Penguin-Friendly Web Content

Last time around it was Panda - this time, it's Penguin that's got people panicking.

Google's latest update threatens to remove you from search results (or at least, from the top rankings) if your website content contains too many stuffed-in keywords.

Seriously, if you're worried about being affected by that, you've already missed the point of a decent website.

Penguins at the Pole

Reaction to the Google Penguin update has not been entirely polarised, but has certainly spread across a broad spectrum.

I have clients who still want me to break the rules of grammar in order to include long-tail keyword phrases that simply cannot occur naturally, or to miss out punctuation marks because people tend not to type those in their search queries.

Others have set out maximum percentages for keyword density, asking me to cut down on the number of keywords I use, and how frequent and prominent they are in my text.

Either way, they're still approaching their content from the point of view of gamifying SEO, still working on the principle that there's a way to force the optimisation potential of a page through careful choice and positioning of keywords.

The point is actually the polar opposite of that - good content comes not from forcing its SEO potential, but from focusing on its literary merit.

It's no longer effective - and was never really appropriate - to hire a cheap-as-chips SEO agency to litter your pages with grammatically incorrect keyword phrases. Human visitors could always spot that a mile off, but now the search engines can too.

Instead, the needs of humans and search bots alike are aligning in a way that is massively beneficial to good webmasters, as you can now fill your site with content written purely for its literary merit, safe in the knowledge that Google will recognise it based on similar criteria, rather than on a dispassionate, easy-to-force analysis of which word is placed where.

Of Rankings and Relevance

Don't be overly concerned by Penguin - just look at the areas of your SEO campaign where you're already working to the right principles.

If you use long-tail keyword phrases, you're already aware of the importance of driving relevant traffic to your site, rather than simply going all-out for the biggest possible audience, regardless of where those visitors come from.

Widen this long-tail approach to cover all of your content, and you can create highly relevant landing pages that aren't bastardised by a schoolboy approach to SEO - engaging, inspiring copy that will encourage human visitors to make a purchase, rather than putting them off with just-adequate sales copy.

Keywords aren't outlawed, by any means. Google has always said that signposting a particular topic within your copy is a good thing, as it helps search engines and humans alike to quickly grasp what your page is about.

Like Panda, Penguin simply aims to eliminate those websites where the content has been written specifically for SEO benefits, rather than for a human audience.

Of Keywords and Cunning

So, what's the new approach to keywording? It's actually the same as the old approach, if you were doing it right before.

First, do not compromise on grammar. This has always been a bad idea, but now it's specifically a no-no in Google's guidance.

Secondly, choose your keywords carefully. 'Car insurance', 'cheap insurance' and 'motor insurance' may get you penalised for cramming 'insurance' into your copy, whereas 'car insurance', 'breakdown cover' and 'roadside assistance' can fit just as many keywords in, without the repetition.

Thirdly, look to the places on your page where you can use a different kind of grammar, if you need to. Headings and sub-headings, captions and lists are all places where you can use unusual word orders without it reading particularly oddly, so as before, they are still important places to find SEO value.

I like to think of myself as a writer above all else - not an SEO 'guru' or anything like that, although I can write you content with SEO benefits - so I'm frankly delighted to see the web moving towards literary merit, and away from cheap, crappy content intended to force your site higher in the rankings.

And remember, you don't top the search results by doing what everybody else is doing, so shine a light and be the first to make the change, and you're in with a real chance of grabbing the North Pole position once the Penguin changes all shake out.