The difference between intent and content is what Google is missing.
Keywords at their most basic level are what we use to communicate, and if you think back to those COM 101 days, you’ll remember that the way it works is our thoughts are encoded in our brains into words, those words are spoken or written, and then decoded by the brains on the other end.
This is why when you say something, it may not come out (or be received) the way you meant it to be.
If we think of our websites as having conversations with search engines, this is how people get into trouble, and why search engines are failing at their job.
Search engines decode our websites’ content by parsing the language and applying a set of algorithms to it. In theory, they then rank content according to how well it matches the query. Oh, if only it were that simple.
What actually happens is that the search engines (Google especially) do a very poor job of decoding the intent behind the content. This is why spammers thrive.
For all Google’s lip service saying they know how keywords are actually used, and how they use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) to decode intent, they miss a dozen spammers who are happily stuffing keywords and cloaking content. And getting rewarded for it.
So here’s my effort to level the playing field. Here are a few things spammers (ahem: SEOs) are doing to game the system that still work.
1. Keywords In The Top Left Of The Page
You’ll see this on a lot of sites – a keyword (usually relevant, but with no valid purpose) in the top left corner of the page, just above the logo. It’s not hidden, but it provides no benefit to the user.
2. Keywords In The “title” Attribute On Links
As soon as people figured out they could stuff ALT text, they realized they could stuff links too. You’ll see a lot of top ranking sites using this on their links – if you hover over the link, you’ll see a pop up with a keyword for the link just like you do ALT text. It’s often referred to as a “tool tip”.
Again, no benefit to the user whatsoever. Sure, it used to have valid purpose back when the Internet was invented, but now it’s nothing more than an instrument of spam.
3. Keywords In The Domain
No matter what Google or anyone else says, there’s a clear preference for keywords in the domain name that goes beyond just the link anchor text you’re likely to get from your inbound links (see below). Spammers know that keywords in the domain name can help you rank better in Google. Test after test has shown this is true, despite what Google says.
4. Keywords In Site Navigation Links
“Home” is a perfectly acceptable link! It’s universally recognized, it’s clear, and it’s short and to the point. It doesn’t need to be “Keyword Research Home” or “Lemon Law Home”. But Google continues to reward it. I’m sure Web designers everywhere would throw a party for Google if they would finally change their algo so that this stupid stuffing trick stopped working.
5. Keywords In Link Anchor Text
This is exactly what Google claims to ferret out with Penguin. If it actually worked that way, I’d throw a ticker tape parade. Because the way SEOs get links is anything but natural. In the early days of the Web, you got a link on someone else’s site by asking, “Hey buddy, we have similar but not competitive websites. I think my users would benefit from your site and vice versa. Want to trade links?”
There’s nothing wrong with this type of exchange, but Google de-values it because it’s an exchange rather than a one way link (which in the early days of the Web would only happen if you paid the webmaster for it, but I digress…).
Instead, the link behavior they reward is “check out this article for more info on keyword research techniques“, when in a natural world, these are the keywords a person would actually use for the link anchor text: “check out this article for more info on keyword research techniques”.
Before you start screaming obscenities at me (I’m an SEO, not a Spammer! Those are valid SEO techniques!), let me say that I use (almost) all of these techniques from time to time on the websites I optimize. Because here’s the thing. They work. And as long as Google’s going to show preferences to sites that do this, I’ll have to do things that make me a little sick to my stomach every time I recommend them.
So here’s my plea, Google. Start putting as much emphasis on intent as you do on content. And help those of us out there who identify as “white hat” SEOs feel a little less dirty from our success.
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