Let’s face it – traditional Search Engine Optimization just isn’t cutting it anymore. There’s a lot more to increasing organic search traffic than just using keywords or including lots of links in articles. Here’s three areas where old-fashioned SEO practices are hurting your website instead of helping it.

1. Focusing On Quantity, Not Quality, Of Traffic

SEO agencies have gotten really good at getting lots of people to come to your website, but they’re not as good at encouraging long-term customer loyalty or getting people to click on your call to action. We talked about this in a previous article where we explained the dangers of relying too much on advertisements instead of organic search. Many SEOs are focused solely on the former, ignoring the fact that users who find a website through organic search traffic have a lower bounce rate, visit more pages, and are more likely to return than users who find the same site through ads on social media.

Worse, many SEO agencies, attempting to forego actual work in favor of quick results, will simply try to increase your place in the rankings by creating a bunch of spammy sites to include backlinks  to your page. This is usually a trait associated with disreputable agencies, but even more trustworthy ones will often include backlinks as part of their overall strategy. This might boost your place in the search rankings for a little while (although Google is cracking down hard on these sorts of practices), but your goal isn’t to increase your place in the rankings. Your goal is to get people to read your content, buy your product, or sign up for your newsletter. And a bunch of blank websites with hundreds of links on a page aren’t going to do any of those things. And this brings us to our next point, which is that…

2. Google Rankings Aren’t That Important Anymore

Almost all current SEO practices are focused on one thing: your place in Google’s search rankings. We talk about “defending” your ranking and “increasing” your ranking through keywords and backlinks and all these other strategies. Well, let’s try something – open a new tab and do a Google search for “restaurants in Lincoln.” You’ll probably notice something about the restaurant websites on the front page – there aren’t any. The results above the fold are tied to Zagat ratings and review aggregators, and below the fold you’ll find reviews and listicles like “The 10 Best Restaurants in Lincoln.”

And this makes sense. If I’m not familiar with Lincoln and I’m looking for something to eat, I’m more interested in seeing a range of good options than an advertisement. Google knows that these are better results for the majority of people. In most cases, if a product page does make it onto the first page of Google, it’s because the company paid for an advertisement. And in the rare cases where there’s a product page that isn’t a paid promotion, it’s a megabrand you can’t possibly hope to compete with, like Wal-Mart. Keywords and linkbacks might – if you’ve also received blessings from the SEO Gods – get you as high as the second page, but since 95 percent of Google users never look past the first page of results, you’d have better luck carving the URL into the soles of your shoes and stepping in mud puddles.

Rankings don’t matter anymore. Going forward, SEO needs to focus not on optimizing your website for Google, but on optimizing your holistic web presence. And to get even more granular…

3. Keywords Are Not The Key To Everything

The novice understanding of Search Engine Optimization usually boils down to one thing: keywords. We all know the importance of including keywords in content, and even though this is a technique that’s more relevant for Google search rankings (which we’ve just explained don’t matter), it’s still an essential part of making sure people can find your content organically. What it’s not is the be-all end-all of SEO strategy.

Many agencies will engage in what’s either called “SEO copywriting” or “SEO stuffing.” Either way, the principle is the same – you use some keyword, like keyword, more than you would naturally use that sentence even in a sentence about keywords. You spam that keyword – keyword – until you have a keyword-dense sentence full of key keywords so that hopefully if there’s a search for that keyword your keyword-stuffed site will rank highly for that keyword. The result is that the keyword “keyword” doesn’t even look like a (key)word to you anymore. Keyword.

There’s two big problems with this. The first is that Google uses Latent Semantic Indexing to check if you’re doing something so obviously unnatural and penalizes you if you are, so it doesn’t achieve what you want it to. And the second is yet another case of SEO agencies prioritizing quantity over quality. Even if SEO stuffing brought more traffic to your site (it doesn’t), customers are smart enough to tell what you’re doing and won’t engage with your content. It’s much better to create engaging, interesting content with a natural keyword density – not only does it mean that the people you’re trying to reach will actually pay attention to what you have to say, but Google actually rewards sites that have a low bounce rate with higher rankings.

It’s time for agencies to get with the times, to realize that their old tricks aren’t working anymore. And most importantly, it’s time to start realizing that quality organic search is much, much more important than the simple quantity of people coming to your website.