There are many different ways that you can approach your SEO efforts to get to the top of search engines, however most of them are all designed to make your site and the back-link portfolio look authentic (unnatural links warning advice here by Albert Mitchell), not actually be authentic. In the past, this has been sufficient to get you top rankings. Depending on the methods used you may have been able to stay at the top for a very long time too and may even still be there. However, it is my opinion that those days are going to fade away. I am not sure how quickly this will happen, but it will happen.
What to Do About It?
While I am not advocating drastic and immediate overhauls to your site and back-link portfolio, I am advocating that business owners, marketing departments and web teams responsible for the company's website and internet marketing begin figuring out how to be authentic and not just look authentic. It is time to look to offer more value to your clients through your website and stop looking for the easy way out. Unfortunately, some business owners and web teams want rankings, yet they don't want to put the time and/or money into making their website worthy of having top rankings.If you want to be at the top of Google you have to make a website that deserves to be there. Google is getting better and better at figuring out the difference between looking authentic and actually being authentic.
Although you may not have been hit in the latest round of Panda updates (see David Malmborg's Webinar and Slides on Panda effecting Content), maybe you were hit by the new Penguin update from Google combating webspam. All of these updates mean you will eventually lose traction if you do not work on being authentic. As more webmasters and business owners become concerned with the way that they have approached SEO in the past, they are going to build out content and value on their sites. If you do not keep pace you are going to get left behind, even if you never are "penalized". Ironically, because SEO's, webmasters, business owners and the like have all spent so much time on how to "look authentic", we will all also have to work at "being authentic". Here is a list of 20 things you can check on your site to make sure that you are seen as authentic by Google.
- Keywords in Body Text: Be careful about how many times you have an exact match of your targeted keywords in the body text. Use variations and synonyms throughout the body text. The goal here should be to make sure that when you read your copy it reads well and that you are not repeating the exact same phrase over and over. I always advice clients to write content for the user first, and then go back and make sure the exact match keywords are in the content at least once or twice, but to be cautious about any more than that.
- Exact Match Internal Links: Every link from another page on your site does not need to be exact match anchor text. Again, use variations, synonyms and even... heaven forbid... “Click Here”. Do not make a link for the sake of a link on your site. Make sure that links are helpful to your user.
- Exact Match Keywords in All Key Indicators on a Page (ie-title, h1, body, url): It is certainly okay to have an exact match keyword in the title of the page, or an h1 tag at the top of the page or in the body content or even in the url. However, if you have the exact match keyword in all of these places on the same page, it may be a bit too much. I would recommend putting it in the title of the page and then utilize variations, longtail and synonyms in these other places. Don't work every keyword you are targeting on the page into the title. Pick the most important ones and let the others show up in the body of content on the page.
- Exact Match Keywords in Navigation: This one is similar to the previous one. Using a head term in the main navigation, linking to the page that keyword is targeted on, is probably okay. However, a long tail keyword should not be used in the navigation because it makes for an ugly looking navigation and it is not natural (and Google will know what you are trying to do)
- Use Rich Content (images, video, graphics, etc): No one is going to want to consume a long page of "text only" content. Make your content “consumable”. By this I mean, use images, video, graphics, social plugins, etc along with text content. In addition, within the "text' content, use headers, bullets, bold, etc. This makes it much easier to consume the "text content" and thus makes your text content easier to consume and your page more valuable and appealing. Again, build the page for the end user, not the search engines. You can tweak things for search engines after it is built, but it never works if you build it for search engines and then try to tweak for the end user.
- Content Placement: Large blocks of text that are placed at the bottom of the page scream “content for seo purposes only”. That is the lazy way out. Take the time to really integrate the content into the page so that it is helpful and useful for the users. Find ways to integrate text within graphics (as html text of course) rather than just sentences and paragraphs. Think outside the box on this one.
- Active Blog: One way to truly become authentic is to become the thought leader in the industry. By actively publishing industry related topics and topics that interest your clients you will build a lot of credibility and promote an active community, which will help in being authentic. It is also best if you develop the blog posts rather than an internet marketing company. They can certainly help you get the most from it, but you are the expert in your industry so you and your company need to be the ones that are developing the blog posts.
- Useful Online Tools / Mobile Apps: We are quickly becoming a society of apps users. Developing apps or online tools that your clients can use for free is a great way to reach your customer base. It is also a great way to signal to search engines that you have useful things for those who are searching keywords in your industry. Again, this shows some authenticity about your business as one that is providing useful content.
- Rel="Author": Perhaps one of the most powerful tools you can use right now to display some authenticity is the rel="author" tag. In the process of becoming authentic you are going to be producing a lot of content. Using the rel="author" attribute on that content will help attribute that content to you. This will help you to prove to Google that you are the author of the content that you develop. In addition, it will give your content a better appearance in the search results, causing a higher click through rate. Learn about how to apply rel="author" to your content right here.
- Active Facebook: To be genuine you need to be active on your Facebook account. Answer people’s questions, hold contest that will generate natural links to the site, and post often. It is also a good idea to post on topics relating to your industry that are not directly promotional to you in nature. When you interact with your community in a way that is sharing, news or discussion oriented, rather than "buy my stuff", you will have a more authentic Facebook account and your community will be more receptive to the times that you do put out promotional content.
- Active YouTube: If applicable, have a YouTube account and be active in posting videos and responding to questions as well as commenting on other videos. Contests that involve videos from clients are another great way to generate natural links to your site. Again, the concept is to make the YouTube account authentic through interaction.
- Active Twitter: Become the thought leader in your industry through your twitter account. Reply to others, become an active participant in discussions with other industry thought leaders, use hashtags to get your message to those who are interested in the industry but are not yet following you and make sure you post often enough to keep things active and add value to your followers. Again, stay away from every tweet being promotional. In fact, the promotional tweets going out should be small percentage wise.
- How to Guides: Everyone is turning to the internet to learn how to do just about anything. Put together some really nice “How To" guide’ if it is applicable in your industry. This adds a lot of value and will generate a lot of links long term to your site. It also gives you a whole new range of related keywords that you potentially will show up for.
- Instructional Video’s: Having some instructional videos on the site is a great way to add value to your clients and also generate back links naturally. This is very similar to the "How To" guide's, except it is now on video.
- Meme’s: This is one of the more recent ways people are getting links and having fun at the same time (I know, an amazing concept). Having a Meme contest is a great way to generate interaction with your clients and get back links at the same time. If you are not sure what this is, simply take a look at this page and you will quickly understand.
- Images: Photo contests are another great way to build community with your customers and generate back-links at the same time. In addition, images are a great way to increase the length of stay of site visitor to your website.
- Google+ Profile: Google loves their own social profile and they want it to have relevance so badly that they seem to be placing some extra weight on this one. Go figure. This is still fine though because there has been enough adoption of it that you can make it natural with customers that are using Google+.
- Google Places: If you are a local, brick and mortar store you absolutely need to make sure that you are listed in Google places. However, don’t stop there. To be natural means you are going to list in all thing local that you can to make sure your customers can find you, so list in Yahoo local, City Search, etc.
- Industry Directories/ Forums/Blogs: Being natural means that you are being a part of the community in your industry. The best way to do this is to make sure that you are listed and found in industry directories, participate in industry forums and comment on other industry blogs.
At the end of the day, your internet marketing company can help you with how to get the most out of the content that you are creating along with the interaction that you are getting involved in through social networks and the like. However, it is you, the business owner, the marketing director, webmaster, etc (and others that work for you) that are the experts in your industry and it is time for you to become involved in the marketing of your website through content development.
As for the internet marketing guru's reading this, any other ideas that you would share on how to "BE Authentic"? Please share in the comments below.
PS... I just couldn't resist a stab at all you iPhone lovers. I am a Droid guy myself. Feel free to tell me all about why iPhone's are better than Droid phones in the comments section below.