The Worst SEO Advice I've Ever Received (and What To Do Instead)

Created by Camille Winer

SEO_adviceWhen I was first starting in inbound marketing, search engine optimization was a fairly new concept to me. I knew the basics, but I hadn’t ever helped a client carry out a comprehensive SEO strategy. So when I was tasked with doing just that, I needed to do my research. This is what I learned:

A lot of people offer a lot of bad advice when it comes to SEO.

At the time, I wasn’t able to discern what tactics would work and what wouldn’t, but after diving into the deep ocean that is search, I surfaced with enough knowledge to label bad advice bad and good advice good. I then came to realize that I wasn’t the only one receiving less-than-stellar SEO advice, and that many nonprofits were heading down the wrong search engine path.

Before I correct some of that bad SEO advice with good, it is important to note that one of the best SEO strategies is to partner with a great agency who has a track record for success. Basically, let the experts help you. When I need work done on my car, I bring it to a trusted mechanic. While I could do the repairs on my own (no, I probably couldn’t, but I’m sure you get the point), it will take far less time and energy to have an expert handle it.

Without further ado, here are some of the worst pieces of SEO advice I’ve ever received, and what you should do instead: 

Bad: Focus on getting directory links for your link-building strategy

Yes, there once was a time when your website’s location in a SERP (search engine results page) was largely dictated by the number of links pointing to your website. Because of this, many marketers would spend their time trying to get some obscure directory website to post the company name and website in their long listing pages. This is bad advice for two big reasons:

  • No one ever goes to directory listing websites.
  • Google doesn’t just care about links anymore, it cares about quality links.

Good: Focus on creating quality content that people want to link to

Today, how your website ranks in search results is largely dictated by the number of quality links pointing to your site. Quality links are links to content like blog posts, white papers, or even just homepages given by trusted sources. For example, let’s say you own a bakery and your website has a blog on the most popular types of wedding cakes. A quality link would be if a popular wedding website linked to your blog post. This tells search engines two things:

  • Your website has good content.
  • People want to read your content (so you should be higher in search engines).

Creating content that people want to share and link to is a time-consuming task that requires a lot of ongoing attention, but the ROI it offers is incredible. Consider working with an agency to execute a killer content strategy.

Bad: Only focus on ranking for the company/organization’s name

This is essentially what the bad advice about directory listings will get you: Your website will only show up when someone searches for your name. This means that for a potential client to find the Yodelpop website in Google, they would have to specifically search for “Yodelpop.”

While we would be happy if someone wanted to learn more about Yodelpop specifically, there are far more people searching for solutions to their problems than there are searching for Yodelpop. For example, we would rather be found for “inbound marketing agency” or even “nonprofit annual reports.” Those searches allow us to introduce ourselves to a potential client, i.e., cast a bigger net.

If the only keywords you are tracking and trying to rank for are “branded keywords,” (like your name), you are casting a very small net. So small that you will only get new business from people who have heard of you before (Hint: That is typically a small percentage of your overall website traffic).

Good: Try to rank for keywords that your ideal customers/donors use in search engines

Let’s go back to the bakery example from earlier and name it Bob’s Bakery and say it is in Chicago. If you follow the bad advice above, your website will primarily only show up when someone searches on “Bob’s Bakery.”

If you spend time researching the types of searches your customers use, and then incorporate those keywords into your website and blog posts, you will reach many more people. For example, if you write blog posts about wedding cakes and getting married in Chicago, you may show up when someone searches “wedding cakes Chicago.”

The truth about search is that more people are looking for a solution to their problem than there are looking for a specific vendor/organization to solve their problem. In short, focus on keywords and content that help answer questions and solve problems.

Bad: Choose a strategy that is either technical-based or content-based

This may be some of the worst advice I’ve ever received. I was at a conference and immediately stopped taking notes when this session started.

To clarify, the term “technical” refers to the elements of SEO done on the backend of the website, like header tags, meta descriptions, and image alt text. “Content” refers to much of the strategy I explained earlier, revolving around keywords and quality content like blog posts.

This terrible piece of advice basically says that you only have time for one element of SEO, and it paints these two strategies as opposites, two ideas that could never work together. This could not be further from the truth; you need both of these to survive, and thrive, in today’s search engine results.

Good: Choose an SEO strategy with a healthy balance

The best SEO strategy is a comprehensive one. Your website should be publishing educational, quality content consistently, but you should also have enough expertise to ensure all of the technical aspects of SEO are accurate. Search engine algorithms change frequently, so partnering with an agency to keep your site optimized for search is key.