Search bar illustration with people

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win...”
— John F. Kennedy (1962)

In our previous blog, we covered how to rank on search engines. To quickly recap, being the best business you can be and offering the best web experience possible are the surest ways to secure your position on the first page of Google. It’s a lot of work — but it’s certainly worth the effort.

In many ways, this can feel like you’re taking your website on its own personal trip to the moon. Like President John F. Kennedy famously implied in his Rice University speech, there are no shortcuts in such an undertaking. But don’t get discouraged; this challenge should serve to inspire, not overwhelm.

Sadly, the SEO industry is still bogged down with tactics that hardly showcase the best of a B2B marketer’s energies and skills. Rather than accepting the challenge at hand, some choose to postpone necessary steps like building brand reputability, creating awesome content, and innovating their web experience. They focus instead on tactics that may feel inherently easier but are in fact harmful — not just to your organic rankings, but to your brand’s reputability as well. If you intend to win in organic search, you need to avoid these pitfalls.

1. Mistreating Keywords

We all know keywords are an important aspect of an SEO strategy. They can be useful in identifying topics and providing search engines and users with quick, contextual clues about the subject matter of a page.

Historically, search engines relied heavily on keywords to match users with relevant content. “Keyword density” was once a valued metric to help marketers determine if they were incorporating a targeted term frequently enough into their pages. Many wrongfully believed there was a golden formula to achieve regarding the number of times a keyword was repeated, divided by the total word count of the page.

But where’s the creativity in such a simple, arbitrary exercise? Where’s the thought leadership?

This metric was so easy to inflate that search engines quickly became flooded with websites which simply crammed keywords into every nook and cranny of their pages. Copy read like it was written by robots. Metadata turned into spam. Some even went as far as to type a keyword hundreds of times in a page’s footer, then match the font with the background so it was invisible to users (but accessible to web crawlers). Pretty clever, right?

To a limited degree, search engines still rely on keywords to help them crawl, index and rank content. However, they are evolving rapidly to look beyond keywords and instead decipher the meanings of sentences. Establishing context and identifying your audience’s wants, needs and intentions are therefore much higher priorities for SEO success than any keyword insertion tactic.

Always remember to read your pages back to yourself. As a general rule of thumb, if it feels like you’re attempting to cram keywords into a page, you probably are. If it seems unnatural, it probably is. If either of these are the case, go back to the drawing board and focus on improving your page’s quality.

2. Bloating Word Count

Much like keyword density, word count is misunderstood in SEO. Yes, thin pages rarely rank well in SEO. This makes sense when you think about it. If you’re writing so briefly that you can’t provide adequate context to a page’s subject matter, what’s the incentive for Google to index or rank that page? As content creators, it can be easy to overestimate our audience’s ability to understand our messages, and sometimes this appears in the form of inadequately brief pages.

Further, plenty of studies correlate rankings with certain word count ranges. Depending on which studies you read, this can easily range anywhere from 500 to 2,000 words per page. Consequently, content creators often ask, “What’s the perfect word count for SEO”?

Truthfully, there isn’t one. Google has said many times that it does not factor in any specific word count number when determining its web rankings. The studies referenced earlier are also not proving anything, but rather correlating pages that do well in organic search with how many words they typically include. Remember what you learned in your college statistics coursework: Correlation does not equal causation. There are likely other variables at play in these cases, notably the quality of the pages included in those sample pools. If the average word count of the best-performing of those pages happens to be 1,000 words, that’s great, but it’s a completely different implication than saying, “Google won’t rank your webpage unless it contains at least 1,000 words”.

Just like the keyword density debacle we previously covered, where’s the thought leadership or creativity behind arbitrarily targeting 1,000 words per page? If you can tell a story adequately in 400 words, what happens when you force in another 600? Simply put, you end up with “copy fluff”. This can absolutely tank the user experience and is truthfully a pretty stupid decision.

3. Obsessing Over Crummy Links

Trustworthiness is one of the most important ranking factors a search engine uses when evaluating a website. One of the easiest ways for them to do this is by looking at how many links point to a website and from how many sources. You can think of this almost like voting. The more “votes” a page gets, the more trustworthy that website is typically presumed to be.

However, many SEO marketers neglect to account for the importance of link quality, focusing instead only on link quantity. If you haven’t already ascertained from the previous two examples, any practice that focuses on manipulating the quantity of certain page attributes should probably be ignored. True links need to be earned. You can accomplish this by creating great collateral, building relationships, and doing newsworthy things. Your content and PR teams will be your greatest assets in this regard.

Most urgently, avoid any “farms”, i.e., link farms or content farms.

Link farms” are a little less common these days, but still creep into the spotlight every once in a while. The concept is simple. Black-hat marketers create webpages that offer no content whatsoever and just feature hundreds or even thousands of random links on their page to anyone willing to pay for it.

Content farms” are newer and a little more difficult to identify, but the tactic is effectively the same. Content farms sell links; but rather than having one crummy page hosting thousands of links, they offer thousands of pages with crummy and completely random content hosting one link each. Thus, looking at one page respectively may not seem quite as obviously black hat, even if the content reads a little wonky. You have to look at the breadth of content coverage of the website as a whole. If the pages don’t relate to one another and the content seems slapped together, you’re probably looking at a content farm.

Enough of the SEO Gimmicks — Focus on Quality

Keep in mind that Google has seen a lot of webpages since it first crawled the web; estimates range as high as 130 trillion pages. It’s unlikely you’re going to trick them. They’ve seen it all.

Let’s also not forget one of the scarcest assets any B2B marketer needs: time. If you factor in all the time it takes to stuff keywords into a page, inflate word count, or manipulate your link profile, you’re probably spending as much (if not more) time than it would take to write a really high-quality blog, record a new podcast, or plan an industry-leading webinar.

There are no shortcuts in marketing. Don’t waste your time (or Google’s) trying to fabricate one.

There are nearly 240,000 miles separating the earth and the moon. You won’t get there overnight. But with a little persistence, a sound plan in place, and the willingness to try your hardest, you’d be amazed how far you can travel.