SEO (or Search Engine Optimization) is constantly evolving as search engines become more advanced. This means that best practices from a few years ago might very well be outdated today.
In previous years it was common to have to adhere to many SEO “rules" to give you the best possible chance for high ranking. It appears that this is no longer the case. As search engines have gotten better at discerning meaning and understanding content, they care less about these supposed “rules" and more about the content being displayed.
Below are seven practices that SEO experts no longer believe have much bearing on the ranking of your pages. (And maybe never did.)
I should add before I begin that there is almost no way to empirically say if a factor no longer influences ranking in the search engines. For example, Google uses an unknown amount of ranking signals to figure out exactly where a page should rank. There's no way for us to know exactly what signals it uses in its rankings.
1. Shares and Tweets
Ever since the ability to share pages on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter became possible, it's been widely believed that search engines used shares and likes as a ranking signal. In theory, the more shares a page on your website gained, the higher it would rank against an equal page.
Whether or not actual share counts register to search engines, what does matter is whether or not people are linking to your content and talking about it. This is correlation; the more shares a piece of content has received, the more likely it has lower bounce rate, longer visit duration on the page and other signals that search engines probably would take into consideration.
A high share count is merely an indicator of the content's quality. When search engines see a high share count, it thinks the content is likely worthy of a high ranking.
2. The Age of Your Website Domain
The age of your website has long been considered an important ranking factor. However, this really hasn't been an issue since 2010. Back in 2010, Google released a video with their then head of spam Matt Cutts. Cutts talked about how little the age of your domain name actually matters in the search results.
In fact, I've seen firsthand much newer sites rank higher than older, established sites because their content was of higher quality.
3. Heading Tags Used for Headlines
This will surprise many people, but many believe that search engines don't really care much about which heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) appear in the page title.
The prevailing wisdom is this: Search engines have a pretty good handle as to what the headline is on the page, regardless of the heading tag.
That said, well-structured content could be correlated to better, well-executed content—which could lead to a higher ranking.
4. Shared (or Cheap) Hosting
Sometimes you'll see a reference to needing to have superior hosting of your website in order to rank highly. Conventional wisdom stands that where you host your website has no bearing on search results.
However, how fast your site renders could impact your rankings. If the server your site uses is slow and unresponsive, then it could impact your rankings.
5. Meta Description
Another supposed ranking factor from yesteryear: the meta description. It is generally believed that the meta description hasn't been used by any major search engine for some time to help calculate rankings.
What is confusing is that the meta description can still have an impact because it might be used as the description for the link in the search results. This means that a well-worded meta description can provide a boost in click-through rate in the search results, which in turn might result in higher rankings!
I would still recommend using a great meta description that neatly describes your content and encourages searchers to click your result. Interestingly enough, it's believed that higher click-through rates in search engine results can help your page rank higher.
6. Meta Keywords
Meta keywords (like the meta description) have generally been forgotten by search marketers as a way to improve ranking. During the very early days of search it may have been a ranking factor, but it was a very easy thing to game.
Occasionally you'll hear meta keywords referenced as SEO best practices, but it's my advice not to bother with them.
7. Keyword Density
Keyword density is the percentage of times a keyword appears compared to the total length of text on the page.
For a brief moment in time years ago, it appeared that there might be some correlation to keyword density and rankings. But nobody could tell exactly what the perfect percentage was.
Search engines now seem less concerned with the number of times a keyword appears in the text and more about the topical nature of the content. Search engines have become very advanced at discerning meaning and parsing data, and they are constantly improving thanks to initiatives in artificial intelligence (like Siri or Google Now).
Instead of worrying about keyword density, consider focusing on using your keyword naturally within the content.
As search engines have become more advanced, they need less hand-holding in terms of markup and other technical on-page SEO. Having well-structured, comprehensive and quality content may just be your best usage of time and energy if you're trying to rank highly.
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