5 ways to boost your SEO—and still evade the wrath of Google

Write for the search engine robots. Don’t keyword-stuff. And get rid of those ads. Take it from Tribune Co.’s SEO expert.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal RaganTraining.com. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses.

Remember that hilarious article, “20 Weird Things You Can’t Believe Happened”?

The story (or ones like it, anyway) went nuts on Facebook, says Carolyn Shelby, director of search engine optimization at Tribune Co. But now when you search for it on Google, it seems to have vanished.

Well, no wonder. That headline tells you nothing. Twenty what things? Happened how?

Are your headlines and descriptions like that? In a Ragan Training video, “SEO: A communications pro’s guide to crafting rankable content,” Shelby offers tips for avoiding search-engine clunkers and writing in way search bots can find.

All right, class: Raise your hands if you don’t know what SEO is. OK, to recap: SEO is a way of packaging content so that Google, Bing, and other search engines understand what you’re looking for.

You may think those evil bots are all against you. They’re not. Search engines want to refer users to content and websites that are the most relevant to the user query, Shelby says.

So learn the factors that determine relevancy. Do other people link to or talk about the site? Are the sites that link to it authoritative? Google factors in these matters.

Here are some further tips:

1. Write for the robots

Humans glance at pictures of your product or skim your haiku-like descriptions and infer what you’re getting at. Robots—those clinking, clanking, clattering collections of caliginous junk—do not. You must have sufficient copy (at least 300-500 words) so that the engines understand the context and relevancy of the content, Shelby says.

Use the words you’re trying to rank for, and actually say the name of your product. (Go figure.) You cannot rank in users’ searches for words that are not on your page.

Says Shelby: “If you show a picture of your pizza and just say, ‘Yum, that looks good,’ Google doesn’t know what that picture is. You have to say, ‘Awesome deep-dish pizza,’ or, ‘Yum, deep-dish pizza’—something like that, so Google can make connections.”

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, “SEO: A communications pro’s guide to crafting rankable content.”

2. Avoid ‘keyword stuffing’

Though you must use the keywords that your customers and fans will be searching, avoid the sin of “keyword stuffing,” or repeating the same words ad nauseam. Those wily bots will figure you out and punish you by locking you out of searches.

“You might get kicked out of Google,” Shelby says.

How to know if you’ve overdone it? Read your copy aloud, and see if it makes you cringe. If all those mentions of Acme Earthquake Pills sound forced, trim it back your references to Acme Earthquake Pills, even if you sell Acme Earthquake Pills.

Likewise, don’t buy links. Same punishment: exile into the outer darkness.

3. Don’t run ads unless you must

A glut of ads creates a poor user experience, and search engines punish you for that.

“If you don’t need to run ads, please don’t unless they’re for internal things, like other things on your website,” Shelby says.

Do you know how you make money on your website? Here’s how, Shelby says: You either brand yourself, you sell stuff, or you sell page views and ads. Media sites sell the page views, but just about everyone else is seeking to convert in one way or another. So why risk your ranking for pocket change? Plus, every link that goes off your page dilutes its value.

4. Claim your Google place pin

If you have a brick-and-mortar business, claim your Google place page. It takes a couple of weeks to complete the process, and you’ll get a notification in the mail, Shelby says. If you don’t do this, someone could claim it on your behalf and steal your business.

Far-fetched? Not really, Shelby says. A guy went to Las Vegas, stayed at Caesar’s Palace for two weeks, and claimed its Google place page. His hotel reservation website was making a million dollars a month for 1½ years until Google caught him.

5. ‘Don’t invest money in a house you don’t own’

“If you’re using WordPress, for the love of God, self-host it,” Shelby says.

If your content is hosted on WordPress or Blogger, your site isn’t building any SEO value. People have to link to your site on your domain for you to accrue the value that is going to help the rest of your content. (She also recommends the Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin.)

Same for Facebook. If somebody reports your page and Mark Zuckerberg shuts you down, you can’t recover it, even after you persuade him to turn it back on. Nothing survives the shutdown.

“Everything will be gone,” Shelby says. “All your followers. All your friends. Everything that’s posted. When they kill it, they kill it with fire, and it’s gone. Don’t invest money in a house you don’t own.”



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