When I speak with potential new clients about their website needs, the area where they are most commonly misinformed is in the practice of Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Sometimes, this is because they are considering information or best practices that are outdated and no longer effective or relevant. Other times, their misinformation may be because they have fallen victim to so-called “experts” who are looking to make a quick buck by exploiting their limited understanding of what works and what does not when it comes to SEO.
There is no area of web design more prone to shady opportunists and outright scam artists than the practice of Search Engine Optimization. This, of course, does not mean that everyone practicing SEO is a scam artist out to take advantage of you. On the contrary, there are many knowledgeable and reputable providers of this service. The challenge for you as a business owner or website manager is being able to discern the true experts from the scam artists. One of the best ways to do that is to brush up on your own understanding of current SEO practices so that you can have a quality conversation with any provider you are considering for the job.
In this two-part article series, we will explore the most common misconceptions that I hear from clients when it comes to SEO. Some of the topics this series will look at are:
Ready to get started? Let’s begin with that first bullet point – the concept of keywords.
When it comes to misinformed and outdated information on SEO best practices, there is no area more prone to this than the concept of “keywords.” Simply put, keywords are the terms that you want a webpage to be “optimized” for. Ideally, these are the terms that your potential customers would query in a search engine looking for the products or services that your company offers. The misinformation regarding keywords often centers around the concept of “keyword density” or the number of times each keyword should be repeated in your content to ensure that your page ranks most effectively for those terms.
Keyword density and the practice of “keyword stuffing” (using a keyword as much as possible on a page) is an SEO myth that has been around for quite some time. In truth, there is very little evidence that keyword density ever made much of a difference when it came to search engine rankings, and with the advancements in ranking algorithms over the years, nearly all credible SEO experts agree that keyword density does not affect your site’s rankings. In fact, stuffing keywords into your content in an unnatural way can leave you open to penalties and actually hurt your search engine rankings!
Now, while the positive effect of keyword density may be a myth, that does not mean that keywords are not important. On the contrary, quality content is one of the most important aspects of SEO and the words that you use in that content do absolutely play a role in your site’s rankings.
Keywords are relevant, there is just no magical percentage or density of those keywords that you must hit to achieve optimal search engine performance!
Terms that apply to your businesses’ offerings, and which customers would use to find those offerings when conducting a search engine search, need to be in your site’s content. That makes sense. After all, how can your site be ranked for a term if that term is never used on your site!
When writing content for your site, you should be mindful of the terms and keywords that you’d like to include, but you must also ensure that your content sounds natural and reads well- – something you will not get if you are stuffing keywords!
For example, content on a website for a company offering website design and development services may read like this:
“We specialize in website design and development services with a focus on multi-device support and responsive web design. Our sites look and work great on any device that your customers use to visit them.”
This paragraph reads well because it was crafted to be read by humans, not search engines. There are keywords included in the text (website design and development, multi-device support, responsive web design), but they are not so overused that the text becomes painful to read.
So what does content that has been stuffed with keywords look like? Take that same examples of content for a website design company:
“We are a website design and development agency that specializes in designing and developing websites that feature multi-device support. Our website design and development services are focused on responsive web design. The websites that we design and develop look and work great on any device that your customers use to visit your website.”
In truth, this content is not wildly different from the first example, but if you read the two different paragraphs out loud, you can see how the first one feels natural while the second one is more difficult to read. This is because it has an unnatural amount of “keywords” forced into it in a fruitless attempt to appeal to search engines. Imagine trying to read an entire site written this way! It would be a painful exercise!
In reality, if you were speaking this sentence out loud in a conversation, you would not add all these extra words. This is why the sentence becomes difficult for readers, because it does not feel like normal conversation. It was written for search engines, not for people.
So if keywords do play an important role in SEO, but you need to avoid using those keywords in a way that makes the content feel forced, how do you go about creating content for your website that will perform well for search engines and still sound natural for readers? Here are the tips that I have found helpful over the years:
1. Start by making a list of the keywords that are relevant to your business and your content. It will be helpful to have this list and to be mindful of which terms should have a presence in your content.
2. Decide upon the “voice” for your website. For some sites, a tone that is more authoritative and harder may be appropriate, while for others, a softer, friendlier tone is the right choice. Whatever is right for you, your entire site should have a consistent voice, even if different authors have worked on different pages or sections.
3. As you write your content (or work with a specialist who is creating that content for you), reference your list of keywords and use them where appropriate. This does not mean to force them into every sentence or to strive for some arbitrary percentage of usage on the site, it just means to be mindful of those terms and use them when called for.
4. After you have written content, take a moment to read it out loud, or even better, have someone else read it out loud for you! If the content is hard to get through and if it sounds unnatural when it is read, then you need to adjust it so that it flows naturally and has a conversational quality to it.
5. With all this talk about keywords and SEO, we want to ensure that we do not lose sight of the purpose of your website content – to convey an idea or provide your visitors with some piece of information! As you review your content, ensure that not only does it sound natural, but that it also is effective in conveying the information it is intended to convey. This is another instance where having someone else read and review your content may be helpful.
This is just the first article in our “SEO Update” series. In our next installment, we will turn out attention to the actual pages that make up our site and look at the commonly held belief that “the more website pages you have, the better your site will rank in search engines.”
Is that actually true? You’ll have to wait for our next article to see! In the meantime, you may find the following article, “Straight Talk on SEO: The 15 Factors That Really Affect Your Site’s Search Engine Rankings” helpful as a higher-level overview of many of the SEO best practices that we will explore in greater detail throughout this series.