The Single Biggest SEO Mistake You Can Make

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Any SEO specialist with a decent amount of expertise can tell you about the latest Google algorithm changes and explain why the old optimization tricks no longer work. They can tell you why keyword counts and high-volume, low-content backlinking strategies are ineffective at best and could actively harm your reputation. By focusing on the nuts and bolts of SEO, however, they often miss the single biggest mistake any company can make when outlining its online marketing strategy. The most egregious error in SEO isn’t a single sin of commission or omission but an outlook.

If you consider your company’s relationship with search engines an adversarial one, you cannot succeed at SEO in the long run.

When content marketing strategists see search engines as the enemy, a force to be manipulated and a system to be gamed, their site traffic will inevitably be throttled to a trickle. Eventually Google, Bing and Yahoo will update their algorithms to close the loopholes they’d used to gain an advantage. Black-hat SEO relied heavily on exploiting weaknesses in search engines’ algorithms, something that was simpler to do when the systems weren’t as sophisticated as current search engine technology. When you see an article with little substance, poor grammar and plenty of unrelated keywords, you’ve stumbled across a relic of outmoded black-hat tricks intended to fool search engines.

Search engines changed to keep ahead of these low-value sites and provide meaningful results to their users. Major updates like Google’s Panda and Penguin were the direct results of attempts to game the system and get unearned high placement on search engine results pages. Google’s anti-spam guru Matt Cutts has said that the search engine giant undergoes more than 400 updates annually, and while some are small fixes, others have a major impact on SEO tactics. The fight against spam sites and low-quality content is never-ending, and if you want to avoid becoming a casualty of the conflict, choose the side that eventually wins every battle.

Becoming a Search Engine Ally

If you’ve noticed your site traffic declining, you may have outdated SEO content on your site, giving search engines the false impression that you’re the enemy. By sticking to outmoded tactics, you create opposition when you should be fostering a cooperative relationship with search engines. If your competitors’ sites outrank yours despite your SEO efforts, your content creation team might be making the following tactical errors and leading search engines to treat your site as spam:

  • High keyword density on every page
  • Generic keywords with heavy competition
  • Thin, information-poor content that only serves as a framework for more keyword-stuffing
  • Low-value backlinks
  • Duplicate content across multiple pages
  • Spun articles to produce quantity over quality
  • Article marketing with poorly written or thin content

Note that most of these flawed optimization techniques were once state-of-the-art SEO. Once upon a time, they worked despite being a nuisance for search engine users. They effectively gamed the system, and that’s why Google has cracked down on these tactics. In the war against spam and low-value websites, your SEO content must be perceived as a friend by search engines, allowing your information to pass freely while barring outdated sites.

Search engines want the same thing you want: to promote useful sites’ visibility and make them more easily accessible to users. The best way to do that in the long term is to align yourself with what search engines’ algorithms and human testers perceive as useful. Information-rich, engaging content with industry authority and a natural distribution of highly relevant keywords will always have value. You’ll see sites that meet these standards whenever you type in a common search string; they’re the ones on the first page of results. When your site meets the same standards, it will earn its place there too.

It’s easy to think of search engines as tools of punishment, especially if you have obsolete SEO content dragging down your site’s value, but they’re your most powerful tool for earning recognition and gaining traffic. Don’t fall into the trap of superficial tricks that promise unrealistic results; such tactics pit you against the ultimate marketing superpowers, and you’re likely to lose that fight. Ally with search engines instead, and you’ve scored a major victory over the long haul.

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