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Avoid Over-Optimization Penalties: Balancing Usability And Search Via Keywords

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When marketing websites online, it can be easy — but dangerous — to overstuff web pages with keywords in hopes of ranking higher in search engines. How can you prevent the possibility of a resulting search engine penalty? How can you create a persuasive user experience without repeating the same calls-to-action over and over? It may surprise you to learn that logical search keyword solutions are not only easy to implement, but also benefit your website’s user experience.

No site should be over-optimized. Those that are show a lack of understanding of what you want for your site and what your target visitors need. If your SEO provider doesn’t ask for your website and business requirements, their efforts may wind up too narrowly focused on just a few keywords. Keyword tools only tell part of the story. They limit optimization choices and increase the chances that a page will be overly optimized for one or two keywords.

Consider this. We all use different terms when we search online. We phrase search queries differently. We may spell out the names of states or abbreviate them. Our preferences may not be the first sites that show up in search engine results because we were looking for something specific. For example, consider searches for “free shipping for computer bags” or the similar “camera laptop bags on sale.” Both searches will bring back similar results, but only one is the best fit for someone wanting a laptop bag to hold their camera equipment. Equally important, the search result that promotes a camera laptop bag with free shipping or some other customer benefit is more persuasive than a boring product page with no incentive to click to it.

But where do you begin when preparing a website for search traffic and conversions? The answer is as simple as grabbing a napkin, notebook, or whiteboard and starting to brainstorm.

Gathering Up Website Requirements

The preferred goal of gathering requirements is to document everything into a formal Requirements & Target Market Analysis document. These can be quite detailed. Some long versions really get into the nitty-gritty of your business, products, services, competitors, demographics, itemized business goals, and even how you do what you do. The advantage of these formal documents is the opportunity for team discussions and communication with marketing and content development departments. High-level stakeholders tend to be more directly involved.

A briefer, shorter Requirements & Target Market Analysis is helpful in getting down critical basics such as your desired leading user tasks, value proposition, and target user funnels for conversions, as well as discussing additional items such as online forms or a shopping cart.

Unfortunately, key sections are often missed or ignored during the requirements gathering process. It’s from these areas that a bonanza of optimization opportunities appear that you may never have considered, and yet are key drivers to conversions and a safe ride in search engines. These areas include:

  • Persuasive design
  • Accessibility
  • User experience design
  • Usability standards
  • Demographic information
  • User-generated feedback
  • Social media marketing strategies
  • Mobile device design and optimization

When you’ve gathered and written down information from these areas, you’ll be able to pull ideas for user and search engine optimization with variety and balance. The secret is using the Who/Where/What/Why/When/How (WWWWWH) approach.

On-Page Content Optimization

Even if your website is heavy with images and contains little text, opportunities still exist for usability and SEO optimization. Of course, the fewer images you have and the more text, the easier it is to optimize for search, but all that code can tempt you into keyword stuffing with redundant keywords. Use the WWWWWH approach to find new opportunities to add interest, nail search queries, and increase momentum.

Page optimization is as easy as making sure the details of your story are in your text. Below are some of my favorite search and conversion tested solutions. Each one offers new keyword ideas by suggesting a variety of ways to describe your topic to both search engines and real people. More importantly, when you work in user-trigger words (free, limited time, today only), action verbs (try, go, find, learn, get, read, buy, search, order), competitive value, proof of credibility, relationships between your site and influencers, and address your visitors by identifying who they are, your conversions will skyrocket.

Optimization Tips: A Baker’s Dozen

1.  Add your company name in text in the header, footer, and one place inside the body content.

2.  Identify your users by addressing them in the body content, text links, or headings and sub-headings. Some examples:

  • Golden Retriever pet owners seeking to adopt ….
  • [Your brand name] is popular with non-profits, online communities, and membership organizations
  • Register for our healthcare providers knowledge base
  • New picture books for young readers ready for Christmas

The keywords are there, but so is something to do — follow a link to learn more or start the sales process. Your target visitors look for themselves in search results.

3.  When identifying users, remember to try different words that describe the same theme. An example might be terms like “hippie” and “bohemian.”

4.  Who loves your company, product or service? Keywords can be clients, specific user groups, and famous websites. Reciprocal link opportunities exist here, in addition to communicating value and authenticity. Do you think someone might run a search such as, “website where Lady Gaga sells new perfume?” If the site in question is your site, don’t be coy. Get this information in body text, headlines, and image captions.

5.  Add your business address to your footer. This is a simple tip, but one that is widely overlooked. It’s another way to put in your company or website name, it sends a signal to visitors where you are, and it is an aid to local search optimization.

6.  Where do you sell or provide your products and services? Do you sell globally, locally, in certain states only? Add this information in your footer, header (if it’s a value proposition), and wherever customer service is discussed. Phrase this information as a question searchers might use (e.g., Does Acme sell widgets to Italy?). You want your page to come up first for answers in search. Another popular example is the phrase “free shipping in the USA” — or better yet, “We ship our [keyword] widgets anywhere in the USA for free.”

7.  Where’s the cool stuff? Create button and text calls-to-action (CTA) with keywords, action words, and confidence-inducing content. Use CSS for the button display. This is where you can fortify your pages by making your CTAs action-oriented and descriptive. Some examples:

  • 24 hours left to buy this [keyword] scarf
  • Order your [keyword] product today to get the best [keyword] value

Absolutely never use “click here” and if you use “learn more,” offer a clue about the topic. This is a chance to add a related keyword as well as create user interest and sense of place.

8.  What is your site about? It sounds so simple, and yet this information is often missing or put on an inside page. Don’t let your About Us page hold all the hot information. Keyword variety options are endless when you describe your topic in different ways, for different user personas, and unique conversion funnels.

9.  What is the main user task? This can be hard to optimize for people and search on a Flash or image-heavy website such as those favored by the fashion industry. Slipping keywords into CSS text drop-down menus is one solution, but each case is unique. Research taxonomies that relate to your products to find new keywords closely related to your popular ones. A fat footer with text navigation is recommended both for accessibility and search engines.

10.  Categories in navigation and bullet-pointed content can be keyword-descriptive as long as you avoid redundancy from other text areas of the page.

11.  Why are you better than the competition? Answering this question offers yet another chance to find new keywords that target specific users and communicate to search bots how your site compares. If human eyes from a search engine company see your page addressing your value proposition and competitive value, you look more professional and in the long run, more pleasing to their searchers.

12.  Why do you care? Related to communicating your value proposition, take advantage of adding content that delves into your passion, expertise, length of time in the business, work experience, and accomplishments. You’re bound to find new keyword ideas this way. For example, some industries go by different names. Organizations, awards, and memberships all contribute to fortifying basic keywords.

13.  Answer all the “when” and “how” questions you can think of that your target users will ask. The answers provide all sorts of helpful user information in addition to more keyword opportunities. Some examples:

  • When does your [keyword] newsletter arrive?
  • Where is your [keyword] blog?
  • When do your [keyword] sales run out?
  • Where can your affiliates register for [keyword]?
  • What is the name of your blog? (Tip: name it rather than linking to “blog”)
  • How do I contact [keyword] person?

Google Analytics can track these question funnels for you to see how often each one is used or how the questions are more routinely phrased.

Explore Other Opportunities

Every website has its own individual goals and user tasks. Conversions increase when you emphasize in your content who you’re welcoming and why you’re their best choice. Searchers come from search engines, social networking sites, word of mouth, links, and mobile devices. Your goal is to optimize your pages to meet each visitor’s needs.

A page’s title tag is a great place to start. Instead of stuffing it with keywords, offer an incentive to click into the page. If the landing page is focused on a specific user type, your title can identify them by keyword and add something to motivate the click. Once again, it’s in the details. Be sure your title tag invites WHO you are targeting, WHAT (keyword) they’re searching for, and WHY they should click that page — keyword user/keyword product/keyword motivation. For example, “Free eye tracking tool for web marketers,” or “[Brand name company] announces free eye tracking tool for webmasters.”

Navigation layout can be in the header, footer, sidebar, and quick link boxes. Each type is a chance to research your information architecture for new keyword possibilities that meet your mental model requirements. Generic navigation links — About, Services, Contact, and Solutions — are boring to search engines and people. You can add keywords and an action word to these links to optimize them. Instead, try “About [Company Name],” “Contact [Your Name],” “[Industry Keyword] Services,” “Order Services,” and “How to Choose [Keyword] Solutions.”

An alternative is a two-tiered menu. The top is for generic customer service links and the next line focuses on specific areas of the site, identified with keywords that help define the website’s purpose.

If your website requirements include accessibility for special needs users, you must be extremely diligent in avoiding keyword stuffing your image alt attributes and anchor text. This is another reason to find word variations, different definitions, and new ways to talk about your offers.

Searchers Are Human After All

Searchers are human. Search engines love humans. The last thing a search engine wants is to send you to a website that doesn’t accurately and happily meet your needs. Not only are visitors arriving from a browser search, they’re finding your web pages by social site recommendations, advertisements, and mobile device searches for things like local businesses and ecommerce coupons.

Remember, too, that people respond to websites in many ways. Sometimes it’s an emotional or intuitive feeling about a site based on its layout, structure, colors, and presentation of images and content. People can tell when a web page is built for them.

Your attempts to balance content for searchers and search algorithms will be rewarded when you stay focused on meeting your requirements for marketing and targeted users.

It’s worth every effort to do that.

 

**Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as a premium article in our Winter 2012/2013 issue of Search Marketing Standard magazine.

Image: Balancing at Sunset — Original Billboard Image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Kim Krause Berg began working in website design in 1995. Her consulting business, Cre8pc (cre8pc.com), was launched in 1996, where she is a global Usability/IA/SEO consultant. Her training includes software testing, user interface and usability, information architecture, search engine marketing, and human factors design. In 1998, Kim founded Cre8asiteforums.

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