There have been a lot of changes (no surprises to say that) in SEO for 2012, and as we approach 2013 I wanted to run down what’s new moving into the new year. For many in the industry, it means changing old, bad habits. For those new to the industry, hopefully you can start off right and not develop bad habits that bite back later.
But before we get into the run-down of what’s new in SEO, there’s another matter to tend to: the ghost town look of the Alameda Internet Marketing blog.
I mean, really – not posting since May is not a good “look” for any business blog, so on behalf of Alameda Internet Marketing, sorry we haven’t posted in a while. Ross asked if I could write some posts, which you can expect on a much more regular basis.
Who Am I?
Definitely neither Spider-Man nor Batman (sorry to disappoint), but my name is James Hussey, and normally I blog at TheAverageGenius.net, where I share my (sometimes heroic) tips and strategies for SEO, conversion and copy.
SEO is an art and science I’ve dug into since 2009, supporting my own business (and family) from all that “free traffic” from Google and Bing, et al. Trouble is, like many, I drank a little too deeply from the toxic and shallow pool of short cuts that used to work a bit too well.
Lesson learned. Onto better methods these days.
If you want to read more about my story, you can read the sordid details here of how I began in the business. It’s not exactly a fairy tale, but it’s how the cookie disintegrated.
Why I’m Writing for AIM
Ross lost a bet and here I am. (Something like that.)
Actually, Ross and I chat via social media and he asked me if I’d be interested in taking up the mantle blogging at BayAreaSEO.net, and I told him I would – so by all means, share the posts on your social media channels and let me know what you think in the comments.
Enough about me, let’s talk about changes in SEO that you ought to be paying attention to (and I’m only dealing with some major changes, not 800+ different nuances).
What’s Changed in Search Optimization
For my own business and likely yours, I’ve noticed the following changes seem to make the most impact for the bigger wins in gaining search traffic and improving a website’s performance in Google and Bing.
Keywords Are Not Turkey Stuffing
When I first began learning how to optimize websites for search, clients and various training guides I learned from taught me to essentially stuff keywords into my text. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
- Visit the Google Keyword Tool to find keywords to write content around.
- Use a main keyword for your domain name.
- Place the keyword(s) in the title tag, meta description, meta keywords, ALT image tags and at least 3 headers/sub-headers on your page.
- Mention the keyword(s) in every paragraph at least once.
- Use synonyms and variations to pepper throughout your content.
- Make sure your content has (X)% of keyword density (i.e. 3-5% of your content should be the keywords you’ve chosen).
- Ensure your keyword(s) is in the URL of the page.
- Ensure your titles of the pages you publish are actually named your keywords (rather than creative titles the rest of the world enjoys reading).
- Decorate your keywords when they appear in your content with bold, italics, and underline at least once each per page (or thereabouts).
- Always use your main keywords in the primary navigation of your site.
- Always ensure internal links are using the primary keywords for the target page.
Like I said, that used to be advice that worked. Not necessarily “good” advice but it worked: pages ranked well with those qualities, but that’s changed. Marketers – me included – gamed the system and ranked much easier.
Google caught up.
This is a big change for those who have been using old school (as I call it) techniques to rank content, and on some sites it still seems to work that way (especially video sites like YouTube, or image-based websites where you only have a little bit of text content to work with): stuff keywords into the content.
Next time you’re on Google and a YouTube video shows up in the SERPs, check out the videos that rank highly. Depending on the channel you’re watching, you’ll likely find a bunch of keyword and “tag” spam in the description. Funny thing is that it seems to still be working out that way – not that I’m suggesting you copy the practice…
Old habits die hard. See, for the majority of your web properties, I’d recommend avoiding those out-dated “tips” for your content.
Search engines are constantly tightening their algorithms to fight against those who game the system; Google is notorious for their web spam team making headlines, as I’m sure you’re well aware.
For the most part, your content should use your main keyword in the title and once in the copy, maybe twice at most.
To be safe:
1. Don’t put your keywords in the header tags (the H tags if you look at the HTML coding, these are the headers and sub-headers in your content) unless it would make sense to naturally include them. It’s perfectly OK if you don’t ever put your keywords in your header tags. It’s probably not a good idea to ensure your keywords are in every header or sub-header, every page, every time.
2. Don’t decorate your keywords using bold, italics or underline like some SEO plugins will do for your WordPress site (I’ll leave them nameless: this practice used to work great but now, not so much).
3. Don’t list 3-5 variations or synonyms of your keywords and use those as “alternative stuffing.” Whatever synonyms you use, use them naturally as you would if speaking on the subject to your neighbor.
For instance, if you were to talk about the San Francisco 49ers during the playoffs, you wouldn’t keep mentioning the phrase, “San Francisco 49ers” over and over again. You’d mention “the 9ers” or “the team,” etc. Normal conversation doesn’t allow for repetitive “SEO speak” the way web publishers are used to.
And by the way, stop telling your creative team to stuff your keyword phrase into every paragraph. It’s a bit much.
Typical advice has been to go to the Google Keyword Tool and find up to 5 synonyms of the keyword you’re targeting, then stuff those keywords into your copy along with the main phrase…all I’m suggesting is write naturally once you identify your main phrase.
Stop Naming Domains Keyword Phrases
(By the way, I’m hanging my head in shame: I own or have owned a number of EMD’s, which means “Exact Match Domain,” a domain that is named some target phrase taken from the Google Keyword tool.)
Google released an “EMD Update” which you can read about at the SEOMoz blog, the story has a great case study and it’s worth a look.
Basically a few marketers decided a while back that buying a domain name which matched (or partially matched) your main keyword phrase was a simple way to cheat the system and gain better-than-you-probably-deserved-rankings, and frankly it got abused. That was about as far as many marketers took their SEO campaign (except they also broke the next rule below)…
Well as the story goes, Google adjusted the algorithm to weed out these bottom feeders and frankly it worked.
It doesn’t mean you should dump your EMD websites if you have them. I’m not suggesting that – but if you buy new domains then think twice before buying a keyword-rich domain.
What do you buy instead? A branded domain.
You know, like:
…something catchy. Brandable. Memorable.
The EMD Update is only one update, by the way – if you have a website that has quality content on it and it has a healthy backlink profile, and it’s doing fine as an EMD, then you don’t need to worry about it. Otherwise, if you’re starting fresh, reconsider your site’s name.
Stop Over-Optimizing Your Anchor Text
SAY WHAT? OK, hopefully you know what “anchor text” means. It’s the clickable part of a hypertext link. For example:
This link goes to the blog at SEOMoz.
The words “This link” are the anchor text. Common practice up until April 24, 2012 was to use your targeted keyword phrases that you wanted to rank for as the majority of your link profile.
In other words, if you had a dog training website, you’d link to your site with phrases like, “housebreaking your puppy, puppy potty training, crate training,” etc. What happened in April was called the Penguin update – and what I’ve noticed is that my sites that used over-optimal anchor text simply took a beating after Penguin came out.
(After potentially months of work, you can recover your website’s rankings – but it takes work, depending on your scale.)
The point being that if you have a group of keywords you want to rank well for, don’t rely on your anchor text to help you rank. Rely on branding channels and marketing opportunities – or hiring professional SEO’s like Ross to help get your sites moving in the right direction.
Be very careful who you hire. I can’t stress that enough: SEO isn’t and shouldn’t be a cheap purchase, farmed out to the lowest bidder. The dime-a-dozen-days of search optimizing are long gone; professionals are worth the added security: trust me.
By the way, this rule of not using over-optimal keywords as anchor text is not just for off-site links (links pointing to your domain from other websites), but for internal links as well.
If you’re spamming “dog training” as an anchor text to your main page on dog training, stop that. Purpose to use longer (or shorter) phrases like “training” or non-related terms like, “read more here.” If you’re not sure about how your internal or external links are faring, then order a link audit or full-blown SEO audit, simple as that.
Watch The Above-The-Fold Area
Another update has been called “top heavy” or “top heavy 2,” since it rolled out a second iteration as of writing this post. Essentially there is a quality filter that considers the top area or “above the fold” area (the part of the site that loads for the viewer first before he or she scrolls down): if there are more ads than content, then the site could be flagged as an “MFA” or “made for advertising” website.
If you’re reading this blog and have received counsel from Ross on content, then you’re not likely going to see this as a problem to begin with, however it’s been common practice to jam your AdSense or other banner ads up above the fold, pushing down the content so the user needs to scroll to view your content.
Too many miniature courses have been released mentioning to exploit this area for ads or other calls-to-action (like an opt-in form or the like). If it’s done in excess (anyone’s guess what that means to Google), then the site could suffer a dip in rankings. My advice is simply “choose carefully” how you use this part of your website.
A better use would be to build trust or get the user hooked somehow to remain on your site – and that would usually mean toning down the ads displaying above the fold to a less-than-obnoxious level.
Focus On Two Main Points
So you want better rankings (don’t we all?), and more traffic from search engines…what two things should you focus on more than anything? Oh, hold on…
That’s subject for my next post. Be sure to tune in.
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Leave a comment below and let’s talk about it.