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Pat Marcello

SEO Is Spam!

Pat Marcello

Have you ever heard someone say that before? I sure have. It came from the mouth of someone very close to me, and really ticked me off. Being the lady that I am, I didn’t show the true extent of my ire, of course, but I did have to re-educate that person on what SEO is all about. I’m guessing that not knowing much about the topic, she remains skeptical to this day.  What.ever.

But you know, some SEO is spam, or at least what people think is SEO and really isn’t.  SEO isn’t something you can learn overnight or in a single article. Most newbies don’t want to think about it because there’s just so very much else to consider and to this day think it’s rocket science, which it’s not.

To make things worse, some of the things we were taught, even a couple of years ago, are now considered to be spamming by Google. And people just don’t keep up with the changes, unless their site is destroyed by an update.

Things change in SEO at the speed of sound, and since the first Panda iteration in 2011, we’ve been hit from several different angles. What was acceptable in the past is no longer OK.

Turn and Face the Strain

For example, it used to be that you should have a domain that matched topic of your website. Around 2007, I figured this was a good idea, and moved one of my domains to theSEONewsBlog.com.  Wasn’t such a hot idea, knowing what I know now, but that was a BIG deal in the past. If you didn’t have an EMD (exact match domain), you had some trouble ranking.  Of course, there were other considerations, too, but having an EMD was better than not having one.

Then, BAM!

spam-wars

Google decides that  EMDs are spammy.  It’s more about your brand than your product today. What I mean is that it’s not a great idea to have a domain name like “TrainingGermanShepherdDogs.com” if you’re in the dog training business.  Using your brand for your site is now what Google is looking for, so KennelKare.com would just work better.

That said, having an EMD didn’t hurt at all if you had an authority site, meaning one with lots of pages, traffic, and social interaction. It was the little guys, whose sites weren’t so special, that paid for doing something they’d been taught to do over and over again for years.

Guess what else is going away?

Keywords.

I predict that keywords used in the title and description of your content pieces that are also sprinkled throughout the piece and put into header tags and such will be a thing of the past one day, too.

No, today’s not the day, but you need to start preparing yourselves for that eventuality.

The search engines have been perfecting their LSI (latent semantic indexing) over the past six+ years or so, and those searchbots are getting really smart. Spiders can tell what your page is about, not just by the keywords you use, but also by the words you use that are indicative of your topic.  What I mean is this:

If you’re writing an article about golfing and you use words like golf clubs, green, country club, golf shoes, etc. in the same content piece, spiders will intuitively know that you’re writing about the golf.  They’re able to surmise what your page/article/blog post or comment/social media piece is about without your need to employ “used Titleist golf balls green dot.”

In fact, if you have enough SEO clout built up with backlinks and social interactions, you will rank for golfing terms that you may not even have considered. Plus, the very long-tail is a no-no now, too. Keep those to three- to five-word phrases.

Return to Natural

What search engines, especially Google, want is for you to behave naturally. I realize that for some of us, that’s impossible, but they do. And they want you to write naturally without stuffing keywords in where they don’t belong. We’ve known that for a long while now, but what people are overlooking is that content pieces -- be they page, article, or post -- shouldn’t be SEO perfect anymore.

Having a keyword in your title, in your description and sprinkled throughout our text is still OK, but remember what happened with paid linking and duplicate content?

When the proverbial boom was lowered, even sites like Ezine Articles, Wikihow, and Hub Pages paid a heavy toll.  Don’t allow that to happen to you! Your keyword density (the ratio of how many keywords you use when compared to the total amount of text) should be 2% or less in my mind. I know other SEOs will disagree, but one day, you will thank me. No kidding.

Write with a natural voice, as I’m doing in this article. In it, you’ve seen terms like spider, SEO, Google, search engines, EMDs, and such, but I’m not trying to be perfect. (Well, that’s easy to see, but…) What I’m trying to get across to you is that you need to stop writing for search engines and write for readers.

Not only that, but you must bone up on your grammar, your punctuation, and your writing style, no matter what language you’re writing in. Search bots ARE paying attention to that stuff now. The old 250-word barely readable content piece, stuffed to the gills with keywords days are long gone.

I hesitate to speak for the Big Dog, but it seems to me that what Google wants is to make the Internet a more polished and business-like place. They don’t want to show junky results to searchers anymore at all, and that’s what all these changes are about. They would rather have CNN, Fox, Reuters, or Huffington Post on a “politics” SERPs page than “mypoliticsblog.com” – a badly written running commentary from an unknown who writes poorly about issues that he or she doesn’t really understand.   Get my drift?

Get the Correct 4-1-1

Another thing that lots of folks are too lazy to do is a bit of research. If you’re writing about something and you’re not quite sure of the facts – find out about them before writing vague and boring crap.

When I wrote for magazines, editors loved seeing a statistic or a quirky factoid in the very first paragraph of my query letter.  (A query is your audition for the job, where you pitch an editor on the topic angle you want to write about.) So, I always came up with something very few people knew and wowed them with that. Editors totally loved it, and I got the job more often than not.

The very same tactic works well for Web writing, too. Keep your readers engaged by coming up with statistics, with anecdotal information (storytelling), and cool facts that very few people know.

For example, did you know that in old rural Tibet (now part of China), people added yak dung to their yak butter tea, just to keep the tea leaves together and out of their mouths? I’m guessing you didn’t and that you’d prefer the tea leaves, but how’s that for an interesting tidbit? I found it for my book about the Dalai Lama and my editor absolutely loved it! I got that job and today, that book is published in four languages.

So, there you go. Remember that things change in SEO and people want to be entertained along with the helpful information you give them. Plus, if you're not paying attention to SEO changes, you’re gonna get whiplash.  I’m preparing you. Start to forget about keywords – not entirely just yet, but start thinking more about the content of what you write, and about your reader.

That’s NOT spammy. It’s just common sense.

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Pat Marcello is President and SEO Manager at MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company that serves small- to medium-sized businesses. Follow her on FacebookTwitter or Google+. Pat’s last article for SEMrush was "Google's Fetch and Render: Why It's Important."

Comments

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Chris Gregory
Hi Pat,

Very well written post.
Its unfortunate that people abuse systems to the point they become obsolete, but in another way, its great because it forces things to improve.
I'm curious to hear your opinion on whether you think keyword research will be needed in the future if keyword ranking factors become obsolete?
I considered keyword research to be an effective way of understanding the "needs" and "wants" of searchers, and using that information to tailor a message that satisfies their craving, but if those queries are no longer related to content being served, do you think many searchers might be served the wrong content?

I completely agree that keyword stuffing, EMD's, and other outdated tactics need to go, but I'm having difficulty wrapping my head around the thought of keywords becoming obsolete.

Chris
Pat Marcello
Chris Gregory
Hi Chris,

I know... It's hard to think about, isn't it? But as LSI becomes better and better, I think spiders will be like people. I mean, you don't have to use certain phrases several times to have a human understand the topic of your conversation. In fact, we talk in abbreviated terms, with references that make sense only to us and other people who watch the same TV shows, movies, etc., and we still understand one another. I think that in the future, that's how smart spiders will be. They will understand, just by the words you use (be they keywords or not), what you're writing about because of the words associated with that particular article.

So, for example, if I wrote an article about SEO and never once used the term SEO, but used words like backlinks, Webmaster Tools, sitemaps, anchor text, etc., spiders would know the article is about SEO. I think they pretty much do already, and why we rank for terms that we never used in the written piece.

Just my 2 cents. I have absolutely NO research to back it up, but I feel it coming. :) I also predicted that social media would have a huge part in search when we were still calling it Web 2.0.

- Pat
affordable web design ecommerc
Very well written post.
Its unfortunate that people abuse systems to the point they become obsolete, but in another way, its great because it forces things to improve.
Anthony
Thanks for the heads-up! I'm learning ;)
Bill
It's rather simple, really. SEO is spam, period, full stop, end of story. The search engine algorithms are built to find the most popular sites with the best content. What does SEO do? Rig the system so that a less popular site shows up first. What a joke. A quality site will NATURALLY rise to the top. You talk a lot about various different methods, but it's all hair splitting. No matter what your methods are, SEO makes less desirable sites more visible. Essentially, the goal of SEO is to rig the system to make users visit sites that they wouldn't ordinarily have any interest in. How is that different from spam? A quality website does not need SEO, because users will seek it out, link to it, and re-visit regularly. All the SEO folks are doing is making it harder for users to find what they are looking for on search engines. The internet would be a far better place for users (the people who actually matter) if all SEO "professionals" disappeared.
Pat Marcello
Bill
Bill, I beg to differ with you, though I agree that some SEO is indeed spam. SEO is supposed to be about making it easy for search engines to find a website. If SEOs are doing things right, the optimization of a website consists of making sure Meta tags are there, assuring that some keywords are interspersed throughout the site, that ALT tags are complete, and other on-page things that search engines actually LIKE. Yes. They do.

While some SEOs are intent on giving users garbage sites in the listings, their time has passed. With Google's Panda and Penguin updates, they have made great strides in cleaning up the SERPs. The old "black hat" tricks, used by said spammers, were never condoned by legit SEOs.

SEO is about quality content distribution these days. Is that really so bad?
Bill Simmons
Pat Marcello
Don't waste your time talking about methods. None of that matters. The very INTENT of SEO is flat out reprehensible. The talk of "quality sites" versus "garbage sites" is complete nonsense. Quality is relative. It's impossible to quantify quality, but let's pretend that we can. Let's say a garbage site is 1% quality and your quality site is 80% quality. The SEO goal is to increase that quality number somehow so that it appears more prominently in search results. What's the difference between moving the "garbage" site up to 21% and increasing the "quality" site up to 100%? There isn't any. In both cases you are making a site appear to be better than it actually is. If SEO was really about quality content distribution it wouldn't be called SEO, it would be called quality content creation instead.

Good websites are already easy to find. That's what always seems to be misunderstood in the SEO discussion. For a truly quality web site SEO is not needed.
William Obrien
it is right and I agree with you so thanks for sharing this topic.
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