We recently reviewed our On-page techniques for SEO, as we felt it was important to refresh and take stock of what we were currently doing and how we could improve our approach to ensure we were using the most effective methods. There have been many contradictions over the years on what constitutes as successful on-page SEO, with myths and varying opinions on what actually works.
Rather than spill all of our findings online (which wouldn’t be the most sensible thing to do as a leading SEO company) I thought we could look at certain myths and some old-school techniques that maybe are no longer effective or that have lost their importance over the years, now that other ranking factors are taking over but that are still used as part of an overall SEO campaign.
Emphasising the Anchors
This was one of the primary actions for on-page SEO and it made sense to a point that within the content (which was fast becoming the core focus for SEOs after Panda) there would be not only keyword integration but also emphasis for Google to see what was being targeted. Back then, the algorithm wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now and couldn’t work on relative calculations and contextual content scanning. By strong-tagging or “bolding” the keyword we were telling Google which word or phrase was being optimised. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with many other tactics historically, it was abused and time and again, with sites literally strong-tagging multiple instances of the keyword and effectively making their page “spammy” it carried less and less weight as time went on. This also encouraged people (mistakenly so) to include more keyword instances within the text and so by default they were returning to the age of keyword-stuffing, whilst thinking they were using the latest methods.
In our meeting we discussed internal links which was another technique that was misused. It’s doubtful it ever really added much benefit to the keyword strength on-site and although it now seems obvious that this was just too spammy, it is still used but in order to deliver a better user-experience. It should never have been used to optimise a keyword because the purpose was primarily for navigation. Anytime we perform on-page SEO now we also look first and foremost at what is useful to the user and whether what we are doing contributes to the overall user-experience. Internal links shouldn’t be present on every page and in most cases should not match a key-phrase being used for the SEO.
H1s Exact Match
There was a train of thought that H1 Headings should contain the key-phrase you were optimising for and that it should be exact match and that it should be no more than 7 words long. Even if it didn’t quite make sense for it to be there in relation to the rest of the page, the thought process was that it should sit at the top of the content and be proudly and loudly staring the user in the face. This became an issue when exact-match anchor text was being clamped down on by the Penguin update which cited “over-optimisation” had occurred on the page. Headings were no longer to be manipulated for SEO and they should absolutely be relevant to the content they are introducing. A header 1 for example which read “Online Clothes Leicester” would be a good indication to Google that no care had been taken at all to cater for the user and was being solely abused for SEO purposes. The heading should have relevance and if it needs 10 words to describe what the user is seeing and it makes sense, then so be it. The days of 7-word restrictions in H1s and exact-matching headers are thankfully over.
Exact Match Domains
This has been a contentious issue with many people. It divides opinion because on the one hand sites are being penalised for having exact-match domain names, which contain primarily key-phrases that are being optimised. I’ve seen it happen, I know colleagues who have seen it happen and at one point or another we have seen or heard about it happening to (in some cases) well-respected sites. On the other hand, we know that actually having a domain name with your key-phrase in can help the ranking of the site. I’ve seen it and it frustrates me to no end. Try typing “ps4 deals” into Google. Go on, take a look. You know which site I’m talking about. This resides in second place currently and yet it carries no page rank, has very few high quality links and has a low domain authority rank according to Site Explorer. So how does it boost its way to the top with so little work, in such a short space of time? This site didn’t exist 6 months ago. But I know that actually, it’s down to the constant blogging, news updates and activity on the site that has helped it remain where it is.
So this is the reason when Google tell me that exact-match domains are bad, that I think to myself “yeah, but why don’t you do something about them then” because they sure aren’t tackling the majority of them and instead they have penalised sites that actually offered something real, with good user experience and that had a natural URL. It was unfortunate that in one instance I know of they happened to have a key-phrase in their URL that Google considered to be a blatant flaunting of the rules. It wasn’t of course. It was just pure bad luck and at that point, Google’s rules ended up doing “evil”, something it swore never to do. The lesson from this is that everyone has an opinion on exact match domains and personally I think that as long as you aren’t hyphening the hell out of them and deliberately introducing key-phrases in for the sake of it, that it can have a positive effect. Your business name might just happen to contain a potential keyword. SEO Moz even suggest having page URLs with the primary keyword in. Although it’s not necessarily the domain name, the principle is the same.
User experience is the key and should always be the number one concern of any self-respecting SEO. If you get that right, the rest will usually follow. With myths and contentious issues, half-truths and speculation, that’s part and parcel of SEO. It’s down to us to sift through the mud bad practices and ineffective actions and find the gold techniques that will serve us all better in the long run.