Because technically anyone can write content online and practice “SEO”, it can be difficult to tell what are best practices and what are not. Sometimes, bad habits are so common across writers that they seem like they’re just regular ol’ SEO tactics. But, a trained eye can easily separate the wheat from the chafe by giving the content a once over.
Here are some common SEO habits you should watch out for, and what you can do instead.
1. Keyword stuffing
Back in the early days of SEO, Google loved keyword stuffing. In fact, the more keywords you could jam into a piece, the better. There wasn’t a lot of emphasis placed on the readability or quality of the content, since, at that time, content was primarily being written for search engines.
During this dark and terrible period, each piece would typically focus on one keyword, with little to no variety in primary and secondary keywords throughout. This means that if a page talked about unicorn onesies, that’s literally all it talked about. Rich snippets and interactive search results, like People Also Ask boxes, were a thing of the future, so keyword density was of the utmost importance.
Now, keyword stuffing is an antiquated and, often, detrimental way to write content. If you’re reviewing or writing content for yourself or someone else, watch out for:
Repetitive keywords. Your primary keyword should obviously show up more than once within the body of your piece, and at least a couple of times in your headings, but you should also be sprinkling in lots of secondary keywords and alternate names. Google is a lot smarter than it used to be, and contextual search allows it to analyze your content based on more than just a single keyword.
Sparse content. Because keyword stuffing tends to focus on a single keyword, it lends itself well to short, useless pieces of content. Not to be confused with microblogs, sparse content offers little value to readers, existing only to rank in SERPs.
No keyword variation. Primary and secondary keywords are essential for creating quality content. If you’re looking at a piece that only uses one keyword on repeat, you have a problem. Alternate names and secondary keywords are necessary not only for search engines but for readability as well. Certain tools, like Clearscope, can help you to find a huge variety of keywords for a single topic.
Keyword stuffing is considered a black hat SEO tactic.
In sum, good content will:
- Avoid keyword repetition
- Cover a topic in an informative, well-rounded way to appease readers and search engines
- Have a variety of keywords in a single piece
Pro tip: The best writers include keywords without the reader ever knowing. While the primary keyword in a piece may be obvious, most of your keywords should feel so natural that a reader can’t pick them out.
2. Poor readability
In SEO, readability refers to how clear, coherent, and consistent a piece of content is from a reader’s perspective. While it consists of a variety of technical writing best practices, like smooth transitions, well-written intros and conclusions, and professional proofreading, it basically just means that a piece:
- Has a good flow from start to finish
- Is correct in terms of spelling, grammar, and punctuation
- Uses whitespace and text elements like lists and bullets to make it easier on the eyes
- Hits the right reading grade level
- Successfully covers the topic
- Follows current formatting best practices
If you’re reading a piece that doesn’t hit these targets, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
Poor readability happens when:
- You don’t use a consistent style guide for writing and formatting content
- The emphasis is on search engines rather than on readers
- You have untrained writers who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of high-quality digital content
Ideally, you should follow this process when writing a piece of SEO content. Always keep your readers in mind and focus on writing your content for humans before search engines.
3. Relying on competitors
Sometimes, SEO writers look at a piece of competitor content and say, “Well, if that’s performing well, all I need to do is copy it.”
And while competitor content is a great resource for SEO research, it isn’t there for you to simply copy. Instead, you should be looking at a variety of competitor content and figuring out what is working well in each piece. From there, determine how to angle and structure a similar but different piece that centers around your product or brand. In the end, it can end up covering the same topic, but it should be unique and completely customized.
The same goes for your own competing pages. For example, if you have a page that’s performing well, you may think that making another page about the same topic will serve you well. But you have to be careful with this because it can lead to duplicate content issues and keyword cannibalization.
Bad content takes a lazy approach to recreating competitor content and targeting your best keywords.
Good content approaches each piece from a unique angle and really considers how to make it different.
Pro tip: There are a ton of different ways to repurpose your best content. Take a look at six of my favorites.
4. You never review old content
A piece is performing well, so that must mean you can leave it forever, right? Wrong.
Ideally, you should have a content review cycle of 6-12 months, which includes updating your evergreen pieces. If you, or your writers, never revisit old content, you’re living the old-school SEO life.
Old content usually has a lot of opportunities for optimization, from new keywords and links to formatting trends and visual updates. Even small tweaks can make a big difference, like updated title tags and meta descriptions.
Maybe you even have content optimizations on your to-do list, but if writers aren’t approaching them properly, you risk negatively affecting the content instead of improving it. A good SEO revision should:
- Beef up or slim down the piece, where necessary
- Remove any bad SEO tactics, like keyword stuffing
- Add in new formatting best practices and trends
- Polish up the language and remove any errors
A bad SEO review:
- Removes keyword-rich content
- Doesn’t consider new keyword opportunities
- Suggests few changes or updates
- Doesn’t positively impact an article’s performance
Staying on top of SEO
SEO changes all the time, which is why it’s so important to work with writers who know what’s happening in the industry today, not just a few years ago. What was a best practice last year may be considered problematic today, negatively impacting your performance.
Keep an eye out for these common SEO no-nos to ensure you hold your writers to a higher standard that makes your content shine, not peter out.