A recent discussion on Twitter has put the search engine optimization (SEO) world in confusion, as leading figures at Google revealed that keyword stuffing penalties are on the wane. The conversation also highlights 4 aspects of SEO and online marketing that we’ve covered elsewhere on our blog:
- Search engines closely hide their mechanisms
- Search engines change very quickly
- News comes in a variety of forms
- Traditional ranking signals are being taken over by user-generated signals
Google Higher-Up Talks Keyword Stuffing
Back on June 20, John Mueller, a “webmaster trends analyst” at Google and a big figure in the company, joined a conversation about SEO on Twitter. Other marketing professionals had been talking about an Italian web page that was ranking well, but which also seemed like the definition of keyword stuffing.
It’s usually more actionable to focus on your own sites, rather than to focus on “why is someone else’s site ranking above mine when I don’t think it’s as good as mine” … We use over 200 factors for ranking, the nice part is that you don’t have to get them all perfect.
— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) June 20, 2018
Yeah, but if we can ignore boring keyword stuffing (this was popular in the 90’s; search engines have a lot of practice here), there’s sometimes still enough value to be found elsewhere. I don’t know the page, but IMO keyword stuffing shouldn’t result in removal from the index.
— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) June 20, 2018
His response raised some eyebrows: “Keyword stuffing shouldn’t result in removal from the index”? A focus on the other content on a page with stuffed keywords? These were some starkly different statements compared to how Google has handled the practice of keyword stuffing, in the past.
Are We Seeing a Change in How Google Handles Keyword Stuffing?
Quite possibly. We at Myers Freelance would even venture so far as to add, “even probably.” As we’ll cover, below, looking past stuffed keywords and at the rest of a web page’s content in a more holistic way would fit in line with other trends we’ve seen in how search engines work. It would also comply with Google’s interest in promoting sites that are relevant and important for a given search query: Penalizing otherwise good sites simply because certain keywords account for 5% or more of the words on the page would still be penalizing an otherwise good site.
What this means for your law firm is pretty straightforward: Don’t sweat the keyword density. But we’ve been saying that kind of thing for awhile, now.
There are, however, 4 other important aspects of this situation that are important for lawyers to note, as they say far more about the world of online marketing than the role of keyword density in your online content.
Algorithms are Closely-Held Secrets
The fact that keyword stuffing does not lead to an automatic and debilitating penalty is news to a lot of online marketers. Keyword stuffing was one of the oldest and truest black hat SEO moves, and so was one of the first techniques that Google penalized.
That this penalty is on the wane highlights the need for law firms to have online marketing professionals on hand to build and maintain their websites. Yes, the marketing pros were left in the dark, as well, but detecting that a change might have been made, and then confirming it from reputable sources, publicizing it, and knowing where to look in the news are all things that the average attorney has no time to do.
Search Engines are Constantly Evolving
Another crucial takeaway from this is that search engines are in a constant state of change. In the early days, marketers understood that search engines paid a lot of attention to which words were used on a page, and so crammed pages with keywords they wanted a site to rank well for. Google noticed this, and started penalizing and demoting sites for keyword stuffing. Now, we’re seeing evidence that Google is pivoting, yet again, in order to avoid over-penalizing websites that provide relevant and important content, and yet still have a keyword density that is worryingly high.
News in SEO Comes from a Totality of Sources
One of the trickier parts of online marketing and SEO is keeping up with the rapidly developing world. News comes in a variety of forms, and search engines only let out what they want to be known. They often do this in frustratingly quiet ways, like a couple of unofficial lines in a Twitter thread, making it incredibly difficult to find important news, let alone separate weed from chaff.
Traditional Ranking Signals are on Their Way Out
Looking at the Big Picture, news that Google is taking a more holistic approach to web pages that have high keyword densities, and that the search engine looks past offending pages to see whether they nevertheless have something to offer page visitors, is yet another indication that traditional ranking signals are on the wane.
Traditional ranking signals are the old way of doing things, in the search engine world. Like monarchy or Pennoyer v. Neff, traditional ranking signals are how search engines used to do things, until they moved onto wiser techniques. These wiser techniques, currently, involve tracking things that internet users do when they reach a specific web page, like how long they stay on the page, how far they scroll down it, and whether they return to the search engines results page for another site.
The implications for your legal blog are important, but no less vague: Write it well, and with the reader in mind.