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SEO Website Audit

Revisited: The Art of SEO

August 29, 2007

As much as Google *pretends* to like SEOs by inviting us to parties at the
Googleplex and posting on SEO forums, the bottom line is that they don’t
like us — or rather, they don’t like what we do. Google wants to find the
best, most relevant sites for the search query at hand all by themselves.
Perhaps someday they will actually be able to do that, but for now, they
still need our help, whether they like it or not.


Unfortunately, unscrupulous SEOs have given Google good reasons not to like us. Because of search engine spammers, Google is constantly changing their ranking criteria and is always on the lookout for the telltale signs of SEO on any given site. It’s not a huge stretch to say that they may even downgrade the sites that they believe have been SEO’d.


If you think that having your keyword phrases “in all the right places for
SEO” is a good thing, think again! You’re essentially telling Google, “Hey
look…my site has been SEO’d!” To which they reply, “Thanks so much for
letting us know… ZAP … see ya later!” Doesn’t matter if your site is
the most relevant (in your mind) to the search query. Doesn’t matter that
you’ve placed your keyword phrases strategically throughout the site.
That’s actually the thing that may become your downfall.


Stuff that worked like a charm for many people in the early years of SEO may actually hurt rather than help now. As to what might trigger an SEO “red flag,” my guess is that it’s a combination of things. Like, if you have a certain number of traditional SEO factors on any given page, those may set off some Google warning bells (otherwise known as a spam filter).


Some of the traditional SEO formulaic elements that you may have been taught to use include putting the keyword phrase:

  • in the domain name
  • in the file name
  • in the Title tag
  • in the Meta description tag
  • in the Meta keyword tag o in the image alt attributes
  • in an H1 (or any H) tag
  • as the first words on the page
  • in bold and/or italics or a different color
  • multiple times in the first paragraph or twice on the page
  • in the copy in every single spot on the page where it might possibly make sense to use it, and
  • in all the hyperlinks pointing to a page.

If you put the same keyword phrase in many of those spots, you might very well trigger a spam filter. Since it’s difficult to determine how many and
which combinations of those things might trigger the filter, the best advice
I can give you is to do your SEO without any particular formula in mind.
That’s how I’ve always done it and it’s always worked because every site is
unique and has different SEO needs.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to describe this type of SEO to others, as
people are always looking for the magic formula. For as long as I’ve been
doing SEO (over 12 years now), I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I
wouldn’t want to tip off the engines that my sites were SEO’d. This is one
of the reasons I’ve never used keyword-rich domain names or file names.
That’s probably the most obvious SEO thing you can do.


The most important aspect to being a good SEO is creativity. You shouldn’t
worry too much about the specifics of putting keyword phrases here and
there, and again over there. Not every page needs an H1 heading with
keyword phrases in it. If your page isn’t designed to use H1 headings, you
don’t need to change it to use one just for SEO purposes. And many images don’t really and truly make sense with a keyword phrase in their alt
attribute (alt tag). Don’t force one to be there just for the search


Most importantly for Google (and for your users), when it comes to your page copy and how you use your visible keyword phrases, less is definitely more. Please don’t read my Nitty-gritty report and then put the same keyword phrase in every single available spot on your page that you can find. My report is supposed to help you think about a few places you may have missed because you weren’t thinking about being descriptive when you originally wrote the copy. You can definitely have too much of a good thing.


A first paragraph on a page that has, say, 4 sentences, should not have 10
instances of your keyword phrase. It will look and sound dumb. I know that I have stressed this in my conference presentations and in our High Rankings seminars, but no matter how many times I say this, people don’t quite grasp the importance of working this way. If your copy reads poorly to a human, and does not come across as natural professional copywriting, the search engines won’t like it either.


When you do SEO, you don’t follow a guidebook. Think like a search engineer and consider all the possible things they might have to combat both now and in the future. Always optimize for 3 or 4 or even up to 5 phrases, and spread them out throughout the entire page. Never, ever, ever think that it’s the first paragraph that matters and stuff ‘em all in there. There should be an equal distribution throughout the entire page, and you should never use the phrases so much that you hear them constantly when you read it.


If you’ve done it right, an everyday user should not have any idea that a
page has been SEO’d. A trained SEO should be able to spot what your keyword phrases are, but it shouldn’t be glaringly obvious. Last, but not least, hire a professional copywriter to work on the important pages of your site. This is the best investment you can make for your site and your business. Even if you don’t want to hire an SEO, you absolutely MUST hire a
professional copywriter. You need someone who really and truly understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the benefits of what you offer. You can easily teach someone like that the SEO writing part.


Hope this helps to give you some ideas on how you might get out of
formula-SEO mode and start doing more creative SEO. More than ever, SEO is much more of an art than a science. The science is only a small portion of it.

Post Comment

 Scott Salwolke said:
Jill, an excellent analysis of what SEO should be. I especially like the sentence on what a professional copywriter should do. “You need someone who really and truly understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the benefits of what you offer.” Too many people think SEO is just about keywords and rankings. Yet, all of this means nothing if the prospect doesn’t respond in some manner.,
 Jon Dale said:

Comment @ 08/29/07 at 10:41 pm


Jill, I’ve always found your articles to be full of common-sense advice and certainly accurate. Your points about doing ‘too much’ optimisation (and perhaps sending the wrong signals to search engine staff) are well taken, although it’s often possible to see sites doing very well in SE results - and holding on to top positions for months - in spite of the most obvious keyword stuffing (like whole lists added at the foot of a page), which makes it difficult to believe that anybody at Google (for example) is going to notice anything less blatant than that. But your warning is fair enough.


It makes no sense to invite penalties by being too obvious. But I disagree with what you say about domain names. I don’t think that there is any danger in using if you are in the business of widget making. In fact, I don’t think that search engines treat it as an ‘SEO alert’ at all, but find it perfectly acceptable and reward sites that use a keyword in the domain name. It’s easy to find examples - particularly in very competitive market areas - where the top few sites all use the relevant keyword/search term in their domain name.

 Jill said:

Comment @ 08/29/07 at 10:55 pm


Point taken, Jon. I wasn’t really talking about domains like, but more like Either way though, I would only recommend a keyword-rich domain if it happens to be your actual brand.

 nando said:

Comment @ 08/30/07 at 7:24 am


Jill–great info. Thanks for sharing. Keeping content legible and concise–great tip. You mentioned the keyword tools–I agree these should be used carefully given it’s the same source. Creativity and be resourceful (professional copywriter)–got it, thanks.

 Marco Dal Pozzo said:

Comment @ 09/02/07 at 5:40 am




I think SEO is the authority designated to implement in the better way the platform in which the Web Site/Blog is “hosted” so that Search Engines can spider and index it without any problems. But I don’t think that a SEO has the capability to identify keywords (and other content parameters): only a Web Marketer can perform this action. Do you agree?


Than Copywriter is the better professional figure to write good content but only after the (Web) Marketer has decided the Web Site Target. Moreover, if requested (by the target characteristics), a Graphic can be involved in the content design too.


So we have four professional figures: SEO, Web Marketer, Copywriter and Graphic and it is not excluded that these four skills are concentrated in only one person :-) So a good Web Site is not only a SEO’d one! P.S. Sorry for my English :-)

 Jill said:

Comment @ 09/02/07 at 10:07 am


Hi Marco,


If I’m understanding your post, I agree to a certain extent, however, I believe that it is the SEO consultant who is the director of everything. I definitely agree that SEOs need to align themselves with professional copywriters and professional developers as these are specialized skills.

 Marco Dal Pozzo said:

Comment @ 09/03/07 at 6:47 am


Jill, thank you for your reply :-)


But I’m note so shure that a SEO is the right person to direct a team… Even IMHO if it is rather a matter of quality a person should have: capability to programm, charisma etc… whatever she/he is a SEO or not ;-)

 Summer Ahmed said:

Comment @ 09/28/07 at 10:50 am


Hi Jill,


Yes, you pointed it out right; it really is an art rather than whole science. Nonetheless, this formulic magic will keep on occupying our heads for a long long while, until and unless the hand of law:) comes into action earlier rather than later- as hinted by John dale in his responce.


Besides, long gone are the days when a professional programmer used to consider himself or herself as the best person eligible to do SEO. The dilemma is that with rapid specilization in the e-commerce segment and excessive reliance on CHEAP SEO techniques by peers, a strong underlying belief is that you are not a good SEO without knowing some really handy tricks of trade . Your words are really sweet (as they always are) and sound really correct, however, particulary from an employees perspecitve, you can’t earn a decent living on it.


Everyone is all out to reach to the top in days, whatelse one soul can do in this ocean of gugglars rather becoming a part of a band wagon. All in all, its a reality and it’s more like an opinion of majority; you know the majority always rules- sadly though. So, a little bit reliance on these techniques seems bit reasonable, setting aside, its long term detrimental affects.

 Joan said:

Comment @ 10/10/07 at 3:15 am


Thank you for the wonderful information you shared with us.


I know a lot of SEO newbies will benefit from this. Thanks for letting us know what should be and what should not be when optimizing/copywriting our site.


Cheers and goodluck!