Google's SEO Advice For
Your Website: Content
The web pages actually at the top of Google have only one thing
clearly in common: good writing. Don't let the usual SEO sacred cows
from the importance of good content.
I was recently struck by the fact that the top-ranking web pages on Google are consistently much better written than the vast majority of what one reads on the web. Yet traditional SEO wisdom has little to say about good writing. Does Google, the world's wealthiest media company, really only display web pages that meet arcane technical criteria? Does Google, like so many website owners, really get so caught up in the process of the algorithm that it misses the whole point?
Most Common On-the-Page Website Content Success Factors
Whatever the technical mechanism, Google is doing a pretty good job of identifying websites with good content and rewarding them with high rankings.
I looked at Google's top five pages for the five most searched-on keywords, as identified by WordTracker on June 27, 2005. Typically, the top five pages receive an overwhelming majority of the traffic delivered by Google.
The web pages that contained written content (a small but significant portion were image galleries) all shared the following features:
- Updating: frequent updating of content, at least once every few weeks, and
more often, once a week or more.
- Spelling and grammar: few or no errors. No page had more than three misspelled
words or four grammatical errors. Note: spelling and grammar errors were identified
by using Microsoft Word's check feature, and then ruling out words marked as
misspellings that are either proper names or new words that are simply not
in the dictionary. Does Google use SpellCheck? I can already hear the scoffing
on the other side of this computer screen. Before you dismiss the idea completely,
keep in mind that no one really does know what the 100 factors in Google's
algorithm are. But whether the mechanism is SpellCheck or a better shot at
link popularity thanks to great credibility, or something else entirely, the
results remain the same.
- Paragraphs: primarily brief (1-4 sentences). Few or no long blocks of text.
- Lists: both bulleted and numbered, form a large part of the text.
- Sentence length: mostly brief (10 words or fewer). Medium-length and long
sentences are sprinkled throughout the text rather than clumped together.
- Contextual relevance: text contains numerous terms related to the keyword,
as well as stem variations of the keyword. The page may contain the keyword
itself few times or not at all.
SEO "Do's" and "Don'ts"
A hard look at the results slaughters a number of SEO bugbears and sacred cows.
- PageRank. The median PageRank was 4. One page had a PageRank
of 0. Of course, this might simply be yet another demonstration that the little
PageRank number you get in your browser window is not what Google's algo is
using. But if you're one of those people who attaches an overriding value to
that little number, this is food for thought.
- Frames. The top two web pages listed for the most searched-on
keyword employ frames. Frames may still be a bad web design idea from a usability
standpoint, and they may ruin your search engine rankings if your site's linking
system depends on them. But there are worse ways you could shoot yourself in
design practice, but there are worse things you could do.
- Keyword optimization. Except for two pages, keyword optimization
was conspicuous by its absence. In more than half the web pages, the keyword
did not appear more than three times, meaning a very low density. Many of the
pages did not contain the keyword at all. That may just demonstrate the power
of anchor text in inbound links. It also may demonstrate that Google takes
a site's entire content into account when categorizing it and deciding what
page to display.
- Sub-headings. On most pages, sub-headings were either absent
or in the form of images rather than text. That's a very bad design practice,
and particularly cruel to blind users. But again, Google is more forgiving.
- Links: Most of the web pages contained ten or more links;
many contain over 30, in defiance of the SEO bugbears about "link popularity
bleeding." Moreover, nearly all the pages contained a significant number of
non-relevant links. On many pages, non-relevant links outnumbered relevant
ones. Of course, it's not clear what benefit the website owners hope to get
from placing irrelevant links on pages. It has been a proven way of lowering
conversion rates and losing visitors. But Google doesn't seem to care if your
website makes money.
- Originality: a significant number of pages contained content
copied from other websites. In all cases, the content was professionally written
content apparently distributed on a free-reprint basis. Note: the reprint
content did not consist of content feeds. However, no website consisted solely
of free-reprint content. There was always at least a significant portion of
original content, usually the majority of the page.
- Make sure a professional writer, or at least someone who can tell good writing from bad, is creating your site's content, particularly in the case of a search-engine optimization campaign. If you are an SEO, make sure you get a pro to do the content. A shocking number of SEOs write incredibly badly. I've even had clients whose websites got fewer conversions or page views after their SEOs got through with them, even when they got a sharp uptick in unique visitors. Most visitors simply hit the "back" button when confronted with the unpalatable text, so the increased traffic is just wasted bandwidth.
- If you write your own content, make sure that it passes through the hands of a skilled copyeditor or writer before going online.
- Update your content often. It's important both to add new pages and update existing pages. If you can't afford original content, use free-reprint content.
- Distribute your content to other websites on a free-reprint basis. This will help your website get links in exchange for the right to publish the content. It will also help spread your message and enhance your visibility. Fears of a "duplicate content penalty" for free-reprint content (as opposed to duplication of content within a single website) are unjustified.
- In short, if you have a mature website that is already indexed and getting traffic, you should consider making sure the bulk of your investment in your website is devoted to its content, rather than graphic design, old-school search-engine optimization, or linking campaigns.
About the author
Joel Walsh is the owner, founder and head-writer of UpMarket Content. To read more about website content best practices, get a consultation with Mr. Walsh, or get a sample page for your site at no charge, go to the SEO website content page: http://www.upmarketcontent.com/website-content/#seo
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