Following SEO Best Practices? But Are They Really the Best?
Best practices have their place. When you’re just jumping into a deep subject like SEO, for instance, clinging to accepted best practices can keep you from drowning.
The problem with best practices, though, is that they’re one size fits all. They’re often far from being the best for everyone.
Best practices are guidelines … essentially data … about how to keep out of SEO trouble. But there is always a difference between data and wisdom.
Some SEO best practices cram webpages into unrealistic boxes. And content creators are often told to live up (or down) to arbitrary standards that don’t help their content succeed.
If you want to improve your SEO, you need to look beyond best practices. Here I’ll dive into examples and help you get realistic about what works for your website and your business.
Best Practices That Don’t Always Work
A tailor wouldn’t put the same suit on everyone. Especially not if these people were being dressed for a competition and trying to stand out from the others.
So why should all sites strive for the same benchmarks? Here are a few “best practice” sacred cows to dismantle immediately.
1. The Ideal Page Length
Most SEOs remember when Neil Patel made waves by saying that everyone should be writing 2,000+ word posts. While longer may be better for some industries, that’s a dangerous standard to hold all pages to.
Let me be clear: There is no Ideal Page Length.
In reality, page length depends on the purpose, topic, and site behind a page. The “ideal” page could be longer or shorter, depending on these things. For example, a page detailing HVAC services on a local technician’s website is likely to be much shorter than an “ultimate guide” page.
Adhering to a set “best practice” here may mean you’re limiting or stretching a page beyond what it should be. While thin content is a problem, you can’t fix it just by setting an arbitrary word count minimum.
This type of SEO best practice also puts an unnecessary burden on the writer and the readers. Why stretch what should be a 300-word page into a 1,500-word page just because that’s what you’ve heard ranks better?
People are smart. They don’t like to be manipulated. If you’re padding your answers with hundreds of filler words, they’re going to pick up on that.
Readers also notice if you’re cheating them out of the information they need.
Save yourself: The right length for your page is the one that covers the topic and positions you as an authority. Anything more or less won’t do.
2. The Ideal Keyword Density
When it comes to how many times you need to mention a particular keyword on a page … there is no Ideal Keyword Density.
That’s not to say you don’t need to use keywords. You absolutely do need your content to talk about and include your keywords.
However, today search engine algorithms look for “topics rather than terms.” This has been true for quite a while. Back in 2014, Google’s John Mueller said, “keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn’t focus on. Search engines have kind of moved on from there.”
Today, SEOs advise lessening the focus on keyword density as a metric. Focus more on making your page the most relevant by fully satisfying the intent of that keyword query. If you incorporate keywords in a natural, organic way, you shouldn’t need to worry about density.
That said, knowing the density of various keywords on your pages can be a valuable resource. It a great place to start evaluating the actual topic of your page as seen by searchers and search engines. Using that information also helps you craft an appropriate title and meta content.
Save yourself: Make sure that your content contains the keyword you’re shooting for. Also include its variations, synonyms, and related words.
Each keyword has its own density target based upon what is natural usage for related pages in the search engine’s index. Tools that analyze the top-ranked pages’ keyword usage can be a great help.
3. The Ideal Reading Level
Let’s talk about readability.
People care that an article reads well and isn’t too difficult or too simplistic for its purpose.
For that reason, search algorithms analyze a page’s readability as one of (several hundred) ranking factors.
But there is no Ideal Readability Score.
A 6th-grade reading level may work well for a straightforward page about a non-technical subject.
But it would be inappropriate for a page about a medical procedure or something equally technical or industry-specific.
Here’s the problem …
Most SEO tools and plugins cannot recommend a reading level range that fits the page’s topic or purpose. These specifics are needed. Otherwise, you cannot target the natural persona’s reading expectations when coming to your page.
Instead, most tools can only advise a fixed readability range for all pages.
Adhering to a one-size-fits-all readability level limits you and your writing. Worse, it decreases your ability to provide real relevance and value.
This is a lot like the thin content issue I talked about.
The only group that should determine the reading level of your pages is your audience. If you’re writing to an advanced audience about an advanced topic, you’re going to use a more advanced reading level. If your pages are general and meant to appeal to a broad population, then a lower reading level is best.
Save yourself: Don’t hem yourself in and make things overly complicated or simple based on some outside appraisal.
Modern SEO Best Practices Worth Following
It’s time to break free of rigid, one-size-fits-all best practices. It is time to save yourself!
Begin by understanding what works for your business and why. Here are a few tips.
Tip 1: Context is key.
Evaluate your page’s purpose and your audience’s expectations. Let these dictate what will work best when you create new content.
Here’s how: Run a Google search for your target keyword. Then analyze the results. Those top-ranking pages set the right “best practices” for your individual page.
Competitive analysis should guide many SEO decisions.
This is one feature I’m especially proud of in our SEO plugin for WordPress. Instead of using fixed best practices, as every other SEO plugin does, Bruce Clay SEO for WordPress shows content writers recommendations based on what’s currently working in Google for their keywords.
Tip 2: Maintain flexibility.
Consider developing customized best practices for different pages and purposes.
For example, a blog post on an industry topic may need 1,500 or more words to rank. But your About page probably doesn’t need that much in order to rank for your own brand name. A category page may need just 200 words of unique text above the content list. A product page may need just two or three pictures with captions and one paragraph of unique text. And so forth.
Tip 3: Collect customized data.
Your site is unique, and your data should be, too. Collect data so you know what works and what doesn’t for your website and can adjust accordingly.
If the report data isn’t specific to your business’s content and goals, don’t use it as a basis for strategic decisions!
One-Size-Fits-All “Best Practices” Are Obsolete
Certain SEO gold standards can serve as helpful and timeless guidelines. But adhering too strictly to all manner of best practices hurts your competitiveness.
“Ideal” page length, reading level, and keyword usage measurements don’t exist. They only persist because so many tools, plugins and guides still prescribe them.
These SEO best practices don’t cover the multitude of purposes, topics, and industries that webpages fall into. Instead, they promote a one-size-fits-all approach that’s neither realistic nor helpful.
By bucking these best practices and identifying the standards that work for you, your industry, and your audiences, you can start developing authentic, valuable content immediately.
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