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Monday, September 04, 2006

Keywords and good words...Praising balance...

Last week, I mentioned Jakob Nielsen's recent comments regarding the convergence of search engine optimized text and usability (see: "Writing to be found...").

I expressed concern at the prospect of some webmasters taking the Nielsen position and carrying it to an extreme. The idea that one should write in order to be found (i.e. using popular, relevant and expected keywords) has long been recognized as a core SEO principle, but that desire for robot-friendly writing has historically been tempered by a concern that such text might be a turn off for visitors.

Now that everyone's favorite usability expert has hopped on the keyword bandwagon, there seems to be more risk that my customers will be demanding text devoid of euphemism, rhetorical flourish, creative expression, etc. in pursuit of content using the "old words" Nielsen recommends.

I wanted to revisit that topic today, because the more I think about Nielsen's position, the more convinced I am that his relatively brief justification for using expected keyword strings doesn't really provide a full picture of the situation.

Good SERPs don't just stem from content. Yes, the right content (loaded with the right keywords) will increase performance. That's part of what keeps me in business. However, there is more to the story. Google, et. al., use algorithms that also place premium value on inbound links. They are particularly smitten by non-reciprocal backlinks that appear to have developed organically.

Good content is the best way to get those links. If you write something interesting and entertaining, people are more likely to link to it on their own volition. A sanitized "old word" text written by someone who has taken the latest Nielsen recommendation to its logical extreme may help in terms of search engine indexing and discovery via the right keywords, but may be so dry, dull or unreadable that it would not produce those organic backlinks.

Google Blogoscoped concurs:

One thing to keep in mind though; as soon as you end up writing for bots instead of humans, chances are low people like your writing enough to link to it, which in turn harms rankings.

That might not seem all that important at first glance, but it really is a critical matter. Those links produce a direct traffic stream while simultaneously boosting SERPs. They also have the amazing power to self-replicate in the "Web 2.0" environment.

If someone likes your post enough to Digg it, add it to their list of bookmarks on a popular social bookmarking site, etc., the effect can be viral. Those of you who read my paen to Ellen Feiss and Samuel L. Jackson know just how much I love that kind of thing.

Quality persuades people to share information. Word of mouth/keyboard is a very powerful tool, and the right reaction to content can set an amazing chain of events into play.

Those who are preparing to rely upon content built with search engines and their users in mind without respecting the importance of readability and quality aren't going to get the best possible results.

Those who understand that it is important to utilize good SEO principles while also proving the best possible writing are going to cas in, by comparison. Their text will be capable of snagging searchers and its quality will create additional backlinks and attention.

There may be a convergence at hand wtih respect to search engine algorithms and how users actually search. That convergence does justify terming appropriate keyword use a usability issue. However, usability doesn't end there and quality sacrifices in the name of "writing to be found" don't make a great deal of sense.

The trick is to write sufficiently optimized content that contains appropriate keywording AND that offers an enjoyable reading experience.

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