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Five SEO “Best Practices” That Don’t Work Anymore

Five SEO “Best Practices” That Don’t Work Anymore

Five SEO “Best Practices” That Don’t Work Anymore

Search engine optimization has changed a lot in the last 12 years. Things like writing great content will always be a best practice, but there are a number of things still being recommended online and by some search marketers that no longer work. Some can even actively hurt you.

Keywords tag – The keywords tags found in web page source code were so misused that search engines quit looking at them over 12 years ago. The only thing such tags are now good for is telling your competition what words you think are important. Do all your keyword research, document the words you think are important, but don’t use the “keywords” tag in your source code unless you have a very specific reason to do it. But do continue to use your researched keywords in your copy.


Keyword density – Keyword density is the percentage of times a keyword or phrase appears on a web page compared to the total number of words on the page. Historically, you wanted to have your keywords be between 4 & 7% of the total words on the page. This made for pages that were hard to read, but ranked well in the search engines. Search engines have since removed density checks as part of the algorithm. Write great content and use your keywords where they make sense. Don’t shoot for a specific density target. Here’s an example of how to calculate keyword density:


Exact match domains – This is a fairly new change (September 29, 2012). Prior to this update, Google would give a ranking boost to sites that had a domain name that exactly matched a searcher’s query. If someone was searching for “BMI calculator male” they would have seen www.bmicalculatormale.com in the #4 result. After the update, this domain doesn’t show up in the first 100 results. You should have a domain name that is easily identifiable and represents who you are. Use your name, your company name, etc.

Buying links – This has always been a bad idea, but it worked until the Google Penguin update. Links are supposed to be a vote for content from one web page to another. A page owner is suggesting their readers visit another page because it is relevant and the page author believes the reader will find the link page valuable. If a page owner won’t link to you unless you pay them, they don’t think your content is an inherently good fit for their audience. Focus on creating great content that people will want to naturally link to and share with their readers.

Content spinning – Another SEO practice that has always been a bad idea, usually only practiced by fringe “black hat” SEOs. With content spinning, a marketer would take an article, run the keywords through a thesaurus or spinning tool, and republish a “spun” article with the new words. It was possible to publish hundreds or even thousands of versions of an article that were different enough that they weren’t considered duplicates. Search engines would see a site publishing a ton of “unique” content around a specific topic and think the site was an authority. This still goes on to some extent, but the Panda update put a stop to a lot of it.


At the end of the day…the week…the year…the decade…it’s really up to your content to draw readers. Please your readers, and you’ll please the search engines.

Please review our series of SEO 101 posts for SEO basic good practices:


Martin Laetsch is the Director of Online Marketing at Act- On Software. Act-On is the world's fastest growing marketing automation company; its cloud-based marketing automation platform is the foundation of successful marketing campaigns everywhere – from small, simple and direct, to complex globally implemented programs. Martin is a marketing strategy leader with more than 15 years of experience with prominent companies guiding product management and marketing. While at Intel, Martin defined, built, and managed the world’s first enterprise-class search marketing program that became a standard for managing digital marketing programs for many of the Fortune 500 companies including Dell, IBM, HP, and P&G.

  • I agree to a certain extent about tags and buying links. I think though that it is crucial to have your content reflect your business. We always try to give something to the user (info) that benefits them and also let’s the search engines know that we are experts in our field.

  • Lisa

    I can’t agree more with this article – SEO tactics such as these have been used and abused, and it’s interesting how search engines have evolved. Another for this list could be bolding and emphasis on keywords, so many sites still have paragraph after paragraph loaded with bold and italics, it’s absurd.

  • Tim

    Interesting article Martin. I definitely think that SEO is more about simply providing relevant content than anything else these days. The days of implementing tricks as a way to get ranked higher are definitely gone. I have often wondered about dropping meta tags. Even though they are not nearly as valuable as they were, you honestly recommend dropping even the description meta tag? I was under the impression that the search engines still use that for your website’s description in the results. If this is true, it is interesting how the vast majority of digital agencies still have meta tags in their code. Perhaps there is some anxiety about dropping something that for years was always such a big deal.

  • Monica Seely

    Thank you this is very helpful. I really needed confirmation that meta keywords were indeed useless. Now we can focus on better content to reach our audience.

  • Martin Laetsch

    @Tim There are many META tags that are still useful and I strongly suggest creating a unique meta description for every web page. Search engines won’t use it to influence rankings, but the DO use it for the description that appears in search results. A well written description can significantly increase click-through rate. The only meta tag I suggest dropping is the meta keywords.

  • I had no idea any of these occurred. My knowledge of SEO is pretty old school and the changes that are happening are drastic and different from 10 years ago. Thanks for the great article as I learned 3 new things (spinning, keywords and exact match domain names).

    • MartinLaetsch

      Unfortunately, these things are still all still alive and being promoted by agencies and self proclaimed SEO’s that haven’t kept up. The world of SEO has changed drastically in the last 18 months and it is more important than ever for site owners understand at least the basics.

  • Greg Palmer

    Lots of great info here. I don’t consider myself to be an SEO expert by any means so I found this list to be especially interesting. I agree with Tim in that SEO and search rankings are all about quality content these days.

  • disqus_Mc5S8QIxv8

    I don’t know too much about SEO so this was pretty helpful. I’ve heard about all those techniques before, good to hear what does and doesn’t work anymore. Thanks!

  • Google wants real people providing a real resource to real searches. It all comes down to quality content produced by trusted authors (author rank).

    Quality Content stimulates conversations, which builds relationships, which builds to trust, which leads to ROI.

    Great post Martin!

  • Sarah

    This is such a great article! So many people waste time trying to drum up content that just isn’t there. People want real content. If a user lands on your page after searching for the word travel, they don’t want to see the word travel 5 million times on the page. They want to see details on places or ways they can travel, maybe cheap airfare… I always hated padded sites. It was the number one reason I abandoned sites.

  • Nik Dahlberg

    Good to know. SEO isn’t my area of expertise, but it’s interesting that I still hear “SEO experts” talking about tagging keywords, keyword domains, and exact match domains even thought these are now irrelevant.

    Shortcuts are a short-lived solution, the loophole will be closed sooner or later. Is it really all that much harder to just dedicate time to creating great content and value for your consumers?

  • Mike Compeau

    Domain matching might be out, but I still continue to see document title matching doing well, and page-name matches doing well also– is this a fluke? Anyone know for sure? SEO is not my full time dayjob, so I’m very interested to see if these hits I see ranking well are actually slipping through based on bona fide content, or if my suspicion that the file name/page name is still a game being played.

    I also would note that “pop up” pages–HTML pages that could be called up to define terms for a technical site, etc– used to do well to increase SEO results, but that seemed to get weeded out about 4 years ago. Can anyone confirm that also?

  • John

    Exact match domains still work. You can’t spam your backlinks and stuff keyword, but EMD’s are alive and well. I’ve ranked 5 sites on page 1 in the last 6 weeks. I think there’s quite a bit of misinformation floating around. Google never penalized EMD’s. They penalized low quality EMD’s.

  • Bobby Holt

    I had no idea that content spinning was something people still tried, but now that you bring it up, it was something that I’ve seen done as of recent. It seemed to die down a little, but now it’s coming back. I wonder if Google is ready to penalize those that do so.

  • Jonathan Wright

    Just launched a new website and will make sure to not make any of these SEO mistakes. It is pretty interesting to see what people did in the past and how search engines have sorted through all the fluff. The real question is, what are the best practices to optimize SEO now that these gimmicks have been taken away?

  • Joe Goehring

    Google is getting smarter and smarter and really validating that quality is preferable to quantity. It’s getting harder and harder to find good technology to support the latest SEO initiatives. Good consultants are also hard to find.

  • Brad

    Don’t forget keyword clusters at the bottom of pages (including “incoming search terms” sections *cough*), hiding keywords in white text on a white background so spiders see them but people don’t, directory submissions, blogger outreach (still common practice but significantly less valuable), posting the same article to lots of websites (PRWeb, PRNewswire, etc…), and lots others.

    SEO is a rapidly moving target, but I believe black hatters will always stay just ahead of the curve and will always find ways to take advantage of algorithms.

    I fully agree with your opening paragragh, that good, unique content is king, and is maybe the only thing likely to never come under fire from algorithm changes.

  • Guedo

    These are all good to know, but particularly annoying changes over the years. I feel that some of these really should be given more credit to, but that’s another story. Google is really just making it so that relevant content isnt even accessible. If you cant put tons of effort and time into your site / content / SEO / linking / etc to help your rankings, then what do you even do? Google really needs to stop somewhere and say… ok thats good.

  • Steve Thielke

    Great Article! I’m glad that some of these are in place because it makes you have to do more looking into making sure your website has good content instead of just posting as much as you can into the meta data

  • Chris Kiersch

    Great article, there are other legitimate ways to make linking work, that Google/Bing do approve you just don’t hear them talk about it. Kind of like “Fight Club”, the key is knowing the people who know the ropes:)
    Cheers, Chris

  • bri44any

    If you write something good enough, you’ll never have to buy links. If your only option is to buy links, then you haven’t written something good enough.

  • Matt Alibakhsh

    I never realized that keyword density was calculated as a percentage of words on the page. Great read.

  • I have definitely seen content spinning work in the past, and I think it may still be a common practice today. I would wish that content were more legitimate, unique, and provide real content information, but it seems these programs still exist. I wonder what steps would be necessary to remove their influence from the Web…

  • Ryan Pratt

    Great post. I focused on SEO in late 2008 and wow have things changed since then. This was an extremely helpful summary of those changes.

    I actually just posed this same comment on a different article, then read this thinking I would find my answer, but still didn’t. Why do you list the “incoming search terms” at the end of the blog post? I’m sure it is for SEO purposes, but it seems like a “cheat” — or is there something I am missing?

  • Marshall

    Oh this is very helpful – Not only do I know what to do with our keywords, but now I know where to find our competitor’s keywords!!

    • MartinLaetsch

      Glad you found the post useful. Digital marketing is a very powerful tool and if you know how to use it effectively, you can learn an amazing amount about both your customers and your competitors.

  • Sam Sims

    Martin, thanks for sharing this with us. You could have written a nano-post by simply using your last sentence: “Please your readers, and you’ll please the search engines.” This is absolutely true. Building on your thought, some believe a temporary rise in results is worth it, but when it comes to SEO if you optimize in a shady way for temporary results, it will bit you in the rear down the line. Search engines want real communication from real people – not beefed up garbage.

    Agreeing with Marshall below! That’s hilarious. Now, I have to check my site.

    • MartinLaetsch

      Very well said. There are some industries where domain names are disposable and they go for the quick hit SEO and when they burn the domain, they shut it down and create a new one. For most of us, our domain name is a critical part of our brand and we need to focus on the long term.

  • Zachary Winnie

    I don’t know anybody who’s doing content spinning (or has ever done that). Really, the most important thing to do is write good content in the first place—that means hiring a writer. Google and other search engines are smart enough to bring those web pages that have good content to forefront and top of the search results list.

    • MartinLaetsch

      I really wish I didn’t know anyone that did content spinning, but I have seen it too often to ignore it. Most of the time it is just copying an article from another site, lightly tweaking it, and then posting it on another site, but I have seen the full on algorithmic spinning as well. The really sad thing is it worked pretty well in the days before the Panda updates and there were some AdSense funded businesses that made a bunch of money on it.

      You are absolutely correct about Google’s focus on great content. Every company that wants to be found needs to create high quality, well written content that is targeted at their customers. If the company doesn’t have a writer in house that can create great content, they should either hire one or get a freelancer.

      • Kim Shepheard

        You’re right. It certainly does go on, and I’ve been receiving some of that lately. It is even worse when they include a link from the article they just spun. Horrible.

  • Great article with useful information. In the middle of building multiple new sites, so I think I got some great tips from this. Thanks for sharing!

  • Perfect timing on this article. I feel that our search engine rankings have dropped lately and just started going through a process of what I can do to improve it. This article is great on what doesn’t work … would love to hear some more ideas on what is really working well for people. Is anyone using a press release distribution tool? Has it helped with getting your content out there and links back to your site? Is it helping any SEO results?

  • Kim Shepheard

    It obviously doesn’t pay to use black hat SEO practices. Search engines are getting smarter…

  • These are all SEO tactics that have been dead in the water for many years. Some of the more recent tactics that Google and co. are starting to penalize are ‘unnatural link profiles’ and ‘over-optimization’. These are vague, but it seems Google is trying to tell us to stop optimization on the content end, and just focus on writing great content that gets real links in front, with solid technical architecture in the back.

  • bri44any

    I’m interested in seeing other dead tactics on a regular basis. It might be useful to make this article into a series since Google and co. constantly evaluates how we’re working with their search engines.

  • This is great information. As someone who writes content, it’s good to know when “best practices” are evolving – especially when they seem shifty.

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  • Nani Eng

    Wonderful work in SEO to get sure results. Its a slow procedure but definitely shows positive impact on.Call Center

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  • cholleman

    Great post. Especially considering how on point it was a year ago and even more accurate today given Google’s new Hummingbird.

  • sexygourmetchef

    Cool! Thanks :)

  • ashley

    Hello i was looking for information about what works in search engine and you site came up.am glad i saw your site because i learned a lot.especially buying links.content spinning is till going on and i doubt it will stop.because a lot of bloggers are not writers so they have to spun their article to unique version but exact match domain still works .thanks for sharing this.