In this day and age, it should be obvious to any reasonable adult over the age of thirty that staying fit requires a well-balanced diet, a good night’s sleep, and a regular exercise regimen. Okay, a little discipline helps also. And yet, it seems like every week a new fad diet craze appears.

Why do so many people seem to ignore reality? Robyn A. Osborn, a dietician and educational psychologist, says that most people are put off by the idea of life-long changes, so they instead opt for the “quick fix.”

And consider that few diet fads are new. Most recycle ideas that have been around for a while — in some cases, for many decades.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, seems to have a lot in common with dieting.

For many, it’s a mysterious discipline made all the more mysterious by the growing number of charlatans purporting to be SEO experts, ninjas, or other absurd mythological titles.

At one time, it was possible to inject a few strategically-placed keywords into a web page and “trick” the search engine into achieving a higher site ranking. But that was a long time ago. It didn’t take long for search providers to realize what was happening and change up their algorithms to render the keyword trick useless. In fact, most search providers now completely ignore the keyword Meta tag.

There are many techniques one can use to help grow website traffic and rank higher in search results. Unfortunately, many people tend to gravitate towards the “quick fix.” Below are three “tricks” that you might be using that are at best, useless, at worse, may actually be hurting your rankings.

1. Buying Ads

This is an interesting theory. I say that because there are those who believe that buying ad space on the search engine results will somehow increase your rankings. And then there are others who believe the opposite — that not buying ads will improve your SEO score. Both theories are ridiculous and have absolutely no basis in reality.

2. Fads

Just like diet fads, search optimization fads come and go — and most are recycled from years past with just a tinge of truth. Submitting your website to directories, posting articles to article directories, guest blogging, and link wheels (yep, I just learned about this one) will eat up a lot of your time and are unlikely to move the needle on your search rankings. It may however, increase the amount of spam traffic your site receives.

3. Automated Software

At one time, snake oil was marketed as a cure-all elixir sold in traveling medicine shows. If these salesmen were around today, they would likely be hawking automated SEO software. “I read an article recently,” explains Google’s Matt Cutts, “where someone was talking about using an automated software package, and trying to do some white-hat SEO with it, which, to me, sounds like buying a gun and trying to use it as a hammer.” Cutts warns others that using automated software has the potential to dig yourself into a hole. Remember, if someone says they have made a lot of money online with their special SEO tricks, they would likely still be doing it rather than telling you about it.

The Takeaway

Like staying fit, there is no silver bullet to SEO. Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website’s performance more than anything else you can do. Organic or word-of-mouth buzz is what helps build your site's reputation with both users and search providers, and it rarely comes without quality content.