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Writing Content Filter
|The web pages
actually at the top of Google have only one thing clearly in
common: good writing. Don't let the usual SEO sacred cows and
from the importance of good content.
I was recently struck by the fact that the top-ranking web pages on Google
are consistently much better written than the vast majority of
what one reads on the web. Yet traditional SEO wisdom has little
to say about good writing. Does Google, the world's wealthiest
media company, really only display web pages that meet arcane
technical criteria? Does Google, like so many website owners,
really get so caught up in the process of the algorithm that it
misses the whole point?
Most Common On-the-Page Website Content Success Factors
Whatever the technical mechanism, Google is doing a pretty good job of
identifying websites with good content and rewarding them with
I looked at Google's top five pages for the five most searched-on keywords,
as identified by WordTracker on June 27, 2005. Typically, the
top five pages receive an overwhelming majority of the traffic
delivered by Google.
The web pages that contained written content (a small but significant
portion were image galleries) all shared the following features:
Updating: frequent updating of content, at least once every few weeks, and
more often, once a week or more.
Spelling and grammar: few or no errors. No page had more than three
misspelled words or four grammatical errors. Note: spelling and
grammar errors were identified by using Microsoft Word's check
feature, and then ruling out words marked as misspellings that
are either proper names or new words that are simply not in the
dictionary. Does Google use SpellCheck? I can already hear the
scoffing on the other side of this computer screen. Before you
dismiss the idea completely, keep in mind that no one really
does know what the 100 factors in Google's algorithm are. But
whether the mechanism is SpellCheck or a better shot at link
popularity thanks to great credibility, or something else
entirely, the results remain the same.
Paragraphs: primarily brief (1-4 sentences). Few or no long blocks of text.
Lists: both bulleted and numbered, form a large part of the text.
Sentence length: mostly brief (10 words or fewer). Medium-length and long
sentences are sprinkled throughout the text rather than clumped
Contextual relevance: text contains numerous terms related to the keyword,
as well as stem variations of the keyword. The page may contain
the keyword itself few times or not at all.
SEO "Do's" and "Don'ts"
A hard look at the results slaughters a number of SEO bugbears and sacred
PageRank. The median PageRank was 4. One page had a PageRank of 0. Of
course, this might simply be yet another demonstration that the
little PageRank number you get in your browser window is not
what Google's algo is using. But if you're one of those people
who attaches an overriding value to that little number, this is
food for thought.
Frames. The top two web pages listed for the most searched-on keyword employ
frames. Frames may still be a bad web design idea from a
usability standpoint, and they may ruin your search engine
rankings if your site's linking system depends on them. But
there are worse ways you could shoot yourself in the foot.
their internal page links. Again, that's not the best web design
practice, but there are worse things you could do.
Keyword optimization. Except for two pages, keyword optimization was
conspicuous by its absence. In more than half the web pages, the
keyword did not appear more than three times, meaning a very low
density. Many of the pages did not contain the keyword at all.
That may just demonstrate the power of anchor text in inbound
links. It also may demonstrate that Google takes a site's entire
content into account when categorizing it and deciding what page
Sub-headings. On most pages, sub-headings were either absent or in the form
of images rather than text. That's a very bad design practice,
and particularly cruel to blind users. But again, Google is more
Links: Most of the web pages contained ten or more links; many contain over
30, in defiance of the SEO bugbears about "link popularity
bleeding." Moreover, nearly all the pages contained a
significant number of non-relevant links. On many pages,
non-relevant links outnumbered relevant ones. Of course, it's
not clear what benefit the website owners hope to get from
placing irrelevant links on pages. It has been a proven way of
lowering conversion rates and losing visitors. But Google
doesn't seem to care if your website makes money.
Originality: a significant number of pages contained content copied from
other websites. In all cases, the content was professionally
written content apparently distributed on a free-reprint basis.
Note: the reprint content did not consist of content feeds.
However, no website consisted solely of free-reprint content.
There was always at least a significant portion of original
content, usually the majority of the page.
Make sure a professional writer, or at least someone who can tell good
writing from bad, is creating your site's content, particularly
in the case of a search-engine optimization campaign. If you are
an SEO, make sure you get a pro to do the content. A shocking
number of SEOs write incredibly badly. I've even had clients
whose websites got fewer conversions or page views after their
SEOs got through with them, even when they got a sharp uptick in
unique visitors. Most visitors simply hit the "back" button when
confronted with the unpalatable text, so the increased traffic
is just wasted bandwidth.
If you write your own content, make sure that it passes through the hands of
a skilled copyeditor or writer before going online.
Update your content often. It's important both to add new pages and update
existing pages. If you can't afford original content, use
Distribute your content to other websites on a free-reprint basis. This will
help your website get links in exchange for the right to publish
the content. It will also help spread your message and enhance
your visibility. Fears of a "duplicate content penalty" for
free-reprint content (as opposed to duplication of content
within a single website) are unjustified.
In short, if you have a mature website that is already indexed and getting
traffic, you should consider making sure the bulk of your
investment in your website is devoted to its content, rather
than graphic design, old-school search-engine optimization, or
About the author:
Joel Walsh is the owner, founder and head-writer of UpMarket
Content. To read more about website content best practices, get
a consultation with Mr. Walsh, or get a sample page for your
site at no charge, go to the SEO website content page: