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
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
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.