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SEO Website Audit

16 SEO Tactics That Will NOT Bring Targeted Google Visitors

April 6, 2011

In my day-to-day reviews of client websites, I see lots of things done to websites in the name of SEO that in reality have no bearing on it. Photo Credit: Bitterjug

In an effort to keep you from spending your precious time on supposed SEO tactics that will have absolutely no effect on your rankings, search engine visitors, conversions or sales, I present you with 16 SEO tactics that you can remove from your personal knowledge base and/or SEO toolbox as being in any way related to SEO:
  1. Meta Keywords: Lord help us! I thought I was done discussing the ole meta keywords tag in 1999, but today in 2011 I encounter people with websites who still think this is an important SEO tactic. My guess is it's easier to fill out a keyword meta tag than to do the SEO procedures that do matter. Suffice it to say, the meta keyword tag is completely and utterly useless for SEO purposes when it comes to all the major search engines – and it always will be.

  2. XML Site Maps or Submitting to Search Engines: If your site architecture stinks and important optimized pages are buried too deeply to be easily spidered, an XML site map submitted via Webmaster Tools isn't going to make them show up in the search results for their targeted keywords. At best it will make Google aware that those pages exist. But if they have no internal or external link popularity to speak of, their existence in the universe is about as important as the existence of the tooth fairy (and she won't help your pages to rank better in Google either!).

  3. Link Title Attributes: Think that you can simply add descriptive text to your "click here" link's title attribute? (For example: <a href="page1.html" title="Spammy Keywords Here">Click Here</a>.) Think again. Back in the 1990s I too thought these were the bee's knees. Turns out they are completely ignored by all major search engines. If you use them to make your site more accessible, then that's great, but just know that they have nothing to do with Google.

  4. Header Tags Like H1 or H2: This is another area people spend lots of time in, as if these fields were created specifically for SEOs to put keywords into. They weren't, and they aren't. They're simply one way to mark up your website code with headlines. While it's always a good idea to have great headlines on a site that may or may not use a keyword phrase, whether it's wrapped in H-whatever tags is of no consequence to your rankings.

  5. Keyworded Alt Text on Non-clickable Images: Thought you were clever to stuff keywords into the alt tag of the image of your pet dog? Think again, Sparky! In most cases, non-clickable image alt tag text isn't going to provide a boost to your rankings. And it's especially not going to be helpful if that's the only place you have those words. (Clickable images are a different story, and the alt text you use for them is in fact a very important way to describe the page that the image is pointing to.)

  6. Keyword-stuffed Content: While it's never been a smart SEO strategy, keyword-stuffed content is even stupider in today's competitive marketplace. In the 21st century, less is often more when it comes to keywords in your content. In fact, if you're having trouble ranking for certain phrases that you've used a ton of times on the page, rather than adding it just one more time, try removing some instances of it. You may be pleasantly surprised at the results.

  7. Optimizing for General or Peripheral Keywords: You're not gonna rank for a one-word keyword. You're just not. You are likely not even going to rank for a 2-word keyword. So stop wasting your time optimizing for them, and find the phrases that answer the searcher's question. For example, most people seeking legal help aren't putting the one word "lawyer" into Google. They have a very specific need for a certain type of lawyer as well as a specific location in which they hope to find said lawyer. So rather than throwing the word "lawyer" all over your site, ask yourself this: There are people out there who want what you're providing. What are they typing into Google? Now focus on those words instead. And don't even get me started on people who put words on their pages that are barely related to what they do "just in case" someone who types that into Google might be interested in what they offer. You won't rank for those phrases anyway, but even if you magically did, they won't make you any sales.

  8. Targeting the Same Keywords on Every Page: The keyword universe for any product or service is ginormous. (It really is.) Even if there are one or two phrases that bring you the most traffic, why the heck would you want to miss out on the gazillions of others as well? Stop focusing every page on the same handful of phrases and start targeting each page to its own specific set that most relate to what you're offering there.

  9. Focusing on Ads as Links: Banner ads, Google AdWords links and most other forms of online advertising do not create links that count toward your link popularity. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use this form of marketing – just don't be deluded into thinking that it will have a direct effect on your organic search engine rankings and traffic.

  10. Mad-lib Doorway Pages: While you may offer lots of products or services that are extremely similar to one another with just one minor change, it's not a good idea to create separate pages for each of them and making only minor keyword changes to each of them. While this may be okay for paid search landing pages, it's a duplicate content spammy nightmare for organic SEO purposes. (In fairness, I do sometimes still see this technique work, but it's still not advisable to do it.)

  11. Linking to Google or Other Popular Websites: It's the links pointing to your pages from other sites that help you with SEO, not the pages you're linking out to. 'Nuff said.

  12. Redirecting a Keyworded Domain to Your Real One: So you have your business name as your domain (as you should), but you have noticed the unfortunate fact that Google seems to really like domains that have keywords in them. Buying one (or more) and redirecting it to your actual website can't provide you with any advantage because a redirected website (and its domain name) is never seen by the search engines. And besides, even if there were something magical about doing this, again, you're only talking about one keyword phrase.

  13. Republishing Only Others' Stuff: While it's fine to republish an article that someone else published first, if that's all your blog consists of, it's not going to help your search engine rankings. Instead of republishing entire articles, discuss them in your own posts and provide your thoughts and opinions on what's good / bad / ugly about what the others are saying. It's all about adding value.

  14. Making Minor Changes to Freshen Content: This is not going to help a thing. If any old articles or posts need to be updated, then update them. But just changing a date or a few words will not have any effect on your search engine rankings or traffic.

  15. Nofollowing Internal Links: Perhaps you're not looking for your privacy policy page to be followed by the search engines, so you add a nofollow attribute to it. That's all well and good, but don't fool yourself into thinking that this will somehow control your PageRank flow and get you better rankings. It won't.

  16. Main Navigation That Links to Every Page: If linking to pages in your main navigation gives them more internal link popularity and therefore more possible weighting with the search engines, then surely linking to every single page of the site in your main navigation should be a good idea, right? Wrong! It isn't. All it does is spread your internal link popularity too thin and confuse the heck out of your site visitors. Don't do it. Choose to link only to top-level categories and perhaps subcategories (if you have a reasonable number of them) in your main navigation. This allows users to drill down further when they're in the category sections themselves.

Did I miss any? I'm quite sure I've just touched the surface on waste-of-time SEO tactics. How about you? Do you agree with the above? Disagree? Leave your comments below.

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings and an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

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Post Comment

 Al Toman said:
A lot of what you stated here is what SEO has been telling us to do! Therefore I thank you for making mention of these. I'll bet 99% of the SEO industry will still today advocate many of the points you listed as good SEO. However, you've been around since 1812 so I trust what you have to say and will pass same on to my web clients.

Now, I'm even more skeptical in trusting the SEO industry.

So, what should local Joseph and Mary small business webmasters do to get PR 10, Alexa 1 ratings just like Google shows?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Al 1812? Wow...that's cold!

But you're right, those are things that so many companies think is SEO. And I'm sure you're just kidding about the PR and Alexa rankings since those are not goals in and of themselves :)
 Andrea G said:
Jill, thank you for your 16 SEO "don't" Tips! I'm writing copy for our soon-to-be-newly designed (I hope) website and am trying to ensure that I've used appropriate terms in appropriate places. We're not focusing on rating high with search engines, but we are trying to use terms which possible customers would be using. Your article will help improve that aspect and help me when working with a web designer.
 Tim Higgins said:
great article -much more useful than 10 ways to improve your SEO ...blah blah! read all those before!
 Jill Whalen said:
@Andrea like #7 above, be sure to use very specific keyword phrases. (Do Keyword Research) Don't just look at those keywords that get the most searches. That's not what you want to focus on. Also read the keyword research article linked to from this article above.
 Garry Webster said:

Are you actually saying not to bother with H tags at all? I totally agree that you can rank a site that doesnt have H tags, doesnt have fresh content or other on page SEO etc etc but i think you ll give some people the wrong idea with this blog post. If all your competitors have done on and off page optimisation and you for instance dont use basic on page optimisation then i tend to think that if everything else is equal Google will prefer the on page seo site above one that didnt.

Anyone should use H tags as appropriate, some might think your saying not to use them, thats the impression I got. However a novice should surely use them in context and yes as you said not to spend hours on them- they are a 'fit and forget' kind of thing.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Garry I'm just saying that whether you have an H tag or not your rankings will be the same.
 Boon said:
I have to disagree with a few of the things on here... Mostly with the fact that you say some of these things "dont count at all". You do not know Google's algorithm and do not have the capability of knowing for sure if you are at all correct in some of these instances.

Besides the black hat tactics... Are any of these things going to push your site from page 50 to page 1? Probably not, however Google prefers sites that are coded well over ones that are not, including the use of relevant headers, accessibility features like title / alt tags, and keyword rich content.

Having a site where the title, description, header tags, anchor text, accessibility tags and content are all relevant to each other without "overuse" of keywords can make a significant difference in ranking.. when compared to not using header tags, accessibility tags, or optimizing for keywords. You'd be surprised how many people write great content but only use their targeted keywords once or twice. Finding a few extra places to put it naturally can make a world of difference in rankings... Of course stuffing doesn't work, however telling people to go through their content and take keywords out is retarded.
 Marjory Meechan said:
Alt attribute tags are necessary for accessibility. You should have them. That's it - that's all. Besides, didn't SEOMOZ identify the alt tag in 2010 as a factor that (surprisingly) did exert some ranking influence - particularly for image search?

Just sayin'
 Jill Whalen said:
@Boon, I know Google's algorithm to a certain extent since many things can be tested.

I'm not sure what you mean by "accessibility tags" but if you're talking about the link title attribute, that is one that can be proven to unequivocally not be indexed by Google via simple tests. The same with the Meta keyword tag.

Header tags are less easy to prove one way or another, but my tests show that having them for awhile and then removing them (changing to some other type of tag) has made no difference in rankings.

SEO is not a guessing game. There are things we know that work and those we know that don't. I would like people to concentrate on those that do work, rather than those that don't.

I'm not saying that one shouldn't do some of the things you mention, but they shouldn't be doing them in the name of SEO.

As an aside, I'd prefer if you didn't use words such as "retarded" on my site, as that's highly offensive and unnecessary.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Marjory, the alt attribute is extremely important for clickable images. I didn't say that it wasn't. It's the same as anchor text for the most part.
 Alex said:
I nearly got through unscathed Jilll but you got me on point 4!

I am "guilty" of ignoring a WP theme if it does not wrap post titles in H1 tags and using one that does.

It seemed logical to me that doing so emphasised the keywords I was putting there - like telling the search engines what was most important on the page.

Very thought provoking post
 Jill Whalen said:
@Alex and everyone...the H tag one is certainly the most contentious as it's been drilled into everyone's head that it's an SEO thing.

But I think if anyone really did some of their own tests, they'd find the same results as I have (and I'm talking about for at least the past 5 years) that words wrapped in H tags are no better than words wrapped in any other tag.
 Myron Rosmarin said:
While I mostly agree with this very good list, there are one or two items that I have to disagree with mostly in the spirit of "nothing is that cut and dry." When I speak with clients, I try to get them to use a common sense approach when it comes to understanding the nuances of SEO. I ask them to look at their content as if they were a search engine and objectively consider "what does 'this string of text in that place' or 'that link in that place' or whatever say about their page?" Do these elements help create compelling evidence that their content is relevant and credible for a given topic?

To which point I have to bring up point #11 above. If you're writing about a topic, linking out to an authoritative source of information must (by the very nature of how links are supposed to work) say something positive about your own page. Consider the model of how research papers reference each other. Isn't there something positive to be gained by referencing the "best" research vs not referencing any other research or worse yet, referencing "poor" research?

In general, I encourage clients to create content and craft their page in a way that clearly communicates what the page is about and use the various features of the HTML mark-up language in a hygienically clean and semantically coherent way to tell that story.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Myron #11 was more in reference to those that believe that if they link to google it will help them rank better. In context the way you're talking about is of course good. If nothing else it's good for the user and that's really all that matters.
 Dave Fowler said:
I agree with most of your points, but point 7, to "stop wasting time" optimising for 2-word phrases, is poor advice. These will be the head terms in many niches, and the biggest win if you can rank for them. Link building for long-tail terms is often an inefficient use of resources, and for local SEO in particular, many viable terms will be 2-word phrases - typically a descriptor and location. a good SEO should be perfectly capable of ranking for head terms, with a bit of hard work and creative thinking.

Also, the use of popular search terms in H tags may not directly influence SEO (tho' I'm unconvinced that they have absolutely no influence) but they can certainly provide a quick reassurance to the visitor that they've landed on the right content, and so reduce bounce rates. As well as being desirable in it's own right, this would also have merit should search engines ever start using clickstream data as a ranking factor - if they aren't already.

As a primer to help absolute beginners avoid pitfalls, this s a largely useful post. I have to dispute Al Toman's statement that 99% of the SEO community would still promote your list as being best practice; the professional SEOs that I come into contact are rather better informed than that.

Sorry, I've been to see the movie 'Inside Job' tonight, and it's left me feeling a bit aggrieved :)
 Robert Scavilla said:
@rscavilla Hi Jill, I was surprised about #5. You are one of the few SEO's that I follow and trust - but I am going to test this. I'll post back if I find anything different. I know you are not discouraging the use of alt text on images, however, putting SEO aside, they are necessary when building accessible sites. And, for what ever reason, the accessible sites I build have better SEO than the non-accessible ones.
 Sha Menz said:
Ah yes, The meta keywords tag!
Actually, I find them very useful - for reminding myself as years advance, exactly what I was aiming to do with that page ...LOL :)
 PharmiMike said:
Nice list Jill. Makes me re-assess some of my own activities. I'll pass this on!
 Morris said:
I'm number one for heaps of 2-word phrases (search 'vehicle insurance' in Google New Zealand and it's one of my clients that comes up first) and a few one-word phrases. Your comment perhaps relates to competing in America, and unfortunately (*insert gross generalisation here) Americans often forget that there are countries other than America!
 Anonymous said:
Hi Jill

Please provide proof, as a back up, to your conclusions for all 16 points.

By proof, I mean you would need to point us to the exact ruling in the Google Webmaster Guidleines that specifically point out and show us Google's justification/backup of what you have claimed to be the "Wrong SEO Tactics".

This will then show readers and fellow SEO Specialists that these are not your subjective opinioins but are objective facts that you are teaching us about and are backed up, in writing, by Google.

 Paul Sherland said:
Jill, great article, but I'd like to agree with Dave Fowler (above) -- and I've also seen Inside Job and may be aggrieved too.

In local SEO, you can rank well for one or two-word keyword phrases, and it's well worth the time and effort to try. You should figure out which keywords Google classifies as "local" and which are "global" for every local client and then ensure that your client's Google Places listing is categorized and optimized for the best local keywords. It's also worthwhile to do the keyword research to find phrases that people use with place names, and use those keywords in proximity to place names in your client's website, whether Google classifies them as "local" or not.

 Jill Whalen said:
@DaveFowler and @Morris and @Paul I may have not been clear enough on the optimization (or not) of 2 word phrases. I by no means am telling people to optimize for the long tail, as my stance on that has been well-noted, e.g., optimizing for the long tail is NOT SEO. But my point was that too many people are optimizing for very general words which they'll never rank for instead of the keyword gems that they may rank for. Remember, this article isn't written for an affiliate marketer or someone who is an expert at SEO, it's written for those business owners who thought they knew what SEO was or was sold a load of crap SEO by one of the numerous craphat SEOs out there who believe all in this article is what SEO is.

@rscavilla I am by no means saying people shouldn't use alt attributes. It's just that for non-clickable images, adding keywords that don't even relate to the picture at hand has been an old SEO tactic that I still see being used. It doesn't work.

As to our anonymous coward, what do Google's Webmaster Guidelines have to do with what works and doesn't for SEO?
 kaidez said:
Hi Jill. Nice post...some suprising stuff here!

Quick question: while header, alt and title tags aren't applied to the Google algorithim, would you say that Google uses them anyway? Do these things help the algo make decisions even though they're not directly part of it? I know that meta descriptions, microformats and microdata help search engines make descisions but aren't applied to PageRank; just wondering if the aformentioned tags provide the same service?

As a side note: I do believe that under the right circumstances, all these things do contribute to a positive user experience, even if done so outside of Google. H1 tags do appear in feeds and if worded properly, can induce a user click. The same thing, I believe is true for a proper meta description if Google spits it out in the search result.
 Jill Whalen said:
@ kaidez hand on. Title tags are huge in the algorithm. I was talking about the link title attribute which is completely different.

As to your larger question, no, I don't think the things I've mentioned do contribute to Google helping to determine the relevancy of a page, if that's what you mean. But it's just my opinion as nobody knows exactly what Google does with all of the information they have at hand.
 kaidez said: mistake...I did mean to type in link tag and not title tag...not enough coffee this early in the AM yet.
 Matt Oliver said:
Jill, very nice article and I love some of the comments especially the show me the proof. It cracks me up sometimes when individuals question people that I consider gurus in the industry. SEO is a moving target as we all should know and if you have been doing this long enough you will know a lot of the strategies that do or do not work. Also, if you have been in this industry long enough you will know that there are companies out there making millions on just providing the services that you listed in your article and not providing any lift in traffic whatsoever.
 Nick said:
*sigh* Another "quality" article from Jill "How Do I Still Get Work?" Whalen
 Jill Whalen said:
Nice, Nick, whomever you are.
 Guy Mclaren said:
Tommy Rot. Many of the things you are shooting down make a difference in my testing. But then my clients rank well for the stuff that is important.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Guy, try removing some of those things and see if it makes a difference. You may be surprised.
 Sarah said:
Great article Jill! Yet another source for me to send clients who think differently. In fact I often send them links to your materials. :)
 Brian Benham said:
I diss agree with a few of your points. Mainly #5 keyword alt tags on non click-able images. I have heard this before so I wanted to test it myself. On my site I have a decorative gray box background image I use I to display my products in. I put an alt tag of "Photography background" in several of the graphics, with in a month I started ranking for "Photography background." This may not be the effective way to rank for any keyword but Google did pick it up and rank me for it.

I also recently tested #4, H1 tags. I was not using them at all on my site but it was suggested to me to help, So I went through my site and Changed all my bold keyword headers and put them in H1 tags. About 3 weeks later I had a significant jump in rank for those keywords.

#11 linking to Google or other popular webpages is a waste but I have discovered that some of the sites I link to generate traffic. I do furniture design. I had linked to a 3D graphic designer and I started getting hits for 3D furniture design. The 3D graphic designer was the only mention on my site with 3D. I was getting so many hits form 3D furniture design I have created a page dedicated to it, but if I had never linked out I would I never know that was a viable keyword.

I think SEO needs to be a combination of all things and we make changes slowly and be patient so we are able to isolate and test the effectiveness of different tactics.
 Grant Simmons said:
I have to disagree with some of the assertions stated as *don't dos*

SEO is incremental and really about usability and users.

Some of what you mention i.e. alt tags give accessibility and usability to a site, shouldn't be ignored.

As for meta keywords, I agree they're devalued, but not valueless, especially if implemented to best practices, and they are *part* of a structured, informed strategy.

Will meta keywords make a *noticeable* difference? Doubtful. But together with optimization for crawlability, creation of valuable content for authority, and promotions for recognition & findability, small incremental changes do *help*.

Providing blanket recommendations around things *not* to do, isn't as valuable as providing the most important things *to* do...

Final... I appreciate the information you present for those that may not know out there, but it doesn't help those that have tested, tried and see results to have someone of your statue and fame 'poo poo' some of the recommendations we'd make in an holistic strategy... doesn't help.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Grant, I have to strongly disagree about Meta keywords. They are indeed valueless when it comes to Google. Hey can they provide value, when the words within the tag do not get indexed?

As to providing recommendations as to what is GOOD to do as opposed to what not to do, if you read the article again, you'll see that I did that as well. Plus, many of the items have links to more information on what you should be doing instead.

To ALL: I'm getting the impression from some of the commenters that they're making their money by selling these services to clients, which is a bit of a scary thought. I certainly hope if anyone is selling the above things as SEO they're also doing things that will actually help bring in targeted search engine visitors.
 Grant Simmons said:
@Jill "valueless when it comes to Google" - we can agree, but not valueless in an holistic SEO strategy. Would you agree?
 Jill Whalen said:
No, I wouldn't agree, Grant. And as long as people keep talking about meta keywords having anything to do with SEO, people will continue to think they are useful for that purpose. :(
 Brian Robinson said:
Last I heard all major search engines say they ignore the meta keywords tag although there was one test that showed that Yahoo does look at it but only if the word being searched for doesn't appear on any websites which means it's a useless keyword anyways and, therefore, the meta keywords tag is indeed useless. I'm surprised to hear people arguing for it as part of SEO. If it makes you feel like you're doing something then, great, but it doesn't help with SEO.

I agree that linking to popular sites to try and boost rankings is a tactic that doesn't work although linking to bad neighbourhoods can hurt but I suppose that's pretty obvious.

#5 is a good point and something I wasn't aware of before and hadn't really thought of. It may still be good to put alt text in non-clickable images for image search as I think it may be a signal along with the content around the image and file name.

Lastly, an e-commerce site I work for does rank for several one and two-word phrases and I think general two-word phrases are still worth focusing on in my experience. A lot of the one and two-word phrases are product names so that's part of the reason but there are some general ones that it ranks for which do convert.
 M. Allard said:
Hey look, another list that's been recycled and regurgitated a thousand times over on every SEO blog under the sun. Write a case study or something actually newsworthy for once. Nobody except for bush-league SEO's care about your Top 7/19/174 link-building tactics/seo myths/tactics NOT to do for 2011. Gotta love vanilla SEO. You and Bruce Clay should write a book about how to do SEO in 2007
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks for that very helpful comment M. Allard.
 Golden said:
Thanks - I am very new at this game - trying to promote my own site not as a newbie SEO professional. This is all very helpful - but I note that some of your recommendations directly disagree with Google's webmaster guide document - now Google are not holy people but I assume that if they say focus on H1 headers etc then there is something in it - and that they are not deliberately misleading us simple folk out there?

By the way - if you want an idea for a blog - I wish somebody would have told me how bad Joomla is for SEO out of the box & if you want to use it then the first thing after installing Joomla is to add seo tools before adding a single article

Please keep these blogs coming....
 Brian Robinson said:
@Golden: where does Google say to focus on H1 headers for SEO?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Brian, good question. I don't believe they do. In their search engine starter guide, they do mention them, but only in context of using them appropriately to catch a user's eye. (Which is exactly what I would recommend as well.)
 Scott Armstrong said:
Great post Jill.

Your expertise goes super deep, and takes SEO to its most refined levels. Awesome!

For many of our clients a common sense approach to creating great content with some SEO basics pays great dividends without having to get too technical. Since Google is investing plenty of resources in preventing non-quality optimizations, they can be expensive to beat. That why I love your comments on taking a quality approach and adding value! Along those lines here is a practical bit of advice we share on the content side. The strategy question to start with is "understand what your customer wants to know" and then go create that content.

As lots of people have commented one helpful basics resource is Google's own guide. Again not black hat or grey hat but helpful advice on the basics. For anyone who wants to find it here is the link:

Love your insights and thanks for sharing.
 Conor Treacy said:
Great post Jill. Every one of these points are some that I drive home to my clients that I do SEO work for. Having been a web developer since 1994 and having seen the "tricks" used by various masters, the old adage of "content is king" continues to rule the web (even more so with the latest Google updates).

H-Tags are just more text, and I've got a number of pages that I've tested over time with and without the tags. The NoFollow for internal pages is always great stuff for dropping certain pages that you don't need indexed, and of course these days Page Rank doesn't mean anything any more, so the idea of using NoFollow for PR is a waste of time.

The comments on the two-word targeting etc, this CAN be accomplished (as I know you have too), but it takes a lot of work. I interpreted the point that you were making was that if you try to rank for a generic 2 word phrase like "computer monitor" or "dog bowl" or "chocolate bar", you're in for a VERY long fight. In those cases, targeting a 3 word or 4 word phrase works better, and at the end of the day you still get your 2 word target included in the phrase anyway.

Great article. Lots of comments. A+ Job!
 Keegan said:
Good stuff Jill. I know meta keywords have no SEO benefits, but I like to use them to remind me (and the client in some cases) what keywords I'm targeting for that specific page.

If I could add a #17 it would be "Trying to Optimize for More Than 5 Keyword Phrases" Most of us don't have the resources to shoot for more than 3 keywords per page.
 Rob Hartley said:
Wow - fantastic reading Jill. I've just discovered your blog and I wish I'd found it sooner. Since reading it I've gone out into the big ol' www and experimented by looking at various top ranking sites.

One thing that struck me as interesting was that Matt Cutts has deliberately left his own blog with all the canonical issues in tact. So instead of redirecting the non-www to www etc. he has left it all out in the open. However, because everyone has been naturally linking to the www version, this is what is found when you search for 'matt cutts blog' and this is the version that takes precedence over the non-www version. Despite the obvious duplicate content concerns, if you simply search the name Matt his blog will still show in the top three.

Whilst I will still be putting 301 redirects on my websites, I felt that it emphasises your comments that content and in-bound links are king.

We can all worry about the little things, but if we don't get the basic premise that we are offering something of value, then a website's not going to succeed anyway.

I look forward to more instalments from you,


P.S. Totally agree with your rebuff of Grant...keywords are not indexed (not read as text) so how can they add to SEO? ;o)
 Jill Whalen said:
@rob even the www non www thing is rarely an issue anymore for any site as google is smart enough to know it's all the same site.
 Wayne Cadman said:
Hi Jill.

I have a client that has anumber one ranking on with the keyword 'cookers' it took us a few years but they are there.
We have a lot of 2 word phrases too, very competitive ones, yes it takes time but it's not impossible if the client is committed and has the resources of course.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Wayne, for some sites it's certainly possible over time to do so (rank for 1-word or 2-word key words), but for most sites, it's not something they should be striving towards. At least not until they're already getting targeted traffic for the keyword gems that are bringing them highly targeted traffic and conversions.
 Abel Mohler said:
Very interesting article, but the comments are even better... This is very similar to what I've been telling my clients for a long time now. Sometimes it takes them longer to listen on certain points, but hopefully it leads to more productive work now and in the future.

As a programmer and developer, I'm less an SEO and more of just a resident advice-giver, and I believe in testing. Lately I've been able to prove that Google is indexing content generated with JavaScript (though it takes them much longer to do so than with static text). I've also observed the Googlebot on server pages requested only from (AJAX) scripts, by reading server logs. Another myth that can be debunked is the generally absurd "JavaScript is Bad" one-liner. Though the actual indexing of content (and following of links) genrated with JS is a relatively new phenomenon, this assertion is always made by those who have never actually written a line of JS code.
 Jaleesa D said:
Thanks for posting this article. While I myself am not new to SEO, i'm sure many of my new twitter followers are 'wasting time' using these SEO tactics that I had to learn the hard way don't work. I spent a lot of my time when first starting out on these only to get curious as to why I was wasn't ranking very well which led me to do my own tests. SEO got to be such a nuisance that I just steered clear of it all together, but since you don't seem to be trying to sell some SEO "must have" e-book or or something I might rethink that cuz I know SEO is important when going viral.

This is a great 'bad SEO' blasting article that I plan to direct others to. TTFN :)
 Roshan Joshi said:
Great points Jill,
But regarding the heading tags, while these bring attention to the users, and should not be used for just inserting keywords Google does give preference to headings of a page. Such as the SEO starter guide (, which suggests - "there are six sizes of heading tags, beginning with , the most important, and ending with , the least important. So the importance of headings in SEO cannot be neglected."

Even for user perspective, having good headlines and subheads related to the content makes sense.
 Jill Whalen said:
@roshan exactly. But it makes no difference if the headline uses an H tag or not.
 Mark said:
I only have one comment to add because of the fact that this seems to happen to me all of the time.

I occasionally article market, so I publish in some of the more popular directories and I have, on more than one occasion, had an article that I wrote, then syndicated, be outranked by a re-publish copy than another webmaster published on their blog.

So, if you are a bad writer, but know your SEO, you can republish others syndicated content and rank higher than the original.

That sucks, I know, but it has unfortunately happened to me on more than one occasion.

 Jill Whalen said:
@Mark, I'm not really sure how that relates to what I wrote in this article.
 Rahul said:
I have to disagree about the H1 and H2 tags. These tags, if used properly, can dramatically boost SERPs. Note that the keyword here is "if used properly." I've seen people make an entire paragraph out of the H1 tag! Anyways, good post.
 Jill Whalen said:
If it works for you, thenmore power to you, Rahul. But have you actually tested it?
 Gisele Glosser said:
What about keyowrd density? I have found that looking at the keyword density cloud is helpful, as long as the copy on the page is "natural".
 Jill Whalen said:
@Gisele, keyword density has been dead for many years, and really was never any specific number or percentage.
 SGT Volkin said:
Thanks for the article. As an SEO expert I have to respectfully disagree with points #11 and #13

#11: Linking to Google or Other Popular Websites-Your outgoing (or outbound) links ARE important. Post Google Pandas algorithm changes, Google's Matt Cutts says " outgoing links to authority sites are a positive ranking factor like bad neighborhoods are a negative one"

#13: Republishing Only Others' Stuff- Although I agree with most of what you said here, many times when someone republishes another persons article, it actually shows up higher in search rankings that the original publisher. Yes, you should have original content, but if your republishing an article with a website of lesser importance (according to Google), you will show up first.
Keep the great content coming, just wanted to make the above points
 jeremy said:
I wanted to disagree with your point #15:

(Nofollowing Internal Links: Perhaps you're not looking for your privacy policy page to be followed by the search engines, so you add a nofollow attribute to it. That's all well and good, but don't fool yourself into thinking that this will somehow control your PageRank flow and get you better rankings. It won't.)

If it doesn't matter, why do you have it in this blog?
 Jill Whalen said:
Sorry @SGTVolkin, but if you believe that linking to Google will help your own site rank well, then I have a bridge to sell you...

@jeremy, I use nofollow for comment links because they're potentially untrustworthy, which is the reason why they were designed in the first place, not to channel PageRank.
 Oli said:
Hey Jill,

How did you test these?

I have run and seen several tests (including post-panda re-runs) that would go against some of the waste of time points here. Most significantly H Tags (Where testing nearly always shows serps improvement)

SItemaps might not help on rankings, but they DO help with on-se optimization, providing google with all the information it needs to set up the correct 'site links' for your site which can vastly improve conversions. Plus they are a great way for Google to notice new websites, and while they don't have much significance for ranking, htey do make sure google knows about every page you want them to.

Outbound links - bit of an iffy area, some people have reported that it helps, others see no real difference. Personally I have seen gains when I back up each article with a relevant source. Although it is important to remember that linking to authoritative sources is best practice, it adds trust not just for SEO, but for the visitor.

However - I would be interested in seeing how you unequivocally prove Google does not use the title tag, it certainly crawls them, and stores them in it's cache.

And finally, it is more than possible to get ranked for one and two word phrases, it just isn't easy :P

Out of all those I think the often still believed myth I see the most is page rank sculpting through no following links. I have met seo 'experts' and clients who claim this is key, but I completely disagree and my testing backs me up.
 Oli (SEO Chemist) said:
I also think it is important to add to the point on link Title - I have seen a lot of SEO sources talk about experience, and what other SEO'ers say, but not a lot of information on actual testing. Until I see anything really clear cut from a heavy test environment I am going to continue with my mantra of 'what most SEO forums say is right is probably wrong'.

My own opinion is that link title attributes are a very minor ranking factor, not worth spending much time on but still there. (Combine this with usability and it makes Title tags still worth doing).

When I am competing in high competition areas, often one to two word phrases, every edge counts, so I have to work on certainties rather than possibilities, and it works well for me.
 Nathaniel A. Kingsley said:

Great article! The only one I disagree with is the H1 H2 tag keyword uselessness. h1 tag is used to identify the them of your page along with the title tag. It is important to have keyword phrases in your H1 along with doing everything else correctly. Having keywords in your h1 tag alone won't do anything but I consider using them for thematic purposes for the search engines very important.

Where did you get the data for coming to that conclusion? I am open to any research taht can prove me otherwise but I seriously doubt there is any.

Otherewise, Great article!!!! My favorite one is the linking OUT to other sites. I used to always get clients who thought linking out to google and yahoo would help their rankings hahah. Classic
 Jill Whalen said:
@Oli and Nathaniel the information is based on my 16 (almost 17 now) years of SEO experience. Some things can be unequivocally tested, but many are the results of simply seeing what works and what doesn't.

Since every site is different, it's not surprising that you may notice different things than I have (for example with H tags) and it's certainly difficult (if not impossible) to pin down the actual cause of an increase or decrease in a ranking...especially these days. But I've personally never seen there be a difference in having an H tag in a heading, or just having the heading there with some other way of styling it, which is why I've made the conclusion I have.

I'm not sure why you think I said Google doesn't use the Title tag. Of course they do, it's probably the most important weighting factor that there is. I was talking about link title attributes, which are a whole 'nother ballgame and totally ignored by search engines. (That one is easy to test and I have many times.)

At any rate, if PageRank sculpting through nofollow links and H tags work for you, then more power to you. I just don't like people who are selling those things to other people without doing the real things that make a big opposed to "might make a difference."
 Web said:
The fact of the matter is there is nothing you can do SEO-wise to bring targeted visitors from Google or any other search engine. Sometimes Google doesn't rank certain sites for unknown reasons. Sometimes Google will take a high ranking site and bury it in the SERPs, killing its traffic for no reason at all. All the stuff mentioned in this piece are basic SEO techniques and while it is true that none of these are guaranteed to bring visitors from Google, *it isn't going to hurt*.

With more recent updates to its algorithm, Google has pretty much turned conventional SEO on its head. Google Instant has reduced traffic to all but the highest ranking sites.

Honestly, ranking in Google is a craphsoot. I've ranked #1 in Google and watched a site of mine site drop from #1 to sub-600 in a matter of a few hours time. There is no rhyme or reason to Google.
 Roni Lennon said:

Interesting stuff.

As a small business owner who has been through many of the do's and don'ts over the past 15 years, I find myself in the position of training a complete SEO new blood in the art of SEO.

While the don'ts are good, what would be the top DO's on your list?

Also on the clickable image alt tag. Would an enlarged image fall into this category or not, and would itbe worth doing for an entire ecommerce site.

 Jill Whalen said:

The what to do's can be found over at my Avoiding SEO Brain Freeze articles

Or simply have them take my Online SEO Training Course which was loosely based off that series.
 Ronnie Lennon said:
Thanks, and what of the enlarged image question?
 William Rock said:
Wow Jill talk about of debate in this article, I find it funny as all of those things used to work and will continue to be devalued as Google and others get smarter.

2012 will be the game changer for SEO as we knew it, the real thing to focus is visitor experience "Machine Lerning" signals and bounce rate signals and lets not forget about freshness with quality ... This and many others will now define ranking. It may work now but just give it TIME.
 Amanda said:
Jill, You say (item #2) "important optimized pages [should not be] buried too deeply to be easily spidered". How deep is too deep?
 Jill Whalen said:
Amanda, it depends on what you're optimizing them for. Pages with competitive keywords may work best if they're part of the global navigation, for instance.
 Amanda said:
That makes a lot of sense. And, indeed, the depth to which they're buried reflects their relative (un)importance (to me) which, I guess, is as it should be. Yes, it figures - thank you
 John S. Britsios said:
To your point 4 about the heading tags, I would like to share here two recent posts of Bill Slawski:


 Peter Sommer said:
Great post Jill. It's so easy to get caught up in thinking little 'tricks' like these will help a website. Very refreshing and instructive to hear you speak out and make clear what best to avoid. It all comes down to good, valuable, relevant content. Pleased I found this via your newsletter.
 Conor O'Keefe said:
Hi ... just wondering if you think the file name for a picture has any bearing for SEO purposes
 Jill Whalen said:
Conor, it seems to have some value for image searching.
 Mark H said:
Re trying to rank for 2 word phrases.

If you have an exact match domain for one of the words in the phrase, 2 word phrases incorporating that word are exactly what you should be aiming for (and 3 word phrases incorporating that word too).

They may take time, but in the meantime many of those 2 word phrases form a component of longer tail terms which will help you along the way.
 Barnez said:
Thanks for the post Jill. I've been trying to reinstate keywords in my header for a few weeks, but the members in the forum have been none too interested. Now I know why. I still get a little perturbed when I run my site through an online SEO checker and see an exclamation mark against my keywords feedback, but the weight of evidence seems to stack now up. Forget about keyword meta tags and work on great content. OK, back to the blogging board then .....
 Diana Ratliff said:
Ill-informed clients are one of the reasons that poor practices persist.

I had a client lately who has gotten into his head that having many and varied meta-keywords was the key to getting his site to rank. He would look at his stat-tracking service, look at the search terms they used, and add any new phrases ("gay-friendly" was one he asked me about,I recall) that he saw.

After I converted his site to Wordpress and showed him how to make his own site updates, he added the keywords back in.
 MQL Services said:
I know what you wrote is an old post, but I must disagree that you cannot rank for one or two word keywords.

We regularly rank for one and two word keywords, but yes it is eaier to rank three or more word keyphrases.
 Tammy said:
thats not true about H tags. I aded H1-H4 and my products i added them on soared in 1 week. I know that H tags is severly inportant in serp ranking.
 Jill Whalen said:
Glad you feel it worked for you @Tammy. It certainly shouldn't hurt, so if it seems to be working, then more power to you!
 Angela R Beasley said:
Hello Jill, This is a great post. What about "strong" and "bold" tags? I am imagining these don't carry much weight these days either. What is your take? Thanks
 Jill Whalen said:
@Angela, personally, I never felt those carried any weight. Especially when people just bolded keywords for no reason other than because they thought search engines would like it.
 Alexander R said:
Very interesting.

I was searching for the answers in 1,2,3 and 4.
4 was really important for my, because I use only h3 and h5 (looks better).

After reading your text I saved a lot of time - my son (16 weeks) will be happy now.

Thanks for the information

Alex (Austria)
 Simon Kiteley said:
Great post. Re-confirming many of my SEO beliefs. Search engines are there to give the searcher interesting, relevant information so are you need to do it just that and link to if from interesting, relevant sites. The trick don't work and if they do as some point the search engines will work that out and your website falls off the map (to some degree).

Yet I still get clients pay other companies silly money for things that don't work, not interested in the facts. It just seems the sensible approach sounds too obvious and people are dazzled by the excitement of the quick fix. Oh and just because someone calls themselves and "SEO Expert" people take that as written.

Rant over... lol!
 Roger Chappell said:
Well, some of what you say is true, some isn't. Eg. Google has stated that they do use Headings.

@Alexander R - you can define the H1 and H2 and H whatever to be any style of font you like in your .css file. you can even have it show with an image as an underline if you want. So, it's a non-comment to say that h3 and h4 look better than h1 and h2
 Chris said:
One tactic I'd like to add is sites that avoid linking out too much to other sites because they're afraid they'll lose "juice" or it might hurt their site in someway.

This is rubbish. Obviously if you're linking out to gambling/porn sites that would probably have a negative effect, but don't be afraid about linking out regularly to valid, information and helpful sites. Thats what the internet is for.

And if you've been applying this tactic yourself but still struggling with your Google rankings, start linking out more frequently and see if it makes a difference. You'll probably be surprised.
 Rudee said:
Jill When I saw you name, I thought to myself I remember her. I followed your suggestions in the late 90's. I have to admit that I kind of let SEO go while working on developing the website. In doing that my site has dropped, so I thought I needed to get back on the SEO bank wagon. It seems not too much has changed, so I guess I need to go back to basics.
 Liam O'Dowd said:
Some real basics here for anyone trying to understand whats Good and BAd SEO, I've sent a few clients this way to prove a point.
 Buck Lawrimore said:
While your comments are pretty accurate in highly competitive market sectors, my website has several pages that rank No. 1 on Google and have nothing but old-style optimized content. All SEO is relative to competitiveness of the keywords in question. So while your advice may work for big corporations with highly competitive search terms, it doesn't work for long-tail keywords in less competitive markets.
 Ann Wilson said:
Re: Menu linking to all pages. I use server-side menu includes on almost all my clients sites - that means every single page is linked through the top menu.

I'm sorry but that is simply good coding - complete, exact and easy to maintain.

Not once have I ever considered any SEO implications regarding the menu page linking, instead of focus on my clients websites being easy to navigate for THEIR clients.

After a certain point I fear, we take the entire SEO situations to extremes.
 John Stoeffler said:
This is a great article. Some of them are so tedious the will drive any SEO pro nuts is you try to keep up with them on a day to day basis. Especially Meta tags.
Then again like everything in sales, it is all the little things one does that together have a cumulative effect I always have wondered which of these are the "little" things we should do then we have a few moments of time.
So Jill, are there any of these the should be on a "if I have time", or on the "I am here so I may as well handle it now" lists?
Or do you consider them all so worthless they should never even worry about it ever list?
 Jill Whalen said:
@John, all in the list are useless. Not "if you have time" but "don't waste your time." Otherwise, they wouldn't be on my useless list!
 Joel Kuiper said:
Hi Jill,

I always love your publications and rate your advice highly.
However, on the H tags I can only disagree due to my own experience. I changed H4 tags to H1 tags on a certain webiste and it helped really made a difference.
However, this was over a year ago. Do you think that algorithms have changed since then?
 Baxter Ekern said:

I appreciate your words of SEO advise. I am still very new to the SEO game and believe it will take a long time to start getting the hang of things.

I have been directed to use the Meta tags as more of a description for the reader when they come across my articles or blogs for Addiction Hope. The website is new and I am basically in charge of the SEO.

My question is, is this the correct use or is there something else I need to do?

 RC Offroad Buggy said:
Great post Jill. Every one of these points are some that I drive home to my clients that I do SEO work for. Having been a web developer since 1994 and having seen the "tricks" used by various masters, the old adage of "content is king" continues to rule the web (even more so with the latest Google updates).

H-Tags are just more text, and I've got a number of pages that I've tested over time with and without the tags. The NoFollow for internal pages is always great stuff for dropping certain pages that you don't need indexed, and of course these days Page Rank doesn't mean anything any more, so the idea of using NoFollow for PR is a waste of time.

The comments on the two-word targeting etc, this CAN be accomplished (as I know you have too), but it takes a lot of work. I interpreted the point that you were making was that if you try to rank for a generic 2 word phrase like "computer monitor" or "dog bowl" or "chocolate bar", you're in for a VERY long fight. In those cases, targeting a 3 word or 4 word phrase works better, and at the end of the day you still get your 2 word target included in the phrase anyway.

Great article. Lots of comments. A+ Job!
 Ann Donnelly said:
Another great post, Jill - a great conversation starter!

The majority of points I completely agree with, but there are a couple I am going to do some testing with -- because I usually find what Jill says to be spot on.

I have always thought that H1 and H2 were important indicators to Google and used by them -- but couldn't tell you where I had heard that and haven't tested it. I alwys use them and thought that it was a benefit. (It would make life a lot easier if I didn't need to!)

I have found using keywords in alt tags of images to help for the image to rank well for image searches, which may lead to traffic & conversions on your site if relevant. I couldn't say for certain if it has or hasn't had a real impact on the ranking of the page itself. The issue here, as Jill notes, that the text used in the tag should be relevant to the image and helpful to the user - not just 'bait and switch' to get someone to your site.

I've never tested enough because I was always worried about making changes that would hurt rankings, but I know I should do it more.
 Gaurav Dhankhar said:
Hii Jill,
Your article is good enough to teach me some new things but I have two question in my mind after going through your article,
Well the first one is
" Why not to use 'H' headings in our articles ?"
and second one is
" Do meta description really doesn't help in SEO ?"
 Barry Wallace said:
This article is over 2 years old, and yet it came out as a feature in the latest newsletter. I would like to know if all the principles are still valid, as according to what I've learned new changes have come to Google that would seem to contradict a number of these points as to what will and what won't increase your rankings. I'd like to see a new article on the same subject, but updated for 2013.
 Jill Whalen said:
Barry, I republished it last week BECAUSE it is still relevant today.
 Allan said:
Meta keywords tags do not matter? Ridiculous!

If clients want them, and no negative effects have been reported, I include them.
 Jill Whalen said:
 Anon said:
My google record is 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th from a google search with 6.7 bilion search results. I agree with everything said here but would have to say that rule number one has always been and always will be.... "You can't beat good original content." Works for Google and works for visitors to your site.
 Larry said:
#10 (Mad-Lib Doorway Pages) - For larger e-commerce product ranges I would say it's important to look at intent and usability. For our site we could simply, place all products in top level categories; IE: Paper, Envelopes and let the user filter, and re-filter which is really not a good user experience. When we extensively target and categorize product offerings, although similar in nature, it helps users find products & increase conversions.
 michael bryner said:
I hate to say it, but I rather have an H1 tag for the main part of the page and h2 tags for the others, than having bold. Some of the text on website are default size, and bold does not make much of a difference of helping others to read it better. The header tags do, and I for one cannot understand why someone would recommend not to use them. I don't care if it helps in SEO for Google or not. Still better than Bold or Strong.
 michael bryner said:
Forgot to say this. If you are reading a newspaper, what would you notice first, the paragraphs or the titles? I think people that skim the paper look at the titles, and then read what they see. So bold for titles do crap to help the readers. Bold should only used for words to bring attention to, not titles.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Michael, who said not to use H tags?

I just said they won't help your site to be shown more by Google.
 Helena said:
Hiya Jill, Hiya everyone. (giggle. I feel like a kindergarten kid trying to talk in a room of professors and senior students!!) @Jill - this one article has created such a lot of comments! I hear what this is about and mostly, it all seems sensible to me. I guess "sensible" or "common sense" is the catch word for me.
I still care but I try to not get fixated or worry too much about all the intricacies of SEO and keywords, and alt, etc etc. It feels a bit like those people who are always listening to the latest health tips (do this, eat that, oops, no don't do this, don't eat that), following the almighty Google god - who is of course mysterious and keeps changing plans. Which of course makes blogging and/or life a chore instead of just fun (ok, I am not quite in the business mode today).

I just really wanted to say wow Jill - this just shows me that having such active comments and responding to them is almost as much work as coming up with the article itself. Probably more!

Good on you and thanks for an interesting read (from everyone).
 Deb said:
after reading this I dont know which way to turn as I have been advised to do exactly the oppisite by so called SEO gurus and paid them for the privilege .Woe is me
 Kenneth Charles Young said:
Well the great debate on whether SEO is effective or is not. In my opinion it is getting more and more difficult to get ranked let alone make any money online these days. I here a lot said about writing high quality articles and my question would be is this now the only way to get a rank or make any kind of money online as for the many who are not as long winded (Including Myself)and who cannot come up with fresh material on pretty much a daily basis. "Are We Online Doomed"?

Does this mean if I am not cut out to be a High Quality Article Writer then I might just as well shut everything down and try to make my money offline.
 Larry Wolf said:
Thanks Jill for this insightful post. I realize this is a few years old, but quite relevant today. I am fairly new to SEO and am learning what is "hype" and what is "best practices." Thanks for the schooling!