Branching Out: Enhancing Your SEO Strategy with Keyword Stemming

Heavy-duty keyword stuffing is a distinct don’t for current SEO best practices. Google and other search engines penalize sites that overuse keywords as low-value vehicles for links instead of rich, relevant content. Keyword stemming, on the other hand, is very much in style.

Keyword stemming refers to layering related keywords and phrases throughout your content the way they’d naturally occur. You probably wouldn’t use the same phrase ten times in a few minutes of conversation even if you were discussing something very specific, but you might use versions of that phrase, incorporating it as different parts of speech or using synonyms for it. Your primary keyword is the stem, and variations of it branch out organically to create a keyword-rich yet relevant and compelling article.

Context Is Everything

Search engines rely on dozens of embedded and contextual cues to determine a site’s relevance to your query. On-page, embedded cues include search terms in the meta title and meta description, links to and from the page, and the site’s URL. These baked-in keywords are indexed as-is by Google, but contextual cues are more nuanced. They allow search engines to weigh words that are related to, but not identical to, the anchor text and meta data on the page as relevant.

For example, if your site offers content writing services, then “content writing” is your primary keyword. Stemmed keywords might include “content writers,” “writing content” and “content written.” Including these variations on a theme hits search engines’ sweet spots; they don’t look spammy or keyword-stuffed, and they’re easier on human visitors’ eyes. It’s tough to twist a 500-word blog post to fit the same long-tail keyword a dozen times to approach a 2.5 percent keyword density, but it’s easy to include it and its close relatives naturally in an article.

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Better SEO with Sound Outbound Linking Strategies

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.

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Schemes versus Strategies: Content for the Long Term

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.

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How a Tiny Hummingbird’s Making Big SEO Changes

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.

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Link Building Tips – Using Directories for Links?

Link Building

Link Building

Article directories used to be a popular choice for hopeful writers looking for exposure. Although the practice isn’t as widely used anymore,  directories haven’t gone extinct. Ezine, GoArticles and other directories still attract writers and publishers who need fresh content. Despite many SEO experts’ claims that the directories are over-saturated with low-quality work, many webmasters assert the directory well isn’t dry and return to it for their SEO needs. Which set of experts is right? Are article directories effective, or are they last year’s SEO?

Matt Cutts, Google’s anti-spam guru, has advice straight from the search engine giant in one of his recent videos. After giving some background information, he settles the question once and for all:

Custom Coding“Over time, article directories have gotten a little bit of a worse name. Just to refresh everybody’s memory, an article directory is basically where you write three, four or five hundred words of content, and then you’ll include a little bio or some information about you at the bottom of the article. You might have three links with keyword-rich anchor text at the bottom of that article. And then you’d submit that to a bunch of what are known as article directories, and then anyone can download them or perhaps pay to download them, and they’ll use them on their own website. And the theory behind that is if somebody finds it useful and puts it on their webpage, then you might get a few links.

“Now, in practice, what we’ve seen is this often turns to be a little bit of lower quality stuff, and in fact, we’ve seen more and more instances where you end up with really kind of spammy content getting sprayed and syndicated all over the entire web.”

In other words, while directories may seem like a great opportunity for writers and webmasters, Google is devaluing their authority. The search engine views these articles as the kind of low-quality, thin or spam-filled content it’s trying to filter. Google’s search algorithms may even penalize content and backlinks from article directories.

“We certainly have some algorithmic things that would mean it is probably a little less likely to be successful now compared to a few years ago,” Cutts confirmed.

Articles that make the rounds of directories may also be penalized as duplicate content or contain plagiarized passages. Search engines monitor duplicate text closely and give more weight to content that was published earlier, so sending the same article to numerous directories is an obsolete strategy, according to Cutts.

“Just trying to write one article and syndicating it wildly or just uploading it to every site in the world…I wouldn’t necessarily count on that being effective. My personal recommendation would be probably not to upload an article like that,” he added.

Considering all that we know, heed Cutts’ parting advice and find a better way to spread your content. Blogs, niche sites and industry journals give good homes to custom-written content and SEO articles.

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The Single Biggest SEO Mistake You Can Make

Google Ranking – What is it?

Google PageRank

The Single Biggest SEO Mistake You Can Make

Any SEO specialist with a decent amount of expertise can tell you about the latest Google algorithm changes and explain why the old optimization tricks no longer work. They can tell you why keyword counts and high-volume, low-content backlinking strategies are ineffective at best and could actively harm your reputation. By focusing on the nuts and bolts of SEO, however, they often miss the single biggest mistake any company can make when outlining its online marketing strategy. The most egregious error in SEO isn’t a single sin of commission or omission but an outlook.

If you consider your company’s relationship with search engines an adversarial one, you cannot succeed at SEO in the long run.

When content marketing strategists see search engines as the enemy, a force to be manipulated and a system to be gamed, their site traffic will inevitably be throttled to a trickle. Eventually Google, Bing and Yahoo will update their algorithms to close the loopholes they’d used to gain an advantage. Black-hat SEO relied heavily on exploiting weaknesses in search engines’ algorithms, something that was simpler to do when the systems weren’t as sophisticated as current search engine technology. When you see an article with little substance, poor grammar and plenty of unrelated keywords, you’ve stumbled across a relic of outmoded black-hat tricks intended to fool search engines.

Search engines changed to keep ahead of these low-value sites and provide meaningful results to their users. Major updates like Google’s Panda and Penguin were the direct results of attempts to game the system and get unearned high placement on search engine results pages. Google’s anti-spam guru Matt Cutts has said that the search engine giant undergoes more than 400 updates annually, and while some are small fixes, others have a major impact on SEO tactics. The fight against spam sites and low-quality content is never-ending, and if you want to avoid becoming a casualty of the conflict, choose the side that eventually wins every battle.

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Are There Magic Words in Content Marketing?

From the Harry Potter films to the movie version of “The Hobbit,” magical realms are big in Hollywood right now. Harry and Gandalf could change reality with a wave of a wand or staff and a few magic words, but content creation teams don’t have that luxury. As much as the marketing industry would like to have a list of words that guarantee high open rates, click-throughs and conversions, they don’t exist. While no “open sesame” will make readers reach for their wallets, some words have a little more magic in them than others.

“Free”

One of the oldest marketing words is still one of the most potent. People love getting something free, and studies such as this one from the University of Miami have proven repeatedly that the word is a major motivator for conscious buying decisions. Interestingly, surprise free gifts – those offered without being advertised – were good emotional motivators, but with content marketing, you may not get the chance to sweeten the deal before your prospective customer has bounced away to another site. If you have a gift for visitors to your blog or social media channel, tell them up front; they’ll appreciate it.

“You”

In content marketing, “you” is one of the most powerful words you can use. Businesses that spend all their time and effort talking about their features are missing the point; their customers also want to know about the benefits they provide. “What’s in it for me?” is the tacit question every reader presented with an offer asks, and that includes your content marketing audience. Why should a visitor pause long enough to read your blog post or find out more about your new product line? One way to make that clear is by addressing readers directly and specifically. “You” also creates a connection between the reader and the writer; you aren’t just a face in the crowd but an individual who’s being addressed directly. Once you start looking for it, you’ll notice how much online content is written in the second person – including this blog post.

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Has Google Killed Keywords in SEO?

Google undergoes updates on a daily basis, but most are invisible to end users and even to SEO experts. One big change that came in shortly after the Hummingbird algorithm update, though, threw some SEO content providers into an uproar: The search engine giant confirmed that it intends to encrypt searches, effectively shutting down keyword data released to webmasters. The process started in 2011, but has accelerated after the Hummingbird changes, leaving many SEO experts and content marketers wondering where to go next.

Without the keywords provided by Google Analytics, many thought, how will content creators know which way to go? Do these changes mean keyword usage in SEO is dead? Should marketers turn away from content marketing or SEO and toward conventional tactics? On the contrary; the changes mean that optimized content is more important than ever.

Over-reliance on keywords and backlinks may have let some SEO firms game the system and artificially push sites that were light on content and heavy on ads to the front of Google’s results pages in the past, but that strategy no longer works. Google’s stated reasoning behind encrypting keyword data is to provide greater privacy, but in the process, the old standards of analyzing keyword data and stuffing articles with them have become obsolescent. That doesn’t mean the keywords no longer work, though; it just means webmasters won’t be able to catch a glimpse behind that particular curtain.

The solution is simpler than it seems: Write naturally about a subject while linking relevant information, and your content will automatically contain the necessary keywords and backlinks to succeed in the post-Hummingbird Google environment. Just because the handy list of keywords is slowly being replaced with “not provided” results doesn’t mean the keywords aren’t still effective; they’re just invisible to those who might otherwise use them to artificially inflate a website’s value to Google users. In other words, a site that has intrinsic value – one with rich content, engaging writing and must-share news – will win out over one that relies solely on mechanically derived keyword densities and low-value backlinks.

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Making the Most of Bing: When Google Isn’t the Only Search Engine in Your Sights

Google remains the giant among search engines, but Yahoo and Bing are gaining in popularity, especially in some demographics. For older computer users who buy plug-and-play desktop systems, the easy accessibility of Bing has made it an increasingly popular option, but the Microsoft-owned search engine has something else in its favor: it’s optimized for social media. As the new kid on the block, Bing is ready to take advantage of sweeping changes in search engine ranking factors while its older competitors have had to retro-fit to take social media data into account. Continue reading

Are Google Updates Killing Traditional SEO?

Google’s Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird updates have put a tremendous squeeze on some types of SEO content. Heavily keyword-stuffed, back-linked and spun content that once rocketed to the top of the search engine’s results pages are now relegated to the hinterlands, relics of an age in which search engines were unsophisticated and black-hat SEO tactics flourished. The increasing pace of change and the severe penalties for using outmoded or questionable SEO techniques has led some industry outsiders to conclude that SEO specialists and even SEO itself are obsolescent if not obsolete. Continue reading

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