Dec. 05, 2013

What I learned from Stuffing.

Thanksgiving 2013 – the holiday that illustrated a thing or two about keyword stuffing and on-page SEO in a new way.

Imagine a rectangular table, roughly 4 feet across by 7 feet deep. This table is covered with Thanksgiving delicacies - piping hot dishes of sweet potatoes, long stalks of asparagus drizzled with golden butter, turkey of the white and dark meat variety, a fresh green salad bursting with goats cheese, dried cranberries, and freshly roasted walnuts. The table describes my family’s Thanksgiving cornucopia, which looked like a work of art with dishes of many kinds, each more tempting than the next.
But this wasn't all that was on the table.

To improve on-page SEO do not keyword stuff. photo credit: Country Living.I reached the end of the mahogany to find stuffing.
Oyster stuffing, Challah stuffing (nice addition, Aunt Bonnie!), traditional stuffing, gluten-free stuffing and I have a moment: this is an overkill of savory dishes placed side-by-side with no room to spare.

My encounter with stuffing (by the way, my favorite dish of the Thanksgiving meal) got me to thinking about the other kind of stuffing that I am confronted with more than once a year. Stuffing of the keyword kind and how to avoid it like the plague.

What is Keyword Stuffing?

It’s far from delicious, folks. Keyword stuffing is the antiquated (and very frowned upon by Google) act of heavily loading a webpage with keyword terms in an attempt to manipulate a site’s rankings within search results. This includes stuffing your keyword of choice into the Page Title, Meta tags and Alt Attributes. Search engines are on to you and if (and it’s only a matter a time until when) they find you guilty you will be penalized.

How do you avoid engaging in this fraudulent act?

Act and write naturally. Don’t unnaturally inject keywords into your content to make it juicier. Let’s go back to the Thanksgiving table for a moment. Imagine an enormous helping of stuffing, oozing with fresh herbs, crusty bread and topped with a boatload of gravy. Your eyes are melting and your tummy rumbles in preparation but you know if you eat that enormous helping you’re going to pay once the fork is back on the table. Ignore stuffing keywords like you would ignore stuffing your face.

Instead of stuffing, try spacing.

My gripe with the stuffing presentation at Thanksgiving was that it hit me all at once. Had they been spaced out across the table I would have been attracted to and sampled each dish. Instead, I couldn’t make up my mind about which to try and moved on. When writing keyword-focused content don’t try to do too much. Keep your content focused and hyper-targeted to one topic. Remember you are writing for your readers and not the search engines, so properly deliver on the keyword they are searching for. If someone types in “Gluten-Free Stuffing recipes” they don’t want to pull up a page that lists 5 different types of gluten-heavy recipes with comments like, “No Gluten-Free Stuffing recipes here”. Don’t mislead your readers, use keywords to draw them into a specific solution you can offer.

So where should they go?

You understand that keywords don’t exclusively belong at the end of the table but the truth is everyone has their opinions on how to do keyword and on-page SEO correctly. There is no one-size-fits-all solution but rather a handful of theories that are widely accepted in the content marketing community.

1. The Title Tag | Not to be confused with the Title

Think of the Title Tag like you would the title of a document. How does the naming convention allow you to properly index and then re-find the content? Many believe that the Title Tag is the most important part of on-page SEO (with the only exception being the content itself) because it appears in the browser, the page tab, and on search results pages.

Bad Example: Bob’s Dogs
Why do I care about Bob’s Dogs? What kind of dogs are we talking about? Four legged or between a bun?
Good Example: Custom Harnesses and Leashes for Mid-Size Dogs | Created by Bob’s Dogs
If I am searching for a custom harness or leash for a mid-size dog I know that Bob’s Dogs creates them.

2. Don’t ignore the <h1> and <h2> tags

Heading <h1> and <h2> tags are part of the HTML coding of a web page. Just like search engines are trained to give a hard eye roll to keyword stuffing they are trained to pay extra attention to the language in headings. These headings cue the primary focus of your content.

These headings also serve as chronological breaks in content for your audience. The use of heading tags establishes a proper outline for your content and creates an organized structure. Stuffers beware: don’t use your heading tags as a playground for keyword overload.

Bad Example: Dog Leashes Custom Dog Leashes Custom Dog Harnesses
No. Just no.
Good Example: Customized Harnesses for Small Dogs Now Available
This is useful to me. This unique piece of content would match a keyword I use in search and lead me to a targeted page with meaningful content.

3. Every (keyword) story has a beginning, middle, and end.

The Thanksgiving table is still there with all of the stuffing at the end of the table, instead of having it spaced out between the beginning, middle, and end of the buffet. For your keywords to be successful in on-page SEO you need to disperse them a few times throughout your content. Not only is this a search engine best practice, but it’s a great way to keep you focused while you write. Revisiting the same topic throughout your post can prevent you from rambling or going off in another direction.  

This holiday season, pass on the keyword stuffing. Have you heard any horror stories about keyword stuffing that you are willing to share? For what it’s worth, if I had a plate of last week’s Thanksgiving stuffing sampler, I would share it with you.

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Ariel Upton

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