It’s The Content, Stupid: Search Engine Optimization

    April 4, 2005

In deciding to rank your website, search engines pay a lot of attention to the actual content they find on your webpages.

The essence of what a search engine focuses on is the words that people search for. The words people use when searching are the ultimate distillation of what they care about. Search is an activity that strips things down to their essential meaning.

If you want to be successful at being found by people who search, you must use their carewords, not yours. The customer controls the message today. It is their language that dictates the communication. You must use their words, not yours, if you want to be found.

In a given month, thousands of people will search for “low fares” but millions will search for “cheap flights”. Low fares is airline industry language. Cheap flights is consumer language. If you want to get found, use the words of your customer.

Stick with one clear idea for each webpage. In this age of attention deficit, people like communication that is clear and single-minded; so do search engines, who find it easier to rank a webpage that focuses on a particular theme than one that covers many themes.

Lead with your top carewords. It’s not a murder mystery. Lead with the need and start every sentence with your customers’ most important words. The Poynter Institute Eytrack III study found that unless the first couple of words in a sentence are compelling, people won’t read on. Search engines are aware of this and give words closer to the beginning of the sentence a higher importance.

Use phrases and word combinations rather than single words. People are increasingly searching with 2 to 3 words because that’s returning better results. If you’re selling cheap flights to Dublin then you’ll probably find that people are searching using the following combination “cheap flight Dublin”.

Repeat your top carewords. As a general rule, you should repeat your most important carewords in both your heading and summary, and roughly three times every hundred words thereafter. That’s because if people see their carewords repeated they tend to feel that that piece of content is more relevant. Search engines recognize this.

Use bold for your heading and summary as this helps to emphasize the importance of this content, and search engines give content that is bolded an extra value. Be careful using bold throughout your content. Bold can be useful when you have instructional-type text and you really want to stress something. However, in general text using bold can make the writing feel pushy and preachy.

Writing quality links is one of the most undervalued web writing skills. Links are points of action and great web content facilitates action. Avoid using low value words such as “click here”. Get your carewords into your links. Your links are like signposts and should give people as much information as possible about where they will go if they click.

Of course, the key point in all these rules is that you write for your reader, not for your ego and not for the search engine. The content must engage the reader. It must be compelling and clear. If people feel they are being preached at or pushed toward a certain action, it’s very easy to hit the Back button.

For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern

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