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SEO has changed over the years. In the beginning, search engines crawled links between sites and even before Google, linking from one site to another was virtually the only way you could get anywhere.
Eventually, keywords came into play and search engines could attach common keyword phrases to links found on the Internet. But as humans learned to game the system, the bots came in to combat keyword stuffing.
Over the years, SEO has changed to combat “spammy” behavior or black-hat SEO in order to continue showing quality and relevant results that we expect as searchers.
Today, the evolution of search engine algorithms have long surpassed this primitive ranking system of keyword stuffing, which means that publishers need to think more about quality than quantity when it comes to their content.
Search Engines Are Smarter than You Think
Today’s leading search engines are programmed differently, with Google being unequivocally in the lead as it continues to excel in the development of smarter algorithms.
The way search engines are programmed now means that they are more interested in a site’s “personality” than its looks. In other words, they dig deeper into the core of the content to make sure it meets the expectations of its users. Google prefers to rank sites today based on their content quality so new algorithms place well-written content above content that lacks the following:
- Concise and clear writing
- Proper sentence and paragraph structure
- Proper headers to break down content
- Links that are connected correctly
- A complete sitemap (a file of all the URLs on your website)
Without these basic inclusions, keyword usage will not be enough to improve ranking.
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Search Engines Are Now Designed with End-Users in Mind
The satisfaction of the end-user is now the primary concern for search engine development. You can think of this as a self-preservation rule – in order to provide a sustainable Internet information market, the sites that users are driven to must be of quality and, most importantly, of use to them.
How can you tell if your content is useful to potential readers? By following these golden rules:
- Does the content answer specific questions?
- Is the content informative? Will the reader learn something new?
- Have I answered questions simply and in a way that makes it easy for readers to digest the information?
- Do my keywords appear naturally?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then you’re on your way to making sure the content is being produced with the end-user in mind. The process goes hand-in-hand with ranking on Google.
Google’s Latest Algorithm Updates
In July of 2018, Google released an algorithm update that focused on the need to improve user experience in order to rank higher. These improvements included page speed, user interface, and quality content:
“The intent of the search query is still a very strong signal, so a slow page may still rank highly if it has great, relevant content.”
While we are talking about SEO, it’s important to note that Google is moving toward a more user-friendly experience for its customers. Google emphasizes the development of responsive, fast pages in order to optimize a site and make keyword placement worth the time. The four parts of their RAIL performance model are response, animation, idle and load – and all need to work together seamlessly.
To keep it simple: User-experience and SEO are no longer two different battles in today’s world. These two important elements of digital marketing work together for the ultimate organic results.
Search engines are constantly competing for users and advertisers. When users deem a site to be keyword-rich but lacking in quality information, it reflects on the search engine that brought them there, creating a potential defector. So, search engines have had to adapt from sheer search page result volume to a more tailored Q&A experience for users.
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Late 2018 Announcements Made by Google
In September 2018, as part of their 20th anniversary, Google announced their plans to roll out a user-inspired, Facebook-like news feed – which includes activity cards, smart videos, and Google Lens – on their search engine page:
The idea is to capitalize on what users came there to find and provide relevant answers to questions they haven’t yet asked but may be interested in knowing about.
The feasibility of this new design is heavily reliant on a publisher’s ability to write quality content that is both keyword-rich and answers users’ questions that they can interact with as they venture into their search queries.
The content that is most likely to be featured on Google search cards is that which answers queries directly, has supporting questions with answers, has interesting writing and contains keywords that are directly relevant to the topic.
Quality Is Time-Consuming but Worth It
Now that we’ve gotten the truth about the future of search engine optimization out of the way, we can focus on your responsibilities from here on out.
The fact remains that building a quality website with excellent content is very time-consuming. It would be easier to just push out low-quality content that is jam-packed with keywords (the way it used to be done), but that just isn’t going to get you where you need to be in the ranking.
Today, the process of optimization has everything to do with backlinks and avoiding low-quality ones. With this concept, even though you are spending a massive amount of time and effort writing all-encompassing pieces for your website, backlinks are now rejected by the thousands.
Ideally, you’d reject 1,000 mediocre backlinks for ten really good ones. The time you spent on that content directly increases your chances of being among those ten and vice versa.
What Is Quality in Terms of SEO?
Quality simply refers to focusing on what your users want. No fluff, no filler and no random amounts of information that are semi-relevant to the topic and are general knowledge. You can’t write an entire article in response to a question and then fill it with useless information.
Instead, research what your users want and what they want to know. Then, provide this to them in-depth and make the page a one-stop-shop for that topic; don’t give them a reason to have to go anywhere else.
Google offers a complete beginner's guide to proper SEO practices that includes:
- Organizing your content properly
- Avoiding spelling and grammatical errors
- Eliminating duplicate content
- Avoid “stuffing unneeded keywords in your title tags”
- Create unique, accurate page titles and snippets
- Add structured data markup
- Organize your site hierarchy (because navigation is important for search engines)
This will increase your views per visitor, which translates to search engine referrals and traffic.
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Focus on Unique Content
It doesn’t matter how many keywords you place in your article – if the content is a carbon copy of someone else’s, yours won’t see the light of page-one search results. Search engines absolutely hate copied or very similar content that is useless to users.
Search engines want the results pages to be as unique as possible so as to provide users with different angles of a topic, not hundreds of results about the same exact thing.
You may have seen at the bottom of a search page where Google places this phrase: “we have removed one or more pieces of content because they are duplicates.” This is in reference to duplicated content on the same website, as well as content from other websites that are carbon copies.
Google will take the one that has the best overall site quality and show it in the results and hide the others. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it won’t get you anywhere near the original article’s rankings.
When creating unique content, you should:
- Research other sites for similar content and make sure your articles cover different angles of the same topic. This ensures that the content you provide is unique enough for Google and Bing to prefer over others.
- Create a list of five to six questions you want your content to answer.
- Make a list of closely related concepts to what you’re writing about and include them in your content as supporting text. Users are more likely to keep reading if they see that you know what you’re talking about.
- Focus more on long-form content. This is a psychological method of making sure your readers know they’ve come to a resource they can count on.
As a small business owner, you rely on the usefulness of your service to draw in customers versus large, enterprise companies which may not be able to tailor their services the way a small business can. Their success comes from their popularity. So as a SMB owner, focus your content on your usefulness, uniqueness and answer your customers' questions directly.
Keyword Relevance Is a Must
Search engines also don’t want to provide users with content that is only semi-relevant to the topic.
This is what Microsoft’s Bing banked on when it first launched in 2009. Their catchphrase was “find a cure,” which referenced the concept of search engine overload, which is a massive problem Google faced.
During this time, search engine results were made up of thousands of slightly relevant facts to questions being asked by users that were never getting answered. Google responded to this by focusing on quality content. This content was anchored by keywords.
One major rule in keyword optimization is to only use keywords in your content that are directly about the topic at hand. An easy way to remember how to do this is to think of keywords as tags. You wouldn’t put a tag on an article that is only semi-related, so don’t do that in your optimization.
For example, if you’re writing an article about content management services that you provide, you’re not going to tag it with “social media management” or “branding” just because both are processes of content management that are mentioned maybe once or twice in your article.
In this case, do not overuse keywords referencing these topics, because you’ll be throwing off the core of your content, effectively stretching it in so many directions that the search engine no longer finds it relevant to any of the three topics you optimized for, including the main one, “content management.”
Your article should be about “content management” in all aspects, including your keyword usage.
Quantity Does Not Equal Quality
When you’re working on an SEO campaign, remember this: search engines often view high quantities of keywords as spam. This was the kind of content that was ranking a decade ago.
Massive amounts of keywords were used to make it easier for search engines to understand the content. The problem with this is that many of the keywords used were written in the way that people naturally search, which lacks the use of complete sentences and correct structure.
Here’s an example. If you want to know how tall Lady Gaga is, you’re not going to spend time typing in “How tall is Lady Gaga?” Instead, you may just write “height Lady Gaga.”
Most search engines will return an answer regardless of how you write it. But, publishers who use the keyword “height Lady Gaga” will get flagged because this is not proper grammar and thus not quality content. Readers don’t want to go to a site and have every other phrase read as a search query.
Varying the Placement of Your Keywords
Keywords are also not very reader-friendly and should be used sparingly only when they make sense.
If you’re writing about a 4×6 blue picture frame, it’s okay to use this phrase as your keyword. Just don’t overdo it: “I bought a 4×6 blue picture frame. This 4×6 blue picture frame was perfect for my graduation photos. Next time, I’m going to get another 4×6 blue picture frame.”
In the above example, the keyword is severely overused, because humans do not naturally speak this way. Using it once in this paragraph would have been enough. That’s exactly what search engines don’t want to see.
You can also optimize your content by making sure you place your keyword in your:
- Meta description
- Image alt text
- Image descriptions
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Tailoring Your Content to New Search Engine Algorithms
We’ve established that quality rules over quantity when it comes to SEO. Now what you have to worry about is how to take this concept and apply it.
If you’re writing quality content, half the battle is already won because you’re streamlining your SEO practices to meet the needs of the search engines. Ideally, you’ll focus on the changes that top search engines are making to ensure that their results are useful to their users.
Write Quality Content
Going forward, make sure your content is written with quality in mind. Use proper grammar, structure, include headers for easier reading and don’t veer off-topic.
- Make sure your articles cover different angles of the same topic
- Create a list of five to six questions you want your content to answer
- Make a list of closely related concepts to what you’re writing about and include them in your content as supporting text
- Focus more on long-form content
- Use concise and clear writing, proper sentence and paragraph structure
- Use proper headers to break down content
- Use high-quality links that are connected correctly
- Create a complete sitemap
Reduce Keyword Quantity
Make sure your keywords are placed mindfully and avoid jam-packing your content with keywords aimed at helping the search engine understand your content better. Remember, search engines have evolved so they no longer need this kind of primitive help from you.
You can also rank better by researching other related keywords that your content can also rank for and include them in your text.
Optimize Your URL
Your URL should not be a default page address like “page1.html”. Nor should it include stop words like “to,” “the” or “you.” Only include the necessary words (generally nouns and verbs).
Google also mentions keyword placement in URLs: In their SEO guide they note that you should avoid the usage of “excessive keywords like ‘baseball-cards-baseball-cards-baseballcards.htm’.”
Anchor Keywords Based on Relevance
When using keywords, make sure they are relevant to your topic. Do not add in keywords about things that are similar but not quite on-topic. This will only stretch your content in different directions, lowering its value regarding the core topic, which most of the content and keywords should be about.
Tailor Backlinks to Quality and Relevance
Do away with backlinks that don’t offer quality content. Only link to top-quality, reputable pages so that search engines can offer this same quality to their users. When building your links to build your site, try the following:
- Network with authority sites to provide your links on their pages and vice versa.
- Make a list of top authority sites in your field that aren’t directly competing with you, and note them as preferred links to use.
- Be sure to include inbound links on every article you write and throughout your pages.
Give Your Readers What They Want
Your readers are coming to your site for a specific purpose, so make sure you give them what they're looking for without making them work for it through filler text and irrelevant information. This will increase your views per visitors and loyalty visits, which search engines rely on when determining the quality of your site.
There is no magic number when it comes to the quantity of keyword dispersal. It all comes down to the quality of the content, the placement of the keywords and your ability to link back to other relevant pages. Always keep in mind that the quality of your content is more important than your keyword strategy. Master quality, then you can focus on strategy.