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How SEO Best Practices Became Irrelevant

What You Need to Know to Compete Better in the SERPs

     
2:51 am on Mar 25, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Many of you know the word Canonical because of it's use in SEO as the URL specified as being the true URL. The original meaning of Canon related to the authenticity of the scriptures, separating what was accepted as the "word of god" from what was not accepted. Thus, Canonical meant that something is accepted to be the standard. The root of the word canon is the same as cane, because canes were used like rulers.

SEO is very much like scripture. The original authors and reasons behind SEO Best Practices are buried in time. As one generation of search marketers handed down best practices to the next generation, these practices were accepted because they have always worked, yet without actually knowing how the best practices came about.

SEO best practices are canonical and never questioned
Years of actual experience have taught us that there are basics that need to be on the page if a page is to rank well. These truths are held to be self-evident. They are so taken for granted that SEO best practices are baked into WordPress plugins, content management systems and templates that allow you to easily create "search engine friendly" websites.

SEO Best Practices are Canonical
Canonical SEO is a mix of many ideas created over time, based on search engine algorithms and research papers. And whether you have read it or not, the foundation of Canonical SEO can be traced to its most formal declaration in Brett Tabke's seminal article, Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone Part 1 [webmasterworld.com] and Part 2 [webmasterworld.com], published in February 2002. That article is the single most influential SEO article ever written, of all time. That article has influenced how you practice SEO, even if you've never read it.

The tactics and strategies outlined in that article have been reproduced in countless books, articles, SEO guides and documents as canonical best practices. To this day there are professional search marketers who use these tactics without knowing that those tactics were formally collected in one document right there in that article written in 2002. And it's dangerous to not understand where SEO Best Practices come from.

SEO Best Practices are like Gospel Truth
SEO Best Practices are believed in and trusted like scriptures. SEO Best Practices teach us how to please the search engines, that hang over the industry almost like gods standing in judgment, dispensing rewards and penalties depending on how well you worship. There was a time when SEO best practices could be depended upon to help you rank. The article subtitle boasts: "26 steps to 15k a day" and it truly was the gospel truth. Back in the "biblical days" of SEO when it was easy to rank, those 26 steps could be depended upon to help you rank better.

However, unlike the "eternal" and "constant" God of the scriptures, search engines change. The search engine algorithm written about in 2002 no longer exists. That search engine is gone and presumably, the way we "worship" should have changed. But it didn't. Which explains why many search marketers today feel that the search engines are fickle, inscrutable, unfair and unknowable. It's frustrating to "follow the rules" and see nothing happen. The reason is because search engines have changed but SEO Best Practices have not.

One example of this is in section G of the 2002 article where it is advised that every page should link out to one or two high ranking sites. On February 14th, 2002, a member named Trish wrote:

What about linking to .gov or .edu sites that have relevant content? I've read somewhere on here that Google may give edu and gov's a higher importance ranking. It would seem then that getting a link from them would be good. Maybe it would good to link to them also.


And another member cited Kleinberg's research paper that discussed Hubs and Authorities [cs.cornell.edu], which is one of the influences for many algorithms that followed, algorithms that in different ways incorporated links and the concept of authority, including the PageRank algorithm.

The SEO Best Practice of linking to a .gov and .edu page has its roots in a research paper written in 1998 and an article published in 2002. Do you think that the search engine they talked about in 2002 still exists? Consider this: there is no modern research paper or patent that says outlinking to a high quality site is a signal of quality. ZERO. It's not a ranking factor or a signal of quality. There are many research papers that state that spam sites tend to link to normal sites. But there are zero research papers that indicate that linking to a high quality site is a sign of authority.

The definition of rote is to do something mindlessly, without thinking
Even though there is no reasonable basis for continuing that practice, the practice continues. And why not? Is it hurting anything? Probably not. Matt Cutts encouraged web publishers to link out, so that must mean something right? Of course it's a good thing to link out. But not if you think it's going to help you rank better because there is no algorithm or patent anywhere that does that. Link out because it makes sense for the user and it'll make sense for the search algorithm. Link out to a .edu or .gov page because you think it's an SEO Best Practice and you will most assuredly be going against the spirit of what Matt Cutts said about linking out liberally. Link because it makes sense to link. Don't write an article and drop a handful of links to .edus because that is the definition of rote SEO.

SEO Worst Practices
- Assuming that if something sounds plausible that it must be in the algorithm
This is a leading excuse for poor SEO practices.

- Taking it for granted that if something used to work then it must still work.
Search engines have evolved. Those keyword laden pages might not be useful anymore. Study up on User Intent and how that relates to search algorithms.

- Articles reporting on "informal" studies showing how they had manipulated the SERPs.
These articles are almost always click bait with zero scientific foundation and thus zero chance of being real.

- Just because something is repeated often it doesn't mean it's correct.
Be skeptical. Look for citations. Scientific research and patents are the smoke that indicate a possible fire. No smoke, no fire.

Reject SEO Best Practices
When you sit down to create a site review or fix your own web page, ask yourself why you are doing something. Take a look at the SERPs to see if Google's ranking pages with outbound links to .gov and .edu's (Google is not). Take a look at the SERPs and see if Google's ranking sites with the keyword phrases in the title tag AND the H1 tag (Google is not). Google has changed. It is your job to understand what is ranking and why it is ranking. The algorithms have changed but the search industry's strategies need to catch up.

Thus, when you free yourself from Rote SEO Best Practices, useless activities inspired by platitudes like Content is King can be seen for what they really are: Activities designed for ranking on search engines that no longer exist. Content is necessary for ranking. But it's not the keywords in the content that are important anymore. It's many other things. Consider this. Download Google's Quality Rating Guideline and do a search for the word "keyword." The only time the word "keyword" appears is in the context of keyword stuffing. If Google cared about keywords, you would think there would be at least a single sentence telling it's human quality raters to check if the page is relevant for a search query by making sure the keywords are there. But it doesn't.

Identify the Actual SEO Best Practices
And that is why SEO Best Practices are irrelevant. They are not relevant to how Google is actually ranking sites today. SEO Best Practices still exist. But they are not the Best Practices the industry has been clinging to since 2002. Read the 2002 document and think it over, think about how a search engine in 2016 is different from the search engine of 2002. Then re-think what Best Practices for SEO means today.

[edited by: engine at 6:53 pm (utc) on Mar 25, 2016]
[edit reason] fixed typo [/edit]

7:04 am on Apr 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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"Value is King"
"Unique Value" is what I heard it was... and I've come to believe that. Having a UVP makes it much easier to market anything.

It's certainly easier to optimize a site when you have a Unique Value Proposition, particularly if it's real.
9:26 am on Apr 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Content, regardless of the adjective to describe it, does remain "king". The problem these days with over a half billion websites out there that so much of it is either spontaneous creation (meaning those folks did it themselves, just ended up duplicating what others have done) or is scrapped, or copied and rewritten from others. Old style SEO probably died in 2005, though that death has been long and painful because the search engines are getting so much better at defining "content" that has "value" for the "user".
8:08 pm on Apr 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Having a UVP makes it much easier to market anything


Business 101. UVP is what all webmasters should be seeking. That means value to the visitor, not some algorithm.
8:36 pm on Apr 5, 2016 (gmt 0)

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value to the visitor, not some algorithm.


This should be etched in stone somewhere obvious for all those out there.

IN BIG LETTERS
3:21 pm on Apr 6, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Re: "Content is king"

- deleted -
9:05 am on Apr 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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We all rave about bringing value to the visitor not the algorithm, yet seldom see anyone make that. I always pondered about why what we know is true, rarely comes in to light?

On the contrary, I have seen many enterprise websites, often representing technology companies, that make visually beautiful pages, with strong messaging and on-the-spot call to action, yet these pages often get deprecated by the algorithm, because they lack the text content volumes the machine can read. So how can one bring value to the visitor, when he is invisible to the search engines?

Not even going to touch on the heavily personalized Javascript websites, that are masterpieces of the front-end-world, that Google can't even begin to read,index and rank appropriately.

Questions, questions....
8:45 am on Apr 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Best discussion in a very long time.
Agree with a lot said.
IMHO - Google rankings simply don't make sense anymore.

In what I am seeing with my main sites compared to an experimental site on same subject, Content is far from king.
Can't get the experimental site off page 1, (It has moved up in ranking last few days).
The older main site has always been white hat do what google says to do. Gained many citations on subject over the years, many links from authority sites.

Experimental site, Originally built like old sites, ranked high even #1 - started taking code out, description, heading tags, content, keywords and phrases, picture alts, even the title tag - and as mentioned above recently started moving up !

Think I will add a lot of meaningless code bloat to EXP site to see what happens.
8:16 pm on Apr 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I miss the old days, it's not about being easy/easier, or difficult, it's about coming to the forum with a notepad to come to conclusions, technical aspects, what works, what doesn't. Since quite a while discussions end up more like about opinions (just opinions) what used to work, that seems to work at times and some complains, not to forget the "things should be this or that way". I don't see anything wrong on such discussions, it's just there is very little value at the end on technical stuff. Even when we all have something to say... the notepad ends up empty on "ok, hot points to implement on the site... eh..., ehmm...".

There is so much of value posted on old threads, it used to be fun, and difficult stuff was fun too, now? it's not fun anymore. I agree it should be about the content and visitors, and all those things we say to each other, but there is a point where the limit appears... on what we can say or not to the client "it should be about the visi...", or it works, or it doesn't. Sure, nothing is black and white but I think some agree with the idea. Modern search and positioning is so, so obscure you can even have success with X sites of yours, and no luck at all applying the same thing on other sites of yours.

And sure there comes the same nicknames again and again with "you are doing it wrong", when for years we haven't seen any technical aspect or anything beyond "personal opinion" and not bringing any kind of value to the discussions. I grew familiar and bet to myself the nicknames I will see on X thread saying the same all over and all over. But of course, this is not a complain to the forum, just an opinion on how obscure things became on the web on technical aspects.
8:35 pm on Apr 10, 2016 (gmt 0)

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There are no remaining "technical questions" these days. Plug and play cms sites, folks with a money making agenda who abhor the old info/whatever desire to have a site. Nothing wrong with that, just not the same as the "old days".

Things change. Always do.

This is not an opinion. Merely a fact.

(And what real tech that is left is usually shared very grudgingly as anything that might be a boost in THESE DAYS AND TIMES is not something you want to give away for free and have a zillion "notepaders" going after the golden fleece.)
3:42 pm on Apr 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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I miss the old days, it's not about being easy/easier, or difficult, it's about coming to the forum with a notepad to come to conclusions, technical aspects, what works, what doesn't.

We were young and the web was young and SEs were young and explorers were still discovering and mapping. Increasingly discussions changed from what was new to what was improved [sic]. Less about the structure of the house and more about the arrangement of the furniture. As SEs matured there were fewer remaining one size fits all solutions.

That said most SEO 'secrets' were/are some tactical gaming of a particular SE weakness (aka SE arbitrage), which is why most had/have a very short shelf life, i.e. when you read about it on a blog or in a forum it is already at or past sell date. As such behaviours once identified are at best simply discounted, at worst penalised, the short term benefit is often outweighed by longterm costs (unless one can stand the heat of slash and burn). Beyond some foundation basics this has ever been true.

SEO is the optimisation of a site such that (1) the pages one wants indexed are and (2) are well ranked to consistently supply converting traffic by (3) target search engines. It is that last one that is the real SEO 'secret' and the one that almost every 'SEO' ignores.

Most/all are Google specialists. Not a problem in itself except:
1. it means that they are not actually optimising for search engines but for one particular SE so are really Google search optimisers (some truth in advertising would be nice).
2. they cover for their singular focus by talking down non-Google SEs and the benefits of non-Google search (hearing constant straw man arguments gets tiring).

The real secret sauce of search engine optimisation is being able to get converting traffic in significant numbers from Bing and DuckDuckGo and Google and Yahoo and whichever other SEs you identify as being used by your target audiences. Google provides 55% of my SE referred traffic. The remaining 45% of SE referred traffic is mostly Bing and Yahoo with a small but increasing bit from others BUT that 45% of SE traffic provides 65% of SE revenue. As all niches/sites/business models are different YMMV.

The real 'lost secret' of SEO is how to get converting traffic in numbers from the non-Google SEs.

The real 'lost secret' of search engine marketing is not how to do ppc but rather how to transform those first time SE referred visitors into returning/recommending visitors. But that is a whole other (again largely ignored) set of 'secrets'.

SEO is mostly not what SEO practitioners claim.
5:46 am on Apr 23, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Interesting information you got there, and yes! things change...
7:53 pm on May 3, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Sorry, can someone explain me why, whatever content they show, Wordpress blogs seem to always rank better ? (and maybe Wordpress woocommerce stores).

Thank you.
8:47 am on June 24, 2016 (gmt 0)

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It will get more complicated in future!
5:15 am on June 28, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Sorry, can someone explain me why, whatever content they show, Wordpress blogs seem to always rank better ?


Most searches I do are dominated by big sites.

For searches where blogs come up, plenty of blogs on other platforms come up.
5:55 am on July 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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This "Wordpress ranks higher" phenomena is most often observed from the vacuum of the beholder of the search. If you operate in a niche filled with Wordpress thems it is only natural to see more Wordpress sites rank higher. Go to any tech-heavy search topic and you will seldom see anything but custom websites, often build with Laravel? Does this make Laravel rank higher? No. Just like Wordpress is not.
10:24 am on July 7, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Is Content really King?

April 8th I wrote about an experimental site that I started stripping down - taking out everything I ever thought was good practice.

Stripping code out, description, heading tags, content, keywords and phrases, picture alts, all links and even the TITLE TAG -
The only thing left is the URL, the only place where you find mention of the subject and fact it is a .com

Content is:
" Hello my name is ____________ and I do this."
Phone Number.

Still in Top 5.
6:27 am on July 8, 2016 (gmt 0)

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for what search bsand715? If you have unique keyword like your phone number of some more un-usual name and you search for your site through non-proxied service then yeah, Google will show you the website. I bet a golden horse shoe that if I try to search for the same thing, you will not be in the top 100.
11:49 am on July 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Using Chrome incognito 7/9/16 two versions of keyword one is at #5 and one is at #10.
It is what it says an experimental site.

Another site I have, I took out Title Tag. At the time I took them out, it was a number 1 return in several different versions of search strings.
That was 3 months ago.
No change in returns.
Just looking for answers.

Maybe different algos for different subjects.
FWIW - The short - (fails most all of google test for quality and speed) GoDaddy sites are doing super good.
9:25 pm on July 9, 2016 (gmt 0)

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Isn't SEO supposed to be presenting the best content in the best and most user friendly way possible? Or is it gaming the system to get a leg up on other sites? I suspect it is both. :)

Old time "best content, presented best way possible" still works. It's the other SEO that has changed over the years as g has made it clear they don't want to be gamed.
6:45 am on July 11, 2016 (gmt 0)

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What I found out interestingly and to mu surprise is that URLs (not domain names rather html file names) have little to no strenght. We are in the process of redesigning a leading website in the business niche and their old website is a masterpiece of design...in 2008. Most of their URLs are just php-insert-random-string-of-numbers-and-letters-here.html, most of their title tags are duplicates and their have very flat URL structure.

Google however does not care about all the above, because 30%+ of the searches are brand searches and because of that Google granted them the prime money keywords for their niche. They perform sub-par on local, but we all know local SEO is a link-and-review spamfest, so with some work we will bring those back to the top.

My point is that people have the wrong perception that all "SEO indicators" par a few have relatively the same weight. They don't. They never did and in fact, on-page optimization is in my mind less and less important, because Google already has enough data to connect the dots, especially for money keywords.

Sure some things work better than others, like super-link-building and heavy content PR campaigns, but both of these cost a hefty lump sum of money to make, so for all intents and purposes, the only thing the SEO people need to really look for are heavy amount of duplicated content, heavy amount of spammy links and heavy amount of poor content pages. The rest is digital marketing which is not really tied to SEO anymore.
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