Search engines were once a mystery to their users, and even the websites that were indexed on them. But now researchers have been able to figure out commonalities and factors that increase sites’ traffic across the board. But the tactics change over time, as do the way search engines read and understand the websites they rank. Figuring out these factors and staying up-to-date on changes are a full-time job for many SEO specialists.

Google, one of the largest companies in the world, is always trying to stay ahead of the competition and therefore, on top of what their users want most. That’s why they consistently update their ranking systems to provide the best content on the web to consumers. While they’re constantly innovating, it can be hard for marketers to stay ahead of the trends for “new” SEO techniques and tactics.

The team at Alpha Leads, including content marketers and SEO analysts, have done the research and found what works and what doesn’t in the modern world of SEO. We’ve created this guide to help beginners update their SEO strategies.

Outdated SEO Tactics

Search engines constantly update their algorithms to find the most relevant sites to display for common search terms. But, it’s up to SEO professionals to stay up-to-date on these changes, or figure them out by trial and error. SEO tactics that worked five years ago may not be as effective today. In fact, some of them may hurt your rankings or get you penalized if you’re not careful.

Below are common SEO tactics that used to work for marketers, but are now losing their effectiveness due to search engine updates and new ranking factors:

Targeting head terms versus long tail keywords

Keyword research is an important part of any SEO campaign. “Head” keywords used to be the focus of most brands’ strategies. But now, users know that searching a generic term will give them irrelevant results. Long-tail keywords are more relevant to the user and will gain better ranking and traffic long-term.

Writing “keyword-rich” content (keyword stuffing)

Using similar keywords helps search engines understand the topics and audiences your website is targeting, but using too many on the same page can now hurt your rankings. Search engines like to see pages that are useful and easy to read for the user. If you’ve used the same search term in every paragraph, search engines may penalize your page for publishing content that isn’t user-friendly.

Relying on text-heavy content

Text content is easy to create, but it’s not the only type of content you need to publish on your site. SEO specialists used to upload text-heavy content because it can be created quickly, and therefore the website receives more updates per month. However, searches engines want to see well organized pages. A page with any more than 500 words is easier to read if it’s broken up by other media content.

Focusing on quantity, not quality of backlinks

Linkbuilding is still a valid SEO tactic, but the way some strategists do it is outdated. Accumulating as many backlinks as possible, if they are not from high ranking domains, provides little, if any benefit. Changes in search engine algorithms is putting more emphasis on the quality of backlinks (domain authority and relevancy to the topic) to determine page rank.

Submitting press releases to ezines or other free article submission websites

SEO specialists used to submit blogs and press releases to different online publishers in hopes of gaining backlinks and increased traffic. However, these press releases/article submissions can won’t count as a ranking factor anymore. They may even penalize you, if they come from a paid linkbuilding site.

Modern Ranking Factors

Due to recent updates, popular search engines like Google now rank content differently. For example, Google’s recent Hummingbird update incorporated semantic search to rank pages not only with keyword matches, but those that use phrases that have the same meaning to search terms. Google’s Penguin update has been able to catch sites that use paid links or link networks, therefore penalizing sites with illegitimate backlinks.

Other updates have allowed the search engines to better understand the context and quality of content, giving users more relevant pages at the top of the SERPs. This encourages content marketers to create quality pages for their users, rather than generating content solely for SEO. Now that search engine and user needs are better aligned, SEO tactics have changed.

Here are some of the ways that content marketers are changing their SEO tactics:

Regular content updates

Websites still need to update their content on a regular basis. Strategists used to do this by posting on a weekly blog, or by changing the content of core pages periodically. However, a better strategy is to add hidden pages or subpages to a site. This not only encourages visitors to stay on your site, but it helps you target individual keywords.

Focusing on quality backlinks

Quantity of backlinks means very little unless those links come from high-authority domains. To develop this recognition, you need to promote your high quality content and share it with people who are likely to backlink to it. Building relationships with others in your industry can help you cultivate the audience, and therefore better quality links.

Mobile responsiveness

Research suggests that nearly 60% of searches are done on mobile devices. Mobile websites differs from desktop, but marketers need to take into account both types of onsite SEO to increase their organic traffic. Local SEO is especially important for mobile optimization, since people looking for local businesses may use their phones to find recommendations on-the-go.

Other ranking factors include site security and elements within a page’s text

Most sites are now encrypted for security purposes, which you can tell if there is an “https” at the beginning of the url. Sites that are not encrypted for security (with “https” urls) will be marked as unsafe by Google. Anchor text, if used appropriately, can help a page rank. But, if it considered “spammy” it may be penalized by the Penguin update.

How Social Media is Changing SEO

We know social media is a great way to reach out to new and existing customers. We engage with them by publishing content and encouraging dialogue on social channels, but these efforts serve another purpose other than brand awareness. Social media plays an important role in SEO and increasing website traffic.

Content that generates a lot of traffic on social media (especially Twitter) contributes directly to page credibility and visibility. Search engines look at how many times a link has been shared or reported on social channels, and will take that into consideration for overall page credibility, and determining which keywords are most relevant for that link.

Most people focus on Google rankings, but the second-most popular search engine, Bing, uses social signals (such as number of “likes” or followers on a social profile) to rank sites. Having a strong social presence makes it easier to generate more likes and mentions across social media, which in turn can help you boost your web traffic. The best way to do this is to share your blog posts and resource articles, and boost these posts from time to time.

While social media pages aren’t indexed, they can drive traffic to your site, which Google uses as part of their ranking system. Make sure the pages you share on social media are highly engaging, to minimize the bounce rate. You also want to share a variety of content  types, including images, video, live streams, and even Facebook contests or polls.

Oftentimes, social media profiles rank better for small businesses than their websites do. While you should focus your SEO efforts on the website itself, a strong social media presence can help you gain those initial followers, and lead them to your site. If you’re working on an online reputation management campaign, or trying to repress negative content about your site, building a social profile will help you outrank those negative URLs.

Social media channels can also act as a type of search engine. If someone is on a social media platform, they may be likely to search it rather than leaving and searching on another platform. Use hashtags and keywords in your statuses to generate traffic to your social profiles. Visitors may want to follow you, or share your content with their own social followings.

New Common Practices

Now that search engines have evolved to meet the needs of their users, we can expect content marketers to use better tactics to gain their audience’s attention. SEO is geared more towards qualitative work, rather than technical tricks and hacks. SEO is becoming one of the more customer-centric elements of the digital marketing strategies.

You can use these tactics to boost your SEO campaign and generate more quality site traffic:

Optimize titles for clicks, not keywords

Just like in print, your headline is the most important part of a piece of content. Even on page one of the SERPs, without a headline that grabs attention, your blog post or article may not generate any clicks. Lists, how-tos, comprehensive resource articles and shocking news posts can generate the most traffic, and therefore the most conversions.

Target unique keywords with individual pages

To grow your site and update content (outside the use of a blog), you can create separate pages for each keyword you want to target. Create a list of keywords you want to target, and create content with images and copy that focuses on each phrase. You should also have one or a handful of primary pages to target all related keywords. Don’t worry about targeting all variations of one keyword, as Google understands the context of copy.

Use of microsites

Some sources say that microsites can hurt ranking for your main site, which has some validity. However, microsites work well for outranking negative URLs in an online reputation management campaign. Some companies create microsites specifically for their blogs,especially if the site is slow or if they want multiple blogs for different locations.

Creating comprehensive content, such as guides and “pillar posts”

The only way to successfully rank for head terms and even some long-tail search terms is to create in-depth, long-form content. Longer articles, especially if they have inbound links, images, infographics or video not only rank better, but they have lower bounce rates than short and simple pages. Creating content of this level of detail takes more time, but pays off long-term.

Royal Reputation uses these tactics in our SEO campaigns to target keywords and phrases of the highest potential for our clients. We’ve used these same techniques to build online reputation and increase traffic for multiple clients, and have seen long-term proven results.

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