Search Engine Optimization Overkill

Are you using search engine optimization tactics that lead to SEO overkill? You may not think so, but according to several SEO experts at the Search Engine Strategies conference held recently in Chicago, Illinois, you might be using what is called “SEO Overkill”. Michael Murray from Fathom SEO, Matt Bailey from the Karcher Group, and Heather Lloyd-Martin from SearchEngineWriting.com all discussed SEO Overkill.

According to Mike Murray Fathom SEO (www.fathomseo.com), SEO is not a shopping spree. You need website traffic, but you need to pace yourself–even sound practices may fail if they’re rushed. When picking a domain name, short domain names are easy to read–if you use multiple hyphens or forced capitalization, it looks like spam and visitors are immediately suspicious of your website. And when it comes to search engine optimization, you need to pick your priorities–don’t manage too many keywords at once.

Mr. Murray goes on to say that it’s easy to have folder and page name “excess”. Using too many keywords or repeated keywords in your domain name, folder name, and page name (or file name) can lead to disaster. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that they match the content–but don’t go overboard with it. Limit you repetition of keywords in the domain name, folder names, and page names. Although having those keywords in the URL can help rankings, don’t overdo it.

Title tags are important, according to Mr. Murray. It’s important to tame your title tag, especially because long title tags are useless. “It’s important to pick one or two search terms and call it a day” when you’re writing title tags. Meta description tags are needed as well, but “don’t have meta description overload”, says Mr. Murray. “The description tag still counts–but you need to avoid long descriptions.” The meta description tag still shows up in the search engine results, so optimize your meta description not only for the search engines but for your website visitors–you need a good description to lure people to click on your web site’s listing so they visit your site. The meta keywords tag is a hard tag not to include, but some search engines downplay this tag due to past abuses. It’s good to limit your meta keywords tag to a few keywords – again, don’t overload your meta keywords tag with a lot of useless keywords. When it comes to other meta tags (other than the meta description and keywords tag), you can go ahead and skip them–according to Mr. Murray, “they do little for search engines–why spend the time and potentially mess with density issues?”

Other issues that Mr. Murray talked about were issues such as overdone visible text. “Massive keyword repetition in a small space may annoy site visitors–it looks blatant.” Heading tags are commonly misused, as well. “Don’t overstuff and avoid misuse. Complement the design and don’t ignore the overall look and feel of your site.”

According to Heather Lloyd-Martin from SearchEngineWriting.com, SEO overkill is where good content can go bad. Title tags can get overstuffed quickly. Remember that the SERPs (search engine results) page is the first opportunity for conversion. Your title should be hot and compelling. It’s important to make your title clickable and reflect the content on the page. Stuffed title tags are more than spammy–they provide a bad first impression and inhibit click-throughs. Think of your conversion and your customers first. Searchers won’t click on your search engine listing if they see a spammy or undesirable title. “It’s one thing to create headlines that grab attention–it’s another when it has nothing to do with the ad”, says Heather Lloyd-Martin. “Titles and content can be creative, but please make the content relevant – and hit the pain points of your client.”

“Don’t be a linkarama loser”, says Ms. Lloyd-Martin. “Lots of links isn’t helpful for seo or for customers – it’s confusing. Too many links on a page will overwhelm your reader — and they won’t know how to take action. Focus on your most important page links, and promote those on the page. Think about the rule of three and use those links to pre-qualify powerful landing pages.” She goes on to say that you need to avoid what she calls “conversion confusion”. “Many pages include a lot of text on the page and have a lot of good content and talk about the product a lot. But there’s no conversion step or way for people to take action. People need to be told what to do. If you do not ask for the sale, they won’t take action.” What action do you want your customers to take? How easy is it to take that action? Don’t rely on a “contact us” button or “contact us” in the footer navigation. When you create landing pages, it’s important to give the visitor an action they can take as well as an incentive for taking that action.

Bad misspellings are something you want to avoid. According to Heather Lloyd-Martin, “misspellings are a myth–customers will notice misspellings pretty easily–which makes your company look unprofessional, like you can’t spell, and like you don’t care.” She goes on to say that “if they can’t get their site right, why can they get my order right?” Don’t trash you brand with misspellings.

Matt Bailey from the Karcher Group says that it’s important to realize how readers scan a web page. According to Jakob Nielsen, 79 percent of users scan a web page. 16 percent read the page’s copy word for word. When creating a web page and trying to avoid SEO overkill, you need to realize that screen reader users scan by listening. Mr. Bailey explains that they “listen to the first few words on the page”. It’s important to also be aware that “mobile devices and cell phones ignore hidden text, stuffed alt attributes, hidden z-layers–they’re all visible in PDAs and to screen readers. Some people turn off images on their phones when they’re browsing the web to save bandwidth.” If you overstuff your web pages with useless content and stuff your web pages with useless keywords the screen reader users, as well as people using mobile devices will not be happy with your web pages–they’ll leave right away.

Well-designed pages and content equal credibility. According to Mr. Bailey, there was a study done by the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab. “Participants made credibility-based decisions–based upon the site’s overall visual appeal.” They base the credibility on the site design. Typically, consumers assess the credibility of web sites based on the overall visual design of a site, specifically noting layout, typography, font size, and color schemes.

Mr. Bailey says that when it comes to over optimization, “you have two choices–write for search engines or write for conversions–there is an over-optimization penalty. Do things in moderation. You need to write for conversions, not the search engines.”