Search engines love authority. They’re designed to spot sites that have high-value links and push them higher up the results pages. That’s one reason why you’ll find MedLine Plus and the Mayo Clinic listed above personal blogs when you search for information on the common cold. Authoritative sites appear as references on millions of other sites that link to them, and these inbound links obviously boost the linked sites’ value. For established sites that have already filled a market completely, that’s good news, but where does it leave smaller businesses that also have something to say?
Outbound links also build value – or in some cases, lower it. Quality outbound links to high-value sites have a halo effect, giving the site linking to them a reflected glow of relevance and authority. Conversely, links to spammy or low-value sites can drag down the value of your site. Guilt by association is alive and well for search engine algorithms.
Let’s go back to that example of looking for information about colds. If you ran across the same information on two sites, one of which linked to the Centers for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic, the other of which directed you to Aunt Dotty’s home remedies page and a blog about common cold myths, which would you consider the more authoritative site? It’s obvious to you that a major medical database has more information than a personal blog, and it’s equally apparent to search engines.
When possible, your content creation team should look for authoritative sources for outbound links. Sites with .gov and .edu domain extensions typically have more credibility to search engines than .com sites, but that rule isn’t hard and fast; some .com domains are also authoritative. Industry magazines and websites are other good sources of information and make valuable outbound links.
How far into the future does your search optimization plan stretch? If you can’t realistically see what you’re doing now as viable in a year or two, you’re at grave risk of running afoul of the next wave of search engine algorithm changes. A short-term scheme puts all your content creator’s efforts into keyword-stuffed pages, paid links and spun articles. Ultimately, the traffic stream these tactics divert to your site will dry up because search engines constantly look for ways to close the floodgates and eliminate SEO schemes.
A long-term SEO strategy relies on custom-written blog posts and articles, a library of stored knowledge developed over time and an organic ground-swell of interest from social media followers. It’s inevitably a slower process, but it’s slower for the same reason you don’t get a five-course tasting menu from a star chef at a drive-through window. It’s the opposite of a fast-food approach to content, and that’s why it’s the most viable long-term strategy.
Why Gaming the System Doesn’t Work
Ultimately, any short-term scheme for artificially inflating traffic is doomed to failure. As soon as Google’s latest algorithm changes close the loophole a site has been exploiting, that site must scramble to find a new tactic to get back the traffic it loses. For many sites, the traffic never comes back. Take a look at these stats from SearchEngineLand and see how some major players in the SEO content industry have fared post-Panda.
When you pin your site’s SEO plan to outmoded tactics, you’re climbing a staircase that’s constantly crumbling beneath your feet. Every time a new algorithm launches, your marketing team has to leap to the next temporary tactic. Wringing traffic from search engines through short-term SEO schemes is also a money-waster. With one change, Google could nullify all the previous investments you’ve made in your site, devaluing the content you’ve already bought and forcing you to buy the next SEO scheme from anyone who promises a quick, powerful fix for your traffic woes.
Google’s most recent major algorithm update, Hummingbird, subtly changed how searches happen. Most of its changes went on backstage, and most people didn’t even know it was active until months after it was in place. From a user’s perspective, Hummingbird made about as feather-light an impact as its name suggests.
For SEO developers, the new algorithm roll-out has brought more noticeable change. Hummingbird speaks English – rather, it recognizes search strings written in natural language instead of deriving Boolean search strings from whatever a user types into the field. In other words, when you want to find the nearest dog park with a fountain, you can now type your question the same way you’d ask it instead of condensing the words to essentials.
For example, if you’re looking for a local SEO and content creation firm in Long Island, you can now ask Google directly instead of playing around with combinations of these terms in ungrammatical key phrases. You may not notice the difference when you’re typing, but if you look closely, you’ll begin to see it in the articles and blog posts you read. To maximize the impact of their keywords, some SEO content providers used phrases that felt shoehorned into articles. They didn’t occur naturally and were just there as a convenient hook to snag Google’s attention. Now, Google looks for the same things you want to find.
Stopping Stop Words
SEO content creators, bloggers and search-savvy Google users have long been aware of the effect stop words had on keywords and search strings. Stop words such as “the,” “or,” “of” and similar terms are ignored by search engines. These little connectors and almost-invisible linguistic helpers make written language more sensible but aren’t really needed in a web search. They’re the lubricants of language, but they just gum up Google’s works by taking space away from relevant terms within a search. Because Google only looks at the first 70 characters or so of a search term not in quotation marks, too many stop words can eat the end of your search string.
Stop words have also given SEO writers an excuse to come up with ungainly grammar in keywords. The next time you read an article that uses phrases like “dentist Manhattan” or “writer SEO New Jersey,” you know someone’s been paying more attention to old-fashioned keyword stuffing than to updated Hummingbird-friendly content.