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Outdated Keyword Optimization Techniques that Could Be Killing Your Rankings

July 17, 2013
By © 2013, All Rights Reserved

Image Credit: BurnblessIt's almost a weekly occurrence. An email (or four) pops up in my inbox asking for help because pages that once ranked really well in Google have gradually been falling. For most, it happens without fanfare over time, until somebody finally asks the questions "Where have all our sales gone?" and "Why can't anybody find us on Google anymore?"

Since the first roll-outs of Google's Panda and Penguin updates, there has been a slow and silent progression with regard to keyword optimization and SEO copywriting. With "better quality" and "natural-sounding text" being two popular battle cries of Google, web pages all around the Internet are seeing differences in rankings and traffic.

However, the possible causes of these differences have largely gone unnoticed. That's because many of the criteria Google looks for where on-page elements are concerned have changed -- and they have changed slowly and quietly for the most part.

There are a basketful of causes that could account for sites having reduced rankings (and, thus, less traffic and fewer sales and conversions). However, using these outdated keyword optimization techniques may be having more of a negative impact on your pages than you thought.

1. Optimizing for Only One Keyphrase Per Page

In years past, Google had significantly less sophisticated methods of identifying what web pages were about. Still, many people believe they have to choose one keyphrase and use it in its exact state to get a page to rank.

I interviewed Matt Cutts about the changes in SEO copywriting. One of the areas he talked about was the diverse number of clues Google now uses to discover what web pages are about.

It is not necessary to use just one keyphrase to ensure Google correctly identifies your page's topic. As Google's algorithm has gotten more sophisticated, keyword optimization has become much simpler. (Read the article mentioned above for more info about the changes Matt suggests.)

2. Using Keyphrases Too Often in Your Copy and Content

Here's where keyword density advocates will chime in. Let's skip that whole conversation and look at results, OK? It is pretty simple to see the results this old strategy achieved. Now many sites are facing over-optimization and have to backpedal because of the drastic changes in Google's intolerance of keyword overuse.

Keyword optimization isn't about quantity. In fact, in one video from Google's YouTube channel, Matt specifically says that mentioning keyphrases too many times will get you "diminishing returns." In addition, when talking about optimizing for a specific keyword density, he states, "...rather than helping, let's make that hurt."

Dial it back. Just because you can put a keyword phrase somewhere doesn't mean you should.

3. Writing With No Regard for Keyphrases

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who think Google's call for natural copy and content means writing with no regard for keywords at all. Uh…no. "Keyword" optimization -- by its very name -- means you are writing using keywords and phrases.

"Natural" doesn't equate to keyword-free.

With very few exceptions, getting good rankings requires the use of keyphrases in your copy. It's how you use those phrases that comes into question in discussions of natural SEO copywriting.

To help your text read more naturally, avoid amateurish mistakes like:
  • Forcing singular or plural keyphrases into sentences when they are grammatically incorrect. Just as an example: "Visit our dogs carriers page for great bargains" is simply wrong. It should be "Visit our dog carriers page." While "dogs carriers" might be a great phrase, using it in your copy this way will not only look like a typo on your page, but it also doesn't look natural.

  • Stating the obvious -- One practice that always makes me cringe is a page that reads something like "Our USB drives (also called flash drives, flash sticks, thumb drives and USB sticks) are of the highest quality." It's a lame attempt to shove a ton of keyphrases into a short amount of space. It sounds horrible.
On-page keyword optimization certainly doesn't operate in a vacuum. There are lots of elements in the whole SEO equation. But getting your pages in line with Google's preferred copywriting strategies can go a long way toward obtaining higher rankings or recapturing lost ones.

Karon ThackstonKaron Thackston is President of Marketing Words copywriting agency, providing consulting, training and online copy that is optimized for both search rankings and conversions. Get Karon's new course, "Writing With Keywords," today for the latest keyword optimization techniques.

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Post Comment

 Sprigley Allan said:
Thanks for the updates! It is so hard not to stuff because it did work for so long... Guess thats why we still have a job, gotta keep up with the changes.
 John Scarfe said:
I certainly don't think Google's algorithm will penalise a site for small grammatical errors. And it strikes me that any SEO that had recommended "dogs carriers" should have researched the subject a little better as this search term only received 8,100 searches last month according to AdWords, while "dog carrier" resulted in 74,000.

But I think we maybe missing the point. The revisions to Google's algorithm continue to be aimed at reducing spam to provide better results. And my take on the over-use of keywords and phrases that don't sound "natural" is to penalise websites that attempt to trick the system. But I still can't see how a typo will get you bagged.

We do know that reverse engineered copywriting is a thing of the past and if you over-pepper a page with keywords that simply complements the search term in the title and heading tags you're going to suffer.

Also, while it is not now necessary to use just one keyphrase on a page as Google's algorithm has become far more sophisticated, for me it's just best practice. A spread of keywords across the website is by far the best way to approach it. You just can't cram them all in. And besides, keyword density still matters, although we need to watch over-use.

Last but not least, there's the exact-matching anchor text issue which has caught many SEO companies on the hop. We've known this for years but it was so tempting to use the main keyword for every single inbound link. Now, I read, there's a flag that goes up if you try and game the system like this.
 Matt Cotten said:
Content will always be king. It's easy to use natural sounding copy when a web page is an article but when a website owner prefers imagery or limited copy is where this becomes a challenge.
 Igor Mateski said:
Over the years Google has been making that gradual shift from simplistic to mindful, almost library-level methods of ranking. Which is good. Bottom line, it's about sorting information, and library science is a thing marketers should keep an eye to. Raising the bar of content quality is yet another positive thing Google is making. Smart writing will make content marketing more expensive for SMBs, but maybe that's part of Google's strategy to get more PPC usage.