Superstitions and Search Engine Optimization

Superstitions and Search Engine Optimization

By: Daniel Jeffers - Search Engine Optimization - 2014

Search engine optimization is the art of satisfying the preferences of search engines. The trick is that we don’t exactly know what they want. We know some, can figure out some, but a lot of it is guesswork. So it’s natural that superstitions arise.

Like superstitions in general, SEO superstitions divide into several categories. These include:

Superstitions that we sort of know aren’t true, but that we think “can’t hurt.” When we watch our team play, we often cross our fingers, turn our hats backwards, or engage in any number of rituals. If we don’t and something bad happens, we may actually feel guilty..

The flip side of this are those superstitions that we think of as untrue, but we just don’t want to risk it. Though few people believe the legend about saying “bloody mary” in a mirror three times, many of us will still feel a slight chill if we try it. Many will not finish that third time, just in case.

We may also feel the urge to do things or go places that once upon a time paid off. Researchers have shown that rats will keep doing the things that once produced chocolate long after the chocolate supply dried up.

Alongside these categories, we might also include those activities that produce a very small effect, not at all worth the effort invested, but that we repeat because we don’t know what else to do. And, there are those things we do that seem to actually work now, though we know they will fail us at some point.

With this in mind, here are some search engine optimization practices or requests that are clearly superstitious.

Meta Keywords

The meta keyword tag is not only dead, it is long dead. Sometimes you hear that it just died recently, or that it may come back any time. Or, that it could still be important for Bing. The truth about meta keywords is that the battle was over by around 2000. Google, apparently, NEVER indexed meta keywords (some sources vary on this). Bing currently looks at them, but as part of spam detection.  So the absolute best practice for this tag is to leave it empty. Yet, sometimes clients still request it, and some SEOs go ahead and offer to do something with it. Here is Danny Sullivan, in 2002, declaring the keyword tag dead.

Stuffing Zip Codes

Over the past few years, search engines have become much more proficient at providing results that are local to the user. Search engine users have started to expect local results, and location-based businesses started to get far more value out of having an effective web presence. But optimizing for local search has proven challenging. One method that spread through SEOs, often via client request, was to stuff all the zip codes in the service area onto the home page.

This does not work. Worse, it may risk a keyword-stuffing penalty from Google. The Webmaster Tools support section makes this pretty clear:

Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site's ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

Examples of keyword stuffing include:

  • Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
  • Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for

Submitting to Search Engines and Directories

Once upon a time, extensive directories provided a lot of “link-juice” that helped with ranking on certain search engines. There was also a time when there were many search engine competing for the top spot, and none had the extensive crawling ability that the small group at the top have today. So submitting to search engines and directories was a legitimate SEO activity.

Now, the landscape has changed and there is little if any value in either of these activities. Google has found every website I’ve ever launched or been part of launching within days. No submission required. Many of the traditional directories have fallen into disuse, some mutated into link-farms. Since link-farms are now actively penalized, this can be a dangerous move.