SEO Tricks: Is There a Simple Path to Page 1 Google Rankings?
On a fairly frequent basis, we’re contacted by folks who would like to find out “what’s wrong with their site,” which had been performing well on Google until a few years ago.
The simple SEO tricks that previously generated Page 1 rankings on Google aren’t working anymore. The assumption is that someone, a web developer or rogue employee, did something wrong and there’s a simple fix that we can provide to bump the site back to its prior Google rankings. Or, they understand that Google has made updates to its algorithm, so they want to get the new SEO tricks that will improve their site’s performance.
Unfortunately, in most cases, we find ourselves to be the bearers of bad news.
Evolution of SEO
In the 22 years since Google’s launch, search engine optimization (SEO) has evolved just as fast as Google’s growth into the business behemoth it has become. When it started in 1998, there was only one thing that companies needed to do to earn a top ranking: include keywords in the keyword meta tag on each page of their site.
That worked for a while, until everyone found out the trick and Google realized it would need a more complex way to sort through the billions of pages on the web to provide rankings that users found credible.
Every year since then, and multiple times each year, Google has modified its search algorithm to refine the way it sorts and ranks sites. Much of that effort over the years was to weed out spammy blog sites that scraped content from legitimate sites for ad-click revenue. Today, the search giant’s algorithm is focused partly on improving search results so that the most trustworthy, authoritative sites rise to the top, and to make it sufficiently difficult for that to happen so that more companies will opt for the easy way out and buy Google Adwords.
The result is a Google algorithm that includes hundreds of factors, half of which pertain to on-page SEO (the things you can control on your site) and half to off-page SEO or backlinks.
So what were the SEO tricks that used to work? Here’s a list and where they now stand as part of Google’s algorithm.
SEO Tricks: Then and Now
- Keyword meta tag: The original SEO trick. Even though the keyword meta tag is no longer indexed by Google or most search engines, some SEO plugins still include it. Why is that? The keyword meta tag is now just an organizational tool to help you mark how you’ve optimized a particular web page and it helps SEO plugins measure the effectiveness of your SEO content against the chosen keyword.
- Exact match domain name: This was also an extremely effective SEO trick many years ago. Buy a domain name that exactly matched the keyword you were targeting, and your site would shoot to the top of Google. Examples include: bestakronpizza.com or cheappharmaceuticals.com (I don’t even know if these are real sites, but you get the picture). Google minimized the impact that exact match domains and partial match domains have on search rankings but including keywords as part of the page URL is still valid and useful (i.e. Dominospizza.com/pepperoni-calzone.html if “pepperoni calzone” were a keyword).
- Invisible keyword text: This would also be known as keyword stuffing. Create a list of keywords and position it on the page in the same color as the background so that it’s invisible to the human eye but readable by Google. This was banned long ago.
- Meta description: Although we tell our clients that the meta description is important, it’s not for SEO ranking purposes. Google removedthe meta description from its ranking factors, but a well-written meta description will improve click-through rate when it’s seen as one of the results in Google.
- PageRank: For a time, site owners could manipulate their Google rankings by playing with PageRank, a measurement that one could view in Google’s PageRank tool bar and work to improve by amassing high value backlinks to that particular page. The concept of adding backlinks to a site started with PageRank, and it quickly became the focus of a whole Internet industry built on buying and selling links for the purpose of improving Google rankings. Google started penalizing sites that were found to be buying or selling massive numbers of links and eventually disabled the PageRank toolbar altogether in 2016 (it was introduced in 2000). But the concept of page rank isn’t dead — the fundamentals of good link building are still critical for successful SEO.
- Link farms, reciprocal links: As paid link schemes started getting penalized, companies began obtaining links from other organizations by suggesting a trade (I’ll give you a backlink if you give me one). Other variations of link building included participating in link farm schemes where a group of unrelated sites would link among themselves, but not in a direct 1-for-1 pattern. Although backlinks are still considered an important part of Google’s algorithm, the process of obtaining backlinks requires a more careful and thoughtful approach to make sure that the backlinks acquired are from reputable sites with a good Trust Flow rating.
- Article sites, press releases: Third-party sites where you could post articles or press releases used to be a great way to generate good SEO backlinks. That’s not the case anymore. While your site won’t be penalized for using these, Google no longer counts those kinds of links in its algorithm. However, press releases remain an important PR tool for companies to distribute company news. You just won’t get the SEO benefit from them that you once did.
- Microsites: The idea was that if you found keyword-rich domains and split out small segments of your business to create highly focused websites, you’d rank really well for those microsites. Unfortunately, Google stopped rewarding exact match domains and, on top of that, the practice requires one to put in as much effort into building backlinks to the microsites as it would to just promoting a single site. Furthermore, larger sites perform better on Google than smaller ones, so splitting out your main site into several microsites hurts performance all the way around.
These are the most popular SEO tricks that once helped websites earn higher Google rankings. Not only are they no longer useful, but some of these activities can result in Google penalties.
So What’s a Website Owner to Do?
The upshot is that there is no quick and easy way to optimize your website. Google’s algorithm is designed to push website owners to develop and maintain informative sites that provide visitors the best user experience.
That includes well-formed SEO content that targets topics that would be of high interest to your prospective customers. It means paying attention to technical aspects of site performance, like page speed, 404 errors and site security. And it requires developing content marketing that invites high-value backlinks so that Google can see that your site is considered an industry leader.
There aren’t any simple SEO tricks anymore that will instantly turn around a site’s rankings. SEO is a complex process that requires long-term commitment and the understanding of a whole host of factors that play a part in how a site is ranked. The search giant already has announced more algorithm changes coming in 2021. It’s hard to keep up with and requires expert assistance. But the business value of having those Page 1 Google rankings for high-volume search terms more than makes up for that commitment.
Google’s algorithm is designed to push website owners to develop and maintain informative sites that provide visitors the best user experience.