On-Page SEO: The Power of Proximity

If you know me well, you'll know how strongly I believe in the power of on-page SEO over all other forms of optimisation.

Take this blog as an example: I don't run any PPC or banner ad campaigns to promote it, I don't really 'link-build', except for when I guest post for other people, and the only other off-page promotion I do is to tweet out new posts - sometimes.

And yet I rank highly for some terms that aren't even that closely relevant to my role as a freelance writer, such as 'embed twitter hashtag', where I average position 1.4 in the results (which means, 60% of the time, I'm the top result).

So what's going on here? Well, it's simple - my page for embedding a Twitter hashtag in a blog has the words 'embedding', 'twitter' and 'hashtag' in the page title, the headline, and throughout the text.

It's got a clear focus, it's genuinely useful, and the page is updated occasionally when people post comments or questions at the bottom.

This is the power of proximity in on-page SEO - all the right things, in all the right places, on a page you have total control of.

Policing Proximity

In a long-term SEO campaign, control is a key consideration, particularly in the new era of Google Penguin, the recent algorithm update that punishes websites with suspicious-looking patterns of inbound links.

Google have always been supportive of on-page SEO when it doesn't detract from the quality of the content, but artificial inbound linking - such as by paying another webmaster to link to you from every page of their site, or spamming blog comments with links to your own blog - will no longer be accepted.

Before it, the Google Panda update penalised sites with large numbers of non-unique content that had been syndicated or simply copied and pasted from elsewhere, whether with or without the original author's permission.

So how do you recover from either of these updates? Well, in the case of Panda, all the content is on your own website, and you can have it rewritten (by someone like me!) so that it's unique - and, gradually, your search results rankings will begin to recover.

In the case of Penguin, there may be thousands of artificial links to your site all over the internet - tracking them down is a challenge in itself, let alone getting each individual webmaster to remove the links.

Proximity - in the sense that all of your SEO efforts are made on pages controlled by yourself - allows for changes, adaptations to algorithm updates, and flexibility to keep your site on top of the search results, no matter what happens in the future.

Temporal Proximity

Hold tight, because we're about to go fourth-dimensional. Up above we talked about long-term considerations in on-page and off-page SEO, but there are short-term benefits to proximity too, particularly in terms of pages that are published close together.

Your content still needs to be relevant and valuable to the reader, but if you can plan a series of updates around one central topic - without simply repeating yourself day after day - you can quickly build a strong ranking for your target keywords.

I've seen examples of where a client has gone from having no presence for a particularly specific key phrase, to holding eight of the ten front-page positions on Google - and that's without any personalisation or location settings making them appear higher on my screen than they would elsewhere.

Factor in yet another kind of proximity - geographic location - and people with location-based search switched on may see you rank even higher if they're nearby. And if they're far away, with location-based search switched on, there's not much you can do to improve your ranking in their results anyway.

Applying Proximity

The principle behind each of the kinds of proximity outlined above is simple, and always the same: Connections are Good.

The web is all about connections, and while inbound links are nice, they're not as 'connected' as they might seem.

Step outside of the comfort zone of your own website, and you inescapably relinquish some control over your SEO campaign - and that may reap rewards in the short term, but it can only be a bad idea for the long term.

Focus on on-page SEO in a joined-up, 'proximal' way - whether that means posting related pages close together over multiple days, focusing on your local geographic area, or tying together the different opportunities for on-page keyword placement - and your chances of success are greatly increased.

And if you've been hit by any of Google's recent algorithm updates - well, I just hope you're a Panda victim, and haven't been penalised by Penguin.

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