Friends welcome to week 3 of our ‘SEO Essentials’ Series! We’re breaking down and demystifying everything you need to know about SEO so that you can turn on your megaphone and get found!
Today, we’re hailing back to history class and talking about the evolution of SEO, or more specifically, all the ways that people have tried to get found by Google over the years. If you have ever been tempted by the “Be #1 in 6 Days” ploys and think that SEO is a quick-win game, then turn off Netflix and get reading!
Note: It is worth noting that most of the techniques I am going to chat about today are all shady strategies that Google will penalize, it’s important to know that they used to be ok, before Google changed a lot of the rules. Google makes updates daily, and I’m including a few of the major updates here that changed the SEO game, big time.
So, why should I care about the Evolution of SEO Strategies?
It’s so you know what not to do with SEO. (Don’t worry–we’ll cover what you should do soon!).
SEO has a long and dirty history of people trying to fool Google and users with what’s known as “black hat” SEO practices. Some black hat practices might seem like a clever way to game your SEO, but Google will always catch on to sneaky ways, so beware.
People have spent millions, (yes millions!) of dollars trying to fool Google and outrank their competitors. While I certainly don’t think you’re going to those lengths, here are a few black hat strategies you should know about and avoid.
The Short History of SEO
Did you know that Google makes 3 updates every day to their SEO algorithm? It’s true. Most of these you don’t notice, but every once in a while Google releases a large batch of game-changing updates.
Here are the big ones.
Google Mobile Update
Do you find yourself browsing the internet via your phone in the car, in bed, or while watching TV? Well, so does everyone else, and mobile website quality has quickly become massively important for SEO. In January of 2017 Google changed their algorithm to favor sites that are mobile friendly.
How do I know if Google thinks my site is mobile friendly?
Lucky for you, Google created a super helpful and easy-to-use site where you can test your website’s mobile-friendliness. It takes less than a minute to check and is super important for SEO rankings and your customers’ happiness.
If your site isn’t mobile friendly, we recommend finding a web developer you trust who can get your site pretty on all mobile devices.
Do you feel like Google just ‘gets’ you? Like it knows just what you mean when you ask a long question, or how it predicts exactly what you’re going to ask? That’s Hummingbird at work.
In 2013 Google changed the way they do everything by replacing their original search system with Hummingbird. All other updates were just that: tweaks and fixes to the original algorithm. Hummingbird was an entirely new logic system that changed the way Google worked from the inside out.
Why did Google do this?
Because people treat search engines like personal assistants, and they needed to start acting like one. Google needed a way to be more conversational and human-like, so they created Hummingbird, so named because it is precise and fast, just like the perfect assistant.
Why this change was good for users:
- Search results are much more conversational and focus on the meaning of the entire phrase, not just the individual words. This is especially helpful when using voice search
- Results now include synonyms and long-tail keywords (phrases, instead of single words)
- Google acts more like a person, and is ‘smart’ enough so that users get results that are useful and what the user intended to find
What Hummingbird changed for websites:
Website optimization now needs to be much more natural and conversational, which is good for everyone but can take time to get comfortable with if you’ve previously used black hat techniques.
Huge emphasis on useful, long-form, high-quality content
Penalization for thin, spammy content
- Bigger emphasis on customer engagement, rather than just ‘checking the SEO boxes’
- Websites now must understand and address customer needs to get good SEO results. Basically, everything needs to be about delivering a great customer experience
- Websites must make their site goal super clear to Google to get found for it
Released in 2012, this update mainly targets spammy links. People used to buy links, trade links, spam links in comment sections of websites and basically do anything they could to get links out in the world. This is just internet clutter and leads to lots of irrelevant links on the web, which is confusing for users. So, Google hit it hard and penalized people bad links.
This update fought against:
- Spammy links
- Keyword stuffing
- Shady duplicate content
Anything that seemed to purposefully deceive to users, like a URL redirect that is irrelevant
What this update promoted:
Sites with high-quality user experience
‘White-hat’ (aka ethical) SEO techniques
High quality, helpful content
Launched in 2011, this update primarily targeted thin and low quality content, and promoted high-quality content. Google wants to give their users something helpful and relevant to their search query, and well written, helpful content is the way to do that.
Why this update was good for users:
It devalues sites that aren’t helpful, and makes it more likely that the search results you see are going to be useful to you and relevant to your search
Improves Google’s ability to give users what they want
Signs of high-quality content, according to Google:
Trustworthy and well researched
Fair, unbiased information from a recognized authority
Curious if you have what Google considers a “high-quality” site?
They made a super helpful list of questions you can use to assess your site and content. It’s about a 10 minute read and is a good way to understand the mind of Google better.
The Shady History
This one is SO tempting and easy to do accidentally.
Here’s a taste:
Keyword stuffing is when you stuff as many keywords as you can into any part of your site that accepts keywords, including stuffing keywords into long-tail keywords and your targeted keywords.
Ugh, right?? It sounds super unnatural and isn’t how anyone talks. Just write naturally, and you’ll be fine.
Curious if you’re keyword stuffing?
Read your meta descriptions out loud. Does it sound weird to you? Or does it sound like how you might describe your product? If it sounds like how you might talk to someone you know, you’re good. If it sounds as awkward as a 14-year-old on a first date, keep rewriting (or have us write them for you!)
I’m pretty sure most of you are not doing this one deliberately, but it’s easy to do accidentally if you’re not careful. In the early days of SEO people would ‘hide’ text by making it the same color as the page so the user couldn’t read it, but Google could. Of all the ridiculous things people have done to try to fool Google, I think this one is my favorite.
If you highlighted seemingly blank space, you’d see it, like in this example. See all those stuffed keywords ‘hiding’? Google caught on quickly and penalized sites who did this.
How might you accidentally be doing this?
It’s possible that any text on your site might be set to Font-size: 0, which would make it invisible. It’s also possible that you might have the code set to “Display:none”, which could cause the same problem. If you’re getting your site developed, this is something to talk with your web developer about it or find it yourself by following these steps:
While on your website, right-click anywhere on the page
- You’ll see a lot of code pop up. Don’t freak out. There is no possibility of breaking your site by looking at this
- Notice that as you hover your mouse over elements on your site you’ll see different code show up. This is what’s running your site
- Look over the code and see if you see anything on the right hand panel that says “Display:none”. Talk to your developer about anything that concerns you
You remember this from school–you should always have your own ideas. The same thing holds true for your website. When Google sees duplicate content it gets confused and frustrated. It’s confused because it doesn’t know who made it first, and it’s frustrated because it can’t show both to the searcher. So, Google just reduces the problem by penalized everything with the duplicate content and featuring other sites in the results.
Don’t even plagiarize yourself.
Seriously. If you write a brilliant guest post and think it would be just perfect for your own blog, think again. Rework the content so that it’s not duplicated and then post it.
So, you’ve heard that links are helpful for SEO. You’re right.
Once your site is optimized and you have a consistent, quality blogging routine, link building is your passive stream to great SEO.
So, the more links the better, right? Not necessarily. When links first became a big deal, some people thought it would be genius to start multiple sites full of thin content and link them all to each other. Plenty of links = great SEO, right? Not quite.
The problem with these sites is that they are most often spammy, and this technique just doesn’t work. In fact, it can backfire because Google catches on and penalizes people who do this.
Remember that Google is built on trust and authority: link building is basically a popularity contest. If you get links from high quality places, you’ll get high quality SEO. If you have links from low quality, spammy, thin content sites? You’ll get low quality results.
Curious about the how to get great links?
Guest posting is the secret sauce for getting great links. Stay tuned: we have a great post about how-and where!-to guest post coming up!
Paid Links / Link Trading
The whole point of SEO is that it’s earned. This doesn’t mean you don’t pay for great resources that help you get there, but it does mean that you don’t pay directly for SEO. That would be marketing.
If someone sends you an email and offers to pay you to link to their site, run. Fast. Remember what we said above about building quality links? Buying them or selling them is not the way to get that. Remember, write great content, share it, and you’ll get links naturally. Keep it clean and helpful to your readers, and you’ll get great SEO.
This is the bane of SEO. You know those frustratingly short articles that are just a bunk of junk, and not really helpful? They pull you in with a teasing headline, then fail to deliver on the goods. Google wants to reward content that helps people, and this means long, high quality content. Generally, you should aim for 750-1000 words per blog post.
I know what you’re thinking:
That’s a lot of words. I know–I hear you. You’ve got a business to run and writing blog posts is the least of your worries. If this feels like too much, write just 1-2 quality posts a month. Quality matters, so make sure that you have something interesting or useful to say. Better quality, less often is better than thin content every day or week.
PS–Feel short on ideas for your blog? We have a super helpful post coming up all about that, so stay tuned!
This one is so recent it’s almost a sore topic. It’s those tacky headlines that usually end with “and you won’t believe what happened next!”. A few weeks ago, Cosmo Magazine tried to beat United Airlines in bad “PR Move of the Week” with a recent headline about promoting cancer as a diet plan. People were understandably furious with this article, and it’s a prime example of why clickbait headlines are a terrible marketing plan.
So…aren’t headlines supposed to be interesting?
Absolutely! But they’re also supposed to be honest. Clickbait is bad SEO because it misleads the reader. When people click on a clickbaity article they only stay on the page for a few seconds because it’s not what they expected to read about. People hate being misled, and for that reason, Google penalizes sites who use this tactic.
There you have it, friends! A short and shady history of SEO so you know what not to do.
Remind me. What’s so bad about these strategies?
Remember what we talked in our first post about the philosophy of SEO? Google is always going to reward sites that are user friendly. Always. Each of these black hat strategies just benefits the site owner for ranks and doesn’t actually give the user anything helpful. Most of the time it’s annoying for the user by being irrelevant, not what the user expected, bad UX, and so on.
So, I know what not to do, but how do I get good SEO?
We’ll get to the nitty gritty of that soon (I promise!), but for now, know this:
Friends, do you need help with your SEO? Do you need to get your site found on Google for the right reasons? Do you feel like your website is lost in the sea of the internet? We can help turn up your megaphone to get yourself heard above the masses. Let’s chat about making your site super findable to your dream clients.