chrislynch.link

Content for SEO

Confirmed: AI-Generated Content Is Against Google’s Guidelines

Throughout my career in digital marketing, there were a few rules that I always held to be immutable. One of them was this – If you can automate it, it’s probably SPAM. This rule steered me the right way on many occasions when tempting shortcuts were offered to me. I’d lived through the dark times of SEO, you see, times when Google was more easily fooled than it is today and SEO forums were awash with hacks, grifts, and ways to “trick” Google.

One of these tricks was “content spinning“, taking a copy of an existing article that was ranking well and replacing words and terms to create an article that was essentially the same but was technically different. This used to fool Google. It doesn’t anymore.

Whatever happened to the good old days?

Like any trick, it was inevitable that Google would develop a means to detect content spinning and guard against it. How successful they were at this is possibly a topic for debate – after all, there are still issues with plagiarised content outranking original – but fundamentally Google came out strongly against content spinning and the practice has all but died out following strong moves by Google in 2010 and 2011 against “content farms” and sites featuring predominantly duplicate content.

You’d think in 2022 we’d be a little wiser and know that shortcuts, tricks, and automated ways of altering sites to improve SEO are invariably engineered out by Google. Sadly, we are not. There’s a new snake oil business in town… and it’s called Artificial Intelligence.

The Rise of Skynet AI Content Generation

If you’re in the digital marketing, eCommerce, or web development space you’ve probably run across tools like Jasper (formerly Jarvis), Rytr, AI Writer, … the list goes on and on. It’s actually not hard to get into the AI content game. Thanks to freely available, open tools like GPT3, it’s getting easier and easier to spin up your own AI toolset. Of course, some of the output is pure nightmare fuel but it’s more than good enough that major news agencies have been using AI to generate content.

Legit copywriters, the type who have lungs and have to eat and stuff, have been up in arms about AI content generation. After all, this kit is taking aim directly at their livelihoods, offering a cheaper and more convenient option to content-hungry websites and digital marketers. Like the Luddites of old, they’ve been ready to smash the looms – if only there were actually looms and not just a load of code floating around in the untouchable “cloud” somewhere. But, are they just the old guard refusing the make way for the new?

YouTube player

Is Human Copy Writing Dead? Better ask Google.

Personally, I’ve been pretty skeptical about AI content generation for a long time but that is changing. We are at a stage where AI already produces passable content and it is improving all the time. Eventually, there is little doubt that it will be able to replicate or replace human copywriting for basic topics using reference material. There is even evidence that AI can be used to generate fiction, given sufficient input data, although the output there is of a significantly… lower quality. Imagination and originality are, for now at least, out of the reach of artificial intelligence. Phew.

So, is that it? Is it game over for copywriters? Well… no. Riding over the horizon is a most unlikely savior.

Google.

The Man from Google, He Say “No”

Like the Lone Ranger, John Mueller has come riding over the horizon to save the day with an unambiguous declaration that AI-generated content is contrary to Google’s guidelines. This actually isn’t something new but SEOs, especially those who like to find ways to try and outsmart Google, often need it spelled out for them.

“For us these would, essentially, still fall into the category of automatically generated content which is something we’ve had in the Webmaster Guidelines since almost the beginning.

And people have been automatically generating content in lots of different ways. And for us, if you’re using machine learning tools to generate your content, it’s essentially the same as if you’re just shuffling words around, or looking up synonyms, or doing the translation tricks that people used to do. Those kind of things.

My suspicion is maybe the quality of content is a little bit better than the really old school tools, but for us it’s still automatically generated content, and that means for us it’s still against the Webmaster Guidelines. So we would consider that to be spam.”

John Mueller: Google Search Advocate

More importantly, people and businesses that are currently investing in SEO projects that are utilizing these tools need to take note – Google has a habit of not only fixing its algorithm so that it can’t be manipulated by factors that it doesn’t like but also of penalizing sites that have been using the techniques that Google are engineering against.

Google may not be able to detect AI-generated content now but it’s safe to bet that if they are currently using humans to detect it then they are also using the inputs and outputs from those humans to train their own AI. Like a pair of Rock’em Sock’em Robots, Google’s own AI is on a collision course with AI Generated Content. Personally, my money’s on Google.

It Doesn’t Matter Who is Right, It Matters Who Has the Deepest Pockets… and it’s Google

Back in 2015, Google announced that sites needed to be mobile-enabled in order to rank. Web developers went into meltdown, updating sites with a frenzy that hadn’t been seen since the Millenium Bug. And then… nothing happened. The Mobilepocalypse never occurred and it was many years until the mobile index overtook the desktop index as the primary driver for search engine results.

It didn’t matter – the point was that since 2015 the accepted wisdom has been to make sites mobile-enabled because this is “Google Best Practice”. For SEOs, web developers, and eCommerce consultants, what Google says… goes.

And if Google say AI Content Generation is gone… it’s gone. It just doesn’t know it yet.

(And Google are happy to take money from the likes of Jasper for Adwords in the meantime. Just sayin’)


Read More: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/google-says-ai-generated-content-is-against-guidelines/444916/

Why does Google Rank Plagiarism Over Original Content?

Another day, another answer that isn’t an answer from Google’s resident genie John Mueller. I’m pretty sure that in a previous life Mueller would have made an excellent soothsayer, fortune teller, or carnival psychic. There’s just enough content for you to think you’re getting answer… but in reality you’re getting anything but.

A frequent question being thrown at Google’s crystal ball polisher in chief at the moment is why Google ranks sites that have plagiarized content above the original site and content. A number of different website owners and webmasters have complained about this and, finally, we have an answer. Well, no, of course we don’t, but we do have a few more clues… So, light your incense and cross my palm with silver because…

The short answer is: Google likes the other guy better

Mueller’s advice on why Google might rank a site that copied your content over your own site is simply that “Google likes the other site better”. Yes, like Avril Lavigne, the other site wants to be your girlfriend and can “do it better.”

Here’s the full transcript: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/why-google-ranks-plagiarism-over-original-content/411196/

This might mean the site has a better reputation, is stronger on other SEO metrics (like backlinks), or is perceived as being higher quality for some other reason. This really doesn’t track against Google’s “make the best site you can” and “expertise, authority, and trust” messages, so Mueller was quick to also add that your site (the original) might also be being penalised in some way. In essence, this was another clear as mud response that really amounts to “we don’t know” or, perhaps, “we don’t want to tell you”.

I call this “The Dennis Leary Effect” – if you want to see how presentation and delivery can transform content, listen to Bill Hicks and then listen to Dennis Leary. The material is, often word for word, the same – but Leary is/was a more successful comedian than Hicks.

Mueller’s other recommendation was that the original content creator file a DCMA complaint against the person copying their content, which is pretty strong advice from the spokesperson for a business that have made their billions copying and pasting other people’s content and data into their system and then monetising it.

Why it matters: The little guy is getting the shaft, again.

Plagiarism is a serious problem for content creators on the web. It’s incredibly easy for plagiarists to copy and paste your words and, without even making any significant alteration, put them on their own website and start ranking for the same keywords you do. Obviously there is more to it than that in terms of an site’s overall reputation, backlink profile etc. but, in some respects, this really makes the system more unfair.

For example, this is a relatively new blog/domain and so I’m still working on building up inbound links and a positive reputation. I know Google is indexing the site and its sending me some traffic, but it would be incredibly easy for a bigger site to come and take my content (my entire book is on this site if you can be bothered to read it an article at a time!) and take it to their bigger, more reputable site. Add in some “content spinning” (a manual or automated process that replaces words with synonyms to make content look “fresh”) and those of us toiling away building new sites are suddenly little more than “grist to the mill” for bigger players.

What should you do if your content has been copied?

There’s a chance that the site that has your copied content doesn’t know that it’s been copied. A long time ago, I used to write for various “content mills” and whilst the more reputable ones did scan content for signs of plagiarism… not all of them did. Even those that did couldn’t guarantee that content hadn’t been picked up, put through a quick spin wash, and turned out as something sufficiently new to fool the automated checks.

So, first thing’s first – outreach is our friend. Get in touch with the site that has lifted your content and ask them to take it down. There’s a good chance they bought the copy in good faith and will happily take it down once they realise they’re at risk of picking up a Google penalty themselves.

If that doesn’t work, you could try threatening legal action – although is a potentially very expensive and time-consuming process that could end up being a mess of different legal frameworks, territories, and treaties. Better to not call Saul, in this instance, not when there is an alternative…

The All Mighty Court of Public Opinion

If the site that has lifted your content/copy is seeking any kind of legitimacy, it will have a social media presence. The great and the good of the social media sphere live and die on their content and take a very dim view of those who steal content. You’re more likely to get a result by calling a site out on Twitter for copying your content than you are with a solicitors letter.

A note on Digital “Trap Streets”

A trap street a fake street that a cartographer inserts into a map, or a street wrongly named, to expose anyone copying the work. If you think your content is routinely being copied then inserting something deliberately unique that is unlikely to be removed (or example, a made-up quote) is a good way of tracking your content. The phrase, ideally, needs to be one that, when searched for, will only bring up your page on your site… until someone copies it.

Not all copying is simple “copy and paste” operations by lazy copywriters. A lot of copying is automated and an automated “scraper” (so-called because it “scrapes” the content of your site) is unlikely to remove a well-hidden trap.

(Incidentally there are hundreds of trap streets in the London A-Z)

The Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that this is a problem that Google really need to fix. The content is supposed to be king, then they rewards for creating the best quality content should be given to the sites that create it – not those that promote it.

Google: Duplicate Content is Not a Negative Ranking Factor

The reaction of the average SEO to duplicate content is pretty much the same as Bella Lugosi’s reaction to some open curtains and a wonderful sunrise, but it’s actually not quite a big a problem as you might think. For once, I’m going to tell you to put a little faith in Google and the other search engines to be able to tell good duplication from bad duplication.

What? There’s such a thing as good duplication?

Well, maybe not good but definitely harmless. Take a look at the average website – the same headers and footers are on every page. It wouldn’t make the remotest bit of sense for Google to treat that as duplication. The same applies to sidebars, disclaimers, and other pieces of repeated content. Some repetition is actually there to help the user – just because it’s on other pages of your site, doesn’t mean the customer has seen it.

“A really common case for example is with ecommerce. If you have a product, and someone else is selling the same product, or within a website maybe you have a footer that you share across all of your pages and sometimes that’s a pretty big footer. Technically that’s duplicate content but we can kind of deal with that. So that shouldn’t be a problem.”

John Mueller, Google Search Liaison

So, what’s bad duplication?

Well, like a lot of things, Google won’t be explicit about that. One thing that John Mueller did part with that is this…

So if you have the same content on multiple pages then we won’t show all of these pages. We’ll try to pick one of them and show that. So it’s not that there’s any negative signal associated with that. In a lot of cases that’s kind of normal that you have some amount of shared content across some of the pages

John Mueller, Google Search Liaison

This is more important that it may initially appear. Coming back to our example of an eCommerce website, it’s entirely possible that you are faced with a large number of very similar products. If you’re not able to differentiate these pages sufficiently then only one of them is going to rank – and you may not be happy with which one that is.

So, whilst duplicate content may not be a “negative ranking factor” it does have the negative effect of making some of your pages vanish from the search index. As always, it’s a case of cutting through what Google is saying and trying to understand what the might mean. It’s a bit like dealing with The Riddler…

What should you do about duplicate product content?

If you’re faced with the problem of duplicate content across multiple products or pages, it’s a good idea to either combine the products together into a single page using either an overarching category or product variants. This should create a better user experience for your customer, ensure that Google ranks this page rather than one of the individual products, and enable you to focus your efforts on building and ranking a single page.

Instagram goes all-in on Reels – and annoys its users

Instagram has released a controversial update to their app, replacing the “Create” button that uploads photos with a new button that takes the user into “Reels” – Instagram’s short-form video competitor to TikTok.

A new shopping button has also been added to the bottom bar, with the Explore button being relegated to the top right-hand corner of the app along with the old Create button.

The new buttons, taking the place of the old buttons

Instagram’s spin-machine was running at a full six-trillion RPM to try and convince its users this was anything other than a desperate attempt to claw users back from TikTok and squeeze shopping dollars out of users still loyal to the platform… and mostly failing.

Today we’re announcing some big changes to Instagram — a Reels tab and a Shop tab.

The Reels tab makes it easier for you to discover short, fun videos from creators all over the world and people just like you.

The Shop tab gives you a better way to connect with brands and creators and discover products you love.

https://about.instagram.com/blog/announcements/introducing-reels-and-shop-tabs

Instagram’s users, meanwhile, were not convinced and the hashtag #instagramupdate has been trending on Twitter with users expressing their frustration with the platform. Broadly, and predictably, Instagram users don’t want the platform to turn into TikTok or Amazon.

Ouch… the votes speak for themselves here

Replacing features, or “pivoting”, without alienating existing users is a problem faced by social networks whenever a new competitor enters their space.

By offering something new, and a new space not yet dominated by existing creators, TikTok was able to grab a healthy chunk of people’s attention. Incumbent providers, like Instagram, fear their user engagement levels dropping as users turn their attention to a competitor and so are faced with a tough choice – double down on their original reason d’etre and focus on users who love their platform or play catch-up with copycat features to try and stop user attrition. Invariably, social networks seem to go for option B and, invariably, it’s unpopular… at least at the start.

It’s not the first time that Facebook or Instagram have released an unpopular update and I would expect them to weather this storm. A large chunk of their userbase don’t have friends or contacts or followers on TikTok and will relish the opportunity to jump on the short-form video bandwagon, especially as it’s relatively easy to download and repost from one platform to another. Facebook’s “Stories” is already heavily populated with re-posted TikTok videos and, in reality, it doesn’t matter to social networks where content is created – it matters where it is consumed.

And as for the shopping button? Well, the answer here is even more simple – capturing and retaining high value creators is another way to protect your social media platform. Giving creators an easy way to monetise their online presence makes Instagram an attractive prospect for a wide range on influencers who might otherwise migrate to other platforms. That merch don’t sell itself, right?

What should you do about Instagram and TikTok and your brand?

First and foremost, my first rule of social media promotion is that you don’t get to choose the platform. Wherever your customers are, which platform they are on, they are talking about you… hopefully.

So, if you may not think you’re a “TikTok” brand, but that’s not really your decision. If you want to engage with people who are on that platform then the only choice is to be on that platform.

But, just because you are moving to a new platform that doesn’t mean that you need to rework your brand to suit that platform. Your brand personality is your brand personality and your brand’s tone of voice should remain your tone of voice. It’s OK to adapt, but adopting a “false face” approach to social media is rarely successful.

What you can do very effectively is re-purpose content across platforms. Got a nice long YouTube video? Great, now:

  • Take screenshots from it, add in quotes, and post to Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn
  • Edit out short sections from it and post to Instagram Reels, Facebook Stories, and TikTok

Creating long-form content and then re-purposing it across different channels is one of the most cost-effective ways you can increase your output and reach on social media. In The Truth About SEO, I call it Write-Once-Publish-Often.

What Is the Best Word Count for SEO?

What is the best word count for SEO? How long does an article need to be for Google to “like” it? What’s the magic number of words to get your article on page one? Yeah, there’s a lot of bad advice out there about the “right” word count for SEO… but the right answer is a lot simpler than you think.

It’s probably one of the most common questions I get asked when consulting on SEO – after I’ve broken the news to a client that they need to write descriptions for their products, the first thing they do is ask… How long do they need to be?

Different SEO tools use different counts and is a wealth of studies out there correlating article length against SERP position. The number seems to climb inexorably upwards from the halcyon days of 350 words to the current trend of 1K words as the minimum

So, what is the magic number? What’s the best word count for SEO?

There is no best word count for SEO

The answer is – there is no best word count for SEO. As a metric, it simply doesn’t exist.

When studies put SERP position and word count on a graph, they are falling for one of the oldest statistical tricks in existence – the belief that correlation automatically means causation.

Or, to put it another way – just because the top articles on a topic are all 1K words long, doesn’t mean that being 1K words long is what makes them rank.

That doesn’t mean that you can start writing short pages and expect them to rank. If you’re competing with someone else for the top-spot for a particular search phrase, you shouldn’t expect to outrank them unless your article is better – more detailed, providing more unique insights, better references and research,etc.

And the article that’s better? Yes, having all those things probably will contribute to you having a higher word count.

So, it’s easy to see how people could be fooled into thinking that Google is looking for some sort of “magic” word count but the truth is more complicated – Google is looking for the best article and sometimes (maybe even most of the time) that best article is long.

what word count is too low for seo?

Having established that’s there no magic number that makes a page rank well, we need to talk about the minimum number of words that a page can have if you want it to have a change of ranking.

Yep, although there is no magic word count above which success is assured, it’s reasonable to say that there is a minimum word below which your article has very little chance of ranking. Depending on who you listen to (including me) the number moves around it bit but the general consensus averages out around 350 words.

Why 350 words? Well, a side of A4 is normally between 300 and 400 words and is the recommended length for a press release. It’s an easily digestible amount of content for someone to read through, no more than three or four paragraphs. Sufficient for you to introduce a topic, give some information, and draw a conclusion but not so long that you’re going to get mired in editing or risk losing your reader because the article gets too long.

You have to keep in mind – why am I writing this article? What question are you trying to answer? What benefit are you giving the person by reading it?

To be frank, 350 words is not a lot so if you want to put a line in the sand and tell your copy-writer that all of the product descriptions/blog posts/news articles need to be over a certain amount – why not start there?

Tips on Content Creation

Cheaters never prosper. Never copy content from other websites or use generic content

Duplicate content is anathema to search engines. It’s tough enough keeping the content on your site unique without stealing content from other people.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but it’s not going to get you to the top of a search results page.

Rank best by being best. Look at top ranking content for your keyword and write something more useful

Just because somebody already wrote about a topic and has position #1 on Google, doesn’t mean you can’t write about it as well.

Take a good look at the pages that rank top for your keywords, read what they have to say, and then write something more useful and more compelling.

Video works. Create videos to improve engagement, sharing and pull in traffic from video sharing sites

We’ve talked a lot about the sort of content you need to write, but video is actually one of the most compelling types of content you can include in your website.

It’s OK for your video to be a little “lo-fi” if that fits your tone of voice – take a look at the quality of the average YouTube video… Citizen Kane they are not.

Do remember to add subtitles to your videos; a huge amount of video is consumed by users who have their sound off. YouTube will add subtitles to your video automatically, but remember to edit them – the speech recognition is far from perfect.

“85 percent of Facebook video is watched without sound. Facebook might be hosting upwards of 8 billion views per day on its platform, but a wide majority of that viewership is happening in silence. As much as 85 percent of video views happen with the sound off, according to multiple publishers.”

https://digiday.com/media/silent-world-facebook-video/

People still love infographics and are more likely to share these than text

Whilst we’re on the topic of visual content, people still love infographics. In fact, any content accompanied by a picture is far more likely to generate engagement and be shared, particularly on social media.

Write for humans, not for bots

So far, we’ve talked a lot about what search engines want.

In fact, we’ve talked about it too much

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you forgot about search engines altogether and just built the very best website you could? The simplest navigation, the quickest load time, the best content…

Well, if the search engines are to believed – that’s the site that will be at number one in the search engine ranking.

Remember… SEO is changing. Search engines are getting cleverer, faster, and better at presenting the right result. So, there’s a simple answer to every SEO question – be the best result.

If your digital strategy is to constantly ask “What does Google want?” then you will always be one step behind. Instead, try to answer the question that Google are trying to answer – what does my customer want?

The SEO curse of over-optimisation that new SEO people fall for when they are doing SEO to improve their SEO on their SEO website

When people first start working on their SEO, they come across the concept of keywords. Then, they start to understand relevance and realise that they haven’t been using their keywords and phrases on their website.

And then, sometimes, people go bananas.

That person who didn’t use their keywords enough:

“This is our best product. When people ask us to make a recommendation, this product is always the one we recommend.”

Transforms overnight into someone who uses their keywords so much it feels like they are spraying their content at you from some sort of colossal machine gun loaded with an endless supply of their magic word: 

“This 106 key UK layout keyboard is our best 106 key UK layout keyboard. When people ask us to recommend a 106 key UK layout keyboard, this is the 106 key UK layout keyboard that we recommend.”

Remember that you are not writing content to be read by a machine, you’re writing it for a human being. 

If in doubt – read it out. Content that sounds strange to you when you read it aloud will not rank well.

Design Tips from a Non-Designer

Clear calls to action

Remember the Post Turtle? Well, the most important part of the five-second rule test is Part 3 – what action do I take next?

The thing you want the customer to do on your webpage is called the “call to action”. It may look like there’s more than one, what with links in the header and footer, menu navigation, search boxes etc. but there should be one, just one, that stands out above all the others.

Your call to action should be like The Highlander…
There can be only one!

Amazon does this really well. Take a look at a typical product page on Amazon and there is only one type of button that is ever gold… the “Add to Cart” button. Every other option is grey because although Amazon wants you to do them, they want you to add to basket most of all.

There’s one other thing, not a button, that’s gold on that page – and it’s the basket. 

You know – the place you go to give them your money.

Make sure every page has one clear and definitive call to action, even if there are lots of other options for the customer as well.

Avoid too many adverts and banners

On the topic of making your call to action clear, it’s advisable not to clutter your web page with adverts, banners and other distracting elements. 

If your main call to action is revenue generating – e.g. you will directly benefit from the user taking that call to action – then you should minimise these items to zero.

If your website generates revenue through advertising however, this balance is more difficult to get right. Google created the “Above the Fold” update to penalise websites that were focussing on delivering ads to the reader over delivering content back in 2012, but many websites are still force-feeding adverts to their visitors.

“We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.

So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold, or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience”

https://search.googleblog.com/2012/01/page-layout-algorithm-improvement.html

As always, putting the customer’s experience first is key. Remember what they came to your website for – I’m willing to bet it wasn’t to see adverts.

Avoid pop-ups and pop-overs. Forever

On the same topic, website pop-ups, pop-overs and “interstitials” are to be avoided at all costs. If you’re not sure what these are, you’ll recognise one the next time you see one – they are the annoying messages that appear over the content that you went to the website to see asking to sign up to a mailing list, or register, or do something else.

Most customers hate these. Google hates them enough that it updated its algorithm to specifically penalise websites that committed any of the following crimes:

  • Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.

Interstitials are especially horrible on mobile devices as many of them don’t cope well with being resized and reoriented to fit on a mobile screen. Close buttons vanish off the edge of the screen, content fails to load, and everything slows… down.

The result is something the customer doesn’t want, sitting on top of the thing they do want, but with no easy to way get rid of it.

Despite how bad a reputation this technique has, people still use it. If I had to take a guess as to why, I’d say it is because they do work… at least on some people. The mistake people make is to measure the number of people who, for example, sign up to a mailing list without comparing this to the number of users who exit the website completely.

Make sure your address and phone number are on every page of your website. This helps SEO and helps your visitors

This may seem obvious. It should seem obvious… and yet I see people get this wrong time and time again.

Talking to customers is good – so make it easy for them.

The purpose of your website is not to reduce the number of customers contacts that you receive.

Make sure your phone number, address, and link to a contact page are prominent on every page of your website.

Remember to optimise your homepage. Too many homepages are graphics-heavy, text light, and hurt SEO

When it comes to homepages, there is a trend at the moment to make these graphics heavy and text light.

It’s a bad move, because it reduces your ability to define your product and service on the most frequently visited page of your website.

Would you fill your shop window with posters but no words?

It might work for a fancy boutique, but I prefer to leave an “air of mystery” as the province of ladies with alliterative names who arrive to engage the services of a private eye in the middle of a rainy night. 

Your homepage should always be optimised.

Making Connections

There’s a reason we call them web pages – they are designed, fundamentally, to be connected together, like points on a spider’s web.

Links from other sites to your sites are referred to as backlinks, and we’ll talk about those in detail in the next section of the book. Just as important, however, are the ways in which we link pages together within our site.

These links are the ways in which your customer will travel from one page of your site to another, and also the way in which the search engine spider will travel. 

The way in which you connect one page to another therefore not only affects your SEO but also affects what percentage of customers coming to your website will find what they want and convert.

Double. Whammy.

Connections Rules 1: Every page of your site must be linked to another. Search engines won’t index pages users can’t click to

Search engines are only interested in pages that users can get to.

If you can’t navigate to a page simply by clicking links from your homepage, that page is not accessible to your customer or to a search engine. 

Think about it – why would you want to create a page that a human couldn’t find? Oh… maybe for the search engine to find? Great plan but… please go back and read Rule 4.

Performing this test of your website is about more than just making sure you don’t have any hidden pages though. It’s about walking a mile (or at least a few clicks) in your customer’s shoes and experiencing your website as they will when they visit.

  • Keep pages within three clicks of the homepage to maximise your opportunities for conversion.
  • Remember that each page has a job to do – identify it and make sure the page content and layout support that role.

And, most importantly, remember that customers don’t know where they are going. They may be exploring your site for the first time – so give them multiple opportunities to find what they need by providing multiple routes to content and the opportunity to go backwards as well as forwards on their journey.

Use breadcrumbs, categories, filters, and tags

Search engines like sites that link internally in a variety of ways – creating multiple routes for users to find information and building additional context around the content.

The most common ways to link content together on a website are breadcrumbs, categories, filters, and tags.

Breadcrumbs

Appearing at the top of the page, breadcrumbs show a trail back “up” the website hierarchy to the parent page(s) of the current page.

Your CMS should build this for you – don’t even dream of doing this by hand.

Categories

Categories are pages that group together other pages.

The simplest example is a product category page. This might be a type of product (“Vacuum Cleaners”) or a brand (“Hoover” or “Dyson”).

Category pages are landing pages so, as well as links to the other pages in this category, they should have well-optimised content of their own.

Filters

Filters reduce the number of items on a category page.

For example, when looking at vacuum cleaners, you might only be interested in products costing under £200. This is a filter – it’s not a page in its own right (this will just create a mess of duplication).

Tags

In the hinterland between categories and filters, are tags. These are often called “hashtags” today – as we use them to group together information on social media by prefixing keywords with a #.

If you use a (hash)tag often, consider making it a category. If you use it infrequently, it’s still good to give your user (and search engines) a way of linking together related items even if you aren’t going to create a landing page for it.

Avoid excessive links and options

You can lose a customer by offering them too much choice. “Analysis Paralysis” can cost you a sale.

Don’t confuse the customer – sell more jam by making fewer flavours.

Human beings love being given choices in threes. “Yes, No, or Maybe” is more palatable than simply “Yes or No” (and, when you think about it, only ⅓ of the options in “Yes, No, Maybe” means no sale – you can still try to convert the “Maybe”).

Too many choices however, and our brains can’t cope.

Keep it simple and offer the customer clear calls to action.

If the customer gets lost, you’ve lost the customer.

Literally the Final Content on Content: Blogs

Just in case you are still not convinced about the importance of content, let’s briefly revisit the equation the calculates website success:

Visits X conversion % X conversion value = return on investment

Of all the strategies for increasing the number of visitors to your website, the creation of new, useful, content is the most powerful and most “evergreen”. No matter what new rules and guidelines search engines might introduce in the future, I can’t see any logical reason that they would ever, ever turn against people creating new and useful content – it is literally the thing that the web is made from. 

Content = Rankings. Rankings = Visitors. 

So… If you’re not blogging… start.

Blogging works. Or, to be more accurate, regularly creating and sharing useful and unique content on your website works.

Blogging is also hard work. I once had a job of writing blog posts about candles. I can tell you now, not much is changing in the world of candles. They are pretty much the same as they were last year, the year before that, and three hundred years before that. But, we had to find things to write about and so we found anything and everything we could that could get a “candle” spin on it and we blogged about it. 

The hard work paid off. Our rankings improved and our organic traffic improved.

The point is that I’m not giving you advice flippantly or only from the perspective of someone who writes blogs about the fast moving, ever changing technology industry. I’m giving you this advice because it works, because anyone can do it, and because if you’re an expert in the field you are working in then you probably do have useful and unique information (or at least a unique perspective) that you can bring to your blog.

Remember…

  1. Useful
  2. Unique
  3. Timely
  4. Expert
  5. Authoritative
  6. Trustworthy

The news

The easiest way to turn up new blog ideas is to find recent news articles related to your keywords and then riff off those. Don’t just regurgitate the same news article – that might be timely, but it’s not useful or unique.

However, if you can add something useful and unique to the story, you might just strike blogging gold.

During a recent security breach at Facebook, news sites trampled over each other to get the news out. All the usual suspects were there. Where smaller blogs ranked well, even going so far as to appear in Google News (the holy grail of blogging), was in offering advice and guidance to people who may have been affected.

The articles were useful, unique, timely, they used expert knowledge, they were authoritative, and trustworthy.  That’s the blogging double trifecta. 

And if you’re wondering about those last two factors, there were mostly achieved by being on sites already covering tech, social media, etc. – there’s not much point blogging about a Facebook security problem on your blog about baking!

How to eat your own dog food.

The phrase “Eat your own dog food” is believed to have originated inside Microsoft sometime in the 1980s. The concept is that if you aren’t using your own product, why you expect anyone else to?

“Dogfooding” (as it has become known) can be applied to blogging as well.  Take your product or service somewhere new, somewhere different, and see how it fairs. Try to do something with your product or service that nobody else has ever done, see what happens, and then share it.

You’re going to get an interesting story, one way or another.

(And even if you fail, what’s to stop you tuning up your product or service and trying again?)

The Prism Trick

Sometimes there is no news, however (see “Nothing ever changes with candles!”) and it’s here that the Prism Trick can help you generate multiple articles from one small idea…

If you’re struggling for a blog idea, try applying the “Prism Trick”. I can’t remember where I learnt this one, but it’s really very useful.

The Prism Trick simply means looking at something we’ve already seen, but from a different angle or through a different “lens”.

If yesterday you blogged about “The 10 Best Scented Candles for your Bathroom”, today write about “The 10 Scented Candles to Avoid Using In your Bathroom”. Tomorrow, “Unusual Bathroom Fragrances – Candles that shouldn’t work..but do!”

This is essentially all the same job in terms of research and brainstorming, but you’re going to get three articles out of the one piece of effort. 

Like splitting light up through a prism, one thing becomes a multi-faceted many.

Once you have a structure in place, you can also generate new on-topic articles by changing one variable. So, move from the bathroom to the kitchen and you’ve got three new blog ideas instantly.

Don’t be the same – be better, be helpful

You can also look at blogs other people have written. Just because somebody else already wrote an article on a topic doesn’t mean you can’t write a counterpoint…or just write something better

Another variation of this is to look for questions that people have asked on forums, social media, and Q&A sites that you can answer. There’s value in providing the answer right there on the forum, there’s even more value to be had in answering the question and writing a longer, more detailed answer on your blog.

Quora, Stack Exchange, and Reddit are all great places to look for questions people are asking. You can even check social media – Twitter’s advanced search, for example, lets you look for people asking questions, although your mileage may vary when wading through the tweets of the world.

The thing to remember is that every question asked on a Q&A site or forum was a Google search before it was a question. Nobody posts a question for which they could find the answer. Answering questions is a great way to build up quality blog content that people are actively looking for.

Of course, you can always share your blog posts on the same forums, sites, and social media networks you are checking for questions. Just sharing and posting, however… that’s the internet equivalent of shouting over everyone at a dinner party.

The Internet should not be a “broadcast” medium – even when sharing your own content you should look to engage with the audience: ask questions, ask for feedback, and say thank you for everything you receive.Which neatly brings us on to the last part of our ABC (or ACB)… backlinks.