While the typical web surfer doesn’t realize it, Google and other search engines update their algorithms dozens of times per year. Every shift changes how SEO consultants conduct their work. It also puts more websites in danger of crossing penalties that will bump them from search rankings.

Fortunately, by paying close attention to the trends of the industry, search engine marketers have seen clear patterns in the type of tactics that search engines favor as well as what strategies they denounce. We’ve put together a list of the most influential strategies that will either put you ahead of the pack or position you last in the running.

Do’s: Best Practices for Online Visibility

There are an endless number of methods that SEOs use to rank web pages and attract new online business. However, we’ve distilled the strategies and concepts that are at the heart of what search engines are looking for in the content they want to promote in the rankings.

Do Be Unique

Becoming a leader in your field means taking the initiative with your content creation and developing pieces that offer a fresh perspective.

Developing content just for the sake of populating your web pages or getting new indexing signals is a poor strategy. Every piece of content on your website should be unique, offering a deeper understanding of a topic or providing new information for users to take advantage of.

Google and other search engines actually devalue content when it only offers information that appears on other sites first. This ensures that the content creators who first present an idea get the credit they deserve for it.

Do Make Pages for Users

Content should always be created with the user in mind. Ultimately, for a website to perform well, it has to satisfy users. Otherwise, searchers won’t return to the website, they will not want to share your content, and your brand may well remain in obscurity.

To determine if a web page is useful to your users, ask a few question about each page:

  • Does the page look trustworthy?
  • Is the message clear?
  • Does it provide helpful resources/information to users?
  • Is the contact information visible?

A good rule of thumb to improve user-friendliness is to only create as many static pages on your website as it takes to make users feel comfortable enough to convert. Outside of that, your blog is the area to keep building up themes or touch on related subjects. The more pages your website has, the more your content’s value may be diluted, making more pages actually harmful in some cases.

Do Be Useful

Users have a few main motives for searching on the Internet:

  • Information: research, entertainment, news, contact information
  • Communication: email, social networking, chatting
  • Help: forums, online chats with company reps, contact forms
  • Purchases: buy products and services, compare products/prices

Every piece of content on your website should be fulfilling one of these roles. Moreover, every piece of content should be useful.

One way to think of website copy is that every page answers a question that users have (e.g., Should I redesign my website?). A quick way to determine the usefulness of a page is to pinpoint the question it answers, then ask whether it gives a thoughtful and complete answer.

Imagine you were one of your potential customers. If you searched for a keyword phrase you want to rank for and landed on the page you want to appear, would you be satisfied? If you type in that phrase now, would your page be competitive with the current top ranking pages? The best-rated answers will generally be those are also the most useful.

Don’ts: Penalty-Inducing Black Hat SEO

As search engines gained popularity, website owners used tactics that would generate thousands of signals to help their websites rank faster, even immediately. However, Google and other search engines have cracked down on the strategies used to “cheat” algorithms. As they began focusing on quality, usefulness, and thematic relevance, they were able to weed spammers out of the rankings to deliver safe, reliable, and informative content to users.

Don’t Use Tricks

Tricks never work in the long run. As an unethical marketing technique catches on, Google identifies it, then updates its algorithm to either negate it or outright penalize websites that employ it. Moreover, the effort that goes into “shortcuts” is ultimately wasted when this happens. Instead, playing a straight game from the beginning is the best way to build your reputation.

Tricks include:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Doorway pages
  • Invisible text
  • Duplicate content
  • Article spinning

Don’t Use Link Schemes

Link schemes are tactics to gain unnatural links (bought or traded) to quickly inflate the reputation of a website. As with SEO tricks, link schemes have also been routinely discovered and discredited by search engines. These include:

  • Article directories
  • Comment spam
  • Hidden links
  • Purchasing expired domains
  • Link farms

Don’t Force Keywords

Although keyword density hasn’t been a relevant metric since the late nineties, many search engine marketers still cling to it as a selling point for their products. While it is recommended that a target keyword still be used in content, the key to ranking is very much driven by user satisfaction and the quality of the content instead of the number of times a keyword is used in it.

The average user may not realize there is a keyword goal, but still see that the site is poorly written and not trustworthy. If this is the case, they’ll pogo back to the main results page and look for a more suitable site.

Sticking to SEO Best Practices

With every algorithm update, Google and other search engines move themselves closer to achieving move user-friendly results while weeding out unfairly ranked pages. Some tricks may help boost rankings or traffic temporarily, but a quick win today may result in an overwhelming penalty down the line.

Instead, investing your time and effort into creating content that is useful, user-oriented, and unique is the best way to position yourself for long-term growth and success.

If you’d like to read a more in-depth breakdown of these points, take a look at our full white paper on SEO practices.

What do’s and don’ts would you add to this list?

Phil Laboon started the multi-million dollar Eyeflow Internet Marketing, a Pittsburgh-based SEO firm, from the ground up when he was 20 years old. Eyeflow has grown rapidly, recently being named by the Pittsburgh Business Times as one of 2012s Top 100 Fastest Growing Businesses in Pittsburgh, with over 100% revenue growth in the year.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.