Disclosure: “This article is personal opinion of research based on my experience of almost 20 years. There is no third party advertising on this page or monetised links of any sort. External links to third party sites are moderated by me. Disclaimer.” Shaun Anderson, Hobo
QUOTE: “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors.” Google, 2017
There is no one particular way to create web pages that successfully rank in Google but you must ensure:
QUOTE: “that your content kind of stands on its own” John Mueller, Google 2015
If you have an optimised platform on which to publish it, high-quality content is the number 1 user experience area to focus on across websites to earn traffic from Google.
If you have been impacted by Google’s content quality algorithms, your focus should be on ‘improving content’ on your site rather than deleting content:
Table Of Contents
What Is SEO Copywriting?
SEO copywriting is the art of writing high-quality content for search engines on-page in copy, in page titles, meta descriptions, SERP snippets and SERP featured snippets. It is not about keyword stuffing text.
Google Has Evolved and Content Marketing With It
QUOTE: “Panda is an algorithm that’s applied to sites overall and has become one of our core ranking signals. It measures the quality of a site, which you can read more about in our guidelines. Panda allows Google to take quality into account and adjust ranking accordingly.” Google
Google does not work only the way it used to work, and as a result, this impacts a lot of websites built a certain way to rank high in Google – and Google is a lot less forgiving these days.
Is the user going to be more satisfied with an exact match query on a low-quality website, OR a high-quality page closely related to the search query used, published by an entity Google trusts and rates highly?
Google is deciding more and more to go with the latter.
Optimisation must not get in the way of the main content of a page or negatively impact user experience.
Focus on ‘Things’, Not ‘Strings’
QUOTE: “We’ve been working on an intelligent model—in geek-speak, a “graph”—that understands real-world entities and their relationships to one another: things, not strings” Google 2012
Google is better at working out what a page is about, and what it should be about to satisfy the intent of a searcher, and it isn’t relying only on keyword phrases on a page to do that anymore.
Google has a Knowledge Graph populated with NAMED ENTITIES and in certain circumstances, Google relies on such information to create SERPs.
QUOTE: “The Knowledge Graph enables you to search for things, people or places that Google knows about—landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, buildings, geographical features, movies, celestial objects, works of art and more—and instantly get information that’s relevant to your query. This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search, which taps into the collective intelligence of the web and understands the world a bit more like people do.” Amit Singhal, Google 2012
Google has plenty of options when rewriting the query in a contextual way, based on what you searched for previously, who you are, how you searched and where you are at the time of the search.
On-Page; How Much Text Do You Need To Write For Google?
How much text do you put on a page to rank for a certain keyword?
Well, as in so much of SEO theory and strategy, there is no optimal amount of text per page, and it is going to differ, based on the topic, and content type, and SERP you are competing in.
Instead of thinking about the quantity of the Main Content (MC) text, you should think more about the quality of the content on the page. Optimise this with searcher intent in mind.
There is no minimum amount of words or text to rank in Google. I have seen pages with 50 words out-rank pages with 100, 250, 500 or 1000 words. Then again I have seen pages with no text rank on nothing but inbound links or other ‘strategy’. Google is a lot better at hiding away those pages, though.
At the moment, I prefer long-form pages and a lot of text, still focused on a few related keywords and keyphrases to a page. Useful for long tail key phrases and easier to explore related terms.
Every site is different. Some pages, for example, can get away with 50 words because of a good link profile and the domain it is hosted on. For me, the important thing is to make a page relevant to a user’s search query.
I don’t care how many words I achieve this with and often I need to experiment with a site I am unfamiliar with. After a while, you get an idea how much text you need to use to get a page on a certain domain into Google.
One thing to note – the more text you add to the page, as long as it is unique, keyword rich and relevant to the topic, the more that page will be rewarded with more visitors from Google.
There is no optimal number of words on a page for placement in Google.
Every website – every page – is different from what I can see. Don’t worry too much about word count if your content is original and informative. Google will probably reward you on some level – at some point – if there is lots of unique text on all your pages.
Google said there is no minimum word count when it comes to gauging content quality.
QUOTE: “There’s no minimum length, and there’s no minimum number of articles a day that you have to post, nor even a minimum number of pages on a website. In most cases, quality is better than quantity. Our algorithms explicitly try to find and recommend websites that provide content that’s of high quality, unique, and compelling to users. Don’t fill your site with low-quality content, instead work on making sure that your site is the absolute best of its kind.” John Mueller Google, 2014
However, the quality rater’s guide does state:
6.2 Unsatisfying Amount of Main Content
Some Low quality pages are unsatisfying because they have a small amount of MC for the purpose of the page. For example, imagine an encyclopedia article with just a few paragraphs on a very broad topic such as World War II. Important: An unsatisfying amount of MC is a sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.
On-Page; Do Keywords In Bold Or Italic Help?
QUOTE: “You’ll probably get more out of bolding text for human users / usability in the end. Bots might like, but they’re not going to buy anything.” John Mueller, Google 2017
Some webmasters claim putting your keywords in bold or putting your keywords in italics is a beneficial ranking factor in terms of search engine optimizing a page.
It is essentially impossible to test this, and I think these days, Google could well be using this (and other easy to identify on page optimisation efforts) to determine what to punish a site for, not promote it in SERPs.
Any item you can ‘optimise’ on your page – Google can use this against you to filter you out of results.
I use bold or italics these days specifically for users.
I only use emphasis if it’s natural or this is really what I want to emphasise!
Do not tell Google what to filter you for that easily.
I think Google treats websites they trust far different to others in some respect.
That is, more trusted sites might get treated differently than untrusted sites.
Keep it simple, natural, useful and random.
On-Page; Do You Need Lots of Text To Rank Pages In Google?
QUOTE: “Nobody at Google counts the words on a page. Write for your users.” John Mueller, Google 2019
QUOTE: “You always need textual content on-page, regardless of what other kinds of content you might have. If you’re a video-hosting site, you still need things like titles, headings, text, links, etc. The same goes for audio-hosting sites. Make it easy for search engines to understand your content & how it’s relevant to users, and they’ll be able to send you relevant traffic. If you make it hard for search engines to figure out what your pages are about, it would be normal for them to struggle to figure out how your site is relevant for users.” John Mueller, Google 2019
On-Page; Can I Just Write Naturally and Rank High in Google?
QUOTE: “There’s nothing to optimize for with BERT, nor anything for anyone to be rethinking. The fundamentals of us seeking to reward great content remain unchanged.” Danny Sullivan, Google 2019
Yes, you must write naturally (and succinctly) but if you have no idea the keywords you are targeting, and no expertise in the topic, you will be left behind those that can access this experience.
You can just ‘write naturally’ and still rank, albeit for fewer keywords than you would have if you optimised the page.
There are too many competing pages targeting the top spots not to optimise your content.
Naturally, how much text you need to write, how much you need to work into it, and where you ultimately rank, is going to depend on the domain reputation of the site you are publishing the article on.
On-Page; Optimising For ‘The Long Click’
When it comes to rating user satisfaction, there are a few theories doing the rounds at the moment that I think are sensible. Google could be tracking user satisfaction by proxy. When a user uses Google to search for something, user behaviour from that point on can be a proxy of the relevance and relative quality of the actual SERP.
What is a Long Click?
A user clicks a result and spends time on it, sometimes terminating the search.
What is a Short Click?
A user clicks a result and bounces back to the SERP, pogo-sticking between other results until a long click is observed. Google has this information if it wants to use it as a proxy for query satisfaction.
For more on this, I recommend this article on the time to long click.
Note; Ranking could be based on a ‘duration metric’
QUOTE: “The average duration metric for the particular group of resources can be a statistical measure computed from a data set of measurements of a length of time that elapses between a time that a given user clicks on a search result included in a search results web page that identifies a resource in the particular group of resources and a time that the given user navigates back to the search results web page. …Thus, the user experience can be improved because search results higher in the presentation order will better match the user’s informational needs.” High Quality Search Results based on Repeat Clicks and Visit Duration. Bill Slawski, Go Fish Digital, 2017
Note; Rankings could be based on a ‘duration performance score‘
QUOTE: “The duration performance scores can be used in scoring resources and websites for search operations. The search operations may include scoring resources for search results, prioritizing the indexing of websites, suggesting resources or websites, protecting particular resources or websites from demotions, precluding particular resources or websites from promotions, or other appropriate search operations.” A Panda Patent on Website and Category Visit Durations. Bill Slawski, Go Fish Digital, 2017
Google has many patents that help it determine the quality of a page. Nobody knows for sure which patents are implemented into the core search algorithms.
If you are focused on delivering high quality information, you can avoid the worst of these algorithms.
On-Page; Does Your Page Content Satisfy User Search Intentions?
User search intent is a way marketers describe what a user wants to accomplish when they perform a Google search.
SEOs have understood user search intent to fall broadly into the following categories and there is an excellent post on Moz, 2016 about this.
- Transactional – The user wants to do something like buy, signup, register to complete a task they have in mind.
- Informational – The user wishes to learn something
- Navigational – The user knows where they are going
The Google human quality rater guidelines modify these to simpler constructs:
SO – how do you optimise for all this?
You could rely on old-school SEO techniques, but Google doesn’t like thin pages, and you need higher quality unnatural links to power low-quality sites these days. That is all a risky investment.
Google has successfully made that way forward a minefield for smaller businesses.
A safer route with a guaranteed ROI, for a real business who can’t risk spamming Google, is to focus on satisfying user satisfaction signals Google might be rating favourably.
You do this by focusing on meeting exactly the intent of an individual keyword query
How. Why and Where from a user searches are going to be numerous and ambiguous and this is an advantage for the page that balances this out better than competing pages in SERPs.
High-quality copywriting is not an easy ‘ask’ for every business, but it is a tremendous leveller.
Anyone can teach what they know and put it on a website if the will is there.
Some understand the ranking benefits of in-depth, curated content, for instance, that helps a user learn something. In-depth pages or long-form content is a magnet for long-tail key phrases.
The high-quality text content of any nature is going to do well, in time, and copywriters should rejoice.
Copywriting has never been more important.
Offering high-quality content is a great place to start on your site.
It’s easy for Google to analyse and rate, and it is also a sufficient barrier to entry for most competitors (at least, it was in the last few years).
Google is looking for high-quality content:
“High quality pages and websites need enough expertise to beauthoritative and trustworthy on their topic.”
..or if you want it another way, Google’s algorithms target low-quality content.
But what if you can’t write to satisfy these KNOW satisfaction metrics?
Luckily – you do not need lots of text to rank in Google.
When a user is actively seeking your page out and selects your page in the SERP, they are probably training Google AI to understand this is a page on a site that satisfies the user intent. This user behaviour is where traditional media and social media promotion is going to be valuable if you can get people to search your site out. This is one reason you should have a short, memorable domain if you can get one.
So, users should be using Google to seek your site out.
‘Do’ Beats ‘Know.’
If you can’t display E.A.T. in your writing, you can still rank if you satisfy users who do search that query.
Last year I observed Google rank a page with 50 words of text on it instead of a page with 5000 words and lots of unique images that target the same term on the same domain.
While there might be something at fault with the ‘optimised’ 5000-word page I have overlooked, the main difference between the two pages was time spent on the page and task completion ‘rate’.
I’ve witnessed Google flip pages on the same domain for many reasons, But it did get me thinking perhaps that Google is thinking users are more satisfied with the DO page (an online tool) with better task completion metrics than the KNOW page (a traditional informational page).
In the end, I don’t need to know why Google is flipping the page, just that it is.
So that means that you don’t always need ‘text-heavy content’ to rank for a term.
You never have of course.
Popular pages that pick up links and shares have, and always will rank high.
I only offer one example I’ve witnessed Google picking the DO page over the KNOW page, and it surprised me when it did.
It has evidently surprised others too.
There is a post on Searchmetrics that touches on pages with only a little text-content ranking high in Google:
QUOTE: “From a classical SEO perspective, these rankings can hardly be explained. There is only one possible explanation: user intent. If someone is searching for “how to write a sentence” and finds a game such as this, then the user intention is fulfilled. Also the type of content (interactive game) has a well above average time-on-site. SearchMetrics 2016
That’s exactly what I think I have observed, too, though I wouldn’t ever say there is only ‘one possible explanation‘ to anything to do with Google.
For instance – perhaps other pages on the site help the page with no content rank, but when it comes to users being satisfied, Google shows the page with better usage statistics instead, because it thinks it is a win for everyone involved.
This is speculation, of course, and I have witnessed Google flipping pages in SERPs if they have a problem with one of them, for instance, for years.
This is news in January 2016 but I saw it last year and some time ago now. It isn’t entirely ‘new’ to the wild but might be more noticeable in more niches.
How Much Text Do You Need To Rank?
None, evidently, if you can satisfy the query in an unusual manner without the text.
On-Page; Optimise For User Intent & Satisfaction
QUOTE: “Basically you want to create high-quality sites following our webmaster guidelines, and focus on the user, try to answer the user, try to satisfy the user, and all eyes will follow.” Gary Illyes, Google 2016
When it comes to writing SEO-friendly text for Google, we must optimise for user intent, not simply what a user typed into Google.
Google will send people looking for information on a topic to the highest quality, relevant pages it knows about, often BEFORE it relies on how Google ‘used‘ to work e.g. relying on finding near or exact match instances of a keyword phrase on any one page, regardless of the actual ‘quality’ of that page.
Google is constantly evolving to better understand the context and intent of user behaviour, and it doesn’t mind rewriting the query used to serve high-quality pages to users that more comprehensively deliver on user satisfaction e.g. explore topics and concepts in a unique and satisfying way.
Of course, optimising for user intent, even in this fashion, is something a lot of marketers had been doing long before query rewriting and Google Hummingbird came along.
QUOTE: “Google said that Hummingbird is paying more attention to each word in a query, ensuring that the whole query — the whole sentence or conversation or meaning — is taken into account, rather than particular words. The goal is that pages matching the meaning do better, rather than pages matching just a few words.” Danny Sullivan, Google 2013
Long Tail Traffic Is Hiding In Long-Form Content
Google didn’t kill the long tail of traffic, though since 2010 they have been reducing the amount of such traffic they will send to certain sites.
In part, they shifted a lot of long tail visitors to pages that Google thought may satisfy their user query, RATHER than just rely on particular exact and near match keywords repeated on a particular page.
At the same time, Google was hitting old school SEO tactics and particularly thin or overlapping pages. So – an obvious strategy and one I took was to identify the thin content on a site and merge it into long-form content and then rework that to bring it all up-to-date.
Long-form content is a magnet for long tail searches and helps you rank for much more popular (head) keywords. The more searchers and visitors you attract, the more you can ‘satisfy’ and the better chance you can rank higher in the long run.
Do you NEED long-form pages to rank?
No – but it can be very useful as a base to start a content marketing strategy if you are looking to pick up links and social media shares.
And be careful. The longer a page is, the more you can dilute it for a specific keyword phrase, and it’s sometimes a challenge to keep it updated.
Google seems to penalise stale or unsatisfying content.
How To SEO In-depth Content
From a strategic point of view, if you can explore a topic or concept in an in-depth way you must do it before your competition. Especially if this is one of the only areas you can compete with them on.
Here are some things to remember about creating topic-oriented in-depth content:
- In-depth content needs to be kept updated. Every six months, at least. If you can update it a lot more often than that – it should be updated more
- In-depth content can reach tens of thousands of words, but the aim should always be to make the page concise as possible, over time
- In-depth content can be ‘optimised’ in much the same way as content has always been optimised
- In-depth content can give you authority in your topical niche
- Pages must MEET THEIR PURPOSE WITHOUT DISTRACTING ADS OR CALL TO ACTIONS. If you are competing with an information page – put the information FRONT AND CENTRE. Yes – this impacts negatively on conversions in the short term. BUT – these are the pages Google will rank high. That is – pages that help users first and foremost complete WHY they are on the page (what you want them to do once you get them there needs to be of secondary consideration when it comes to Google organic traffic).
- You need to balance conversions with user satisfaction unless you don’t want to rank high in Google.
Optimising For Topics And Concepts
Old SEO was, to a large extent, about repeating text. New SEO is about user satisfaction.
Google’s punishment algorithms designed to target SEO are all over that practice these days. And over a lot more, besides.
- Google’s looking for original text on a subject matter that explores the concept that the page is about, rather than meets keyword relevance standards of yesteryear.
- If your page rings these Google bells in your favour, Google knows your page is a good resource on anything to do with a particular concept – and will send visitors to it after invisibly rewriting the actual search query that the user made. Google is obfuscating the entire user intent journey.
For us at the receiving end, it all boils down to writing content that meets a specific user intent and does it better than competing pages.
We are not trying to beat Google or RankBrain, just the competition.
Pages looking to, genuinely, help people are a good user experience. At the page level, satisfying informational search intent is still going to be about keyword analysis at some level.
SEO is about understanding topics and concepts as search engines try to.
A well-optimised topic/concept oriented page that meets high relevance signals cannot really fail to pick up search traffic and, if it’s useful to people, pick up UX signals that will improve rankings in Google (I include links in that).
Are Poor Spelling and Bad Grammar Google Ranking Factors?
Is Grammar A Ranking Factor?
NO – this is evidently NOT a ranking signal. I’ve been blogging for nine years and most complaints I’ve had in that time have been about my poor grammar and spelling in my posts.
My spelling and grammar may be atrocious but these shortcomings haven’t stopped me ranking lots of pages over the years.
Google historically has looked for ‘exact match’ instances of keyword phrases on documents and SEO have, historically, been able to optimise successfully for these keyword phrases – whether they are grammatically correct or not.
So how could bad grammar carry negative weight in Google’s algorithms?
That being said, I do have Grammarly, a spelling and grammar checking plugin installed on my browser to help me catch the obvious mistakes.
Advice From Google
John Mueller from Google said in a recent hangout that it was ‘not really’ but that it was ‘possible‘ but very ‘niche‘ if at all, that grammar was a positive ranking factor. Bear in mind – most of Google’s algorithms (we think) demote or de-rank content once it is analysed – not necessarily promote it – not unless users prefer it.
Another video I found is a Google spokesman talking about inadequate grammar as a ranking factor or page quality signal was from a few years ago.
In this video, we are told, by Google, that grammar is NOT a ranking factor.
Not, at least, one of the 200+ quality signals Google uses to rank pages.
And that rings true, I think.
Google’s Matt Cutts did say though:
QUOTE: “It would be fair to use it as a signal…The more reputable pages do tend to have better grammar and better spelling. ” Matt Cutts, Google
Google Panda & Content Quality
Google is on record as saying (metaphorically speaking) their algorithms are looking for signals of low quality when it comes to rating pages on Content Quality.
Some possible examples could include:
QUOTE: “1. Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?”
QUOTE: “2. Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?”
QUOTE: “3. Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?”
QUOTE: “4. Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?”
Altogether – Google is rating content on overall user experience as it defines and rates it, and bad grammar and spelling equal a poor user experience.
At least on some occasions.
Google aims to ensure organic search engine marketing be a significant investment in time and budget for businesses. Critics will say to make Adwords a more attractive proposition.
Google aims to reward quality signals that:
- take time to build and
- the vast majority of sites will not, or cannot meet without a lot of investment.
NO website in a competitive market gets valuable traffic from Google without a lot of work. Technical work and content curation.
It’s an interesting aside.
Fixing the grammar and spelling on a page can be a time-consuming process.
It’s clearly a machine-readable and detectable – although potentially noisy – signal and Google IS banging on about Primary MAIN Content Quality and User Experience.
Grammar is ranking factor could be one for the future – but at the moment, I doubt grammar is taken much into account (on an algorithmic level, at least, although users might not like your grammar and that could have a second order impact if it causes high abandonment rates, for instance).
Is Spelling A Google Ranking Factor?
Poor spelling has always had the potential to be a NEGATIVE ranking factor in Google. IF the word that is incorrect on the page is unique on the page and of critical importance to the search query.
Although – back in the day – if you wanted to rank for misspellings – you optimised for them – so – poor spelling would be a POSITIVE ranking looking back not that long ago.
Now, that kind of optimisation effort is fruitless, with changes to how Google presents these results.
Google will favour “Showing results for” results over presenting SERPs based on a common spelling error.
Testing to see if ‘bad spelling’ is a ranking factor is still easy on a granular level, bad grammar is not so easy to test.
I think Google has better signals to play with than ranking pages on spelling and grammar. It’s not likely to penalise you for the honest mistakes most pages exhibit, especially if you have met more important quality signals – like useful main content.
And I’ve seen clear evidence of pages ranking very well with both bad spelling and bad grammar. My own!
I still have Grammarly installed, though.
Google is policing their SERPs.
Put simply Google’s views on ‘site quality’ and ‘user satisfaction’ do NOT automatically correlate to you getting more traffic.
This endeavour is supposed to be a benchmark – a baseline to start from (when it comes to keywords with financial value).
Everybody, in time, is supposed to hit this baseline to expect to have a chance to rank – and for the short, to medium term, this is where the opportunity for those who take it can be found.
If you don’t do it, someone else will, and Google will rank them, in time, above you.
Google has many human quality raters rating your offering, as well as algorithms targeting old-style SEO techniques and engineers specifically looking for sites that do not meet technical guidelines.
How To Do “SEO Copywriting“
Good Content Will Still Need ‘Optimised’
The issue is, original “compelling content” – so easy to create isn’t it(!) – on a site with no links and no audience and no online business authority is as useful as boring, useless content – to Google – and will be treated as such by Google – except for long tail terms (if even).
It usually won’t be found by many people and won’t be READ and won’t be ACTED upon – not without a few good links pointing to the site – NOT if there is any competition for the term.
Generalisations make for excellent link bait and while good, rich content is very important, sayings like ‘content is everything’ is not telling you the whole story.
The fact is – every single site is different, sits in a niche with a different level of competition for every keyword or traffic stream, and needs a strategy to tackle this.
There’s no one size fits all magic button to press to get traffic to a site. Some folk have a lot of domain authority to work with, some know the right people, or have access to an audience already – indeed, all they might need is a copywriter – or indeed, some inspiration for a blog post.
They, however, are in the minority of sites.
Most of the clients I work with have nothing to start with and are in a relatively ‘boring’ niche few reputable blogs write about.
In one respect, Google doesn’t even CARE what content you have on your site (although it’s better these days at hiding this).
Humans do care, of course, so at some point, you will need to produce that content on your pages.
You Can ALWAYS Optimise Content To Perform Better In Google
An SEO can always get more out of content in organic search than any copywriter, but there’s not much more powerful than a copywriter who can lightly optimise a page around a topic, or an expert in a topic that knows how to – continually, over time – optimise a page for high rankings in Google.
If I wanted to rank for “How To Write For Google“? – for instance – in the old days you used to put the key phrase in the normal elements like the Page Title Element and ALT text and then keyword stuffed your text to make sure you repeated “How To Write For Google” enough times in a block of low-quality text.
Using variants and synonyms of this phrase helped to add to the ‘uniqueness’ of the page, of course.
Throwing in any old text would beef the word count up.
Now if I want to rank high in Google for that kind of term – I would still rely on old SEO best practices like a very focused page title – but now the text should explore a topic in a much more informative way.
Writing for Google and meeting the query intent means an SEO copywriter would need to make sure page text included ENTITIES AND CONCEPTS related to the MAIN TOPIC of the page you are writing about and the key phrase you are talking about.
If I wanted a page to rank for this term, I would probably need to explore concepts like Google Hummingbird, Query Substitution, Query Reformation and Semantic Search i.e. I need to explore a topic or concept in fully – and as time goes on – more succinctly – than competing pages.
If you want to rank for a SPECIFIC search term – you can still do it using the same old, well-practised keyword targeting practices. The main page content itself just needs to be high-quality enough to satisfy Google’s quality algorithms in the first place.
This is still a land grab.
Tip: Beware Keyword Stuffing E-commerce Website Category Pages To Rank For Various Other Keywords in Google
Google’s John Meuller just helped someone out in this week’s Google Webmaster Hangout, and his answer was very interesting:
QUOTE: “The site was ranking the first page for the keyword (widget) and(widgets) in Australia since two weeks we moved all the way down to page five. Technical changes haven’t been made to the site the only modification was we added more category landing text to rank for various other (keywords)“
QUOTE: “the modification that you mentioned (above) that you put more category landing text on the page that might also be something that’s playing a role there. What I see a lot with e-commerce sites is that they take a category page that’s actually pretty good and they stuff a whole bunch of text on the bottom and that’s essentially just kind of roughly related to that content which is essentially like bigger than the Wikipedia page on that topic and from our point of view when we look at things like that our algorithms kind of quickly kind of back off and say whoa it looks like someone is just trying to use keyword stuffing to include a bunch of kind of unrelated content into the same page and then our algorithms might be a bit more critical and kind of like be cautious with regards to the content that we find on this page so that’s one thing to kind of watch out for.
I think it’s good to / help provide more context to things that you have on your website but kind of be reasonable and think about what users would actually use and focus on that kind of content so for example if if the bottom of these pages is just a collection of keywords and a collection of sentences where those keywords are artificially used then probably users aren’t going to scroll to the bottom and read all of that tiny text and actually use that content in a useful way and then probably search engines are also going to back off and say well this page is is doing some crazy stuff here we don’t really know how much we can trust the content on the page.”
If you are keyword stuffing e-commerce category pages, watch out. Google tells us these things for a reason. Adding optimised text to e-commerce category pages ‘just for the sake of it’ is probably going to work against you (and might be working against you today).
Keyword stuffing has been against the rules for a long time.
John previously stated back during 2016:
QUOTE: “if we see that things like keyword stuffing are happening on a page, then we’ll try to ignore that, and just focus on the rest of the page”.
Google has algorithms AND human reviewers looking out for it when the maths miss it:
7.4.2 “Keyword Stuffed” Main Content
QUOTE: ‘Pages may be created to lure search engines and users by repeating keywords over and over again, sometimes in unnatural and unhelpful ways. Such pages are created using words likely to be contained in queries issued by users. Keyword stuffing can range from mildly annoying to users, to complete gibberish. Pages created with the intent of luring search engines and users, rather than providing meaningful MC to help users, should be rated Lowest.’ Search Quality Raters Guidelines March 14, 2017
While there is obviously a balance to be had in this area, Google classes keyword stuffing as adding ‘irrelevant keywords‘ to your site. There are warnings also about this age-old SEO technique in the general webmaster guidelines:
General Guidelines: Irrelevant Keywords
QUOTE: “Keyword stuffing” refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.
Examples of keyword stuffing include:
- Lists of phone numbers without substantial added value
- Blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for
- Repeating the same words or phrases so often that it sounds unnatural, for example:We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at email@example.com.
Related: See my notes on keyword stuffing and on the perfect keyword density to rank pages in Google.
How To Improve Your Website Content
This is no longer about repeating keywords. ANYTHING you do to IMPROVE the page is going to be a potential SEO benefit. That could be:
- creating fresh content
- removing doorway-type pages
- cleaning up or removing thin-content on a site
- adding relevant keywords and key phrases to relevant pages
- constantly improving pages to keep them relevant
- fixing poor grammar and spelling mistakes
- adding synonyms and related key phrases to text
- reducing keyword stuffing
- reducing the ratio of duplicated text on your page to unique text
- removing old outdated links or out-of-date content
- rewording sentences to take out sales or marketing fluff and focusing more on the USER INTENT (e.g. give them the facts first including pros and cons – for instance – through reviews) and purpose of the page.
- merging many old stale pages into one, fresh page, which is updated periodically to keep it relevant
- Conciseness, while still maximising relevance and keyword coverage
- Improving important keyword phrase prominence throughout your page copy (you can have too much, or too little, and it is going to take testing to find out what is the optimal presentation will be)
- Topic modelling
A great writer can get away with fluff but the rest of us probably should focus on being concise.
Low-quality fluff is easily discounted by Google these days – and can leave a toxic footprint on a website.
How To Get Featured Snippets on Google
QUOTE: “When a user asks a question in Google Search, we might show a search result in a special featured snippet block at the top of the search results page. This featured snippet block includes a summary of the answer, extracted from a webpage, plus a link to the page, the page title and URL” Google 2018
Any content strategy should naturally be focused on creating high-quality content and also revolve around triggering Google FEATURED SNIPPETS that trigger when Google wants them to – and intermittently – depending on the nature of the query.
Regarding the above image, where a page on Hobo is promoted to number 1 – I used traditional competitor keyword research and old-school keyword analysis and keyword phrase selection, albeit focused on the opportunity in long-form content, to accomplish that, proving that you still use this keyword research experience to rank a page.
Despite all the obfuscation, time delay, keyword rewriting, manual rating and selection bias Google goes through to match pages to keyword queries to, you still need to optimise a page to rank in a niche, and if you do it sensibly, you unlock a wealth of long-tail traffic over time (a lot of which is useless as it always was, but what RankBrain might clean up given time).
- Google is only going to produce more of these direct answers or answer boxes in future (they have been moving in this direction since 2005).
- Focusing on triggering these will focus your content creators on creating exactly the type of pages Google wants to rank. “HOW TO” guides and “WHAT IS” guides is IDEAL and the VERY BEST type of content for this exercise.
- Google is REALLY rewarding these articles – and the search engine is VERY probably going to keep doing so for the future.
- Google Knowledge Graph offers another exciting opportunity – and indicates the next stage in organic search.
- Google is producing these ANSWER BOXES that can promote a page from anywhere on the front page of Google to number 1.
- All in-depth content strategy on your site should be focused on this new aspect of Google Optimisation. The bonus is you physically create content that Google is ranking very well even without taking knowledge boxes into consideration.
- Basically – you are feeding Google EASY ANSWERS to scrape from your page. This all ties together very nicely with organic link building. The MORE ANSWER BOXES you UNLOCK – the more chance you have of ranking number one FOR MORE AND MORE TERMS – and as a result – more and more people see your utilitarian content and as a result – you get social shares and links if people care at all about it.
- You can share an Enhanced Snippet (or Google Answer Box as they were first called by SEOs). Sometimes you are featured and sometimes it is a competitor URL. All you can do in this case is to continue to improve the page until you squeeze your competitor out.
We already know that Google likes ‘tips’ and “how to” and expanded FAQ but this Knowledge Graph ANSWER BOX system provides a real opportunity and is CERTAINLY what any content strategy should be focused around to maximise exposure of your business in organic searches.
Unfortunately, this is a double-edged sword if you take a long-term view. Google is, after all, looking for easy answers so, eventually, it might not need to send visitors to your page.
To be fair, these Google Enhanced Snippets, at the moment, appear complete with a reference link to your page and can positively impact traffic to the page. SO – for the moment – it’s an opportunity to take advantage of.
Focus on Quality To Improve Conversion Rates
However you are trying to satisfy users, many think this is about terminating searches via your site or on your site or satisfying the long-click.
How you do that in an ethical manner (e.g. not breaking the back button on browsers) the main aim is to satisfy that user somehow.
You used to rank by being a virtual PageRank black hole. Now, you need to think about being a User black hole.
You want a user to click your result in Google, and not need to go back to Google to do the same search that ends with the user pogo-sticking to another result, apparently unsatisfied with your page.
The aim is to convert users into subscribers, returning visitors, sharing partners, paying customers or even just help them along on their way to learn something.
The success I have had in ranking pages and getting more traffic have largely revolved around optimising the technical framework of a site, crawl and indexing efficiency, removal of outdated content, content re-shaping, constant improvement of text content to meet its purpose better, internal links to relevant content, conversion optimisation or getting users to ‘stick around’ – or at least visit where I recommend they visit.
Mostly – I’ve focused on satisfying user intent because Google isn’t going back with that.
You don’t need only to stick to one topic area on a website. That is a myth.
If you create high-quality pieces of informative content on your website page-to-page, you will rank.
The problem is – not many people are polymaths – and this will be reflected in blog posts that end up too thin to satisfy users and in time, Google, or e-commerce sites that sell everything and have speciality and experience in little of it.
The only focus with any certainty is whatever you do, stay high-quality with content, and avoid creating doorway pages.
For some sites, that will mean reducing pages on many topics to a few that can be focused on so that you can start to build authority in that subject area.
Your website is an entity. You are an entity. Explore concepts. Don’t repeat stuff. Be succinct.
You are what keywords are on your pages.
You rank as a result of others rating your writing.
Avoid toxic visitors. A page must meet its purpose well, without manipulation. Do people stay and interact with your page or do they go back to Google and click on other results? A page should be explicit in its purpose and focus on the user.
The number 1 ‘user experience’ signal you can manipulate with low risk is improving content until it is more useful or better presented than is found on competing pages for variously related keyword phrases.