Stop Optimizing and Add Content Instead

So, you’ve built your website, and focused on SEO (search engine optimization) enough to start getting some traffic to it. You’re watching your stats grow week over week and month over month. It’s exciting. Your SEO efforts are working!

But what happens when you hit a plateau? And believe me, even the best sites plateau after time. If you have been focused on SEO it can be tempting to continue optimizing your home page and other pages on your site, but that can be a mistake. And with new search rules that Google continues to add, it can be a very big mistake.

Google Over-Optimization Penalties

Google has never been a fan of SEO. In fact, I would be willing to bet that if you cornered some of the search engine experts at Google, they would admit that they consider SEO to be a form of gaming of their system. And Google has always penalized gaming. So the fact that Google has announced that they will be adding additional penalties for sites they consider to be “over-optimized” should not be a big surprise.

How Can You Tell If a Page (or Your Whole Site) is Over-Optimized?

This is a legitimate, but tough question. Google doesn’t release their algorithms for us to see (as that would make it child’s play to game). But that means that most of the following suggestions are just that—suggestions. You might be able to continue to do these things without any penalty, while another site might be apparently penalized for much less.
Here are some clues to help you determine if your page or site may be over-optimized:

  • Too much repetition of the keyword phrase
    This is the most common signal of over-optimization. If your keyword phrase occurs more than 10-15 times in your article, you might be over-optimized. One way to check this is to ask someone who doesn’t know your site to read the article and tell you what they think is the phrase you are optimizing for. If they can tell the exact phrase, with little or no prompting, you probably over-optimized.
  • Titles that are stilted and repetitive
    One strategy that was very common (in fact I’ve even recommended it) was to write your title in the format keyword phrase - something else keyword phrase e.g. “Meta Keywords – Using Meta Keywords.”
  • Multiple headlines using the keyword phrase
    While you do want your keyword phrase to be included in your main H1 headline, repeating it in every subsequent subheading can be too much and look like over-optimization. Strive to create headlines, headings, subheadings, and text that is natural sounding and only uses the keyword phrase where appropriate.
  • Including the keyword phrase in additional, less visible, locations
    This is the first place to look for keyword stuffing. If all of your image alt text, noscript elements, and other elements that don’t display on the page include some version (or worse, multiple versions) of your keyword phrase, you should change them to make them more natural.

What to Do When Your Site Plateaus or Falls in Search Results

The first inclination of most beginning and intermediate web designers when they see a plateau or drop in search referrals is to immediately go in and re-optimize pages. While there is some benefit from fixing the problems I listed above and editing content to keep it fresh and up-to-date, most of the time, your inclination to edit files is going to result in more over-optimization penalties, not less.

Instead, do what the most successful sites on the web do: write more content.

Adding new content to your website has a lot of SEO advantages:

  • Search engines see that your site is still relevant and focused on delivering content to customers. Since a search engine is useless without something to search on, by providing more content, you are providing the chance for more results.
  • More content means you will have expanded content. Once you’ve written about one aspect of a topic, you can then expand on it and write about other aspects. And after a while, if you continue to regularly add content on that topic, your site will be more and more valued as a place to find information on the topic.
  • More pages of content provides more pages to be found in search. This is simple math. If I have a 10 page site and you have a 1000 page site, you have 100 times as many chances as I do to get a page view or search referral.
  • New pages provide more linking opportunities. And every time you link to your older content, that sends a signal to Google and the other search engines that that content is still relevant as well.
  • Regularly added content tells the search engine that your site is still maintained. And if you keep to a schedule, the search robots will figure that out and start spidering your site more often.

Remember, too, that adding more content doesn’t have to be long. While longer articles might do better in Google, just adding a 2-paragraph blog post every day is enough to show that you’re paying attention to the site. In fact, it’s best to come up with a schedule that you can stick to, whether it’s once a day, once a week or once a month. More is better, but staying consistent is important too.

By regularly adding new content to your site, and doing basic maintenance on your older pages (but not worrying about re-optimizing for search on those pages) you can get better search engine placement than you can by just fiddling with the same 100 pages over and over.

Remember, write more content!

Is Calling It “Content” Offensive?

I’ve been working on the web since 1995, and I’ve been calling the text, images, and media on web pages “content” since around that same time. I consider myself a writer and web designer. And in both of those roles I have worked as a content provider. I created graphics for the Netcom personal web page customers to use. I wrote documentation that went online. Later on in my career I’ve created videos and podcasts for web pages as well as all of the many documents I’ve written for About.com and other websites. Also, as a web designer and CMS builder, I have worked with other content providers to get their words, images, and media on websites.

So it surprised me when I read in an article recently that calling web page writing, images, and media “content” was somehow offensive. And calling the photographers, writers, artists, etc. who created that content “content creators” was somehow trivializing their efforts.

What are we supposed to call it? Sure, I am happy to refer to an individual as a writer or photographer or graphic artist. But when I’m referring to the portions of the web page outside of the design, layout, typography and so on, “content” is the most general term. And when referring to the people who build that content, “content creators” seems most accurate. After all, I don’t consider myself a graphic artist even if I have created graphics for web pages. I’m also not a photographer, even though I’ve posted photos that I’ve taken. But if I were to get photos from Ansel Adams, I wouldn’t call him a writer, even if he wrote descriptive text about his photos.

Being a Creative is Hard

You spend hours, days, weeks, or even months on a project and then your customers come and look at it for just a few seconds before pronouncing it “good” (or “bad”). You will get lots of positive comments and feedback but when you ask for even a fraction of the amount you spent to create your content, your customers look at you incredulously and seem to feel that you’re being unreasonable that you want to feed your children and pay your mortgage.

It’s especially difficult online, as many online companies pay little or nothing for the content, whatever form it takes. And there are always more and more novice writers, photographers, and artists who are happy to give their work away for the chance at “exposure.”

But this has always been the case. And while I don’t recommend working for free, lots of people will want you to.

Does the Name of Your Creativity Really Matter?

The fact is that whether you like it or not, “content” is the term that companies and website owners use to describe the elements of their pages that go beyond the design. It is not intended to offend anyone or belittle their efforts. It is just a generic term.

And in the web industry, this term is here to stay. There was  a time back around 2000-2005 when some companies were calling content “digital assets.” And they called the management tools “digital asset management” or DAM. But DAMs lost out to CMS (content management systems) and the items they were managing became “content.”

The trick is to keep enjoying creating whatever you create regardless of what it’s called. And hopefully you get paid for your content in more than just exposure.

What Do You Call Yourself or the People Who Create Content for Your Sites?

Is calling them “content creators” offensive to you? Let me know in the comments what you think. Personally, I call myself a writer and web designer as I mentioned, but I don’t mind being referred to as a content creator or creative when it comes up.