In working with clients on content development, we inevitably come to the question of how to search optimize their copy. This seems to be an area of great confusion, as there is a lot of erroneous web content out there which reflects advice from years past, and a generally-held (and incorrect) concept that SEO is wholly focused on frequent use of keywords and links throughout a site. In fact, this concept often lands web sites in the exact opposite position than what is sought, as search engines will punish you if they feel like your pages are over-optimized.
In other words, going too far can actually harm your search visibility instead of helping it. But, that leaves marketers facing a tough question: how much SEO is too much SEO?
Only the engineers at Google and Bing know for sure, but here are a few quick guidelines you can follow to keep your business website on the right side of the dividing line:
Give Your Pages the “Eyeball Test.”
Often, it only takes a quick scan of a website to notice that the owner or web designer has been heavy-handed with his/her approach to search engine optimization. The biggest clue is that words and phrases will be inserted unnaturally, and internal links will show up in places where they shouldn’t.
Basically, if your pages read like they were built to impress Google rather than live customers, you have failed the eyeball test. That’s bad news for your SEO campaigns, but it’s even worse for conversions.
Look Closely at Keyword Density.
There is a lot of debate about keyword density and what kinds of ratios are likely to throw up “red flags” in Google’s search algorithm. A good rule of thumb, however, is that the content on your pages shouldn’t consist of more than 1-3% search terms. You can get away with being on the higher end of the scale if terms are coming up naturally, and you have longer chunks of writing on your page or blog. Go past that, though, and you’ll come across as trying to game the system. Instead, focus more on writing strong, relevant content along with proper page structure and incorporating good link building.
Pay Attention to User Experience.
One thing that’s often overlooked in discussions about SEO and over-optimization is that it isn’t really about impressing Google; having a good user experience for real-life customers is the name of the game.
If you are stuffing too many search terms and unnatural links into your website, that’s going to annoy potential customers. You’ll have a hard time convincing them to buy from you, sign up for your newsletter, or follow through with some other conversion method if your pages seem like they are built for no other reason than to attract search traffic.
Although the technical experts working at the search engines use sophisticated formulas to evaluate individual web pages, you don’t have to get that specific to find out whether your website is over-optimized or not. Just look at these three criteria and see how well you fare. That should give you a good sense of what Google sees when it examines your site, and more importantly, whether the content on your website is drawing customers in or driving them away.