It’s NOT About Tricks
We’ve discussed tools and techniques you can employ to optimize your content for the search engines on this blog before, but your strategy can’t just be about employing tricks involving anchor text and keywords—in fact, it shouldn’t be about that at all. Google is getting more and more advanced, and the days of trying to “trick” the search engines into valuing your page through mechanical linking and keyword usage are over. While certain techniques are useful and certain rules are good to follow, it all has to be at the service of solid, genuinely useful content.
Our team attended SMX Advanced just a few weeks ago, and the consensus following Google’s recent Penguin update was that the only sure-fire way to guard yourself against future penalties or de-valuing (Penguin doesn’t enforce penalties—it just reconsiders the value of your page, which can turn out to be lower than before the update) is to focus on creating useful content as opposed to manipulating it to catch the attention of the search engines. With that said, below are a few tips on how to be mindful of good SEO content practices without over-optimizing.
Write Useful Content That Answers Specific Queries
Ultimately, Google’s top priority is to provide the best results for readers searching for particular information, so make sure that the content you’re writing addresses potential queries a reader may have. This can include everything from a general query for information on a topic to a very specific question they’re trying to find the answer for. Rather than just writing general content about a keyword or topic, try to frame your content in a way that engages searchers’ needs.
For example, if you’re creating content for a blog or website that you want to become an authority on rock climbing, don’t just write about rock climbing in general over and over again simply targeting variations of a keyword. Instead, create one page that talks about introductory climbing techniques, another page that discusses useful exercises to strengthen climbing muscles, another page that talks about different types of climbing gear, and so on. To break it down into even more useful chunks for a reader, you may create several pages discussing and comparing different brands of climbing gear—a page comparing climbing shoes, a page comparing climbing harnesses, a page for liquid vs. powdered climbing chalk, etc.
For these pieces of content, rather than trying to force “rock climbing” into the title of your blog or page title, use something simple and attention grabbing like “What Are the Best Exercises to Strengthen Climbing Muscles?” or “Black Diamond vs. Mammut Climbing Harnesses.” Here you need to think carefully about what your target audience is going to be searching for and what information they will find the most useful. A page that tries to give a general overview of such a multi-faceted topic while just using the term “rock climbing” repeatedly in the content or links is going to instantly reveal itself as a useless page to searchers. They don’t want to read an encyclopedia entry neutrally and vaguely explaining a search term—they’re on Google searching because they’re looking for specific information, so you need to provide that.
Since these pages are focused on providing specific information to a reader, they are more likely to be read, linked to, and shared with others, and readers are more likely to continue coming to you for information on rock climbing in general. Without worrying about links, anchor text, or how many times you’ve used your keywords, you’ve started to become an authority on your desired topic simply because you are creating useful content that people are reading.
Use Organic Anchor Text More Than Exact Match Anchor Text
One of the most important things following Google’s Penguin update is to vary your anchor text, and the best way to do this is to stop worrying quite so much over whether or not every link contains your exact targeted keyword or some strict variation of it. While using exact match anchor text is important, you don’t want to do it all the time—if you have a huge number of links pointing at your site and they all use the exact same anchor text, it looks spammy. However, if your links are varied—sometimes using exact match, sometimes using latent keywords, sometimes using more general terms that make sense to a reader in the context of your content—then they look more legitimate to Google.
More than just for how they’re weighed by Google though, your links should be worked into your content in a way that entices a reader to click on them. If a link looks awkward and forced, or if it’s unclear where the link is going to take the reader, it’s going to have a lower click-through rate. Your anchor text should be simple and clear, and since Google is paying increasingly more attention to the words surrounding the link as opposed to just the anchor text itself, you can even get a lot of value out of an occasional “for more information on rock climbing equipment, click here.” While you shouldn’t use something generic like this all the time, it can be useful in certain situations, most notably because it communicates with absolute certainty what the reader is going to find when they click on your link.
There’s no definite right or wrong here. You should keep your targeted keywords in mind when you sit down to write, and if you can use exact match anchor text in a way that flows seamlessly with the content, then do it—but don’t be afraid to mix it up by using anchor text that’s more natural. Google isn’t going to ignore a link from a relevant and credible source page simply because the anchor text doesn’t match the desired keyword down to the letter.
Put Your Most Relevant, Attention-Grabbing Content Near the Top of the Page
This one’s pretty straightforward. In newspaper terminology, you always want the major story’s headline and a solid photo “above the fold,” meaning on the top half of the front page, above where the page folds in half to be placed on newsstands. This is the part of the paper that people see, and there should be something attention-grabbing there to make them want to buy one.
The same logic applies for webpages: if someone can’t determine what your content has to offer and whether it’s going to answer their query without scrolling down and reading the whole thing, they’re going to leave and look elsewhere. So your most important information—including an appealing headline that acts to “hook” the reader—should be immediately visible “above the fold” of your on-page content. Get your reader’s attention right away by giving them the information they came for from the start without a lot of introductory fluff. This is also just basic good writing, but it’s important to be conscious of where your content will be cut off by the virtual fold of a reader’s computer screen.
Write for Your Readers, Not for Google
The bottom line is that Google is getting smarter, and the thing to remember is that the search engines aren’t trying to play a game with you over your content, so you shouldn’t treat content creation like a game. This isn’t chess, where you devise a trick to boost your SEO and Google’s on the other end trying to find ways to lower your rankings—the search engines want to help people find content that is genuinely useful in answering their queries. If you look at it this way and work with the tools Google has given us to help increase web visibility, everybody wins. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to linking, keywords, anchor text, and headings, but rather you should consider these as just four more elements of your content with the opportunity for optimization.
If your whole page relies on just these elements and they’re not supported by useful content, then ultimately you aren’t doing a reader any good, and sooner or later Google will find a way to weed you out of their results. But if you’ve got great, unique content that people keep coming back to, links and anchor text that get a lot of click-throughs because they sound natural and readers trust them, and a page structure that emphasizes the useful information you’re providing, Google has no reason to lower your rankings—these are exactly the types of pages users are searching for. In the end, this is the type of content that will stand the test of time.