SEO or Good Content Part 1

by Martin Malden

Which is better for making your site visible to the search engines – SEO or Good Content?  This summarises a question I saw the other day, and here’s the basis of my response:

For the best search engine visibility you need a combination of both – good, current content and a well-optimised site.

In this post I’ll deal with some simple, on-page SEO.  In the next post I’ll address content and its impact on off-page SEO.

Before I go any further, let me state very clearly that I stay well clear of anything approaching ‘black hat’.  It simply is not worth trying to fool the search engines.

Firstly, they’re constantly changing their algorithms precisely in order to weed out the black hatters.

This means that you’ll find yourself in an endless game of cat and mouse with the likes of Google, Yahoo and the rest, and that will become your focus, rather than developing and growing a sustainable business model.

Secondly, once they’ve got your number you’re marked for life.  You then have to keep changing IP identities in order not to be completely ignored by the search engines.

Again – no way to develop a sustainable business.

So, back to the question:  SEO or good content?

Again, my answer is that you need both.

But here I’ll deal with basic, on-page SEO.

Optimising your site for the Search Engines is not difficult – it just takes a bit of discipline.

Firstly, you need to get your META data set up properly and accurately.

This means defining:

  • Your keywords
  • Your page descriptions
  • Your page titles
  • The page category (is it suitable for general viewing, adult viewing etc)
  • Telling the robots whether or not to follow links
  • Telling the robots how often they should crawl
  • Identifying the author and designer.

All of this data is important.  Some will tell you that META keywords are no longer important. And it’s true that Google appears to be placing less emphasis on them currently.

But Yahoo does currently appear to use them.  So does MSN.

And no one (except possibly Matt Cutts) knows what algorithm changes any of the Search Engines have planned for the future.  Meaning that even if Google doesn’t use Keywords now that doesn’t mean to say they won’t be using them next month.  Or next year.

The META data fields are there, so use them.

If you use all your META data fields properly, all the time, the impact of future changes to Search Engine Algorithms on the way your site figures in search results is likely to be reduced.

Note: I did NOT say eliminated!  Sites (especially relatively new sites) tend to bounce up and down in the search results, certainly initially as Google tries to assess the public reaction to your page.

There are three META data fields to pay particular attention to:  the Title, Description and Keyword fields.

Currently page titles are very important to Google.  The page titles are what appear as the headlines in the search results and, currently, they carry a lot of weight when Google is comparing what the searcher typed in with pages it can offer up.

The page META description is what usually appears as a summary of the content of the page, immediately under the headline in the search results.  This is important, because you want this to act as a hook to bring searchers into your site.

If you don’t use this field Google will pick up a snippet of text from your page that it thinks is relevant and place that there instead.  And what Google thinks should be there may not be particularly compelling.

Usually the Search Engines only display up to 160 characters in the summary area under the result headline, so make the first 160 characters of your description extremely compelling!

And don’t waste too much time creating a description longer than 160 characters because most times it won’t be read.

The keywords you use must be relevant to each page, not the site. (Except for the index (home) page).

Again, keep your keywords focused and don’t use too many.  I’ve seen pages that have used up to 70 keywords, and they’ve not been focused. This is just a waste of the keyword META field and is likely to be considered spamming by the search engines.

Always remember that Google’s focus is on serving searchers.  Not advertisers or webmasters.

As much as we may not like that, that’s the situation.  So if we want to do well in Google search results we need to recognize that and work with it.

Google’s focus on serving the searcher drives them to constantly refine their algorithms in a never-ending drive to present the most relevant results possible to search terms.

To figure well in the results for a specific search term, therefore, your META data and your content must be tightly focused around it.

Using too many keywords, irrelevant titles and un-focused descriptions just dilutes your efforts and will drop you down the search results.

When creating your page titles, however, put yourself in the position of a searcher.  Think about what you would actually type in when doing a search and use that type of wording for your page title.

For example: if you were searching for ways to pay off your mortgage you wouldn’t type in ‘how to pay of your mortgage’. You would be more likely to type in ‘how to pay off my mortgage’, or ‘how to pay off a mortgage’.

So use those terms as your page titles, not terms from your perspective as the content provider.

And finally, for this article, make sure that your description, page titles and keywords are totally relevant to your content.

The Google bots do read your content, and if they decide that your content doesn’t match what you’ve put in your META fields, your page will be way down in the list of search results.

So, to summarise:

  • Use ALL your META data fields
  • Make sure your Title, Description and Keyword fields are tightly focused around a set of relevant keywords.
  • Make sure that the content of your page is totally relevant to the keywords you’ve used in your Title, Description and Keyword fields.

In the next article I’ll look at content and its impact on off-page SEO.

Please leave a comment with your own experiences on simple SEO.

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