Posted by Cyrus-Shepard
Best practices are set in place to guide us toward success in most situations. Not all situations. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Cyrus shows us several instances in which it’s actually best to break the rules and throw those best practices out the window.
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
Howdy Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. I’m Cyrus Shepard. Today we’re going to be talking about one of my favorite subjects — breaking the SEO rules, and when not to follow best practices.
Now, best practices are something we talk a lot about here at Moz, and people are very adamant about following them oftentimes. So before we get started, I want to talk about what exactly we mean when we say “best practices.”
For example, a best practice would be that your meta description length is only so long, or that your title tag length is 512 pixels or something like that. So when we talk about best practices, we’re talking about a set of rules that are consistently showing superior results. It doesn’t mean they’re the only way you can do things, but in general, over time, they deliver the best results over other techniques.
Best practices are also used as a benchmark so that when you compare two different techniques, such as title tag length is this long or title tag length is that long, one set of those results you can use as a benchmark to measure your results.
Finally, best practices are meant to evolve and improve. Best practices get better over time. If you’re running a business or you’re doing SEO, your best practices are going to change the better you get at what you’re doing and the more you learn. This is one thing that people often forget — that best practices do change.
But sometimes you want to ignore best practices, and that’s what we want to talk about today. One of the first reasons that you sometimes want to forget about best practices is when you want to deliver the highest ROI for your activities. When you’re working on a client’s site, when you’re doing in-house SEO, time and resources are limited. So you want to make sure that you’re doing the activity that leads to the highest return on investment for what you’re doing.
This is a really common example when people start. When they’re new to SEO, they start on a campaign, and they start optimizing their on-page elements and crawlability and engine accessibility. At the beginning of your campaign, that’s a really high-ROI activity.
As you fix those site errors, as your search engine optimization improves, working on on-page issues, the return on investment starts to decline. What people do is they stay on this line far too long, and they’re fixing every little thing on their site, and they’re not seeing a huge return on investment.
At the same time, they’re ignoring all the other issues, such as building links, building a community, getting out there on social media, when that would be a much higher-ROI activity. So even though it would be a best practice to stay on those sites and fix all those issues, sometimes there are activities which are going to be much more valuable for you to pursue.
Along those same lines you always have to weigh the cost and the benefit of the SEO that you’re working on, because working on best practices and implementing SEO on your site sometimes comes at a cost, especially if you’re making changes. So you have to justify what you’re going to get in return to the effort that you’re going to put into it.
An example that comes up a lot, it’s a best practice to have keywords in your URL structure. So we see people write in, people talk to us, and they have a structure like this example.com/category/keyword. They want to go through a massive site reorganization, so that’s example.com/keyword/keyword.
Now, keep in mind that doing that there’s a bunch of 301 redirects. You may lose some link equity, and you may even lose rankings. In the end, you have to wonder if making that change is worth the change, worth the cost of doing so. In many examples, it’s not going to be.
We have a saying: If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, because making huge, massive changes is going to cost you. If you’re ranking pretty well in this situation, we might recommend just leave it alone even though it violates best practices.
A lot of times you want to violate best practices when you’re optimizing for other goals. Again, talking about that title tag case, 512 pixels, that’s generally the amount of title tag that Google will display in its search results. So that’s what we define as best practices for title tags.
But that doesn’t mean you should go rewrite every title tag on your site, which a lot of people will go out and do. You might be optimizing for social sharing. If you have an awesome title tag and it’s hot on Twitter, it’s hot on Facebook, it’s hot on Google+, LinkedIn, and it’s getting shared all over the place, it might be okay to go over that 512-pixel length.
If you have a title tag that’s converting really well, and it’s driving all these sales to your home page, and it’s showing up in other places, you may not want to rewrite it.
If you’re ranking really well, there’s no reason to make that change, especially if you’re talking about hundreds or thousands of title tags on your site. We get into the cost benefit ratio again.
So yes, best practices tell you to have it at 512 pixels, and it’s often the case that you want to keep it within those ranges because they are consistently showing superior results. But not in every case, because sometimes you’re going to have different goals.
The final point is this idea of evolving and improving. Part of SEO is constantly learning what works and what doesn’t work. Google and the other search engines are constantly updating their algorithms, so we want to experiment. We want to learn new things. We want to try new things. We want constant improvement on these best practices. We don’t want to set them in stone. We want to define them and try to improve them over time.
SEO is all about discovery. What works today may not work a year from now or two years from now, so we have to have open minds and keep learning and keep making our best practices the best they can be.
That’s all for today. Thank you.
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