Our industry is chock full of advise about how the best approach is to go for phrases that aren’t necessarily the most competitive – to go for the lower hanging fruit. Concepts in this area usually emphasize the notion that if you have to choose between two phrases that you’ll optimize for, if you go for the one that has less actual search volume and less competition you’ll be doing your client justice, and you’ll make your job easier.
This way of thinking I put in the “if you shoot for the moon and fall short, you’ll end up among the stars” mentality. Which is actually an extremely inaccurate notion, and in the long haul, will do more harm than good. Instead, I say “Shoot for the farthest galaxy away – and if you fall short, you really will end up among the stars.”
The Shoot for the Moon Fallacy
Okay so let’s take that saying. It may be, on the surface, that this saying gives a lot of people great hope. Hope that if they reach way beyond earth-bound goals, even if you come up short, you’ll still end up way beyond. Except it’s bogus. It’s a hollow motivation. Because even if you make it to the moon, (let alone fall short), you’re still going to be 150 MILLION KILOMETERS short of even OUR Star, the Sun.
And if you fall short, you’re not going to be “among the stars”. You will, however, still be stuck in our solar system. Which honestly, is pretty much just like everyone else. And while you won’t be alone in your adventure, you will end up stuck in this little dust-ball in the corner of the galactic playing field.
Solar System SEO
So okay – now that I’ve corrected that bogus myth of a motivator, let’s look at how that equates to the common view that sites should be optimized for “less competitive” phrases. Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t optimize at least some of your content for less competitive phrases. Especially when you’re dealing with a small, brand new site, with little content in a highly competitive market. In fact, you may actually need to start your efforts on those lower hanging targets.
Except if that’s all you ever do, you’re going to only get so far and no further. Which you might find acceptable. Or the site owner may seem ecstatic about. And that’s great, if it means more income generated through organic search. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see a 5% or 10% increase in organic search revenue?
Why I Refuse To Settle For Solar System SEO
Something I learned a while back was that if so many people are focusing on just shooting for the moon, shooting for another galaxy turns out in some situations to not be as difficult as it should be. Instead, it just takes high quality focus and time. I spoke about the concept of high quality focus in my “Information Architecture – Rocket Science Simplified” article.
Here’s an example.
Client – Top 5 B to C Niche Market Retailer
|Before Audit||After Audit Implementation|
|Organic Search Visits||125,647||202,667|
The above results have all come through changing the focus on the site from a “shoot for the moon” mentality to my “shoot for the farthest galaxy away” mentality.
Thirty Percent Increase In Revenue
What’s the bottom line result that matters more than all those numbers? How about a 30% increase in revenue from organic search? Yep – thirty percent. Revenue. Income. Bottom line.
How I Did It
As we know, every site is different, so the exact methods applied are going to vary from site to site. Yet the core principles are going to always be the same.
The LDA Connection
The techniques I use, while not exclusively based on topical relationships, are, as it turns out, heavily weighted in a way that happens to fit the Latent Dirichlet Allocation model (LDA) that Dana Lookadoo reported on this past week, and Rand Fishkin did a follow up article on LDA most recently.
Now I am not a rocket scientist, and honestly, I have never studied Information Retrieval. I’ve not even read the comprehensive findings Rand so willingly took the time to write-up. And before the LDA acronym started picking up steam recently, I’d never even heard the term. Instead, I go by instincts. Yes – I rely on my intuition as far as how I understand the user mind to work, and how I perceive the search engines to attempt to generate relevancy results.
Don’t Shoot the Messenger
Don’t pick my brain when it comes to LDA, and don’t get into a hissy fit with me by claiming LDA is irrelevant. Take your complaints up with someone else. Please. Because ALL I’m saying is that the majority of the methods I detail here happen to line up quite well with the LDA concept. So as far as I’m concerned, LDA is definitely something the search engines make use of. And if the exact model of LDA isn’t something they rely upon, it sure is close. At least in my experience. And according to Dana, that’s apparently due to the fact that I think like a topical search algorithm.
It’s All About Topical Focus
What the techniques I use result in is ultimately a refinement of topic focus. At the page, section, site, and cross-site level. By refining the quality of the focus aspects of your content, you help the search engines better classify your content as it relates to specific search efforts. It’s a simple concept, actually. Because that effort ultimately achieves the goal of increasing relevance identification. How relevant the content is to a search.
Technique 1 – Go For Higher Value Phrases
If a page is currently optimized for mid-level three or four word phrases, consider refining that down – either to only two word phrases, or perhaps a two word phrase and a three word phrase. And if you do, make sure the primary focus is on whichever of those phrases is the higher value of the two. Both in terms of search volume and accuracy of click-to-conversion value.
Technique 2 – Don’t Stuff Page Titles
When I was brought on board, the site was already doing really well (726 thousand page views in a niche consumer market is nothing to sneeze at). Except the page titles typically contained four, five and in some sections, six phrases on a single page. While you can typically get several phrases into a page Title field, the more you do, the more you’re going to dilute the focus of the page overall. So stick with two, or at most, three phrases.
Don’t just choose any two “similar” phrases. Make sure the two phrases you choose are extremely close to each other in terms of that focus as well. The more closely related, the better.
Technique 3 – Pull Out All The Stops
If you want to get better results, remember that Google is all about relevance – the more closely your page matches the focus of the search, the more relevant the page will be to that search. So don’t go half way in your effort. This means that URL seeding DOES matter. H1s properly matching page title phrases are a must.
Content needs to be high quality, unique, and written with your site visitor’s readability in mind yet where that same content really does communicate in a way that brings attention to the phrases you’re optimizing for. The pages that inbound links come from need to be as closely related as possible. Inbound links require proper anchor text matching. All of these may be common sense, yet most people only do a surface effort in their implementation.
Technique 4 – Unleash the Content
Site navigation needs to allow for as much indexing as possible. My example site here has over 12,000 pages. When I came along, less than 4,000 of them had been able to get into and stay in the index. This was because of the fact that categories had pagination that was mostly blocked by Google. And what the Googlebot could see, was mostly duplicate content due to over-navigation (discussed in my previous Information Architecture article).
By opening up the pagination properly to the Googlebot, eliminating the redundant super-saturated navigation footers, refining and the focus across the board, we’re now averaging over 10,000 pages staying in the index. All those product level pages in turn, increase the authority of the category level pages they all relate to.
Technique 5 – Long Tail Where it Counts
My example site went from being found through 32 thousand phrases to being found through 58 thousand phrases organically in the same comparable time-frame. Except I didn’t achieve that result by increasing the long tail effort. Instead, I actually reduced it.
High quality long tail doesn’t come from intentionally optimizing the entire page for eight ten or twenty long tail versions of your primary phrases. It means doing the footwork to determine two or three long tail phrases that are highly related to the primary phrases, and only using them in the page content. By only seeding related phrases in the content, you maintain the quality of the overall focus, rather than polluting it. And don’t do so much of the long tail work that it dilutes the primary focus either.
By only incorporating long tail in the content, you’re more likely to be able to write content that actually makes sense from a user’s mind model (user thinking). The stronger the primary focus, the more likely the long tail will grow in exponential ways without you trying to force it.
Technique 6 – Don’t Distract When Linking Out
Whether you’re providing a link out to another page on your site or a 3rd party site, make sure the relationship is also highly focused. The more you can match the link anchor text (and the focus of the page you’re pointing to) to the focus of the page you’re working on, the higher the relationship focus.
This applies to in-content links as well as section level links. Don’t have a sub-set of navigation links that points to content not related in a refined way, to the primary sectional focus.
Technique 7 – If Needed, Reorganize Content
Sometimes you will have a site where the content gets out of hand. The focus becomes wider and more diverse over time. Content that really belongs somewhere else ends up in the wrong location. So don’ t just work on individual pages – look at entire sections of the site and ensure the overall focus of each section is highly focused.
Of course there are always going to be other site-specific tasks to consider, ever changing search algorithms to contend with. Yet even when that’s the case, these principles will hold true. And if you follow them, and IF you can get your recommendations implemented, you may not reach the farthest galaxy. Then again, you just may…
Photo Credit Nasa