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- Why Responsive Design Matters
We’ve been saying for as long as we remember; nothing is more important than the content on your web site. You can build links galore and undertake all manner of search engine strategies, but without good-quality content, any gains you make in search engine positions will be short-lived.
The issue of content came into focus again in 2010 and is set to intensify throughout 2011. Of course, to begin with your site must have content, but what constitutes ‘content’ as far as the search engines are concerned? There are two factors you should consider; content should be:
If you run a web site that sells cleaning products, why would you then include links to your favourite personal sites or just have images of the products with no text? We’ve come across all types of sites in the past with clients wondering why they don’t get ranking and this is just an example of something that really has happened!
First, a page without text is practically blank to the search engines (the same, to a degree, can still be said of Flash-generated pages too). To the search engines, an image is just a picture. Certainly, some very clever image recognition software might be able to work out what the image is about, but that’s not going to rank you very well even if it were being used. Much better is to lay the ‘food’ out in front of the search engines in a way that’s easy for them to see and easy for them to understand. And that means using text – plain and simple.
Whilst there is no minimum length for the text on a web page, bear in mind that the more text you add, the more you can create a relevant page of information with both your keywords and synonyms of your keywords. If your page has just 10 words, creating relevance would be hard work. Our recommendation is that for each page you want the search engines to find, work to a minimum of 300 or so words.
And that includes the home page. True, if you’re a large, established corporation you don’t need to worry too much about text on your home page as you’ll be able to build relevance in other ways, but the majority of sites aren’t at that level. That means you’re competing in a crowded arena, and with your home page being the main page the search engines use to understand the relevance of your whole site, if you don’t have text on this page then you are missing the best opportunity you have. We have worked with many clients where they want to keep the home page clean and pretty, but then wonder why optimisation efforts are slow (or fail) to bear results.
So, don’t be shy and work that content. But, don’t just write for the search engines. Getting the site visible on the search engines is one thing, but don’t forget that when real people reach the site you’ll want them to do something – and that means having content that sells. If you’re not expert at writing site content, consider hiring one – that little bit of extra expense could easily make the difference between having a lot of visitors and no sales, and having a lot of visitors and a lot of sales. It also justifies the return on investment on your search engine optimisation activities. Make sure though that any content writer you employ really does create unique content (copy and paste a sentence into Google with quote marks around it, and this will quickly identify if it’s unique) as there are some less scrupulous ‘copywriters’ out there.
Another top tip is to work on short easy-to-read sentences. This is for two reasons; first, the search engine’s indexers will find it easier and faster to understand the relevance, and that may mean faster position improvements and second, in the global world we live where automated translation is frequently used (Google Translate being just one), shorter sentences translate better. For a potential customer who doesn’t speak your site’s language as their first language, they might run it through an automated translation engine and the shorter the sentences, the better it will read for them, and the more chances you have of making that all-important sale.
Try to keep each page focussed to one or two topics at most, and create as many pages as you need to cover the relevant parts of your business. Don’t cram the 10 services you offer onto one page, rather create 10 separate page, with each discussing each service in more detail. That way, the search engines will be able to build individual relevance for each service you offer.
Finally, keep in mind the relevance of the whole site. As mentioned at the top of this article, don’t start adding information that has no relevance to what your site is about. Be focussed on creating two levels of relevance. The overall focus is what is the site about, who is it aimed at and what do you want site visitors to do when they get there? The second, level is what an individual page is about, who is it aimed at, and does it fit into the overall site relevance scope. If the answer to the whether if fits into the overall scope is no, then remove the page.
Google defines duplicate content as:
… substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar.
Hopefully you'll know (but in case you don't) - duplicated content causes ranking problems. But, more recently a Google employee released a little more information on what it could consider to be ‘appreciably similar’.
In a recent webmaster query response, the employee responded to a question about duplicate content. In the response, the employee went on to state that although the wording of the site in question was not exactly a duplicate of another site, there were strong similarities. The two phrases in question were:
“The Prince serenaded Leighton Meester during his concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (Jan. 18).”
“Leighton Meester gets serenaded by the legendary Prince during his sold-out concert at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night (January 18).”
The Google employee noted the similar phrases “serenaded”, “New York City’s Madison Square Garden”, and “Tuesday night (Jan[uary] 18)”.
Whilst the response discusses other similarities, such as linking to images from the same third party site not related to either page in question, this does raise a question about how Google’s semantics engine is working.
If, indeed, Google can see the phrases above as being ‘appreciably similar’ then it becomes all the more important not simply to take another’s content and adjust it, but to re-write completely. That is, creating your own content with your own words.
And that is ultimately what the search engines want; content that is going to be unique and meaningful to a user. If two sites have effectively the same content but just presented with slightly different wording it is going to make a judgement on which to rank well and which is piggy-backing off the original version. If two sites have entirely unique content, even if on the same topic, then each will be judged and deemed for their respective merits.
We should also take note of Google’s use of ‘blocks of content’ in the definition of duplicate content. This means you might feel okay reusing a few sentences or paragraphs here or there from a web site to boost your own content (we won’t go into the copyright issues that can create here!) but bear in mind that the search engines’ semantics engines are probably sufficiently refined enough now to be able to detect much more that you might think they can spot.
This came into focus again with a recent blog posting by Matt Cutts from Google where he discussed webspam – the junk that appears in the web results. Matt highlighted that in 2010 there were two algorithm releases to reduce the effectiveness of sites with ‘shallow or low quality content’. But, the same article referenced that this is something of a work-in-progress and further updates will appear - particularly in 2011 with:
“…one change that primarily affects sites that copy others’ content and sites with low levels of original content”
As we now know, this major change has so far come in the form of the Google Panda / Farmer in March / April 2011. So, if you haven’t reviewed your site content for uniqueness, relevance and depth recently, now would be a very good time to do so to ensure that whenever the next algorithm changes come along, you can rest assured that your site will pass with flying colours.
In closing, Google recently released a blog posting that gives a lot more guidance on content and structure preparation for your site. If you haven't seen it already, we strongly recommend reading More guidance on building high quality sites.
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