By Arnie Kuenn published July 29, 2013

Optimizing Website Content: How to Fix What You’re Doing Wrong

over optimizationOptimization is an essential aspect of publishing website content. After all, what is the point of creating content that’s useful if your target audience won’t find it? Though in the past search engines had been known to reward keyword rich content with top rankings, that is not necessarily the case anymore. Currently, search engines are more focused on providing the best website content overall to searchers, and they are taking much more than keyword density and word count into consideration.

As a result, website content optimization involves more than just inserting a specific keyword a certain number of times per page. Now, it is all about providing well-written, organized, useful, relevant, social-ready content for website users while optimizing the right elements.

Many content creators think they are doing everything right — from writing great content to sharing it on social networks — but later become discouraged when their metrics say otherwise. The truth is, many content marketers struggle in terms of content optimization. If you’re having difficulty with this, consider the following “wrongs” of content optimization, and follow my tips to learn how to do it right:

What you’re doing wrong

1. You are writing for search engines: As mentioned previously, search engines are changing their ways in terms of rankings and their criteria for quality content. However, remember that search engines are only programs that are built using mathematic algorithms and probability calculations — not real people visiting your site. First and foremost, your website content should always be written to provide value for your audience. If you’re still writing for search engines, you may be making the following errors:

  • Focusing on high-volume keywords: If you’re a little fish in the sea of your industry, it doesn’t make sense to compete against the big sharks. Small businesses have a much harder time gaining traction with high-volume keywords, as the competition is so fierce. To overcome this, focus on long-tail keywords (keyword phrases with three or more words) that still have a respectable search volume.
  • Elevating your keyword density: When it comes to keywords, less can be more. Stuffing keywords into every other sentence may have worked in the past, but now, it’s definitely frowned upon. Add keywords where it makes sense, but don’t focus on achieving a certain density percentage.
  • Creating content in “production mode:” Many businesses say that producing enough content is one of their top challenges but, again, “less” can sometimes offer more when it comes to creating content. Churning out content left and right isn’t sustainable and will most likely result in mediocre content, at best. Instead, focus on creating fewer content pieces that are of higher quality, and build that evergreen content for more durable reach and engagement.

2. You are over-optimizing on-page: Too much of anything is never good, and that certainly holds true with optimization techniques. In fact, over-optimization is something that search engines have been known to penalize websites for. Keyword stuffing your title tags, meta keywords, and meta descriptions will just make you look like a spammer to search engines like Google and Bing, which won’t result in a favorable outcome for your brand. Again, these tactics may have worked in the past, but today, they can do more harm than good.

3. You are overzealous (and under-selective) in your link building efforts: Link building has certainly received a bad rap over the past couple years, as many of the tactics involved can be downright spammy. The following have become big link building no-nos — particularly when done carelessly or to excess:

  • Directories: Do you think people surfing the web still use directories? Not very often. Most of them were built strictly for link building purposes, making them virtually worthless these days.
  • Link exchanges: Most link exchanges involve sites that are completely irrelevant to one another, and that just screams “spam.”
  • Article marketing: Content is king, but not when it comes to article marketing. Avoid creating low-quality content for the sole purpose of building links and instead invest those resources on creating compelling content pieces.
  • Blog networks: Blog networks are not credible, as their sole reason for existing is to game the search engines by providing a variety of (low-quality) links to each blog.
  • Spammy comments: With spam filters, leaving comments with links isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it is a tactic many still employ. Like all the other spamming techniques, these will do you far more harm than good today.
  • Overuse of anchor text: Anchor text is still important, as it provides cues as to what the content behind the link is about, which is helpful for site visitors (particularly first-timers). However, overdoing it on your keyword-rich anchor text links seems unnatural to users, which raises red flags from search engines. In fact, Google has started to penalize website content that relies on this often-used technique.

4. You focus exclusively on keyword rankings as a success metric: A couple of years ago, search engine rankings were the only metric anyone seemed to pay attention to. But being totally obsessed with rankings is a mistake these days, since search results are unstable, and can vary by a number of additional factors.

For example, when users are signed in to their Google accounts, they will see different search results compared to when they are signed out — and an altogether different set of results may appear if they are searching on a mobile device. Additionally, rankings can vary based on a searcher’s location (which can be auto-detected), and search engines also provide search term suggestions based on their detection of common search intents. Hence, it is important to place a greater focus on success metrics that have a greater ultimate impact on your business’s bottom line. 

5. You push your content to social networks once, and then abandon it: Social media is not a “set it and forget it” tactic. First, though the life span of a link on a social network varies by network, it averages only around 3 hours. That means after just a short time, most social media users (and even your own fans and followers) will likely have missed the link you posted — an obvious cue  that you should be sharing consistently, and often.

Additionally, building a community on social networks takes work, and without the community’s engaged involvement, simply pushing your content out to your social outposts won’t be very useful. Even posting a link on multiple sites, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, isn’t enough; you must also interact with fans and followers, build relationships with key influencers, and identify brand advocates who will share your content. All of that takes time, but it is a necessary step of content optimization, as it helps spread the reach of your content, and the influence of your brand.

How to do it right

Now that you know what you may have been doing wrong, here are some suggestions on tackling website content optimization the right way:

1. Prepare a 12–month content plan: Having a content calendar is a tremendously important aspect of content creation and optimization. Though creating content on a whim when inspired can lead to excellent work, operating that way is not viable for the long term. Having a 12-month content calendar allows for planning content around holidays, company milestones, events, and variations in team workload and resource availability.

Additionally, your content calendar can include information needed for proper content optimization, such as:

  • Ideas for SEO-friendly titles
  • Suggested links
  • Blog category and tags
  • Meta keywords and meta descriptions
  • Sample social media posts

When all of this information is planned out in advance, it becomes much easier to publish content successfully, on time, and with appropriate optimization.

2. Write to provide value for your website visitors: As discussed, search engines are updating their algorithms to put more weight on content quality and relevance and less on keywords and links. Search engines are now looking at metrics like bounce rate, time on page, engagement, author authority, and so on. Writing for your visitors is essential, so be sure to consider the following:

  • Review content to be sure it makes sense to your visitors (re-read, re-watch, etc. several times, and ask others to do so, as well)
  • Include keywords in content only when it’s most appropriate
  • Include anchor links when it’s of value to the reader, but not just for the sake of including links

Taking these points into consideration when creating content will help you ensure you’re publishing content for the right reasons: it benefits your audience!

3. Create content that has practical value: Creating useful content is crucial for success. Your content must have purpose, otherwise website visitors will leave your pages as quickly as they came. To be sure your content is actually useful, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will this content answer visitors’ questions?
  • Is it entertaining?
  • Is it educational?
  • Does it meet a need my website visitors may have?

Additionally, add images and video whenever possible. Did you know that 40 percent of people respond better to visual content as compared to content that’s solely in a text-based format? Also, posts with videos have about three times more inbound links than those that are presented as plain text. Those statistics alone should be enough to motivate you to regularly include images and video in your content marketing strategy.

4. Optimize your title tags and meta descriptions based on your marketing goals: In the past, title tags and meta descriptions were popular places to add keywords for “increased SEO value.” Now, both of these fields must be optimized for marketing, not just SEO. Think about it: A title tag is what you’re naming your content, and that name needs to draw in visitors. Also, search engines use both the title tag and meta descriptions to describe to searchers what your content is about, which also affects whether your page link gets clicked on or skipped. As a result, these fields really need to be optimized for marketing — to make a searcher want to visit your site, rather than another site that appears in the SERP. Of course, it is still important to include keywords in both your titles and descriptions — but just enough to explain what the content is about.

5. Conduct technical SEO audits: Conducting technical SEO audits will certainly help with your content and overall site optimization efforts. When running these audits, look for the following, as errors in these areas can be detrimental:

  • Duplicate content: Duplicate content refers to substantial chunks of content within a site that are identical or significantly similar. Search engines want to provide the best experience possible for searchers, and if the same content is displayed on numerous pages, that experience will certainly be affected. In addition, if there are problems with your overall site structure, you may have a lot of duplicate content in the eyes of the search engines, but not those of your visitors. This is common with blogs and e-commerce sites, where there may be multiple pathways that lead to certain pages. But if the search engines determine that content is unnecessarily duplicated on a website, it is highly likely the ranking of your page(s) and/or site(s) may suffer, or may be removed from the search engines’ indexes altogether.
  • Schema.org: Schema.org provides webmasters and developers with an assortment of html codes that can be used to mark-up pages in ways that are recognized across major search engines, including Bing and Google. These search engines trust in this mark-up to improve the way search results are displayed, in hopes of making it easier for searchers to find the content they are looking for. Complying with the tags outlined on Schema.org ensures your content will be displayed in search results in a way that is consistent with accepted standards.
  • Rel=author/publisher: This Google Authorship program allows authors to build a verified association between their Google+ profiles and the content they publish anywhere online. Creating this link between profile and content carries has many potential benefits, including having the content creator’s photo appear alongside content when it appears in a SERP, potential increases in click-through rates, and more. Rel=author can be used for specific authors (i.e., a blog post written by someone), while rel=publisher is reserved for brands that want to make a connection between their brand profile on Google+ and their websites.
  • Optimize each and every image: Search engine bots don’t see pictures — they can only process image tags — making your tag selections an extremely important part of your search rankings. Additionally, well-optimized images can increase your website traffic.

6. Earn your back-links: Though the number of links a site features is becoming increasingly less significant, the quality of those links is growing more important. To gain quality back-links, utilize these tactics:

  • Market your content: As I discussed above, this doesn’t just mean sending out a few social media links; it means using a variety of tactics to help your content reach those who will appreciate it. Market your content by developing a social media marketing plan, reaching out to influencers and bloggers, putting together an email campaign, or whatever other tactics you may be using as part of your reach and engagement strategy.
  • Incorporate high-quality guest writing (articles and blogs): Guest posting has always been a great way to share knowledge, gain exposure, and earn a linkback. However, in recent years, many people have abused this process. To be successful in guest posting, your content must be high-quality, relevant, and useful. Overall, it’s best to only include a link or two, and be sure to be aware of a website’s/blog’s linking guidelines before you submit a post for consideration.

7. Socialize, socialize, and then socialize some more: Social media is particularly important in content optimization, as social networks often serve as a gateway to content discovery. Again, sending out messages with links is not enough. Monitor your social networks to find people who are talking about topics that are relevant to your business and may be interested in your content, and reach out to them. Build relationships with influencers and brand advocates so they will share your content as well. Also, be sure your content is social-ready: Include social sharing links on landing pages and blog posts, ask questions or request feedback, and don’t forget to respond to those who have shown their interest in your content.

8. Measure what really matters — leads and revenue: Measurement is the most important factor in any marketing project. However, focusing your efforts on the metrics that really matter is key. Many people measure metrics like Facebook “likes,” re-tweets, and even site traffic, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story. The metrics that must be measured are those that affect your bottom line — and this usually boils down to leads and revenue. After all, aren’t leads and revenue the end goals of most marketing initiatives? These metrics must be collected to truly see the ROI of your marketing project, and should be used when planning future marketing projects for increased success.

From creating useful, relevant, compelling content to including the proper back-end information like title tags, meta descriptions, and keywords, proper content optimization must be considered at every step of your content process. If reading through this list of “wrongs” set off a lot of alarm bells, stop those tactics right away, and start enforcing the “right” method of content optimization.

Join our roster of experts, including Arnie Kuenn, as they share their content marketing insight at this year’s Content Marketing World event. And if you are looking for more B2B content marketing tips, Joe Pulizzi and Content Marketing World speaker Ardath Albee will be answering questions during our next Twitter Chat on July 30 at 12 PM EST. Follow the conversation @CMIContent and #cmworld.

Author: Arnie Kuenn

Arnie Kuenn is the president of Vertical Measures, an agency specializing in providing strategic search, social and content marketing services. He is the author of Accelerate! Moving Your Business Forward Through the Convergence of Search, Social & Content Marketing available on Amazon. Arnie is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. You can also find Arnie on Twitter: @ArnieK.

Other posts by Arnie Kuenn

  • heidicohen

    Arnie–Great advice for every marketer to get their content on track to be found. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

    • Arnie Kuenn

      Thanks Heidi!

  • Erik Alan Devaney

    Great post, Arnie. Back in my freelance days I wrote for a media company where it was mandatory for writers to maintain a certain keyword density %. The results were what you’d expect: posts crammed with keywords with less attention paid to the actual “guts” of the content.

    Cheers,
    Erik

    • Arnie Kuenn

      Oh I remember those days. And it worked too! Well up until 2004 or something like that. ;-)

  • Kurt Frankenberg

    Keyword density; PSHAW. Writing for Google’s robots is the letter of the law, writing for your audience is the SPIRIT of the law. Google will always adjust its algorithms to try and award greater readership to those that are writing for the PEOPLE.

    Thanks for confirming what I already believe Arnie. Left a message for you on Twitter, gonna RT this article now. Know why? I’m not a robot, but I DO appreciate the message ;-)

    Keep Stepping,

    Kurt

    • Arnie Kuenn

      Thanks Kurt – appreciate it. I still find it almost shocking when someone asks me about proper KW density. Then I realize how many businesses are way behind in their online knowledge – makes me sad.

      • https://wordcrisper.com/ Word Crisper

        Don’t be sad, Arnie! We’re trying to keep up, and you’re helping.
        I plan to retweet this too.

  • Kevin Hosey

    Great input. Everything I personally write or supervise has one goal in mind: make sure it it delivers a compelling message first. THEN I go over it and add important keywords where relevant.

    Bringing people to your website is important, but you’ll only keep them there IF the content on your site is readable and effective.

  • ahaval

    Great article and just what the industry needs to be listening to right now. Put your customers first, not the spiders.

  • Jeff Rothe

    You touch on the need for entertaining / educational content. Curious to hear your approach and how you define success to know if the piece of content was entertaining, or educational.

    • Arnie Kuenn

      Hi Jeff,
      As far as the approach to generating content ideas, that is a whole blog post in itself. In fact we are publishing a video blog post on that process for the travel space on our Vertical Measures blog tomorrow (7/31).

      Regarding defining success, that is probably too much to answer thoroughly here, but it boils down to your goals and measuring them. For some it might be as basic as bounce rates or time on page. Other metrics might include social shares and traffic generation.

  • Judy Asman

    Amen to that. Thank you for the practical advice that champions quality content. Your article definitely dispels the optimization myths.

    • Arnie Kuenn

      Thanks Judy. We need to keep spreading the word as far too many businesses are way behind the learning curve when it comes to optimizing for Google & Bing.

  • http://www.ronvanpeursem.com/ Ron VanPeursem

    Great work, Arnie. Thanks for putting it all together in one post. You’ve basically created a complete “Content Marketing 101 Guide”. A keeper!

    • Arnie Kuenn

      Thanks Ron – really appreciate it.

  • Beth Bond

    This was very helpful. Although to be honest sometimes I just give up and focus on efforts to do what I do. I do think that Directories built to serve a real audience with real companies that are buried otherwise can serve a real purpose. Although I have had challenges with people registering. The directory I offer puts niche market people in front of a niche market. What do you think?

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  • http://www.onestopentrepreneur.com/ Chim Aaron

    These are excellent tips. I have one question however. When you talk of sharing links consistently due to the average lifespan of a link, do you mean sharing the same link consistently over the course of a day, for example? So if the average lifespan of a link is 3 hours, are you suggesting sharing the same link several times a day? Won’t this be an overkill and turn off your fans/followers?

    • Arnie Kuenn

      Hi Chim, regarding sharing the link and the lifespan, it depends on the social network. Twitter is something we will share on multiple times just do to around the world exposure issues, but with FB & G+ we only post it once. The links will have a very long lifespan on those networks as well. Does that answer your question?

  • Lab5Connect

    Great one…

  • Jason Watson

    I just started a new business and i hired a web designer to build my website and optimize the site. How long should it take to get on the first page of Google.

    • Zohaib

      Initially if you target long tail keywords having low and medium competition then it will take around 4 to 5 months to achieve 70% of your targeted keywords and as you said your website is recently launched and it’s new then forget thinking about high search volume keywords and start working on long tail keywords.

  • http://www.pollenmarketing.com.au/ Natalie Giddings

    Thanks Arnie – We have literally seen rankings drop overnight on a page we’ve added four keywords to rather than two. The difference and affects are now that finite!

  • http://www.forewardsapp.com/blog Jason Dea

    Great article. Do you have any rules of thumb around time and how often to audit your progress and strategy? While all these tactics are day to day activities I’d imagine the results of the efforts won’t show up for months. Any thoughts on how often to measure and also perhaps some tricks to keep motivated and not get discouraged by results taking too long?