SEO Myths II: Content Content Content, the Secret to SEO

When­ev­er
I talk with fel­low web design­ers, the issue of “SEO” invari­ably comes
up. That’s techie slang for “search engine opti­miza­tion,” of course,
that black sci­ence of mak­ing sure Google lists your site high­er than
your com­peti­tors. Over the years a small army of shady char­ac­ters have
tried to game the search engine results.

I’ve always thought such tricks were pathet­ic and bound to lose over
the long term. Search engines want to fea­ture good sites. It’s in their
best inter­est to make sure the sites list­ed are the ones peo­ple want to
see. A search engine that returns unsat­is­fac­to­ry results quick­ly
becomes a has-been in the search engine com­pe­ti­tion. So as soon as a
site such as Google notices some new SEO trick is skew­ing the rank­ings they tweak their secret search algo­rithm to fix the SEO loop­hole.

Just Give Google the Content It Loves

In the­o­ry it’s easy to make Google, Yahoo, MSN and
the oth­er big search engines hap­py: give poten­tial vis­i­tors site
they’ll want to vis­it. For­get the tricks and spend your time putting
togeth­er an amaz­ing site. Search engines like text, so write, write,
write. 

I’m look­ing to join a web design house, which means I’ve been
inter­view­ing with slick web devel­op­ers late­ly and when­ev­er they ask me
the best way to increase SEO for their
clients, I tell them to start a blog. They look at me like I’m an idiot
but it’s absolute­ly true: two blog posts a week will end up being over
100 pages of pure con­tent. All of these sites full of Flash ani­ma­tion
get you nowhere with Google.

Just a note that any kind of text-rich web sys­tem can achieve many
of the same results – blogs are just the eas­i­est way yet to get con­tent
on your site.

Presenting What You Already Have: Blog your Water Cooler Chat

When I talk to peo­ple about start­ing a cor­po­rate blog they quick­ly
start telling me how much work it will be. Bah and Hum­bug – your
company’s life is prob­a­bly already filled with blog­gable mate­r­i­al!

I used to work in a book­store where I did most of the cus­tomer
ser­vice, much of it by email. About two or three times a week I’d get a
par­tic­u­lar­ly intrigu­ing query and would spend a lit­tle time research­ing
an answer (most­ly by look­ing through the index­es of our books and
search­ing the arcane sites of our niche). This research didn’t always
pan out to a book sale, but it marked our book­store as a place to get
answers and gave us a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage over Ama­zon and its ilk.
Each of my email answers could have eas­i­ly been refor­mat­ted to become a
blog post. By the end of a year, I’m sure the vol­ume com­ing from these
obscure search­es would be quite high (see yesterday’s Long Tail Strat­e­gy
post on the Hit­Tail blog for an account of how atten­tion to search
engine’s one-hit-wonders helped achieve a wide­spread key­word dom­i­nance).

When­ev­er some­thing new hap­pens that breaks you out of your rou­tine,
think about whether it’s blog­gable. At the book­store, a new book would
come in and we’d spend ten min­utes talk­ing about it. That con­ver­sa­tion
reached half-a-dozen peo­ple at most. In that same ten min­utes we could
have writ­ten up a blog post say­ing much the same thing.

Last Spring a con­tro­ver­sial arti­cle appeared in the local news­pa­per
that tan­gen­tial­ly involved my employ­er. That morn­ing my work­mates
gath­ered togeth­er in the recep­tion area for the bet­ter part of an hour
trad­ing opin­ions and wise­cracks. After about five min­utes of this, I
slipped back to my office and wrote my opin­ions and wise­cracks down
into my blog. I hit post and came back to the recep­tion area – to find my
work­mates still blath­er­ing on, natch. My post reached hun­dreds and took
no more time out of the work day than the recep­tion pon­tif­i­ca­tions.

Humans are social ani­mals. We’re always blog­ging. It’s just that
most of the time we’re doing it ver­bal­ly around the water cool­er with
three oth­er peo­ple. Learn to type it in and you’ve got your­self a
high-volume blog that will add invalu­able con­tent and SEO mag­ic to your site.

Mix up your content: Tag Your Site

Last­ly, a point to web­mas­ters: it usu­al­ly pays to think about ways
to re-package your con­tent. My most recent­ly expe­ri­ence of this was
tag­i­fy­ing my per­son­al blog over at “Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org.” Every time I
post there a Mov­able Type plu­g­in fish­es out the key words in the
arti­cle and lists them after­wards as tags. These tags are all linked in
such a way that results send the term through the site’s search engine
to give back an on-the-fly index page of all the posts where I’ve used
that term.

Tags are like cat­e­gories except they pick up every­thing we talk
about (when we use them aggres­sive­ly at least, and espe­cial­ly when we
auto­mate them). We don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know the cat­e­gories that our
poten­tial audi­ence might be search­ing for and tag­i­fy­ing our sites
increas­es our key­word out­reach expo­nen­tial­ly. My per­son­al blog has 239
entries but 3,860 pages accord­ing to Google.
It’s the parsed out and re-packaged con­tent that accounts for all of
this extra vol­ume. This doesn’t increase traf­fic by that near­ly that
much, but last month about 30% of my Google vis­its came from these tag
index­es. More on the mechan­ics of this on my post about the tag­ging.

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