When it Comes to Search Engine Positioning, Content is King

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Choosing the right keywords, optimizing pages for search engine consumption, and other quite technical topics get quite a bit of attention. But almost everything you need to know about search engine positioning can be summed up in one word.

The one all-important word in internet marketing is of course content. If you have content which is useful to visitors, you’re already 90% there, and all the rest is fine tuning. If you don’t have worthwhile content, all the keyword optimization in the world won’t get you very far.

Thinking Like a Search Engine

To understand why content is vastly more important than any kind of search engine optimization or other technical tweaking, just try thinking like a search engine for a moment…

If you are a search engine, what is your job? Your job is to find content that visitors to your service will find useful.

If you are a search engine, what happens if you fail to find content that visitors to your service will find useful? Visitors will go somewhere else more capable of finding useful content.

If you are a search engine, what kind of development resources get thrown your way to help make you more effective? As a major search engine (say, Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.), you will benefit from millions upon millions of dollars of development effort.

If you are one of the major search engines benefiting from millions of dollars of development effort, how clever are you? You are very very clever indeed.

So, the job of a search engine is to figure out, as accurately as possible, what pages will be useful to someone searching for particular words and phrases. The ‘big name’ search engines are exceptionally good at this, and they are getting better every day.

The high level of sophistication of today’s major search engines explains why, for example, the content of META tags has become almost irrelevant to search engine positioning. Why are META tags virtually irrelevant? They are virtually irrelevant because they make almost no difference to the usefulness of a page’s content for someone who actually visits the page. In other words, you can put any keywords you want in a META tag, but if the visitor never sees them, what difference do they make? More than a decade ago, before major search engines figured this out, some webmasters did enjoy success stuffing irrelevant keywords into their META tags, thereby attracting visitors who thought they were being directed to something completely different than what they actually found. Major search engines today do pay a little bit of attention to META tags, but very little; their main relevance from a search engine perspective these days is that some search engines display the META DESCRIPTION tag to describe sites on their results pages.

Why Content Matters

The most important lesson from all this is that what really matters to search engine positioning, what really matters to strategic internet marketing, what really matters to increasing the traffic to your private practice website is very simple: content.

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When it comes to search engine positioning in particular and internet marketing in general, the single most important rule of thumb is this: put your effort into those features of your site which will make it more useful to visitors. Why? Because the leading search engines are very, very clever at discerning what is useful and what is not, and if your site delivers what is useful, it will be rewarded.

Trickery Does Not Pay

The second most important lesson from this is that you should never try to trick a search engine into sending you traffic that you have not ‘earned’ with solid, useful content: it just does not pay. And, in fact, it can win you big penalties in search engine ranking if you are caught.

(Actually, that’s not entirely true, about trickery not paying: there are people out there whose job it is to craft ways to deceive search engines into sending visitors to pages with content that is not really what the visitors were looking for. I see the results of search engine manipulation all the time, but specific instances of it rarely last very long, because the search engines rapidly learn to weed out the deception. So, the people whose job it is to fool them have to revise their strategies constantly, finding ever more devious ways to dupe the search engines and their innocent visitors, while the search engines, in turn, become more and more clever about rooting them out. I have to wonder: if all that effort went into producing something useful, rather than producing ways of pretending to be useful, how much better would the web be?)

The following quality guidelines come directly from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:

Quality Guidelines – Basic principles:

  • Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users, or present different content to search engines than you display to users.
  • Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”
  • Don’t participate in link schemes designed to increase your site’s ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or “bad neighborhoods” on the web as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
  • Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our terms of service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.

Quality Guidelines – Specific recommendations:

  • Avoid hidden text or hidden links.
  • Don’t employ cloaking or sneaky redirects.
  • Don’t send automated queries to Google.
  • Don’t load pages with irrelevant words.
  • Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
  • Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content.

These quality guidelines cover the most common forms of deceptive or manipulative behavior, but Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here, (e.g. tricking users by registering misspellings of well-known web sites). It’s not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn’t included on this page, Google approves of it. Webmasters who spend their energies upholding the spirit of the basic principles listed above will provide a much better user experience and subsequently enjoy better ranking than those who spend their time looking for loopholes they can exploit.

Content is King — So What?

Content is king — so what does that mean, from a practical standpoint?

What it means is that the overwhelming majority of your effort, in terms of strategic internet marketing that is focused on organically attracting visitors, should go to one thing: providing what people are searching for. (By ‘organically attracting visitors’, I mean to separate out paid advertising: you can always pay for traffic, but there is no necessary connection between pouring money into your advertising budget and actually providing anything useful to your visitors.)

It means that search engine optimization is mostly fine tuning: as suggested at the outset, if you have content which is useful to visitors, content which aligns with what people are looking for, you’re already 90% there. On the other hand, if you don’t have worthwhile content, all the keyword optimization in the world won’t get you very far.

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