Contrary to popular belief, SEO is not dead, though it is certainly changing; as it has done for decades. As the search engines, lead by Google of course, have become more adept at picking out websites that are gaming the system for increased traffic, it makes sense that they should change their standards, and their algorithms. In essence, they are working to keep a level playing field for all, while trying to improve the search experience as well. Makes sense, when you think about it.
The changing face of SEO
In the wake of the Panda and Penguin updates, and all the changes we’ve been forced to accept because of them, Google has also begun to take a more focused look at how websites are using keywords; the most important tool a site owner can use to optimize their site for improved search results. This too makes sense, since every time Google makes an effort to improve the search experience for all; unscrupulous “SEO experts” work hard to discover ever more creative ways to game them. It’s become a never-ending cycle, forcing the rest of us to work harder than ever to keep up with the changing rules of the game.
By now, virtually everyone has heard of keyword stuffing. Most site owners and admins have worked hard to guarantee that they do not stuff their sites. However, the definition of stuffing has undergone a transformation, requiring all of us to reassess our use of keywords. Things which were accepted in the past will no longer pass muster with Google.
Improving the search experience for all
Google’s stated goal for making these changes to the search process is an effort to enhance the search experience for their customer. Their customer is the searcher of course, not those of us who would like the searcher to find us. As a result, the focus of search has become the quality of the content provided; a standard which they dictate, not us. Only by adhering to their standards for searches can we remain in their good graces, enabling them to bring searchers to our sites.
- 3% is no longer the magic number. In the past, keyword density received a great deal of attention, with a 3% density becoming the safe standard. This is no longer the case. In fact, 3% can get you punished these days. The best current advice available is 3 times; use your targeted keyword 3 times in your text, at the beginning, middle, and end, and no more. Also, make sure they are used naturally, within the flow of the text, or you will be punished for keyword stuffing.
- Use multiple targeted keywords. The current best practices to avoid being labeled a keyword stuffer are to use multiple targeted keywords sparingly, rather than one keyword frequently. As mentioned above, rather than 3% density, a single phrase should be used 3 times. Doing this with 2-3 targeted phrases is much safer than the overuse of just one phrase.
- Use your image “alt tag” wisely. In the past, placing a targeted phrase “behind” and image was easy. Since search engines are unable to “crawl” images, all you had to do was type your keyword into the HTML code for the image and you were golden. Today, using the same keyword in the alt tag and the text may get you labeled as a stuffer. The solution? Use a targeted phrase that you have not placed within your text.
- Craft your Meta Description carefully. Most people ignore this important area of SEO, because it can be difficult to summarize a post in a mere 160 characters. However, if you leave it up to the search engines to provide this summary for you, it will likely look disjointed and unprofessional. A well crafted, complete statement of the text you have provided will appeal to the reader – and to the search engines.
- Highlighting is now a no-no. Google used to appreciate the way we provided help to them by highlighted the targeted keywords we were using, making it easier for them to find relevant content. To accomplish this, we were told we should use bold, underline, and italics in our text. This is now a No-no for Google, and can actually get your site flagged for further study. Instead, use your targeted phrases within the flow of your text and let the search engines find them on their own.
- Paragraph headers have become a bad place for keywords. Headers are no longer the place to use your targeted keywords. Keep them descriptive of the text, rather than using them as a trap for the search engines. It’s not that you can’t use a targeted phrase here; just don’t use the same phrase you are using in your text, as we had been told to use them in the past.
Quality content leads to quality visits
In short, the overuse of a single targeted keyword phrase will lead to problems in the search results. You may even be banned from Google entirely for particularly egregious overuse. The best advice is to back off a bit on the use of your targeted phrases and see what happens. If your placing in the search results remains constant, you’re doing fine. If your ranking changes, beef it up a bit and see what happens. As always, there is no magic pill for the optimization of your website and improvement in the search results does not happen overnight. Remember this – SEO and patience go hand-in-hand.
The good news is this; while SEO has become more difficult with the emphasis on the quality of the content we provide our visitors, in most cases the quality of the visitor has also improved. By focusing on a quality search experience for their client, Google is forcing us to focus on providing quality content for our clients as well. In the long run, this is a good thing for everyone involved.