“Hello, my name is Eibhlin, and I can’t stop buying snake oil…”
Okay, it’s not that bad, but as I look back over 2012, I’m more than I little chagrined and I agree with Matt Cutts: The success of snake oil was what surprised me the most in 2012, too.
That’s true on many levels.
First, I’m stunned at the domination of snake oil products at sites like the Warrior Forum. Shabby, bad, and toxic products are becoming more the rule than the exception among Warrior Special Offers (WSOs). Keep your credit card in your wallet.
Second, I’m embarrassed that I bought products at forums like that, thinking they were on the level, and even more embarrassed that I was amazed at how awful they were… as you saw in some of my recent reviews.
Third, I’m aghast at the number of people I trusted in the past — even if they had checkered pasts in the Internet marketing (IM) field — who’ve now switched colors. They’ve jumped back onto the snake oil bandwagon. Either they recommend bad products (to earn affiliate commissions or pad their regular webinar series) or they’ve started marketing snake oil, themselves, riding on the successes they (briefly?) achieved during their reinvented, reformed careers.
And, at least one of them used one of my old reviews (of a good product he sold), as a testimonial for a newer, snake oil product. So, you can’t even trust my reviews… not when they’re at websites I don’t control.
When in doubt, send me a PM, leave a comment here, or email me. (Meanwhile, check the seller’s previous product threads. If the product is on a dime sale and you need to make a decision now, make sure the seller’s threads look good, and he has a track record of rapid refunds, when asked.)
Of course, as I was penning scathing reviews for individual products, Matt Cutts said it nicely in his year-end summary. (Really, I should just wait for him to say what I want to. He’s far more to-the-point than I am.)
Matt Cutts was asked, “What has been the biggest surprise of 2012 for you and your spam team?”
Then, Matt talks about forums where those offers are sold. He describes the overblown sales letters, endless “P.S.” and “P.P.S.” blurbs, plus the fake reviews and testimonials.
Matt Cutts says, “You think those guys don’t know how to make sock puppet accounts that say, yeah this is great…?”
His advice is simple. “It’s cheaper and easier and more sustainable over time to go white hat.”
Create good, useful content for your niche. Keep it interesting. Keep it current. Care about your readers. As Seth Godin says in The Icarus Deception, keep it new, real, and important.
One of my resolutions for 2013 is to narrow my focus to content, at websites and in books. Frankly, good content — well presented — is what stands up to SEO changes, day after day and year after year.
Can curated content rank well at search engines? Is curating a smart SEO tactic?
First, you’ll need to understand what curated content is. At its core, it is…
- Using your time to find the best resources for your readers.
- Explaining why those resources are the best.
- Telling your readers what you think about those resources, and (perhaps) how the linked resources work together, to provide a new or different view of your niche.
Here are a few nuts & bolts, explaining more about curated content, and why it’s not a SEO liability.
What is curated content?
Curated content is collecting great links to others’ content — articles, news releases, videos, audios, etc. — and not only talking about them (briefly), but including short excerpts (when you can) so your readers understand why they should be interested in whatever-it-is. And, it’s best if you collect a bunch of great links in one category (or on one topic) so your post holds together, nicely.
So, you probably wouldn’t do as well if you wrote a post that included links to articles about weight loss, cupcake recipes, and a new app for Android… unless all of the links were about weight loss. In other words, the cupcake recipes would be low-fat, and the app would help people identify the best cupcakes if they’re on a diet. (The latter might be an “Eat This, Not That” kind of app.)
And, the post should appear on your website about weight loss… unless you have a “personality” blog — something people read because they like you and how you write — rather than a website that otherwise reviews heavy metal karaoke videos, or local dog-walking services.
Rewriting isn’t necessary, and it sort of defeats the purpose. People like curated content because curators filter the noise people encounter at search engines. Curators tell people exactly which sites (and articles/posts) are worth checking out. And, curators explain why.
That’s your sole job as a curator: Save people time by finding the very best in your niche, and telling them why they’re the best.
In a way, Snopes is a curation site. They find the biggest, most trending rumors. Then, they include them or link to them, and Snopes tells people why those rumors are true… or not true. Snopes does a lot of the thinking for you.
In your niche, you’re the expert (at least the best expert in your niche, for people who share your views) and you’re telling people what’s important to know about.
Maybe your website readers will visit the link to read more from the original source. Maybe they accept your views as “good enough,” and then feel confident to talk with friends or business associates, as if they’d discovered, read and researched the original information, themselves. So, it’s important not to let your readers down.
It’s not that Snopes is never wrong, but the site is right enough that people feel comfortable relying on it, quoting it, and sometimes talking about the rumors & trends as if they’d done exactly what Snopes did, on their own.
Once you understand why people need curated content, this starts making more sense.
Search engines should like your curated articles as well as they like anything else you write. The idea is to make your content unique.
SEO and curated content
Right now, a bazillion “curated” sites are using WordPress plugins that merely collect blurbs and links from other websites, based on keywords. Those “curated” sites are nothing but a list of excerpts and links, with computer-generated comments between them… if they even bother with that. Google, et al, are not fooled.
A genuinely curated site is at least 1/4 to 1/3 commentary, and it’s unique, intelligent commentary, related to the links and to the niche itself.
If you provide a useful website with articles that share the most important news and articles, related to your niche, and you also help your readers understand what’s important about the sources you reference… that’s a good website. You save your readers’ time. You give them insights they might not have the time or expertise to develop on their own. You make them feel more informed, and you make them sound more authoritative when they discuss whatever-it-is with others.
My highest-ranked niche websites have been including curated content since forever. In fact, most included curated content since the 1990s.
In the 1990s, blogs were called weblogs… more correctly: web logs, like a captain’s log. People listed websites they’d visited and said something like:
“I went to this website and it had some great paintings on it, but nothing about the kind of paint the artist used. Still, it’s worth visiting to see the big waterfall painting.
“This next link not only shows some nice little landscape paintings, but the artist tried the same scene in oil paint and acrylic paint, so you could see the difference.”
That was when we were relying on Yahoo as our main search engine. It was run by humans. Yahoo could take two or three months to index an article or website. So, to stay current in our niches, we relied on friends to share the new sites and articles they’d discovered… long before Yahoo would list those new sites or articles.
So, among my friends who — like me — have had personal and niche websites since the mid-1990s, I keep hearing, “Curation…? That’s what it’s called…? Wow. I’ve been doing that for 15 years.”
There’s nothing new about real curation, only the fake version being sold as something you can fully automate, based on keywords. Search engines are not fooled. They can spot automated content, pretty easily. In fact, a lot of 2012′s SEO shake-ups were Google developing algorithms and filters to weed out automated and badly outsourced content.
The time-honored version of curation — which I talk about more in my book, The Content Curation Handbook – is a normal way of posting content at a website or blog. Google and other search engines won’t raise an eyebrow, and they’ll rank it just like any other website content, based on its usefulness to visitors.
Matt Cutts knows how to rattle people’s cages, big time. He’s announced that Penguin 2.0 is arriving, and it’s going to be “jarring and jolting” and something many webmasters “don’t want.”
My thoughts? It’s not going to shake up my websites. Even a temporary slump will reverse, quickly. I never worry about these things, because:
- I know I’m providing unique, quality information at my sites. That’s what readers and search engines want to see.
- I never use sleazy tactics to artificially boost my sites to a higher spot at search engines. (That’s what Penguin seems to focus on.)
If that sounds smug to you, and you’re quaking in your boots because you’re not sure if Google will zap you with Penguin 2.0, maybe you need to make a few changes at your websites.
My advice is exactly the same as what I’ve been saying from the start:
- Create good, original, unique content.
- Don’t do anything (or recommend anything) you wouldn’t be proud to tell your mom or your kids about.
- Forget backlinking schemes, and don’t buy mass backlinks at Fiverr. Anyone who’ll give you 1000 backlinks for $5… run the other way. Your content should be so good, people link to it because they want others to know about your website.
- If you need to jump-start your exposure to people who will link to you, use the things that work: Facebook, Twitter, and things like Squidoo lenses and Hub Pages. Then go answer questions in forums where your links are useful, not spammy. (Every article at your website should answer someone’s question/s.)
- Don’t buy into any reciprocal linking schemes. Google will not be amused.
- Anything that creates posts for you — even if it’s sold as “curated content” — is still autoblogging and it can be toxic. Auto-posting Amazon product links? Maybe. Don’t rely on them as your sole content. Auto-posting blurbs from articles and the occasional YouTube video? That’s a short route to Google’s version of outer darkness.
- If you can’t research and write your own articles, hire a writer to create unique articles for you. (You can buy PLR, but it had better be really, really good — something that will look syndicated — and don’t rely on that, alone.) If none of those options fit your budget or schedule, sell your website at Flippa. Do something else. Website management isn’t for you.
- Create good, original, unique content. (Yes, I said that before and it’s worth repeating.)
- If you feel like you have to do anything special for on-page SEO, focus on things like LSI. (Basically, words and phrases related to your main subject.) You can usually get the word lists by using any keyword tool, including Google’s free Keyword Tool. There’s no reason to go crazy with this, just use the list to trigger “ah-HA!” moments… other things you can talk about in that same article or another one.
- Always provide quality to your visitors. Respect their time and be sure they’re glad they visited your website.
Those are the things that will prevent you from being hit hard by Panda, Penguin, and any other animal that wanders down Google’s path.
This explains a little more about Penguin…
Here’s one opinion of what’s next, and what to do about it…
Here’s another, longer discussion…
Google seems to be changing the ranking game.. again. If you were relying on an exact-match product name to secure an above-the-fold listing at Google, think again.
Google describes the change as a “delightful shopping experiences for consumers in close partnership with merchants.”
In a nutshell: Google is claiming more of its above-the-fold real estate. When you search for a product-related phrase, almost everything you’ll see — unless you scroll down — will be paid ads.
What it means for website owners: Unless your website is among the paid inclusions (meaning: you’ve bought ad space), or your website is #1 for that product or kind of product, your Google listing will appear below the fold. You know, the range where it’s so quiet, all you hear are crickets chirping.
The headlines are dire:
- Forbes.com explains How Evil are Google’s New Paid Shopping Search Results? As Anthony Wing Cosner explains, “Google will position itself as a collector of a tithe on all commerce that flows through it.”
- SEO Book shows you the bad news — in the form of a heatmap — at their article, Google Paid Inclusion Programs: Buy a Top Ranking Today. They said it well, “The issue of the incredibly shrinking organic result set is something that can’t be over-emphasized. For many SEOs the trend will absolutely be career ending.” If you want your product-related website or webpage to attract traffic via Google, SEO won’t matter; just buy your spot above the fold.
- And, in a short but to the point article, TrafficPlanet.com said it all in their headline, Google all set to kill the SEO business.. at least for ecommerce sites and amazon affiliates.
Where does that leave people like you and me, who don’t want to spend money on ad space at Google?
For a long time, I’ve been talking about the importance of content at your affiliate websites. Frankly, you want to be such a great resource, you’re able to bypass search engines altogether. You already have fans who never miss your latest article or review, and follow your website via RSS or email. And, when you post something especially good, they tell their friends (via Web 2.0 sites) about you… with a link.
This means that you can’t rely wholly on autoblogging, no matter how sweet they make that sound at places like the Warrior Forum. You absolutely, positively must build a solid reputation for unique, valuable and original content.
And, if you’re relying on SEO to make you the one-and-only site appearing above the fold when someone searches at Google for a product or a kind of product… forget it. You can no longer build your business on that concept. Google is stacking the deck against you. They may say the new listings format will enable shoppers to learn more about the product and then “buy it from their merchant of choice.” However, Google is making pretty darned sure that “merchant of choice” is a business that’s paid to become the shoppers’ choice.
The thing is, shoppers aren’t stupid. As Forbes’ Kosner said, “if consumers feel that the results that are returned are not necessarily the best deals and are there for purely commercial reasons, they may begin to look suspiciously at all of the new structured data displays that Google is rolling out.” (emphasis added)
If you’re thinking the game is entirely under the thumb of Google, think again. Remember the 1990s, when we thought Yahoo would always be the #1 search engine?
Yes. It’s like that.
After the recent privacy changes at Google, many people switched to the anonymity, clean lines and friendliness of Duck Duck Go. Bing is also rolling out some hard-core competitive advantages, to attract more visitors to their search engine.
The more Google becomes visibly commercial, the more searchers will feel uneasy about Google’s search results.
Stop investing in SEO aimed at Google. In fact, if you’re thinking of SEO first and your visitors’ experience second (or third, or lower) when you’re adding to your website, stop… full stop.
To paraphrase your grandmother: If you can’t say something meaningful and worth your visitors’ time, don’t say anything at all.
Affiliate sites can still succeed. They’re just less likely to succeed if they’re all about making money and not about creating enthusiastic, loyal fans. Seth Godin and others have been saying this kind of thing for years.
If your business model depends on manipulating and gaming Google to achieve above-the-fold positioning for products by name, it’s time to change your business model. Big time.
Affiliates: Quit aiming all of your website efforts at ranking well for “buyers’ keywords.” (You know, phrases that include terms such as: buy, cheap, best prices, reviews, purchase, bargain, compare, and discount.)
Remember, if people are searching for something that isn’t a “buyers’ keyword,” you’re less likely to be competing with paid shopping results. That’s where to invest your efforts.
Sure, click-through rates are far lower if you’re not targeting buyer keywords. If you can’t compete for the #1 spot using buyers’ keywords, the point is moot. Aim for the traffic you can get.
Likewise, if you’re aiming for long-tail keywords (even buyer keywords) that have little or no competition, you can still rank well; there won’t be any paid shopping results between you and the top of the page.
But, all in all, it’s time to bail from the whole autoblogging, SEO-for-product-name nonsense.
Create good content. Create lots of good content. You can still build your websites around affiliate links, just don’t waste your time making them the sole focal point of your work.
Rank well as an authority in your niche. Know your topic. Write great articles. Keep your readers current with real curated content from all around your niche. Include superb reviews that your readers trust, and — in those reviews — include your affiliate links.
Remember when you were in high school and you used to go to the library to do research? Everyone knew that was code for “hang out with your friends,” but you probably did some research there, too.
The Internet is the new library. Become one of the friends people want to hang out with. Make your website the cool place to be.
Let Google shoot itself in the foot. They’re losing major trust points with searchers as Google’s commercial interests push out meaningful search engine results.
You’re going to be fine, as long as you shift your focus to content, and become a resource people trust for recommendations more than they trust Google.
Hey, the way things are going, that’s not going to be difficult.
H1 text — heading (bold) text in the largest size — sends a message to your readers and to search engines, about the subject of your post. Many of us use H1 text as the headings that break up a long article into topic-specific sections.
Often, the title of each post is automatically set in H1 text. It’s large, it’s bold, and it stands out from everything else you write.
Google and other search engines see the H1 text, and take it a little more seriously than anything else on the page, when they’re deciding which keywords are most important. That’s exactly what H1 text is supposed to do: Indicate what’s important on a webpage.
You may also use H1 for headings in your articles. In WordPress, here’s where you’ll select Heading 1 (aka “H1″) to make a heading stand out:
What you’ll do is select (highlight, with your cursor) the phrase you’d like to turn into H1 text. Then, click on the Format section of your WordPress post screen (the default usually says “Paragraph”), so the selected phrase is converted to H1 text.
Or, as you’re writing, you can select H1 text, type what you want in that headline-style font, and then deselect H1 (back to the default Paragraph style).
It’s that simple.
Note: How the H1 text looks in your post screen isn’t necessarily how it’ll look on your webpage. How H1 looks on your website… that’s determined by the CSS (stylesheet) in your WordPress theme.
In the past, “loophole” specialists have tweaked their CSS so they can write their entire posts in H1. That’s exactly what I recommend against: Following advice that’s designed to fool search engines. Don’t do it.
In many WordPress themes, H1 text looks huge and ugly. In the past, H1 was used so rarely, this hasn’t been much of an issue. Now, to help search engines and readers skim our articles and recognize what’s important, H1 can be useful. Just don’t overdo it.
Here’s what Google’s Matt Cutts said about overuse of H1:
Recently, I changed some of my WordPress themes so H1 text looks less obnoxious. If you’ve bought one of my themes that includes the better-looking H1 design, that’s not a license to pepper your articles with it.
Moderation is a good thing. Follow Matt Cutts’ advice in the video, above, and you’ll be fine.
“Fresh content” is a new buzzword among the loophole crowd. Well, hey, it always seems like people are trying to fool Google with plugins and sneaky website tactics. At the moment, they’re trying to make old articles look fresh and updated, without actually adding relevant new content.
Big yawn. It looks like the Internet version of “mutton, dressed as lamb.”
Seriously, my stomach lurches when I see someone selling something that’s designed specifically to make Google (and other search engines) think one thing is going… when it’s actually just smoke and mirrors. Some of them are simply stupid. Others are downright dangerous for your ranking, as soon as Google spots the ruse.
The newest snake oil involves tools to make articles look fresher than they actually are. After all, talking about April 2012 Google algorithm changes, Matt Cutts said, “We try to promote content that appears to be fresh.”
I predict: Fake “freshness” will be the hot new plugin focus. (I hope it’s a short-lived trend.)
The plugins I’ve seen so far are simply adding blurbs from your recent articles to your older posts. I’m expecting additional plugins that draw “curated” blurbs from other sites, or RSS snippets, etc., and add them to old posts so they might look fresher.
In my opinion, that’s low quality “fresh content.” I heartily recommend against buying any product that’s scraping content or spinning anything so your old posts might look like you updated them.
Google isn’t stupid.
At InsideSearch.blogspot.co.uk, you’ll see exactly what Matt Cutts has said about freshness cues and how they affect an article’s ranking at Google. I recommend browsing that entire article for the April 2012 search engine updates.
Mr. Cutts specifically said, “We have modified a classifier we use to promote fresh content to exclude fresh content identified as particularly low-quality.” (Emphasis added.)
Why spend time and money trying to fool Google? Is it really worth the short-term gains? Have you so little respect for your websites and your website visitors, that you’d try to lure them to an outdated article with fake “fresh” content?
If an article is still relevant, people will find it and link to it. You don’t need to try to deceive search engines.
If an article is outdated, maybe it doesn’t deserve to rank well among fresher articles on the same topic. Either update it with good, unique, fresher content, or accept that some older articles won’t rank as well as fresher, better ones will.
From my viewpoint, if people put as much time into adding meaningful content to their websites as they spend trying to fool Google, they wouldn’t have to fool Google. They’d have a genuinely useful, valuable website that ranks well.
So, before you open your wallet to the next scarcity tactic like “buy this before the price goes up at the Warrior Forum/Clickbank/JVzoo,” pause and decide if you really want to start down that “let’s fool Google” path.
Short-term, it may lead to more visitors and income. Theoretically, if you hop from one loophole product to the next, you can keep this game going for a long time.
Or, one of these loophole tactics or products could send your entire website empire to Google’s outer darkness. Is it worth that risk? For high-rollers with thousands of websites maintained by dozens of sweatshop outsourcers… maybe.
For anyone with integrity, who wants to weather any quality filters Google throws at them…? Not a chance. Quality wins, period and full stop.
If you want an older article to look fresher, update it to include the latest information. That’s authentic. That’s what earns the respect of your visitors, and promotes you to the rank of authority.
I won’t be buying plugins that provide fake “freshness” cues to search engines, and I won’t be selling websites that include those plugins.
My advice is to keep building your high-quality websites the old fashioned way: With useful content, updated to remain useful to repeat and new visitors.
For years, I’ve said that spinning articles is a Very Bad Thing, to paraphrase St. Martha Stewart. (Sorry, if you’ve never watched Martha Stewart’s TV shows, my humor may elude you.)
My problem with spinning wasn’t about ranking — obviously, some sites did very well with spun articles — but about copyright law. (Don’t get me started on the topic of using people’s images without permission…)
I’ve also raised an eyebrow every time I saw some IM guru raving about a Google “loophole” that could be exploited to get on Google’s Page 1 for the target keywords. To me, that’s not natural, and — sooner or later — Google was going to target the gullible people who followed every loophole idea or product that came down the turnpike. That’s especially true about backlinking methods, from loading Wikipedia with backlinks to buying into link exchanges and networks.
Over the years, I’ve made some very big enemies for being outspoken about both practices: Spinning and “loophole” SEO. Don’t ask how many of my comments and blog posts have been deleted from one of the big IM forums. Ahem.
Today, I’m feeling vindicated. My email is full of headers like this, from Mervik Haums: “Are you stealing content from other websites? Your Google rankings can be dropped”
Then there’s BuildMyRank’s abrupt announcement. They’re shutting down their service, as it has been run, and they’re giving people a way to remove links from the network. Wow. I know a few people who invested heavily in those backlinks. They have my sympathy, because — as Pot Pie Girl said — there’s no evidence that the damage can be reversed by removing those kinds of links. However, if I had backlinks in that kind of network… yeah, I’d be scrambling to remove them.
The problem is, the recommended replacement is curated content. Yes, I gave a recent WSO — preaching curation – a favorable review. (It wasn’t a rave review… just a “looks pretty good.”)
Yes, I’ve been curating content for nearly as long as I’ve been online, which means since 1995.
However, most people haven’t a clue what curation really means. If you’re going to do it at all, make sure you’re doing it right.
First, the copyright issue: I’m not an attorney, so this is just my non-legal opinion, but as I read US copyright law, some quoting is generally within “fair use” as long as you’re careful to limit it and give full credit plus a backlink to the source.
But here’s the bigger issue, if copy-and-paste looks like the new shortcut to quickie content: The content needs to be good, fresh content that your niche audience will value. If you don’t really understand your niche, and you don’t stay current with all the news in that niche, at least weekly… curation could be another Very Bad Thing. If you post content that’s a rehash of last year’s news — and don’t realize it — you’re going to look like an idiot.
If you add no unique editorial content, you’ll also look bad… and that’s going to be another domino to topple at the search engines, sooner or later. (In case you didn’t notice, this post is a curated content article. “Curation” does not mean a patchwork of blurbs copied from other people’s websites, held together with money links.)
As I said last night in a webinar with Ryan Magin, if you’re going to do curation at all, you absolutely must immerse yourself in your niche.
Here are links to the two free WP plugins I mentioned during the webinar. Both are available through your WP Dashboard, via Plugins > Install Plugins > Search.
Here’s the ideal scene for any website: Your content — including curated content — needs to be so fresh and so insightful, fans are tempted to make your website their browser’s homepage.
Obviously, unless you’re going to hire full-time writers or dedicated yourself to just one niche and that’s all, that’s a lofty goal and — for most people — an impossible one. However, every site you create should provide something of unique value to your readers.
Spun articles, 99-cent articles researched at eZineArticles or Wikipedia, and “curated” sites that are merely a careless Dagwood sandwich of other people’s content… those won’t serve you well. Not now and not later.
Curation is tremendous fun. Curated articles are fun to research and fun to write. And, curated content can serve your readers well.
However, the big lesson to be learned from the Spring 2012 Google shake-ups is: There are no shortcuts. If you’re going to create content of any kind — including curated content — you must respect the time of your website visitors.
If you discovered your mom or grandmother spending her days, reading article-after-article at your websites… would you consider that a valuable use of her time? Or, would you feel embarrassed because it’s not your best work, or your site doesn’t really contain information with unique value?
Immerse yourself in your niche or niches, or — if that would spread you too thin — focus on the websites and niches you can cover, well. And, whether you hire an expert in the niche to write for you, or you write (or curate) your own articles, make sure the content has value.
The sites that toppled from #1 to #150 at Google this month… they teach us a valuable lesson: Care about your website visitors. Care about your niche. And remember, “loopholes” don’t last and quickie shortcuts lead only to the darker corners of the supplemental indexes.
Catching up on my reading this morning, my highest priority was Seth Godin’s blog. He’s an innovator, or at least an early adopter, in many areas. (That’s a reference to the Diffusion of Innovations theory.) I watch what Mr. Godin does, and I learn from it. And frankly, he’s such a success, his is clearly a business model that works.
In general, I like his business model. He’s authentic. Some of what he does… sure, it’s for marketing. Most of what he does, isn’t. It’s just what he does, and he’s the best Seth Godin we have.
No one can successfully compete with everyone else. Not indefinitely, anyway. There was a time when we though Yahoo would always be the top search engine, and Netscape would always be the browser of choice. Google is recently enacted some privacy policies that have driven away several innovators and early adopters among my friends. (Many are looking at up-and-coming search engines such as Gigablast. At the moment, it’s pretty ugly and the results aren’t easy to scan. However, it’s one of many alternatives that Google needs to be watching.)
This is also the lesson of the “long tail.” (The general concept was initially discussed in a 2004 Wired article by Chris Anderson. The concept is explained more clearly here and here. And, Jill Whalen argues against this as SEO, at her own blog, which has been amplified by a clever infographic at SEO Book.)
And, I’m reading the article he referenced, 12 Things That Will Kill Your Blog Post Every Time. I understand the points in it, and — from a strictly by-the-numbers, this-will-work viewpoint — he’s right.
In that post, Mr. Patel makes a very good point about using the All in One SEO plugin, which I often include with my websites. Frankly, the All in One SEO plugin has earned steady respect in the SEO community, and — almost universally — the pros tell you (and me) to use it. So, if you’re using it, follow the tips at the plugin’s website, or the suggestions in Mr. Patel’s post.
However, the fact is: On my own websites, I use a different, free SEO plugin: WordPress SEO by Yoast. There is some inconvenience; the plugin can cause duplicate titles at your website. A simple code change (cut-and-paste within Appearance > Editor > Header.php) fixes it, and the instructions are on the SEO > Titles page within the plugin.
I own several premium SEO plugins, including SEOpressor and SEO Scorer. I don’t need them (and so, I don’t use them) when I use WordPress SEO by Yoast. And, to be honest, I’m not convinced it looks very natural to included your keyword in bold, italics, and underlined once in each post. I mean, really, nobody does that naturally, and I think our articles must look natural to both our readers and the search engines.
So, I use WordPress SEO by Yoast, and I may start including that, instead of All in One SEO, in future websites that I sell. I’m on the fence. I want to create sites that people will want to buy, but — in line with the theme of this post – I might be happier creating websites that reflect my own experiences with what works and what doesn’t.
Follow the rules, and you’re more likely to achieve moderate success.
Break the rules, as Godin does, and you’re taking the high roller route. People had better find you… or you’re talking to yourself, or just a handful of people.
The thing is, when I try to follow the rules — and I do, regularly, if only to see how they work — I soon come to a complete halt. It feels wrong, and I not only sound inauthentic, I feel like I’m not being authentic. For me, the latter is toxic.
You need to choose your own path. Maybe you’re more comfortable following the rules, proven by endless statistics and analyses. At the very least, they’re good “training wheels” when you’re starting out.
But, for all the long-tail naysayers, and all the risks of being one-of-a-kind, there’s still Seth Godin. He happens to be one of the biggest marketing successes, online and off.
I watch him. I learn. And then, I choose my own path.
Clearly, there is no “one true road” to success. It’s key to find that fine line where you’re both successful and authentic.
Your readers can tell when you’re faking it. If they want fake, they can probably find it for less than you’re charging. In fact, plenty of people are so desperate for approval and the illusion of popularity, they’re giving away fake.
It’s risky to go long-tail from the very start. It may take far longer to reach commercial success. However, a business built on authenticity will always feel better and resonate better with your friends, your fans, and yourself.
The tricky part is sorting out which rules are firm, and which are okay to bend to fit your unique business style.
Duplicate content is a very controversial topic.
Here are some ways people define “duplicate content”:
- The same article, multiple times, on the same domain.
- The same article, multiple times, on one domain plus subdomains. (That is, you’ve used the same article on www.realtinfoilhats.com, on aliens.realtinfoilhats.com, and on area51.realtinfoilhats.com.) In most “official” Google-related discussions, I think this is what they mean by duplicate content.
- The same article on multiple websites across the Internet. (In IM, I think this is what most people mean by duplicate content.)
- The same content, spun or translated, on multiple websites.
Those are just a few of the ways people interpret “duplicate content.”
In my opinion, it’s not a good idea to have one of hundreds of cookie-cutter websites, all with identical content.
However, there are additional factors. They include:
- The quality of your content. If your website focuses on an offer from a (fictional) deposed Nigerian dictator who’s looking for a $10,000 loan… I don’t care how unique your website content is. You’ll still be labelled as “spam.”
- The coherence of your content. If your website hasn’t narrowed its focus to a specific niche, you could have a problem ranking well at search engines. Let’s say your website includes articles about Forex, pharmaceuticals, and “enhancement” products. You’ll compound the problem if those articles aren’t unique to your website. Unless it’s a wiki-type site, Google (and other search engines) will probably see 100% spam.
- The domain name and its relevance to the niche. If your domain name is RealTinFoilHats.com, the site should probably be about aliens, conspiracy theories, or something like that. If you site has that name and it’s about country music or athlete’s foot cures, search engines raise an eyebrow. If your articles aren’t original, in addition to the mismatched domain name… that won’t help you rank well at Google.
- How much of your content is, word-for-word, the same as other websites’. All other things being more-or-less equal, why should a search engine move your website to the top of their list? If you’ve added nothing new to your site, and visitors can find the exact same articles on other, more complete websites, you probably won’t rank as well.
Keep in mind: When Associated Press or another news agency releases a story, that story will appear on thousands of websites across the Internet.
Is that duplicate content? Yes. (Technically, it’s syndicated content, but the effect is the same: Duplicates of that one article appear all over the Internet.)
Will a newspaper site be penalized for that? No, not if they also have:
- A large number of their own, unique articles from their own writers.
- Good editorial essays.
- And, articles drawn from a range of other news agencies, too.
Of course, a single Associated Press article can’t rank well on every one of the 15,000+ sites that publishes it. Each webpage at a site ranks differently for different searches, and its page rank (called “PR”) will vary, as well.
However, the value of your website — as a whole — is likely to be evaluated as a whole. And, that perceived value can influence how well your individual articles rank, even if some of them are 100% duplicates of articles all over the Internet.
That single Associated Press article on the BBC or NY Times websites will probably outrank that same article on a 20-page website run by a sincere (but rarely updated) small-town newspaper. Frankly, the larger, more content-rich sites are perceived as more valuable.
The issue is the quality of your website, and whether you provide unique and interesting information for your visitors. If some of your articles are the same as on others’ sites, that’s doesn’t have to be a problem.
However, if you offer nothing new at all, don’t expect search engines to recommend your website above others that dooffer unique value to readers.
To be blunt: Autoblogging software provides a steady stream of content. It keeps your website updated and fresh looking. If that software also “spins” the content so it fools the search engines and still reads like an intelligent article, you may be okay… for awhile.
Tip: Many SEO experts suggest that it’s only a matter of time before Google can spot spun content, no matter how high you set the percent of words the software changes.
I don’t recommend spinning your articles, ever. If you’re honest about including “duplicate” articles, I think you’ll do better, in the long run.
However, if you never add wholly original content to your website, your site may not perform as well as you’d like.
Here’s how the “duplicate content” question affects my work:
When I create limited edition PLR-type websites — such as Getting the Ring — my content is rich and varied. Even when it’s curated content, such as an annotated list of videos, they’re put together so each post is unique and interesting.
In addition, I sell 25 (or fewer) copies of those content-rich sites. So, they’re more like syndicated content than cookie-cutter sites.
Once you add your own, unique articles and other content, your site can quickly look different enough. On that small scale, compared with the broad scope of the Internet, I don’t think duplicate content is a significant issue.
It’s better to focus on giving your website visitors a unique and valuable experience at your site.
Regardless of the source of your content, does your website offer the visitor what he or she is looking for? Does your website contribute something new and useful to the Internet?
As I see it, my job is to create a foundation for you to build on. It’s up to you to add to it in ways that make your site a rich, bookmark-worthy experience for your website visitors.
You can add that value by thinking about your niche, your target audience, and what kinds of content will be useful to them.
By focusing on providing value to your visitors, you’ll rise above any duplicate content questions.
Keyword density can help or hurt you.
I pay attention to keyword density only for editing purposes. If it also helps my SEO, that’s great, but that’s not my main focus.
When I write, I tend to use too many pronouns. I’ll say it, that, he, she, and so on, instead of what I’m talking about. I’ll also use phrases like “this subject” or “the field” or “this topic” more than I should.
The keyword density tools in SEO Scorer and in Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin remind me when I’ve forgotten to make clear what I’m talking about.
Keyword density is useful for clarity. However, if you’re focusing more on keyword density than the value of the content for your readers… sooner or later, you’re going to get zapped by one of Google’s algorithm changes.
Above all, avoid using keyword tools at the expense of good grammar. Don’t repeat a keyword (or keyword phrase) so often, it sounds ridiculous when read aloud. That’s called keyword stuffing, and it’s a powerful way to drive away website visitors and search engines.
Your website should have a voice. Read aloud, your posts should sound interesting, and have a distinct character. People will tell their friends about your site because they identify with it, and you’ve provided helpful information or something fun to see or read.
If you bore people out of their minds by repeating the same phrase over and over again, don’t expect to maintain a good spot at search engines.
This video by Google’s Matt Cutts places the keyword density issue in perspective.