The Art of SEO
Stuff that used to work like a charm for many people has now become a tip-off that the site has been SEO'd, and it often hurts more than helps rankings in Google. Again, this is just a theory, so take this information with a grain of salt. I have no proof that Google does anything like this, and nobody from Google has told me anything. I'm not even sure of what would make any given site trigger an SEO "red flag," but my guess is that it's a combination of things. Like, if you have a certain number of traditional SEO factors on any given page, those may trigger a flag (or a filter as some people like to call it).
Some of the things I'm talking about are the traditional SEO formulaic elements that we often hear about such as:
- Keyword phrase in the domain name
- Keyword phrase in the file name
- Keyword phrase in the Title tag
- Keyword phrase in the Meta description tag
- Keyword phrase in the Meta keyword tag
- Keyword phrase in the image alt attributes
- Keyword phrase in an H1 tag
- Keyword phrase as the first words on the page
- Keyword phrase in bold and/or italics or a different color
- Keyword phrase used multiple times in the first paragraph or two on the page
- Keyword phrase in the copy in every single spot on the page where it might possibly make sense to use it
- Keyword phrase in all the hyperlinks pointing to a page
- Pretty much all the things you've been hearing you need to do for years!
Now here's the tricky part...what to do about this. Since it's difficult to determine how many and which combinations of those things might trigger an SEO red flag in Google, it's difficult to make recommendations as to what to do. I've never really done my SEO work with any particular formula in mind, and that has helped my sites to continue to do well for the most part.
It's hard to describe the difference between what I do and the formula approach. I've always had it in the back of my mind that I wouldn't want to tip off the engines that my sites were SEO'd. This is one of the reasons I've never used keyword-rich domain names or file names. That's probably the most obvious SEO thing you can do.
The main tip I can tell you that works for me is to just be creative. Don't worry too much about the specifics of putting keyword phrases here and there, and over there. Not every page needs an H1 header with keyword phrases in it. If your page isn't designed to use H1 headers, you don't need to change it to use one just for SEO purposes. And most images don't really and truly make sense with a keyword phrase in their alt attribute (alt tag). Don't force one to be there just for the search engines.
Most importantly, for Google (and for your users), when it comes to your page copy and how you use your visible keyword phrases, less is definitely more. Please don't read my Nitty-gritty report and then put the same keyword phrase in every single available spot on your page that you can find. My report is to help you think about a few places you may have missed because you weren't thinking about being descriptive when you originally wrote the copy. But I'm finding more and more pages out there where the concepts I've promoted for writing for the search engines are being "abused." You can definitely have too much of a good thing.
A first paragraph on a page that has, say, 4 sentences should not have 10 instances of your keyword phrase. It will look and sound dumb. I know that I have stressed this in my report and in my seminars, but no matter how many times I say this, people don't quite grasp how serious I am about this. If it reads poorly to a human, and does not come across as natural professional copywriting, the search engines won't like it either. Don't ask me how they do it, I don't know and quite frankly I don't care. I just know that they definitely do it (more so Google than the other engines at this time).
That all said, I did happen to take a look at Dan's home page, and just as I suspected, it's completely riddled with one keyword phrase EVERYWHERE! If you highlighted the phrase, the page would light up like a gaudy Christmas tree! Less is more. If you remove about 2/3 or even more instances of that keyword phrase, you might find that your rankings improve. Again...less is more. You think you're making your page "more relevant" than the next guy's, but to Google you're saying, "Look at me, I'm a Christmas tree." ;-)
I didn't look at your code, but if you're using Header tags, try not using them. I've found no evidence to show that they actually increase rankings in Google, and again it's simply shining a spotlight on the fact that you think you know how to optimize a page. If you've forced keywords into images where you really knew in your gut they shouldn't have been, take 'em out. If every link pointing to your page has that very same keyword phrase in it, have them changed. If you've used comment tags for keyword phrases, take 'em out. That's the biggest rookie mistake of all and it's like slapping an "I've been SEO'd" sign on your site's "forehead." Comment tags have never had a place in SEO other than to separate those that know SEO from those that think they do.
Part of the problem is trying to optimize a page (and sometimes a whole site) for just ONE keyword phrase. I strongly believe that no natural page on earth focuses completely on one phrase. Just because the engines could never pick this up before doesn't mean it was a good strategy. When you do SEO, you don't follow a guidebook. Think like a search engine and consider all the possible things they might have to combat both now and in the future. Always optimize for 2 or 3 phrases and spread them out throughout the entire page. Never, ever, ever think that it's the first paragraph that matters and stuff 'em all in there. There should be an equal distribution throughout the page, and you should never use the phrases so much that you hear them constantly when you read it. (Sorry Dan, but your home page is the epitome of this!)
If you've done it right, an everyday user should not have any idea that a page has been SEO'd. A trained SEO should be able to spot what your keyword phrases are, but it shouldn't be glaringly obvious. Last, but not least, I cannot stress enough the importance of hiring a professional copywriter to work on the important pages of your site. This is the single most important investment you can make for your site and your business. Even if you don't want to hire an SEO, you absolutely MUST hire a professional copywriter. Not just someone who thinks they can write, either; you need someone who really and truly understands target audiences and how to speak to them about the benefits of what you offer. Do not skimp on this. Just because you can type or write emails doesn't mean you can write the copy for your site. Most people can't. There's no shame in that. Copywriters are not that expensive and are worth every penny.
Hope this helps and gives you some ideas on how you might get out of formula-SEO mode and start doing more creative SEO. In my opinion, SEO is much more of an art than a science. The science is only a small portion of it. Good luck!
Jill Whalen of High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and editor of the free weekly High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter - www.searchengineguide.com