Search engine optimization, with the ever-increasing detail of analytics metrics and changing Google search algorithms, can seem incredibly complicated. However, by keeping a few key principles in mind, we can ensure that our web properties are organized rationally and effectively so that they’re easily comprehensible by users and search engines alike.
Content is King
What a Search Engine Sees
Search engines only see content. They read just like we do, starting with the first page and going left to right, top to bottom. They don’t click buttons, watch videos, or see fancy animations. Aside from reading, indexing, and ranking content, the most complex thing they do is follow links, and even their ability to do that is somewhat limited. Think of search engines as avid readers and websites as books.
When considering the layout and design of your site, it’s important to keep the limitations of search engines in mind. Take the homepage for example: this is the first page of our book. As the first page, it is the responsibility of the home page to present the search engine with information pertaining to what our site is about. If the first thing we include on the homepage is a series of pretty pictures followed by a number of links, we’ve basically provided the search engine with no relevant information concerning the purpose of our site and a bunch of links. This scenario is about as far from ideal as you can get.
Writing content can be a daunting task because site owners become tripped up in their own keyword strategies. There’s certainly no denying that a solid keyword strategy is essential to ranking well in SERPs, but keywords must still be used reasonably.
The goal of any good site, no matter what brand or industry it’s crafted for, is to establish authority for the topic that the site is presenting. For example, if your company sells shoes then you want to ensure potential visitors to your site that you have the best shoes available for any and every customer out there. You do this by demonstrating what you know through your content.
If you’re struggling with how your content should be organized, what keywords to use, where to use them, or how many times to use them on a given page, then you need to pause. You need to take a deep breath, sit down, and calmly write what you know. Chances are that if you have a successful company, it’s because you know what you’re doing. Any writer in the world will tell you to write what you know. So do that! Write what you know, and the keywords (as well as where to use them) will come naturally–that’s the beginning of a good keyword strategy.
Users Come First
Once you have the beginnings of your keyword strategy, you’ll naturally want to augment them to include alternative and relative terms, that’s certainly advisable. However, when developing our keyword strategy and writing content the most important thing to remember is that, while SEO is important, the user should always come first.
Going back to our shoe store example, an obvious keyword we’ll want to use is “shoe”–great. Then we’ll take into account that shoe is a pretty general term, and there are a lot of big shoe companies out there, so we have significant competition. We’ll want to refine our keywords to be more specific to the shoes we sell — seems reasonable. We may then go on to consult AdWords to figure out what terms related to “shoe” we’re most likely to rank well for based on our site content. At this point, we’re still making good choices. We find that we rank well for the term “casual leather walking shoe”. Awesome. Then, somewhere along the line, things go a little off the rails and the perfectly reasonable sentence, “We provide affordable, quality shoes,” becomes “We provide affordable, quality, casual leather walking shoes,” and suddenly it seems like our highly targeted key term should replace “shoes” everywhere on the site.
Highly targeted terms that you can rank for are great, especially if you’ve chosen to engage in ppc advertising. Here’s the thing though: if you use those key terms to the point that your content no longer flows well, or — even worse — to the point that your content no longer makes much sense or looks like it was written by a robot, then it doesn’t matter how well you rank for the term. Users aren’t going to want to visit your site and you’ll likely fall under suspicion at some point for some shady keyword practices.
In summation, use common sense and keep the purpose of your site in the forefront of your mind. Provide your potential users with unique, quality content that shows your authority for the topic of your site. Organize that content in a way that makes sense to users and well as search engines. Define your keyword strategy, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.