SEO — or Search Engine Optimization. Is there a topic you can Google that’s more likely to return results of thousands of people who want to sell you eBooks on the topic, or special online courses to make you a master of it? And why do so many of these SEO wizards seem … well … kinda very sleazy?
As I said to a web-ninja friend recently: “Can you recommend some SEO resources that don’t make me feel like I need to wash my hands afterwards?”
She actually couldn’t. And I can’t answer the question about why sites hawking SEO advice seem like you’ve ventured into the lowest-rent used car lots on the Web.
What I can do is tell you that it’s something we take seriously at the Clever Consultant, but we also don’t get all bent out of shape over it.
We’re guided by some sage advice from Google, which says this in its webmaster guidelines about improving search engine rankings:
“Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.”
So what does that mean? Focus on quality, and your rankings should improve.
Here’s some basic “Fact Vs. Fiction” information that we use all the time to help our clients stand out on search engines (and by search engines, we mean Google).
Fiction: There’s a magic formula – called keyword density – that dictates the number of times a keyword should be used on a page
Fact: If you are an IT consultant, then it’s important to use the keywords “IT consultant” on your website and in blog posts. However, don’t feed into the myth that you need to have X number of instances of the keyword on each page. Instead, use keywords wisely.
Search engines update their algorithms regularly to avoid indexing sites heavy with “keyword stuffing”. Simply put: they want to provide their users with the information that best matches the intended search. That takes into account not only keywords, but context.
After all, human beings are going to be reading your websites and blog posts. And if you stuff keywords where they don’t belong, your site will sound awkward, and you won’t be improving your page rank in any event.
Fiction: Meta tag keywords are king of SEO-land
Fact: Meta tag keywords, which are keywords listed in the HTML code of a particular page, no longer carry any weight. At least, that’s according to Google’s own head of webspam, Matt Cutts, who says the following:
“Google doesn’t use the keywords meta tag in our scoring at all. It’s just a waste of time to throw a lot of phrases into the keywords meta tag. It would be a better use of your effort to do things like speed up your website, because that can directly improve the usability of your site even independently of SEO.”
It’s much more useful to use keywords in your title tag and then sprinkle them judiciously in your content.
(If you don’t know what a title tag is, it’s the title of the page at the top of a web browser and also the headline displayed in search engine results. It basically tells the search engine what your page is all about and is therefore an important part of your SEO effort. For this page, for instance, the title tag is: SEO Fact vs. Fiction | Consultant Websites | The Clever Consultant.)
Fiction: Quantity over quality rules when it comes to inbound links
Fact: Yes, there was a time not that long ago when the more links you had coming into your site, the better. That’s why Link Farms popped up to drive search engine rankings. Today, those same inbound links will make your site look spammy and you may even get penalized as a result.
It’s more about who links to you. Google takes into account the quality of the referring site when calculating page and keyword ranks. Stick to getting high quality links from sites relevant to your services, even if it’s only a few.
Fiction: SEO trumps usability
Fact: SEO and usability go hand in hand. After all, what is the point of making the effort to drive people to your site if it’s going to sound like the following:
“Mike Smith is an IT consultant with extensive experience in IT consulting. During his career as an IT consultant, he’s worked with companies large and small in need of IT consulting expertise.”
After reading that, do you really think a buyer wants to work with Mike Smith? We sure don’t.
At the end of the day, when it comes to optimizing your site, you need to keep one thing in mind: who’s reading your content? (Hint: it’s not robots, spiders, and search engines.)
So to rank well, know thy target audience, write content that speaks to them, analyze traffic sources to your site and blog, and evaluate which content is missing the mark – and which is hitting it out of the park.