I cringe when I see ads that claim the death of SEO and how content is now the new goal for everyone. If you read my very last piece, you’ll know how I feel about sticking content out into the woods. No, SEO is definitely not dead. In fact, I would say that it is even more focused and important than ever for search engine traffic. The practices you keep while writing content will still be as important as they were pre-Panda, Penguin, and the like.
When someone says that content is more important than SEO, my first instinct is to seriously doubt everything they say from there on. Much like search engines and social networks, there is a trust factor which is measured with an algorithm. When any search engine bot or crawler comes across your website, it is going to be looking for things in a very specific order. The taxonomy and site structure will feed that hungry little beast with everything from keywords to included files and tag placement. There is an easy “best practice” to maintain while writing content to capture SERPs:
- Keyword or keyword phrase is placed into the title (70-80 characters max is best wrapped in h1′s).
- Natural use of words and common phrases for search will capture more long-tail queries (checking your Analytics software helps decipher this).
- Content should have a natural relation to other content within the same category in the taxonomy, and categories should also relate grammatically to the core message or product on the site (This importance can be seen after the Panda changes went into effect).
- The first 140 characters of content will show up for your meta description so include your target keyword or phrase in that group of text.
- Don’t repeat keywords over and over. Google knows what a synonym is and they like those more than they do a saturation of more than say 4-10% of a keyword repeated.
- Write at least 2-3 paragraphs of content in order to increase keyword relevance out of total post count.
- Use images and title them appropriately. Images are content as well and will also increase chances for Image Search traffic.
- If you can find a natural way to put <strong> tags around the keyword, do it once on the page. That still does help a little.
- Make sure there is a plugin or module that can deliver either new or popular content dynamically on the page to send internal pagerank in the best directions.
- Most important site keywords are located in the top navigation bar.
- Hypertext containing main keywords in links pointing to the article/site also help quite a bit.
Now, for structure you have choices of how you want your top-down approach to flow. You can create static landing pages that have dynamic content refreshing from category or tag pages, or you can have category pages delivering either sub-categories or posts. Posts are your end-content much like static landing pages, but a static landing page can also be used to separate an equal but different topic from others. The latent semantic connection between synonyms and antonyms have to correlate to the main type of site that it is. A blog, for example, might have “Humor” and “Jackwagons” as category names and they are related just enough for Google to focus more on those types of words in your overall structure. If you have “Humor” and “Rocks” for your titles… rocks won’t go along with humor, but humor can go along with rocks… ergo a second category about “gems” would be kosher but a second category about “Cacti” would most likely make Google split your queries resulting in fewer posts from the humor category to gain any relevance in search. The change with Panda had a lot to do with relevance, and that made every lazy SEO marketer on the planet collectively shit there pants when they couldn’t just link with keywords in hypertext to their site and win for that keyword. People were taking for granted that they didn’t need to be on a site that really related to their own content and so long as the keyword was in the link pointing to them without the rel=”nofollow” (the rel=’nofollow’ which some comment systems produce I believe still might be broken so make sure to use quotation marks in your own site).
However, Pagerank still matters. After the taxonomies on the site are shaken through by Googlebot and the relevant and internal movement of pages is mapped, those links from relevant sites will boost your content up in rankings. Pagerank matters, it just matters second instead of first. Relevant links that point to your articles will not only boost pagerank, but they also trickle in referral traffic… sometimes they even explode in referral traffic. So then comes the part where you go and put some boots on the ground. You pick your keywords.
I usually combine a search of Google’s Adwords Keyword tool for single words or phrases, and then I find 2-3 competitors that are close or slightly above my own traffic along with a competitor that currently dominates me for traffic. You don’t want to match the big guy… that could be shooting yourself in the foot unless the larger site wasn’t ready for Panda. Sites that fixed themselves after Panda now have subdomains and have adjusted internal pagerank to keep large groups of keywords from hurting other large groups of keywords which don’t correlate (some merely fixed their homepages to include more dynamic content and taxonomy that was placed on a secondary page). As an example of rearching a keyword, let’s say I am running a site that sells coffee. I structured out my site to have static information pages, a running blog about changes in the coffee industry, and a catalog page. The term “Coffee” is going to be difficult to nail… so I go an look up “Arabica Coffee”. I see that none of my competitors of any note are using a landing page or category named “Arabica Beans” so I make that one of my keyword phrase choices. I also add the terms “Robusta Beans” and “Freeze Dried” along with “Coffee Blog” and “Order at Home”. Each of those phrases had enough traffic for the niche I wanted to compete in, they all related to each other, they all related to my core theme, and they did have search volume which could be moderately guessed for numbers by checking the Adwords tool. I usually like to test those words and make sure I am not missing a better synonym that does get more queries, however simply searching in Google for the possible keyword will show you who ranks there, and from there you can check that site’s pagerank to see if you could get above them or rank near them.
Tags don’t help for SEO unless they are being used as an indexed archive structure, but they can help for better internal movement and higher pageviews per user. The internal flow of going from one page to another is another discussion though.
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