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 bugbears, such as PageRank,
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 high rankings.
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
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 together.
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 cows.
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
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.
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 to display.
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 forgiving.
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
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
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 free-reprint content.
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 linking campaigns.
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: http://www.upmarketcontent.com/website-content/##seo