SEO: Back to Basics

So now that we’ve thoroughly established that SEO is not dead and we all still have jobs, livelihoods, and incomes, let’s get back to actually getting some SEO done, shall we?

I caught a tweet last week of a fellow in Northern Ireland who, in all seriousness, described himself as a ‘seasoned SEO guy’. In this tweet he advocated the use of PageRank Sculpting. Naturally I felt inclined to put the matter straight and educate the poor chap on his dependence on outdated info. Unfortunately this is wasn’t the only case of ill-informed SEOs using outdated practices that I’ve come across recently.

So let’s discuss a few contested SEO issues and try to sift through the disinformation to distil some proper best practices.

1. PageRank Sculpting with nofollowed links

PR sculpting is the practice of using the nofollow tag on internal links to direct the flow of PageRank through your site. The idea is that by using nofollow on a link, the PageRank attributed to that link is instead redistributed to other links on that page.

The problem is, it doesn’t work. This practice has been thoroughly debunked over a year ago – the PR doesn’t get redistributed, instead it just evaporates. Even Matt Cutts has chimed in on the matter and has stated in no uncertain terms that he really doesn’t recommend using nofollowed links on any internal link, unless you really don’t want a page to show up in the SERPs.

2. Title Tags character limit

I was involved in interesting debates on this matter on a forum and a blog post comment thread. There seems to be some uncertainty among even experienced SEOs about what the best length is for title tags.

The consensus seems to be that due to the Google SERPs cut-off at between 65 and 70 characters, it’s best to keep your title tags to 65 characters or less. Some even go as far as to state that Google doesn’t index more than 65 characters of a title tag.

That is, of course, bullshit. Some valuable tests done by the likes of Hugo Guzman, Shaun Anderson and Paul Carpenter show that Google indexes pretty much the whole title tag, regardless of how long it is. That’s not to say it’s a good idea to have long title tags, but it does goes to show you shouldn’t be too focused on that 65 character limit.

Make sure it’s a good title tag with your most important keywords at the beginning, and don’t worry too much about staying within the limit.

3. Meta Description and Keywords

You’d be surprised at how much disinformation there is about meta tags. The meta description tag for example is often misunderstood. Some SEOs say that the description tag is a ranking factor.

It’s not. The meta description tag gives no ranking benefit. What it does do however is help with click-through rates on SERPs. Most of the time when your site appears on SERPs, the meta description tag is what is shown as the site snippet text (though not always, sometimes the search engine will choose to show an excerpt from your page if it thinks this is more relevant).

A good meta description can ensure you get more clicks from SERPs so it’s a good idea to optimise it. But it’s not a ranking factor.

The meta keywords tag is a different story. There’s very little misinformation around, everyone seems to know that meta keywords provide no ranking benefit whatsoever in Google. Many SEOs choose to omit the meta keyword tag entirely.

I’m not one of them – Google might ignore the meta keyword tag, but there are other search engines out there, and some might look at it. I tend to include the meta keyword tag on my pages, but I don’t spend too much time on it.

4. Paid Links are Bad

White-hat SEOs tend to frown on paid links and proclaim, often quite loudly, that you should never use paid links as they provide a temporary benefit at best and will eventually get you caught and penalised.

This is another load of bollocks. Yes if you’re stupid and pay for obvious spam links, you deserve to get banned from the SERPs. But the fact of the matter is that paid links work. They work really, really well.

Paid links are a big grey area anyway. Is a link on a paid directory site bad? Is a link embedded in a press release a paid link? You pay for the distribution of the PR, so effectively you’re paying for that link. Yet no search engine that I know of will see links embedded in press releases as spammy paid links.

Investing in paid links is usually a good idea, especially for young sites and/or competitive niches. It shouldn’t be your primary focus – be sure to invest in a solid natural link profile as well – but eschewing paid links entirely will probably put you at a competitive disadvantage.

5. Social Media Sites and SEO

Many SEOs still haven’t quite wrapped their heads around social media websites and what they mean for SEO. They needn’t worry too much: for purely SEO purposes social media isn’t all that useful. Most social media sites nofollow their links or hide them entirely, and poorly coded social media buttons can actually harm indexing on your site (not to mention load speed).

Having said that, social media does have its purposes, especially when it comes to content discovery. A link posted on Twitter that gathers some retweets will be crawled by Google within seconds. If you want to get content out there quickly, there’s no substitute for social media.

There’s also some indirect benefit associated with social media websites. If for example your content gets picked up by sites like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon, you’ll not only receive an immediate traffic boost but you can also expect some extra natural links as bloggers write about and link to your content.

If you have any SEO misunderstandings you want to share, leave them in the comments.

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About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.