Time to Revisit Your Content Strategy?

by Alan Eggleston

Happy New Year! The change in calendar year is often the trigger to revisit your content calendar and your whole content strategy. If January or February is a down time in your organization, this is a perfect time to do one.

Does your current content work?

Photo by Victor1558 by Creative Commons license.

Photo by Victor1558 with Creative Commons license.

Many web editors often do a sweep of their content at this time and decide any big changes. This may happen at other times of the year or more often than once a year, such as at change in fiscal calendar or concurrent with annual share holder meetings, but often New Years is a convenient trigger. Maybe now is when you decide when that time should be and plan for it.

A more useful strategy is to revisit your analytics at least quarterly and adjust your content strategy based on site performance. Online publishing is amazing for its quick turnaround –  make that work for you.

What does your data tell you?

A deciding factor for changes in content direction is website performance. Take a look at analytics and decide what your stats are telling you – is your current content working and thus worth continuing, or do the numbers tell you that readers want something different? Are visits down or perhaps never really up in the first place? Do visitors stick around or do they come in and get out quickly? Do they visit a lot of pages per visit or do they hit where they enter and leave? Do they arrive at the home page or come in to the site in-depth? Where do searches bring visitors and what do they do when they arrive? Are purchases up? Have you experienced growth in any of those numbers? Analytics can provide you with a ton of great strategic information.

What is your search performance?

Another decision, and one where many web editors historically have been weak, is about search performance. How does your site do in a search? How many of your visits are from searches and how many from people who simply know how to find you? What search terms are they using, and are they the search terms you were expecting (and upon which you base your optimization strategy)? Which search engines are driving the most traffic to you? How many come to you by outside links or by social media and what does that say about your link and social media strategies? What is your search strategy and is it working (do a search audit to find out), or should you rethink that as well? If you don’t have a search strategy – a strategy to improve how your site is found in a search – now is the time to start working on one.

Search performance is often tied to search engine policy. Have you read and followed search engine guidelines or are you unwittingly running afoul of their rules and being punished for it?

What are the search engines telling you?

If there’s any possibility your site isn’t performing well in a search – and, thus, not driving traffic to you – it is worth your time and energy to register for and use search engine webmaster tools. First determine which search engines are driving the most traffic to your site. It may not be Google like you think. However, Google in particular will provide you a lot of feedback if your site is doing something wrong – if they can’t index your pages, for instance; if you have troublesome links; if you aren’t measuring up to their standards. And Google will often suggest changes to help you meet their needs and allow you to resubmit your site for indexing (a “reconsideration request“). If they’re penalizing you, finding out why and doing something about it is a great benefit. Explore the other search engine webmaster tool sites to see what they can tell you and help you fix if they are key to your search strategy.

Google introduced major changes to its algorithm the past couple of years that may have affected your search performance. Are you aware of them and how running afoul of them could affect your site performance?

  • Google Panda* – filtered for poor quality content such as unreasonable duplicate content.
  • Google Hummingbird – entirely rethinks search to add nuance, handle questions, and adjust for mobile search.

*Panda and Penguin were folded into Hummingbird.

Panda could affect your search performance if you run a lot of duplicate content or if your content is of little value in Google’s eyes. Google is OK with duplicate content for globalized sites where different versions of a site contain regionalized versions of the same content. But to aid sites, they introduced the “canonical tag” for URLs to distinguish original content.

Penguin could affect your search performance if your content contains low quality links, including link farms or doorway pages and spammy content and links in your comments sections, such as in blogs or news sections.

If any of these algorithms may have dampened your search performance, now is a good time to rethink how to revise your content to remove the penalties. For instance:

  • More actively administer blog comments to eliminate comment spam, which is rampant.
  • Recode content to add the canonical tag for original content.
  • Make sure writers create only original content and that editors filter for duplicate content (run a search on segments of content to look for duplicates).
  • Eliminate gratuitous link trading and external links that don’t make sense for your content.
  • Revise major current content to build more nuance to improve search performance.
  • Strategize how to build nuance into your new pages to improve search performance.
  • Ensure your site is designed to handle mobile, which Google has also said is now important.

Growth is about improving the search

Today, content is about more than providing interesting text on a page for readers. It’s also about how you attract readers to your page and sustain readership. It’s as much about how you build the page and work with search engines as it is about publishing itself. As you rethink your content calendar – now, at New Years, or at any other time of the year – think about how you bring the reader to you.

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Links: An Editor’s Look at How Many Is Too Many

By Alan Eggleston

How many links are too many? We are told we need outbound links, inbound links, internal links, but does anyone say how to tell when enough is enough?

Actually, there are articles on the Web, and probably the most important ones are by Google’s Matt Cutts and the Google Webcentral. Both say 100 links on a page should be a limit, although not necessary the limit. Let me explain.

It’s All About the User

To a search engine – any search engine – the user experience is the most important thing. That’s true whether you’re gauging the experience conducting a search or reading a page. So when a Google or Bing or Alta Vista index your website, they consider the experience you’re giving your user or reader. That’s true for any part of their indexing algorithm. It’s also true of gauging your links.

The Trouble with Excessive Linking

So what variables might search engines consider in the user or reader’s experience when looking at the number of links on your page?

How about the number of words? If you have few words but lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “link spamming” (or spamdexing)

How about your anchor text? If you continually use the same anchor text for links on a page, with lots of links, your page begins to look like you’re “keyword stuffing.”

What about small or average amount of words, but most of your links are in lists or involve one source or one type of site, such as an affiliate marketing site? Then it can be perceived that you aren’t serving your reader as much as yourself and, so again, link spamming.

And let’s be sensible: Unless your reader is doing in-depth research on something, it’s very unlikely they will follow 200 links, let alone 100. So giving your reader 100 or fewer solid, quality links is way more important than 150-200 flimsy, low-quality links. And the search engines can tell the difference.

What Happens if You Overdo it?

The dangers of having too many links are many. An appearance of keyword stuffing may give your site the appearance of low-substance content and trigger the Google Panda filter. An appearance of spamdexing may give your site the appearance of spamming in general and trigger the Google Penguin algorithm. Too many structured links may make your site look like a “doorway page,” resulting in a penalty. Finally, there’s the whole design element: a page full of links looks less inviting and can be harder to read that one with fewer links.

A Goldilocks List of Link Criteria

What’s the “Goldilock’s Number” of links then? There isn’t a number, but there is that maximum of 100. And there is using links sensibly to serve your reader. You just can’t go wrong serving your reader. So here is what I would make sure I included in those 100:

  • At least one high quality link for each keyword early on the page with a second one at the end if possible. These are probably external links.
  • A high quality link for other important concept words on your page – these may not be keywords but may be words your readers want to know more about. These are probably external links, but if you have a site glossary they could also be internal links.
  • Additional links for keywords to separate quality external sites using different anchor text and that serves the reader understanding or interest – simply adding different links to the same anchor text can be seen as link spamming.

Example: Mulptiple articles about neutron stars using their titles or publication titles as the anchor text. Same keyword (neutron stars), different sources (various publications)

  • Make sure you link to internal pages within your site as well and include those in your numbers. They may be for major keywords or important concept words.
  • Internal links for each hypergraphic and hypertext in your main navigation, top and bottom.
  • Internal links for site subnavigation and external links to outside entities.

Example: Association sites, awards sites, universities, companies you are associated with, etc.

  • Links in sidebars or secondary articles that may be internal or external which may include keywords for this page or for the overall site such as in universal inclusions.
  • Links for headlines or article titles elsewhere on the site, often under the subhead “Also of interest.”

Count any link as a separate link, including advertising links and those double underlined links that used to be for definitions but have turned into advertising links. Those aren’t counted in your ranking, but they do contribute to site litter.

A note about design: A page to be readable needs white space punctuated by dark notes. The more dark notes (words) and blotches (lines) the eye sees, the more disorganized it is and the harder it is to read. So use bold, italic, and underline (links) wisely and sparingly. That may be the most useful guide to building links. If you have a page full of links, you may have an unreadable page.

Which looks more readable:

A page more like this with only some words highlighted and punctuated by bold, italic, and underline?

Or a page like this with most words bolded, italicized, and underlined in an effort to give importance to every single word?

Point made?

Next Up – How to Handle Trolls

Troubled by trolls? What bridge or blog or news comments section is without them? Next time I’ll take a break from optimization to take a swing at handling trolls. Join me!