There are several shady SEO practices that sadly are still being used and shouldn’t be. Collectively these techniques are often referred to as Black Hat techniques vs. ethical and Google approved techniques which are commonly called …. Wait for it….White hat techniques.
What is Keyword Stuffing?
This refers to overusing your keywords in the misguided hope that it will prove to Google how relevant your site is for those keywords. 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 protected].
Looking for a vintage guitar? Bob’s Vintage Guitar emporium is the place to find almost any vintage guitar that a vintage guitar enthusiast might want to add to her vintage guitar collection. After all, vintage guitars is what we do here at Bob’s Vintage Guitar emporium – we sell, service and customize vintage guitars.
Does this sound natural to you? Of course not … and it won’t sound natural to anyone visiting your website either. Here is a piece of advice directly from Google:
Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.
How do I Use Keywords Appropriately and in Context?
There’s no hard and fast rule but think about this: Write copy with the same tone and style that you would use in normal conversation. The paragraph above about vintage guitars contained a total of 53 words. In that space of words, the keyword phrase was used 8 times for a total of 15% saturation. That’s keyword stuffing – and will most certainly earn you a google penalty. Once that happens, good luck recovering.
My advice? You shouldn’t use your keywords more than 3 times within a block of 500 words. Rather than trying to stuff your keywords unnaturally, use related words that make sense, are relevant to the topic and that result in a more readable flow. The result will be a much better user experience. Remember, Google only loves you when everyone else loves your first.
Duplicate content is content that appears on the Internet in more than one place – for all practical purposes meaning on more than one website. So, what’s the big deal and why does it matter? It confuses search engines. You don’t want to confuse search engines.
Why Does it Confuse Search Engines?
They don’t know which version(s) to include/exclude from their indices
They don’t know which version(s) to rank for query results
And for site owners
When duplicate content is present, site owners can suffer from low rankings and loss of traffic. This happens because search engines won’t show multiple versions of the same content, so they are forced to choose which version is most likely to be the best result. This dilutes the visibility of each of the duplicates.
The result is that a piece of content doesn’t achieve the search visibility it otherwise would.
How does duplicate content happen?
Several different ways. For example, the website at mycompany.com and www.mycompany.com are technically considered to be two different websites. Another example is http and https. Fortunately, Google gives us the tools to let them know that they should treat the two different versions as one. But I don’t want to get into all the technical aspects of duplicate content here.
What I do want to do is talk to you – website owners and creators of content – about two specific types of duplicate content that you can control and should avoid.
Beware when using a content writing service – particularly a service you’ve hired to write blog posts for you. Here’s a quick story to illustrate why you need to be careful. I worked with a client who had hired a copy writing service to write weekly blog posts. He thought by satisfying Google’s insatiable appetite for fresh content he was doing the right thing. But noticed that his search rankings weren’t improving. I did some research by extracting bits of content from his posts and entering them into Google’s search field enclosed in quotation marks to ensure that Google would look for exact matches. Here’s what I found: There were multiple websites displaying the exact same blog posts – even down to the publication dates.
If you’re writing copy for your own website don’t simply copy and paste whole sections of content from another website. This practice commits two violations – a) it creates duplicate content and b) it’s plagiarism. NOT GOOD.
Here’s the thing. You can reference other people’s blogs, or you can use small snippets of someone else’s copy to make a point if you credit the original author and link to the original source. This is good etiquette.
You can use other people’s content for ideas or inspiration but never simply cut and paste someone else’s work and try to pass it off as your own
It’s fine to quote from someone else’s work. Just make sure you properly credit the author and link back to the original source
If you’ve hired someone to write copy for you – and that’s perfectly fine – make sure
a) they are not grabbing the content from somewhere else
b) they are not providing the same content to other clients
One last word. Quality. Google is looking for quality and so should you be. Yes, it takes a little more work but it’s worth the effort.
What do you do if your business is in one city, and you service several surrounding cities and towns and want to rank for searches that include the names of those cities and towns? Let me start with what NOT to do. You don’t simply create a list of all those cities and towns and put the list somewhere in the footer or in a sidebar. Though there may be some value for users who see their city listed, Google will not be impressed. Don’t waste your time.
So, what can you do?
If your business is located in Salem, Ma, for example, and you want to rank for the surrounding towns of Beverly, Swampscott, Lynn, Peabody and so on, you can create city pages – meaning you create a separate page for every city you want to rank for and add them to your website.
But … and this is a huge BUT
There is a right way and a wrong way to do this – or more correctly an effective way to do it and a way that will disappoint your visitors and possibly land you in trouble with Google. Here is how NOT to do it.
You don’t want to create a city page that has name of your company with a line or two about how you do business in that city with a photo of something easily recognizable like Town Hall or Main Street or something like that – and then use that page as your template for creating all the other city pages where you’re just copying and pasting from one page to another and just changing the name of the city and swapping out the picture. That, my friends is thin contentor in Google’s view, content that gives your visitors nothing of real value. If you’re going to create city pages, here’s what you should keep in mind:
Make each page unique. Maybe you’ve done work in that city. If you have a happy client in Beverly, for example, ask for a review you can put on your Beverly page.
Maybe you have an employee who lives in that city. If so, then you can talk about the fact that you’re neighbors.
How about some of the city’s history, its attractions – and of course you want to tie it back to your business.
To boost the authority of your city pages, make sure you include both internal and external links
Each city page must have substance and depth to it – it can’t be one paragraph
Make the pages interesting for your visitors
Make the pages all different from one another by doing more than just changing the city name and the images
Remember, Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first
Let’s talk about the “Near Me” search – probably the most common type of search when looking for a local business. A near me search is when you enter a business category followed by the phrase near me – like “restaurant near me” or “hair salon near me”. Chances are you’ve done this a hundred times.
I wanted to talk about this because in a meeting with a client last week we did some Google searching and came up with some surprising results. This client owns a coffee shop, so we tried the search term coffee shop near me.
Now before I continue let me explain that local search results are based on a trimodal concept – a fancy word that simply means local search is based on three criteria:
Proximity – how close is the business you’re looking for to the physical location of the searcher?
Relevance – in addition to physical location, how relevant is the business to what the searcher is looking for
Prominence – in addition to physical location and relevance, how prominent is the business within its business category, i.e. does it have a substantial amount of online reviews? Does the business have a strong online presence on social media? Is the website content meaningful and does it reflect the business’ expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness?
Is proximity the most important criteria?
Logic would suggest that it is – after all if you’re searching for a business “near me,” then shouldn’t Google’s top result be the business closest to the physical location you’re searching from? That’s what my client thought. His reasoning was since a) he owned a coffee shop and b) we were searching from within his location that his business would be the number one result. But he didn’t come up in the top slot. In fact, there were two coffee shops that ranked above him. So, what’s going on behind the scenes at Google’s secret lab?
It’s About All Three Criteria, Not Just One
After digging a little deeper here is what we discovered:
The term coffee shop was not part of the official name of his business. The two businesses that ranked above him were called (I’m making up names to illustrate a point) 5 Star Coffee Shop and Main Street Coffee Shop. My client’s business was officially listed as a restaurant, NOT a coffee shop. The bottom line is he didn’t satisfy the relevance criteria.
Although the business that ranked number one for our search was a mile away from our location, it scored very high on the prominence scale. It had a ton of positive Yelp and Google reviews, it was listed on all the major directory sites, including and especially Google My Business. All the directory listings were filled out with accurate and current information.
What’s the Takeaway?
As with all things Google, there is no one thing so important that it outweighs everything else. To rank well for a near me search you can’t just rely on proximity. Your business is located where it’s located – you can’t change that. Control what you can control. Make sure your site gives your visitors what they are looking for – good relevant content. Remember, Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.
I was discussing local SEO strategy with a client of mine and the topic of Google constantly changing its algorithms came up. Before I continue let me give you a good working definition:
An algorithm is a complex mathematical formula Google uses to determine what results best match the user’s search query.
It’s complicated. Like the coca cola recipe, nobody outside of Google’s secret lab knows what’s in it. That’s why my client’s question made sense:
Will I have to change my website every time Google changes its algorithm?
Frankly I was surprised that I’d never heard that question before. Here’s the answer: Barring some earth-shattering change in Google’s direction the answer is NO.
Remember Google’s Mission
To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Here’s my advice: Rather than worrying about changing your website every time Google updates its algorithm, think of your website as an organic, evolving marketing tool – it should always be changing. I don’t mean that every couple of months you need to trash your website and start over. What I’m saying is that your website should constantly be tweaked and improved. If you want to enjoy consistently high rankings you need to understand that the days of building a website and never touching it again are over.
Here are some tips
Produce quality content that gives users what they are looking for and then some – and give them enough of it to establish your expertise, authority and trustworthiness
Don’t take shortcuts by buying links or buying reviews. Google knows when you are doing this, and you will only hurt yourself.
Do the hard work of earning quality links and great reviews. If you want great reviews, do great work.
Make sure your contact information is accurate and consistent across the web – that means Name, address and phone number.
Make sure you give your clients/customers/patients high quality content. Work toward earning valuable back links, work at getting good reviews – pay attention to your website. If you do these things you will never have to worry about what goes on behind closed doors at Google’s secret lab. Make sense?
Just like clothes, hairstyles and cars, web design trends go in and out of style. If you saw someone wearing a 1970’s vintage polyester leisure suit you would make a judgement wouldn’t you? If your homepage is the online version of that suit, be assured that visitors are wondering if you’re out of touch or you just don’t care.
There’s just not enough useful information on your homepage. You might have lovely images, bells and whistles or any number of visual distractions. How does that help your visitors understand what you do, how you do it and why you’re different than your competitors?
Contact Information Not Prominent
Isn’t The goal to get visitors to call or email you? It should be. Make sure your contact information isn’t buried somewhere or worse, not even present on your homepage. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by giving your visitors what they want then making them hunt for your phone number.
The Lovely but Useless Image Slider
You’ve seen them. They’re everywhere – those full width sliders that entertain your visitors by displaying rotating images with bits of copy superimposed on them. Yes, they are engaging but beyond being fun to watch what value are they really providing? Unless you’re a photographer or an artist where the image is the message, you’re not doing your visitors any favors by hogging the most valuable piece of real estate on your homepage with that image slider. There are other ways to make your homepage visually appealing without wasting prime space that should be used to tell your visitors who you are, what you do, why you’re different/better than your competition – you’re USP (unique selling proposition) – where you do what you do, what areas you serve and how to get in touch with you.
The Disappearing Call-to-Action
We know about the call-to-action elements – you know those cool buttons that ask your visitor to click to download a pdf or sign up for your newsletter or make an appointment. Well it matters where those call-to-action elements are on your homepage. Make sure they are at least above the fold. If the page has lots of content, then put another one in the middle of the page. If the page is really long then put another one at the bottom. The point is that no matter where your visitors are on your homepage a call-to-action element should be visible.
Where’s the NAP?
NAP is an industry acronym that stands for Name, Address and Phone number. The NAP should be on every page but especially the homepage since that’s the page your Google Business profile links to. You can put this info in the footer, but I always like to include the phone number somewhere in the header as well. That way, when your site is being viewed on a mobile device, the phone number is right there at the top where a user can simply click on it to call you.
There are tools available that show you where your visitors are clicking and what links they are ignoring. Use the tools to learn about what area of the homepage is attracting the most attention and make changes accordingly. I use Crazy Egg1 for this but there are other tools that do the same thing. The screenshot below is a heatmap showing where users are clicking on my homepage.
1I have not been compensated in any way by Crazy Egg for endorsing their product. I just like it.