

The current iteration of Google’s search algorithm ranks related content search higher than an individual keyword search. That means people aren’t searching for “brisket” anymore, they’re searching for “brisket recipe with no ketchup,” or “what’s that meat dish my grandma made every spring?”

It’s true, there was a time when ranking for single keywords, like brisket, was the ultimate goal of SEO activities, and sites would cram their pages with those keywords. It wouldn’t have been uncommon to find a single blog post with the word brisket repeated dozens of times. As a result of how off-putting this was to readers, Google adjusted their search to be more semantic and down-ranked sites that stuff keywords like that.

The way to rank now is to include these so-called “keyword phrases” naturally throughout your content. So rather than trying to use the single keyword dozens of times, work on using them only as often as sounds natural, and include it in phrases people are using to search (which you can find by doing keyword research, of course). “Brisket recipes for spring,” “how to make mouth-watering brisket in 5 easy steps,” and the like.

By forgetting the basics, like the fact that duplicate content is bad

Some of the old stand-bys are still with us, and one that seems to not be getting enough attention recently is the fact that sites with duplicate content are down-ranked. Just what duplicate content is, remains to be defined clearly. It’s best practice to re-write any content you intend to use on multiple pages so that it sounds different enough that it wouldn’t trigger a plagiarism checker.

This has some ramifications for content marketing since often blog posts are repackaged as pillar pages or downloadable content. Well, the good news on the latter is that PDF files are not indexed by Google, so your ebooks are safe, even if they reuse some paragraphs from your popular blog posts. Pillar pages are a bit trickier, however. The content you do need to reuse should not constitute the bulk of the page, and if it’s limited to a paragraph here or there, you’ll likely be OK. Use plagiarism checking tools if you’re unsure, and double-check the page metrics over the first few weeks it’s posted to be sure you’re not being dinged.

There is one more scenario where duplicate content may pop up: on a site that’s been languishing, unloved, for years. If you’re tasked with bringing a decrepit corporate site back from the brink, and content marketing is your method of choice—Good on ya! But seriously, take the time to comb the site for pages that appear multiple times, or blog posts that seem to have been posted more than once. And you’ll need to remember to use the CMS side of the site, as even pages that are hidden from the public are indexed, so these need to be weeded as well.

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By thinking that once you’ve “done” SEO, you’re done

This is a biggie. There are unscrupulous hucksters out there selling fix-all solutions to your SEO woes. The thing is, they may do a decent job of optimizing your site as it exists on the day you run the program. But what happens next week? Or next month?

SEO done right has the potential to bring huge increases in organic searchers and leads...if you nurture it and update your tactics to keep up with the ever-changing landscape.

Each new page you upload, be it a landing page for a special offer, a blog post, or even a redo on your careers page—should be optimized. When you have a cluster of posts that circle around a pillar page on that topic, each of these pages needs to be updated with the right links and the right CTAs not only so your existing readers can navigate them, but so new readers can find them in the first place. These so-called topic clusters are one of the newer additions to Google’s algorithm. They increase the trust people have in you and your content, which increases the authority Google sees in your content, finally increasing the pull they have on your ranking.

By failing to see the big picture

This is a catch-all category of sorts. The big picture for your company will be one thing, while the big picture for the company next door may be wildly different. That makes concrete suggestions difficult. None of that will stop us from trying, however:

  • Metrics matter: If your latest content marketing campaign is working, having the data to back you up at your next shareholder meeting is always good. And conversely, if the campaign is failing, knowing ASAP so you can pull the plug will save time and money.
  • SEO is not only about ranking and SERP placement: It’s about business results. It’s about marketing being one of an assortment of teams all working together to achieve great things for your customers.
  • SEO is a long game: The changes you make this week may not have a visible impact on your bottom line for weeks or even months to come. That doesn’t mean you stop doing it. It just means you need to remember those metrics up there and use them to back up your successes.
  • Quality content is still your #1 asset in content marketing: By publishing it regularly and consistently, and nurturing it via social media and other forms of propagation, you will reap SEO rewards over time.

And finally, it’s most important to remember that yes, SEO is still around and that, yes, it still matters. The specifics have changed, the algorithms have changed, and the results have changed, but the underlying fact remains—in order to rank, you need to pay attention to your site's SEO. Don’t forget the basics, don’t become complacent and neglect your existing pages, and don’t fall into any of the other traps discussed above, and you’ll be off to a great start!

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Jesse hails from Seattle, Wa. When he’s not creating great content, or staring at his laptop screen waiting for inspiration, he’s probably walking in the trees somewhere in the foothills of the nearby Cascade Mountains.

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