I got an email from a client recently. Like me, they are frustrated by all the contradictory advice they’re getting from the SEO “experts” in this post-Penguin era. They’re not the only one. Another former client just gave up and closed their site after spending a couple of months and a lot of money following the “experts’” advice about how to recover from Penguin, to no avail. These were the same experts, by the way, that got them into a mess in the first place.
Meanwhile, my clients who never worried too much about keyword optimization and other SEO tricks of the trade are doing fine. I’ve been writing for some of them for years and their only instructions have been to write informative articles and include relevant internal or external links. It’s not as though they’re clueless about SEO. On the contrary, they have SEO people on their staffs, but they have never tried to boost their traffic using the methods Penguin very effectively put the brakes on. As far as I can tell, these included:
- Link farms
- Article distribution services
- Article spinning and distribution services
- Spammy article directories
Dodgier “guest posting” sites may also be on that list, but I’m not sure. All I know is that as an experiment, I allowed one guest post on this site. While the article was relevant and very good, the link was completely unrelated to writing. About 2 weeks ago, I received an email asking me to please remove the link, because the client thought it was hurting their SEO. I complied, but left the author credit intact.
What about Keyword Stuffing?
Keyword stuffing has been a no-no since Panda, but what is keyword stuffing, anyway? Some SEO gurus caution against using primary keywords more than 3 times in 500 words (or some variation on that). That’s hard to do if you’re writing about, say, “retaining walls.” There aren’t many synonyms for retaining walls and if I tried to make some up, the article wouldn’t sound very authoritative.
Does it matter? Apparently not. While I was doing research last week on retaining walls, I saw my photo on P1 of Google.com.au. Curious, I copied and pasted the article that made the coveted P1 on to Word and then used the find and highlight all features to do a keyword count. I used the keyword “retaining wall” 18 times in a 600 odd word article. Pre-Panda, an SEO guru would have attributed my success to my deft usage of keywords. Post-Penguin, they would wag their finger and say, “That article will never make it to Page 1.” Well, here’s the proof:
SEO gurus may argue otherwise, but I think the sole reason that article made it to the top of the charts was because it had been read many times and was located in a relevant category in a popular website that had never been censured by Google before. Either that or it was my awesome writing skills.
Another thing the SEO gurus tell us to do that I think is highly suspect is to write keyword focused headlines. Fair enough, keywords help Google figure out what the article is about, but beyond that, I think focusing on them can be counterproductive. Not too long ago, I wrote a blog on my Sihanoukville Journal about the new train that is running between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. I didn’t even think about the keyword value when I wrote the headline, Cambodia’s first commercial train between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh starts rolling, but it proved to be a winner, getting 3rd spot after “Sihanoukville accommodations” and “Sihanoukville police raids” on Google Analytics. Had I started the article with the intention of maximizing the headline for SEO, I would never have cooked up that one.
Social Media is another area where I think some of the SEO gurus are getting it wrong when they say, “Social Media is the new SEO.” I started using Twitter regularly some time ago, but the bulk of my Sihanoukville Journal traffic still comes from searches. I also get some traffic from Expat Blog, Lonely Planet and Travelfish, but it’s nothing compared to my organic traffic. Twitter, Facebook and G+ are so far down on the list, they’re not even worth mentioning.
What’s the moral of the story? I think writing quality content still pips every SEO trick in the book and most of us are better off forgetting about SEO and focusing on the quality and relevance of our content. It works for me on my Sihanoukville Journal. I just topped 10,000 page views per month last week. That’s not bad for a humble 2 year old blog about a not-too-popular tourist destination.
The trouble with SEO gurus, I think, is that they see the internet through their own perspective and don’t understand SEO except as a mechanic exercise. The good ones are passionate about the subject. Their passion is reflected in their writing and that is the accidental secret to their success. Their imitators talk the talk, but there’s something missing and it’s not keywords or social media savvy. It’s sincerity that’s missing and without that, you’re not going to get very far.