Body Text: Optimizing Content Without Keyword Stuffing

By Alan Eggleston

Optimized body text is as important to higher search rankings as optimized headlines, meta tags, and linking. They all work together. Together, they are critical to someone finding your website in a search.

To hear some tell it, you need to sprinkle your text with keywords and use your keywords a certain percentage of your total text. Not quite. What you need is for your keywords to appear naturally in your text, and you can add them strategically for clarity without tripping the “keyword stuffing” tripwire. Here’s how.

Keyword Stuffing: Loading a Web page with keywords to improve its search engine ranking. Keyword stuffing defined by Google itself…

Keyword Rules for Body Text

Rule one: The more often a keyword or keyword phrase appears on a Web page, the higher that page should rank in search engines for that keyword or keyword phrase.

Rule two: To be effective a keyword or keyword phrase should be used a number of times on the page, but don’t worry about trying to match a certain “keyword density” or percentage. For best results, go for quality over quantity.

Rule three: Write keywords early into your content, then write them at the end of your content. The most important keyword should be at the beginning of the first paragraph.

Rule four: Highlight keywords by making them bold or italic (first use), using them as anchor text for links (first use), and using them in subheads and alt tags.

Rule five: Write naturally. It shouldn’t be apparent to your reader (and, thus, the search engine) that you are optimizing your page. Write for the reader.

Rule six: You may use variations on the keyword, such as various verb forms, since the search engine will recognize them. Use different spellings only if your audience will use them in doing a search or will expect to see them in use.

Rule seven: Use keywords to help you write more clearly, replacing nouns you might be tempted to use otherwise which might confuse readers. However, do not simply use keywords to add keywords.

An Example

Let’s go back to the Lone Ranger and Tonto example we used for writing SEO headlines. For this exercise, we assumed that instead of working together until they can ride off into the sunset, the Lone Ranger and Tonto decide to split early and go their separate ways. Here’s a possible article, the text first unoptimized then rewritten to be optimized:

Not-so-optimized…
Masked Man and His Faithful Sidekick Split
Silver and Scout never saw it coming. One day they were helping the Lone Ranger and Tonto chase outlaws, the next day they were all going their separate ways. The foursome made the split after a news conference announcing irreconcilable differences and an even division of the loot they had compiled from turning in bank robbers, stage coach bandits, and petty thieves. Marshall Matt Dillon accepted their resignation with reluctance but said it was understandable given the group’s tumultuous relationship. They will hand in their outfits and turn in their six shooters before riding out of town tomorrow, although the masked man is expected to keep his hand poured silver bullets.

Optimized…

Lone Ranger and Tonto Go Their Separate Ways
The Lone Ranger
and Tonto are going their separate ways. The famous Masked Man and his Faithful Sidekick, with their fleet-footed steeds, Silver and Scout, announced the split at a news conference citing irreconcilable differences. The Lone Ranger and Tonto will leave with considerable loot, which they compiled from catching bank robbers, stage coach bandits, and petty thieves. Marshall Matt Dillon accepted their resignation with reluctance but said it was understandable given the heroic duo’s troublesome relationship. Tonto said that he and Kemosabe will hand in their outfits and turn in their six shooters before riding out of town at high noon, although the Masked Man is expected to keep his signature silver bullets. We bid the Lone Ranger and Tonto a hearty “High-oh, Silver, away!”

What I did in the last paragraph was replace common nouns like he or they or them with the keywords The Lone Ranger, Tonto, Masked Man, Faithful Sidekick, Kemosabe, Silver, Scout, and so on. It’s easy to use the common nouns when referring to the subjects of the article, so it’s also easy to replace them – when it will read naturally – with the actual keywords. What you will find is that in attempting to optimize the text you will actually be clarifying it as well. In longer articles, you can also add subheads, quote boxes, and other devices that also contain the keywords. After you work with the copy, read it over and make sure it reads naturally – if it doesn’t, you may have tripped the keyword stuffing tripwire and you may be penalized.

Next Up – An Editor’s Look at Links

How many links are too many? We are told we need outbound links, inbound links, internal links, but no one says how to tell when enough is enough. We’ll have a discussion next time – join me!

Advertisements

Content: Original or Reused?

by Alison Lueders

One of the bits of advice you often hear is, “offer original content” if you want to draw people to your website. Offer something that they can’t find elsewhere.

This makes sense, but recently my work has included content aggregation – scanning broadly on a subject and filtering down to just a few key bits of information for dissemination – and content condensation – as in, summarizing a 250+ page book into a 10 page summary for a small group. Neither of these resulted in original content, but the value for the respective audiences was substantial.

For as long as I have been in business, people have complained of “information overload”. And it IS a huge challenge. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt noted last year that we now create 5 exabytes of information every 2 days. An exabyte is a 1 with 18 zeroes after it – an incomprehensibly large number. We read about “big data analytics” and “cloud computing” as tools to help manage all this, and I hope they do.

Yet even as our tools get better, there is still value in a human filtering through a subset of information to identify the best, most relevant material for a given client or readership. Tools can’t recognize, serendipitously, when things that might appear to be unrelated could, in fact, be or become related. That’s where creativity, imagination and experience come into play. And that kind of leap is something still beyond the reach of the content aggregation tools that I have seen.

The value of content condensation is more straightforward. It saves time for the reader while still imparting a substantial chunk of the intelligence contained in a full-length book. Something is always lost with condensation, but it can be useful in jump-starting a conversation in class or spurring questions. Time is the resource people lack most, so content condensation, while not sexy, can be quite valuable.

So while I do add original content to the 5-exabytes-every-2-days mountain, I also scan what’s out there and bring the best to the attention of my time-starved customers. They might otherwise miss both relevant and thought-provoking information that can help grow their businesses, or take them in new directions.

As a web editor, what portion of your time do you spend managing original content versus content from secondary sources? Which do your readers value most?

Using Google’s Free Keyword Research Tool

Trying to figure out keywords for your website? Try a recent article by Search Engine Land, the recognized non-commercial leaders in SEO. They explain in detail how to use Google’s free Keyword Research Tool to find the most relevant keywords for your site. And they explain why, despite what you might hear from some wayward SEO “experts,” keywords aren’t dead but very much still important in planning websites.

Twitter: 5 Notes

I try to avoid adding to my to-do list, so it wasn’t until last fall that I started using Twitter. What follows are my observations on using this particular social media platform (ymmv). Like tweets, these will be somewhat random.

Newness

Ruminations about Twitter that bubbled up within the first three months of my starting to tweet were the most vivid and useful to me. The newness and strangeness focused my attention on things that have now grown dull. Perhaps this is an aspect of what’s called beginner’s mind?

Identity

I determined from the get-go that my Twitter account would be for work—not work-work (serious stuff), but rather for my “work persona”—so clients and potential clients could meet the person behind the sole proprietorship. There’s an obvious danger: the splitting of one’s public image from one’s real self—and the related notion that one’s real self is not acceptable.

The Persona Valley

A less-obvious hazard popped up when an old friend I’d not seen in a while was tweeting, persistently, as not a snarky person. I backspaced out of a “where’s the snarky person I used to know?” reply to one of her Pollyannaish comments. What if she’s now an optimist? I thought. My comment will seem uncouth*. When I finally did catch up with her in person, I discovered that she is in fact still snarky (happy ending), but she too is using a client-facing persona. So we still have things in common, but our personas? Not so much.

Direction

The “work persona” angle led to two Twitter headspaces: the “should” tweet vs. the “easy” tweet; what feels like work vs. what feels like flow; what content I think I should retweet because doing so would ostensibly show my professional interest or expertise vs. what topics I read avidly, comment on, and immediately share. It struck me that if I decided to redirect my career path, the easy tweets would prove a true compass.

Tweet-worthiness

Using Twitter changed how I read online. I scan-read, looking for tweet-worthy bits to use as my lede. I trip through the article with half my mind on the future tweet. It’s unpleasant, and I’ve begun training myself back to normal reading. But, it does have its lessons: I’m not using the article’s headline in my tweet—why? Not descriptive, not enticing, too long. Occasionally, it’s because the part that interests me (and my [hypothetical?] audience) is more sidebar than thesis in the article. Alan’s post on headlines defines the “true but useless headline”—these are never tweet-worthy, and not good for SEO either. More often than not, what’s good for SEO is good for tweets.


*No, I don’t actually think in words like uncouth. But, I have a weakness for oddities, so I’m keeping it. On the other hand, I did resist titling this post Five Easy Pieces.


Comments are open. Or, try to catch me in the act of posting an obvious “should” tweet.
@EditorAM

Decision-Making: The Value of No

By Cathy Hodson

Editors by nature are trained decision makers. We make split second decisions every day on the fate of submitted materials, whether to include certain passages, or how to present the written word in the best possible flow of content.

So, too, do businesses make valued decisions each day. There are many types of business models, and some of the keys to success in this volatile market are for web editors to know our companies, know our audience or customers, and know when to say yes, and when to say no. “No” can be just as valuable a tool as “yes” can. Just think how many parents have raised more responsible children simply by implementing those two words, and knowing when to use each.

Nice and easy does it
I work for an association. Associations are typically not at the forefront of technology because everything moves slowly and methodically (read: governance by committee). The latest whiz bang technological marvel is not going to be implemented overnight – studies have to be done, a plan has to be made, people need to be consulted, RFPs prepared, vendors selected, and then an entire project management schema has to be put into place.

That’s not to say associations are behind the times, but rather that time moves more slowly there. If you work on Wall Street, moving cautiously most probably is not going to work. You need to be able to move fast in the fast-paced world of stocks, and make good solid decisions on your feet.

At an association, however, the value of weighing options, prioritizing projects, and making sure there is a solid path in place before you go down a certain road is a solid business practice. You can’t jump into a fire without first knowing what type of fire it is and how it must be handled, or you will experience the proverbial “getting burned.”

Even editing requires an editor to say “no” at times. No, this piece on the finer points of distilling whiskey doesn’t fit Parenting Today’s editorial needs at this moment. No, your travel expense request to edit the Larkin story from the Bahamas doesn’t fit into our editorial budget for the next 100 years.  No, your pet German shepherd cannot share your byline, even if he did lick the envelope.

Saying No with Confidence
Any business worth its salt is not going to rush into a snap decision just because it’s the latest and greatest. Sometimes there is real value in being able to say no – no to adding 30 more projects to a staff already overburdened. Saying no to trusting the word of someone in a different business model as being the perfect solution for your aging network when their data requirements are extremely different from yours.

Yet saying no, and moving more cautiously, can deeply frustrate staff and association members who have confidence in new technologies, or are naturally excited by technology. Still, just because everyone else is building or growing a Facebook presence is not necessarily enough reason or the right reason for your company to do it too.

Saying No to Right Now
The bottom line is to trust your experience, know what will work and what won’t for your business, and check things out before you sign on the dotted line. If you don’t have the staff resources to truly engage in social media, and build those conversations and member engagement, maybe it’s not the right solution for your organization right now. But your business must also be willing to explore new avenues, perhaps implementing key ideas or smaller doses of new theories and strategies before you plunge the entire company into overtaxing your resources – both economic and human.

There are other options, of course – you can outsource the work until your staff has cleared their projects enough to take on the additional work. Or you can dip your big toe in the social media waters, and control the level of engagement, again until you have time and resources to fully engage with your constituents.

Because the value of saying no now enables you to say yes later – yes, we proceeded carefully, steadfastly and directly to our goals – the right goals for our company. The true value of saying No is that it buys you the time to breed your success.

Editorial Tests

The LinkedIn Web Editors group has been discussing editorial tests, and whether we have taken them ourselves when we are job candidates, or given them to candidates applying for a job for which we are hiring. Editorial tests may include spelling, grammar, editing, HTML, proofreading. We have a poll question below for you, and you can feel free to comment in the comments section here. Another question is – if you administered the editorial test to a group of candidates – did the results influence your decision? If you were the one taking the test, did it influence whether you wanted to work for that company or not?

Headlines: Write for SEO or for Creativity?

By Alan Eggleston

When writing headlines (or titles), do you feel a tension between exercising creativity and building optimization? You don’t need to.

Some sites have plenty of ranking authority and popularity, so they have more freedom to be creative. This applies to news sites, reference sites, university research sites, and high traffic sites. If you don’t edit for one of those categories, however, chances are you need to worry more about optimization.

(Note: Primary placement of keywords is still important for search ranking among the top sites, but not among all sites for those with authority and popularity.)

So what is important in how you use keywords in headlines?

Some Headline Keyword Rules

First Rule: The closer to the front of the headline a keyword appears the better. If it can be the first or second word, that’s perfect. The further a keyword is from the beginning of the headline, the less importance the search engines give it. Of course, being included at all is better than not being included. As with all rules, this isn’t absolute – search engines will compare your headline keyword placement with that of other websites against whom you are competing for ranking.

Second Rule: The closer multiple keywords place together in the headline, the better they will associate for a search. The further apart they are, the less connection a search engine will give them as a unit, although, again, placing them in the same headline is better than not having them there.

Third Rule: Search engines will account for multiple cases of a word. However, if you know searchers look for a particular case most often, it will strengthen your ranking to use it in your headline.

Fourth Rule: It’s possible to rank for keywords not in your headline if there is a strong enough connection between the keyword showing up elsewhere on the page, such as in the URL, intro paragraph, alt tags, image tags, description, and so on. However, your strongest position is also to include it in your headline.

Headline Writing Made Practical

How do we translate rules into practical use? How about some examples?

Remember the story of the Lone Ranger and his faithful sidekick, Tonto? Let’s suppose instead of working together for the good of the Old West and finally riding into the sunset, they decide to go their separate ways:

SEO Headline:
Lone Ranger and Tonto: Heroic Masked Man and His Faithful Sidekick Go Their Separate Ways

The SEO Headline begins with as many keywords weighted to the beginning of the headline as possible to make searching for news on the Lone Ranger and Tonto the easiest. It should rank high for those two keywords as well as Masked Man and Faithful Sidekick.

Standard Headline:
Masked Man and His Faithful Sidekick Split

The Standard Headline uses terms once familiarly referenced to describe the Lone Ranger and Tonto, but would anyone today think to use them to find a story on these two characters? Probably not. It’s a semi-creative headline but not all that SEO-friendly and, frankly, probably won’t attract many readers.

Creative Headline:
Tonto Says, “Sayonara Kemosabe”

The Creative Headline tells the story, but Lone Ranger is nowhere to be found, and if you combined Tonto with Split or Break Up or other keywords to try to find a story on their split-up, this headline won’t draw you to it. It’s a fun headline, but it isn’t SEO-friendly. It might show up several SERPs pages down under Tonto. Some die-hard fans might know enough to look up kemosabe.

True but Useless Headline:
Masked Ranger and Sidekick Take the Lone Road

The True but Useless Headline is just what it describes. The two keywords – Lone and Ranger are split, so if this headline ranks, it’s likely to be beyond page 10, well out of the search results of the standard reader.

Can You Achieve Compromise?

If you have a separate SEO team writing your headlines, the issue may be out of your hands. Or perhaps meeting over compromise would yield some results. Somewhere between writing headlines that sell and writing headlines that make you findable will be one that suits everyone. In that event, the tension doesn’t need to exist.

Compromise Headline:
Lone Ranger and Tonto to Split: “What ‘We,’ Kemosabe?”

Next Up – Optimizing Text Without Keyword Stuffing

Search engines admonish us to write naturally for the reader. Next time, I explore how to write naturally for the reader and still ensure your site is competitive in a search – without tripping the “keyword stuffing” tripwire. Join me!