It’s not that this question hasn’t been relevant, but Matt Cutts’ defense of Google’s Search Results brought content and copy to the forefront of the argument. That is to say, if you weren’t thinking about content and copy prior to the “content farm” bomb, you are now. Eric Ward made mention of it in his post at Adgooroo, and was so nonchalantly tucked in Matt’s post, it may have been overlooked by many:
To respond to that challenge, we recently launched a redesigned document-level classifier that makes it harder for spammy on-page content to rank highly. The new classifier is better at detecting spam on individual web pages, e.g., repeated spammy words—the sort of phrases you tend to see in junky, automated, self-promoting blog comments.
The gravity of the situation has changed. Based on the quick digging I’ve done, Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea, wrote about the Google Patent on Web Spam, Doorway Pages, and Manipulative Articles back in 2007. It seems Matt might be hinting/referring to using these methods, as well as others, in their new “content farm” fighting methods. Definitely worth reading. Bill and David Harry are really the authority on patents, so they’ll have to set me straight if this is the right place to be looking.
The Problem for You
Admittedly, Matt’s description of hunting down content farms is most vaguely descriptive thing you’ll ever read. It’s says all the right things and provides none the real detail anyone who writes website copy for client sites wants to hear. And, now, the question remains: do I have to change my site content so I’m not classified as “spam”?
It’s a great question. Answer: probably not. Unless of course, your content is spam/spammy. And, let’s be honest, you know if your content is spam (i.e. a deluge of your “target” keyword littered throughout (a real, verifiable overuse), unnatural usage of your target keyword so it’s “stuffed” in there, and in general reads like shit, etc).
What if I’m Not a Writer?
If you’re not a writer, be one or find one. Sorry, there are no easier or simpler answers to that. Fact is, anyone can write and learn to write prose fluidly, structured, and well, but there’s a steep learning curve (let’s call it a lifetime of standard deviations). At some level, you have it in your blood or you don’t.
Writing is like SEO. It’s a blend of science and creativity. It’s back-end research and testing (reading a variety of authors and writing styles) and forging new ground by blending styles to create unique, fresh language and style. Writing for the web is no different, save the exception that the story you’re telling is about a product or service.
Who Do You Write for Now?
There was a post last week that suggest you write for search engines and not people. My general rule has always been that you write for people and not search engines. AJ Kohn, author of Blind Five Year Old, makes some really great points backed up by some big names (Steve Krug and Jakob Nielsen); I’d encourage everyone to read that post.
Still, the argument remains: who do you write for? With enhanced, document-level spam-hunting getting underway, I’m hesitant to advise anyone to write for engines solely. I’m also not going advise anyone to write just for consumers/humans either. Neither extreme is helpful, and neither is likely to get you the results you want. It’s in the middle.
When you’re writing for people on the web, it’s about getting them large chunks of important information in sight-byte chunks. When you’re writing for engines, it’s about being keyword-obvious so the spiders know what you’re page is all about. And, the secret is finding a middle ground between those two poles. Making content rich and full without putting your instant-gratification users to sleep.
Simple Things to find the Middle Ground
If you’re an experienced SEO that’s written your fair share of site content/copy, then this is old hat for you. If not, then welcome to the middle ground.
- Break up your content with keyword-driven headings. Structure your content with appropriate use of [H] tags
- Use bulleted lists when you’ve got lists. Whether these lists are benefits or qualities or whatever, there’s nothing worse than reading a comma delineated list in paragraph form. NOTE: try use a bulleted list once. Nothing reads worse and looks worse than multiple bulleted lists slammed together
- Mix your pronouns and keywords in the content. If you never use your keyword(s) in the content don’t expect the engines to know what you’re writing about. And if you never use pronouns, nothing reads worse than: “XYZ is a an amazing product because XYZ can do it all. Countless customers have told of XYZ’s greatness, XYZ will make a believer of you too.” Really, you can substitute an “XYZ” for “it” every now then folks
The answer: you write for both. It’s not easy, but neither is good SEO’d content. Let the Google Web Spam team decide where you fit in. If you do it right, you CAN have both. I’ve done it. Countless other SEOs have done it too. You don’t have to bend the rules, break the rules, to rank. You just have to play the game better: work for long-lasting results, work for solid (from the inside/out) websites, and work to make your competitor’s websites look like amateurs.
Since 2008, this term has been all the buzz among search marketers: social media optimization. In 2009, it’s spread like wildfire through the big corporate business community (you know who I’m talking about: Dell; the poster-child of Fortune 500 social media). And in 2010, it was a must have for every business (even if it may not be right for your business) thanks to mainstream press organizations and anyone with a blog. It seems that 2011 is picking up where 2010 left off: pushing social media profiles and optimization.
Another SMO Push Article
iMedia Connection had a post last week explaining why SMO (social media optimization) will be the new SEO. If you haven’t read it, here are the major points that solidify SMO as the “new” SEO:
- Dennis Franczak and his colleagues get the majority of their news from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, before resorting to Google/Bing/Yahoo search to find an answer. Hence viral communication is more important.
- That it is less about finding information (the search for information) by optimizing it, rather the lasting model is targeted-audience pull information.
- Because Bing now has “firehose” access to Facebook data, he argues that specific content is now available on personalized pages. Thus, making it a better experience, and more attractive, to audiences that don’t want to deal with Google SERP information
Push-back on the “Push” Article
I don’t completely disagree with that article; in fact, many of those points can have a case made for them. But not now. Not until average users raise the level of their understanding do any of those statements become realized. Just because social media usage has increased across the board at every major demographic, doesn’t mean social media optimization is the new SEO.
More Social Media Indoctrination for Business Owners
This does not mean that all these existing and new users want to find information on these social platforms. I have no choice but to chalk up this article up to another indoctrination piece.That’s the issue I have with the iMedia article; there is no consideration for the average user (this is not the “Reasonable Surfer“) and how they use the web to find information.
We don’t have to look any farther than the author of the piece: he’s a CEO of an agency that does a lot of traditional marketing work, but “is grounded in interactive”. It’s no secret that traditional agencies have been beating their clients over the head the last year and half with social media. It’s the last ditch effort to get in on the “internet marketing rage” and put in a stop-loss measure to losing their clients to search marketing firm, keeping that revenue in-house.
Search Marketers Use Social Media Platforms for Information
Marketers use social media platforms to find information. Marketers want to encourage users to get to business pages, interact, and provide answers.
Average users do not use social sites (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) to find information. They go to these sites to tell people about what they’re doing personally or what’s happening in their careers, and to interact with friends and family members (i.e. connect, re-connect, catch-up). Average users may see product or service comments in these spaces, but will go to a search engine to validate/investigate those claims.
In my opinion, that article doesn’t take that into consideration. I don’t know a single person (friend or family member) that begins their information hunt on Facebook or Twitter. They simply stumble into it and use search engines to find sites about that product/service/topic. And, I think Pew backs me up on this:
SMO is Just Another Slice of the Search Marketing Pie
No one is ever going to suggest that SEO is the end all, be all of search marketing (even though we’d like to think so :-) ). It just isn’t so. There are plenty of other avenues a business must take into consideration to have real online success: paid search, email marketing, conversion rate optimization, social media, and traditional marketing pieces. Are all these slices created equal? Are all these slices of the same urgency? No.
SEO is not social media optimization; never has been, never will be. And, I would venture to say, that SEO should be largest piece of the pie with the most urgency attached to it. Social media can be an important piece, but it doesn’t work for every business, can’t be effectively implemented for every business (not without looking you just got off the bandwagon express), and still has yet to stand-up to the ROI question.
The Website and Search are Still King
As long as search is still the one of most popular activities among all major demographics (see Pew image above), there’s no reason to feel rushed/bullied by traditional or hybrid agencies into starting a social media optimization campaign. While social media has increased usage across the board, it is still tangential/supplementary element to an online marketing effort.
The website is still king. Search is still a primary activity among all demographics; the idea that people are/will be using social platforms as primary source in lieu of search engines to find information is simply wishful thinking. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t involve your company in social media; by all means protect your brand name on the web by owning profiles on major platforms.
But social is not a make-or-break solution. That is, if you don’t have social media, your online efforts aren’t dead. However, not having some modicum of SEO on your site (in the event you’re not a huge brand name), could very well damage your ability to create a successful online marketing campaign. As far as I’m concerned, SMO is should be a very distant thought in your SEM arsenal.