Search engine optimization? Isn't that dead? Nope! If you thought it was, then you were misinformed. SEO isn't dead or dying, it's simply evolving, according to our SEO predictions for 2014. And it's still important to know how to optimize without overdoing it.
When is the last time you overdid something? Be honest! We all overdo things from time to time because we get wicked excited or have a habit of overthinking and second guessing. It's nothing to be ashamed of because it amounts to human nature. But when it comes to something as important to your business as SEO-optimized web content, how do you make sure you don't overdo it? Is there anything wrong with overdoing it? That's exactly what we're going to discuss.
The SEO Golden Rule
There's a golden rule in every industry, isn't there? In a lot of industries, the golden rule boils down the age old saying, "The customer is always right." When it comes to the content industry, I've heard a slight various to this adage: "The audience rules."
Fact: you can create a beautiful website packed full of content, but it'll be dead on arrival if the audience doesn't like it.
Truth: the audience really does rule the content kingdom.
According to KISSmetrics, the golden rule of on-site optimization is this:
When using any...SEO elements [don't] overdo it.
The thing about golden rules is that they really should not be broken. And when it comes to search engine optimization, you DON'T want to break the golden rule. So, to answer one of the questions we posed in the beginning of this post, YES there absolutely is something wrong with overdoing SEO. Don't believe us? Let's talk consequences...
The Consequences of Breaking The SEO Golden Rule Or...
...why you don't want to overdo SEO. Let's be brutally honest, shall we? Most of us small to medium sized business owners broke the rules to get where we are today. Thinking outside of the box and stretching AND breaking the rules are part of entrepreneurship. But along the way we learned that certain rules cannot be stretched or broken without hurtful consequences. Writing over optimized web content is one of them.
Back in March of 2012, Search Engine Roundtable published an article entitled, Cutts: Google to Target Overly SEO'ed Sites within Weeks. You should definitely check out the audio recording from Cutts in the article. In case you're unfamiliar with the name, Matt Cutts is the person to know when it comes to SEO. He started out with Google in 2000 as a software engineer, and today he's the head of Google's Webspam team. Breaking SEO news on the dos and don'ts of search engine optimization-especially the don'ts-come from him. When Cutts speaks up, you listen.
Back in 2012, Cutts made it clear that websites overdoing SEO were going to get unwanted attention: they would be penalized by Google. The idea was to level the playing field and promote a right way of doing SEO-optimized web content.
As you can imagine, the change in policy caused a sizeable stir. Fast forward to today, 2014, and the policy still stands. If you overdo SEO elements on your website, it won't help you; it will hurt you. Your search rankings will drop, and you'll end up in the one place you don't want to be: Google's penalty box.
So, how do you do optimized web content without over optimizing? How do you cross your T's, dot your I's, and come out on Google's good side? The working tactics just might surprise you.
3 Ideal Tips for Optimized Web Content
Search engine optimization doesn't have to be hard. In fact, it comes down to using a little common sense and knowing where to look if you have questions. A lot of well researched and credible resources on SEO are available online; just to name a few: Search Engine Land, HubSpot, The Content Marketing Institute and KISSmetrics. But we're here to get you started with some simple, common sense tips to keep you from overdoing web content optimization:
- Forget about keyword density. When the three little letters s-e-o come together to form the content marketing buzzword SEO, we tend to see people automatically raising questions about keyword density. If my blog is going to be 500 words, at what density should my keyword be? If I want to insert my keyword 4 times, how many words should make up my content? Forget about keyword density. I know, I know! It goes against everything you've had drilled into your head about SEO since this type of optimization started. Trust me; we know how hard it is to kick old habits. But this is one that has to go. Even Matt Cutts says there's no such thing as an ideal keyword density.
- Stop keyword stuffing! Cutts' video talks about this tip. Google frowns heavily on keyword stuffing, which can happen due to unnatural overuse of a keyword or phrase. The keyword to note here is "unnatural." It's okay to incorporate keywords and phrases into your web content. In fact, they still need to be there so search engines can understand what your content is about. But don't stuff them in like a Thanksgiving turkey. The trick is to craft them into the copy so that it reads naturally, as if the words were meant to be there. Never, ever strain to use keywords, jamming them in for the sake of presence versus readability.
- Don't go link crazy. Since the New Year, you've likely heard a lot about SEO and backlinking. Pay attention to the links you choose to use for backlinking. Why? Because you don't want to be spammy. That is a big no-no that will land you in Google's penalty box. Rule of thumb: only backlink when the link is relevant to your content and expands on it in an easy to see manner. In other words, don't backlink to content that is a stretch in comparison to yours.
- Focus on darn good content. Don't fret about the mechanics unless you're worrying over English mechanics. If you focus on writing quality content that is great, you won't have much to worry about overdoing SEO.
What Is Darn Good or Great Content?
Content that your audience will label as "darn good" and "great" is known as QUALITY in the content marketing world. It's made up of the kind of copy that satisfies your audience's unending thirst for good storytelling, relevant information and educational material. In fact, quality content is all about meeting the needs of your readership while also meeting the needs of a new audience who are soon to become a regular addition to your readership.
Just how can you spot darn good content? Whether you're writing it yourself or having it written by a copywriter, here are the elements you want to include:
- Relevancy. The content filling your webpages must be relevant to your business, otherwise it's a waste. Let's say your business is automotive. You're a mechanic. You own a shop. People who visit your website are expecting automotive related material. If you have a blog (and we hope you do because blogs are powerful SEO tools), folks visiting your website expect to see topics like, "How to Diagnose an Engine Leak" and "How to Choose a Good Mechanic." If you decided to throw in some content about a local bakeoff, they'll frown in confusion, conclude you're off your rocker and hit up the next local mechanic's website. Don't confuse your audience with irrelevant information. Stay on topic.
- Informative-ness. Okay, so we're sort of coining a new word here. The point is this element needs to stand out in your mind. Your content must be informative if you expect the audience to see it as valuable. And you WANT people to see your content as valuable. Don't tell them you're the best at what you do. SHOW them through your informative content. Give them all of the information they need to decide that you are indeed the best. Speak to issues they face here and now, and show them how you provide a unique solution.
- Engagement. The writing style of your content must engage and compel. What exactly does this mean? It means the writing style needs to spur your audience to action. It needs to compel them to start reading your copy and finish it. It needs to engage them so that they feel the need to take some sort of action, whether that action is to share the copy, contact you directly, leave a comment or buy your product or service.
- Well written. Remember how we said not to fret about the mechanics unless you're worrying over English mechanics? Well, here's what we were taking about. Instead of worrying about inserting keywords that don't sound mechanical, focus on a natural flow. Then, worry over the English mechanics. Ensure the copy is free of unwanted spelling, grammatical and formatting errors. Content that is riddled with errors is hard to read. It's distracting, distasteful and a sure way to drive your audience away. Not to mention, content crammed with such errors will suffer a decreased search engine ranking-not cool!
- Cover the topic without stuffing keywords or under- or overreaching the word count. Unless you have writing experience under your belt, your best bet for quality content that incorporates search engine optimization is a well-trained industry copywriter or a copywriting agency that staffs such copywriters. The ultimate goal is to not overdo SEO, and the ultimate way to achieve this goal is to write naturally. I know what you're thinking, how do you write SEO-optimized web content naturally without over- or underdoing it?
The Balance, or How to Not Over- or Underdo SEO-Optimized Web Content
Alright, we talked about keyword densities and keyword use. But we haven't said much about word counts. Copywriters are asked about word counts repeatedly, and the truth is that there's no set rule for determining word counts. Does your topic need 400 to 600 words, or is it better covered in 500 to 1,000 words? The answer entirely depends on what you want to cover. How large is the scope? What information do you absolutely have to have? You might think you can cover your topic in 600 words, but once the writing process is underway, you'll find out the topic will flow much more naturally if you allow the writer up to 1,000 words.
A natural flow is all-important. You can spot it by looking for the following:
- The discussion doesn't feel rushed.
- The article doesn't feel like it is missing information or void of detail.
- The organization of the copy makes sense, and the conclusion doesn't feel rushed.
- The copy doesn't seem overly wordy.
- The content covers the topic thoroughly without going off topic or incorporating bizarre information.
- The overall piece feels satisfying and doesn't feel like a reach.
Achieving balance and not overdoing search engine optimization comes down to good old fashioned common sense. If your optimized web content doesn't read well, then change it. If keywords sound robotic and overused, take them out or restructure them so that they read naturally. If your content feels too long or too short based on the topic, allow it to breathe by either tightening it up or making it longer.
The audience will be your ultimate decision maker. If you focus on creating quality web content that people want to read, comment on and share, chances are you're doing it right and search engine optimization will fall into place on its own. If you feel like you have to strain to get SEO into the mix, chances are you're doing it wrong. SEO is becoming a hidden element, something your readership should barely if ever notice. Once you achieve this, you'll be in the green.
In the meantime, if you're searching for more informative information about how to best attack SEO and write quality SEO-optimized web content in 2014, check out our article on Business2Community. There we discuss 20 fundamentals of great SEO for 2014.
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