Remember the movie Old School with Vince Vaughn and Will Farrell? Yeah, me neither. That's because, while I'm sure the movie has some funny scenes, it just didn't have the staying power of, say... Tommy Boy. Of course Tommy Boy had a very distinct advantage out of the gate... it didn't star Will Farrell. You really can't come back from that kind of thing.

In the SEO world there is "old school" and then there is "old school SEO nonsense". In case you haven't figured it out, in my world, the "old school SEO nonsense" stars Will Farrell. In your world, it might star Colin Farrell, Lindsay Lohan, or the entire cast of Big Bang Theory--all viable alternatives.

Like the actors noted above, "old school SEO nonsense" gets a lot of buzz, but underneath the surface, there just isn't anything there. People are drawn to it like a mosquito to a bug light because it feels safe. It looks easy. It's simplicity wrapped in a complexity. But, in the end, it's hollow, useless, and generally leaves you feeling a little bit ripped off.

Let's look at a few common "old school SEO nonsense" tactics that keep coming back to bite anybody that's still stuck in 1998.

Keyword Density, Keyword Count, Keyword Positioning.

Keyword Density

The idea here is that you need to have the perfect keyword-to-text ratio on your pages. A 7% keyword density means you have your keyword 7 times for every 100 words. "Perfect" keyword densities range from 5-10%, and if you just get that magic number, your rankings will soar. Of course, you gotta wonder what happens once 10 other people find the perfect keyword density, too.

If you hear someone talk about getting the right keyword density on your site, shut them down faster than you would a "friend" offering to rent the Will Ferrell disaster (yeah, I know, that was redundant,) Land of the Lost.

Keyword Count

Keyword count is the Step Brother of keyword density (see how I worked in another Will Farrell movie reference there?) The theory goes that there is a minimum number of times you have to have your keywords on the page in order to rank well for it. Doesn't matter how much text you have, just get your keyword in there 3 times, 5 times, 7 times, or whatever.

Yeah, your keywords should be in the page if you want to rank for them. But in truth, it doesn't absolutely have to be. If you have enough incoming links pointing to your page with that keyword in the anchor text, that can get you the rankings you want in certain circumstances. But, in a competitive field, that's usually not enough. There is no magic number of times your keywords should be on the page. Sometimes you use your keyword more frequently, while other times you use related words. It really just depends on the content.

Keyword Positioning

Where you position your keywords in your content does have some merit. (Yes, I'll admit that I enjoyed both Stranger Than Fiction and Talladega Nights so I'll give Will Ferrell some credit.) But as so often happens, a single good idea often turns into 20 really, really stupid ideas. (Bewitched, anyone?)

Yes, you want to use your keywords in key places such as your title tag, meta description, headings, and body content. But, does it really matter if your keyword is the third word in the first paragraph or the second sentence of the last paragraph on the page? Do you have to add an additional instance of your keyword in your third heading tag on the page even though it doesn't really work? The answer is NO. It doesn't matter, much like most Will Farrell movies.

Old School SEO Without the Nonsense

Move that thing. And that other thing.

Old school SEO nonsense is just that. Just a bunch of blubbering directions that have no meaning other than to make the person uttering them feel smarter than you.

Real old school SEO is altogether different. It's SEO that says, "we're going back to the basics, back to what works." There is nothing wrong with SEO that looks at a lot of fancy data. That's all very important. But, old school SEO was true 10 years ago, and it's still true today. The methods used to achieve SEO may change a bit here and there, but the same basic principles apply:

Write good content, work in your keywords, and build a quality site worth linking to. Of course, that's easier said than done. Kinda like expecting a good Will Farrell... naw, too easy!

Inconceivable ContentThis post was inspired from The Princess Bride themed presentation I gave in early 2010 at SEMpdx's Searchfest titled Inconceivable Content: The Dread Pirate Robert's Guide to Creating Swashbuckling Content, Pillaging the Search Engines, and Commandeering a Treasure Trove of Conversions. If you enjoyed this post you also might enjoy other posts inspired from the same. Search for "inconceivable content" on this blog to find them all.

August 6, 2010

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.



I got a great laugh envisioning Will Ferrell being just like the account managers I deal with at my agency clients. They tell so many tall tales about what SEO means, trying to close the deal.

No matter how much I do to get them educated, they say the craziest things to prospective clients. Like "We do PPC as part of our SEO".

Then just yesterday I caught this line in a proposal one of these clowns sent out:
"We'll obtain Inbound links from other sites and directories in order to generate link popularity and traffic". And I was like WTF? hahaha link popularity...

Sometimes I want to b-slap people who talk like this. Or the guy I know who routinely spits out the jargon to sound impressive - including that keyword density crap.

I will say this though. I totally agree that there is no magic formula in regard to how many times or in what exact places keywords should appear given the 199 other factors that can compensate for that. However, personally, I have a set of guidelines I use when training clients on content that does specify a minimum number of times keyword phrases should appear on a page. (Once in the Title, once in header, and at least once inside paragraph content).

I have this as a standard rule for clients to follow simply because it's paramount that they get consistent with using keywords. It helps to drive home the importance of actually considering how to match the page title to the on-page focus. And it is just as important when it comes to the fact that most of the content they're responsible for will never see more than a few (if any) inbound links because it's deep content.

I have a whole different set of guidelines regarding inbound links and keyword anchor text pointing at internal pages of course. But most of my clients have sites with thousands of pages.

Anyhow, great article...

Great read..but how the hell did you not like Old School??

I really enjoyed your article. I've tried out a lot of SEO "tips" and found them to be useless time wasters. There cannot be a topic on the Internet that generates more BS than SEO!

Nice article, I'm an old school SEO guy and getting back to basics is where its at. I enjoy your writings, thanks for sharing.

Well well well... I love this post and one of the reason i like this post is Will i simply cant expect the good movie from him as i can not expect the good results by applin the old school SEO nonsense.

I strongly agree that Old school SEO works the things are changing with the time a bit (which is i guess gud) but the core principals are same.

Yes, thts true that link pointing to your site works but i still think using the keyword in the content and in anchor text. works... and one should use that (unless it didnt destroy the originality of content).

Good read. It does say a lot about what some SEO techniques some people are saying. Undoing the myth on those stuff is nice, but your suggestion of going back to basics doesnt really fill up the void it made. Those nonsense SEO stuff you mentioned try to describe a way to actually measuring the SEO of your site without having to rely on google to show you a week or a month after. The excitement building up was there to know what you have as an alternative but going to the basics suggestion shut it down completely. Perhaps add a descriptive and quantifiable way of measurement next time? A lot of people would really appreciate that. Thanks!

Dude, did Will Farell pee in your cereal? You'd need to watch You're Welcome America, that show's hilarious!
On the SEO old school bull... I'm surprised people still fall for that. I thought it's long dead. You're dead on with the need of quality content. Not to oversimplify stuff, but really, if we don't publish quality content that answers actual burning questions people face in day to day life, then our sites aren't worth the clock cycles and data footprint on shared servers somewhere. I guess content is still King... but the king needs his queen which is social media buzz. All in all, I'd add that besides content, SEO is taking that quality content to places where people hang out, like forever. Facebook, twitter, youtube...
Long live Will Farell, at least he ain't Diego Luna. (see You're Welcome America for explanation). :)

Great topic, Stoney – there are so many people out there who still aim to implement rules on keyword density on a webpage. They’re so involved with following directions that the basic goal is ultimately lost – Google will rank the most relevant webpage at the end. Now that Google’s algorithms are more sophisticated with time, people need to re-evaluate what the current ranking factors are. Completely agree with you on the basic principles – quality content and a quality site.

Definitely a good article. I never could understand how having a specific word density would help organic page rank.

It seemed so easy to spoof, that search engines would shy away from using that method.

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