SEO and user experience has converged. In 2017, a good user experience makes the best SEO strategy. This change does more than force creative and SEO analyst departments to actually meet and work together. This shift requires a whole new way of thinking about SEO. It also makes many of the "traditional" SEO techniques outdated. Here's why:
Algorithm updates in Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and now RankBrain reward content that gets clicks and engages users. While Google webmaster guidelines have always urged brands to create good content for humans, the newest updates "recognize" user intent. They look at user signals like time on site, click-through rates and bounce rates.
They also recognize unnatural content. We've seen the following five strategies that worked in the past now hurt SEO results in this new era of search. If your site uses any of these, it's time to ditch them to protect your SEO efforts.
Content Written for Search Engines
In the beginning, online content fell into two silos: content for humans, and content for the bots or "spiders" that crawled the web and determined page ranking. These silos often created clunky, even awkward, keyword-heavy content.
Today, keywords remain important, but keyword saturation won't convince RankBrain of a site's relevance. User response and a page with a user-friendly design will do much better.
Excessive, Irrelevant Anchor Text
Relevant anchor text or highlighted hyperlink text that links to a target page plays an important role in building a great UX. But this strategy can be overdone.
For example, a link on the word "Google" that takes you to "www.google.com" or Google's Wikipedia page would be useless. This goes for just about every word or general topic link: Only highlight text that provides immediate relevance and usefulness to users, such as to research or supporting documentation.
Individual Web Pages for Every Keyword
Search engines may once have responded well to the strategy of having a separate web page for every variation of keyword. The redundancy -- and in many cases useless -- "filler" information that resulted only brought confusion to the user experience. For the best results today, consolidate pages instead by topic or category. For example, instead of having "men's jeans" and "women's jeans," have a category for men and one for women, with jeans as a subcategory. This approach simplifies the site for user interaction.
Current sites with multiple pages for keywords have options. You can always repurpose content in the form of blogs or articles.
Unnecessary Link Building
In 2017, relevance rules. This goes for links too. As with anchor text, outbound links that don't enhance the user experience don't add value. Links to generic information -- or trying to capitalize on Wikipedia's high ranking -- would likely be viewed as unnecessary.
How do you identify a good link? Here's a good rule of thumb: if it feels like a shortcut to grab SEO value, don't do it. If you're building links for Google, Bing or any other search engine, ditch it.
Ditch Multiple Websites
In the past, multiple websites offered ways to build links, increase presence and control an area of keywords on the web. Now, this strategy spreads clicks among sites and drops ranking for all of them. It's better to consolidate content and products into a single, flowing user-friendly site.
SEO in 2017 and Beyond
Is SEO dead? Hardly. All of the data we have seen has shown that organic search is just as important as ever. What's dead are the old school tactics used to manipulate the search engines. SEO engagements can no longer happen in a vacuum outside of typical marketing channels.
Going forward, great marketing makes great SEO. While this might seem to place a lot of emphasis on creative for the production of high-quality content, attention-grabbing ads and headlines and awesome graphics, SEO consultants will be more valuable than ever. Technical analysis of top keywords and user search trends will inform creative's efforts, measure performance and provide roadmaps and guidance to drive SEO success.
The SEO/UX convergence will simplify SEO strategy in terms of assets and management. Start by putting your user at the heart of your SEO strategy. If you've employed any of the five strategies outlined above, stop using them. Review your site and update pages or repurpose content with UX in mind. When you put users first in 2017, you will have a winning SEO strategy.
Dan Golden is a digital marketing executive and currently serves as President & Chief Search Artist at Chicago's Be Found Online (BFO).