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The Perils of Over-Optimizing Website Content

Episode Overview

Why do many companies with great reputations over-optimize their content, which hinders their users’ experience? Excellent content needs a combination of outstanding content quality combined with a stellar user experience to truly gain the loyalty and dedication of your customers. Join Ben and Jordan Koene as they break down the essentials of content optimization and how to avoid common pitfalls that sabotage many successful brands.
Topics covered include:
  • Content optimization consistently evolves over time.
  • Over-optimization tactics often make content harder to read and overloads your page with unnecessary keywords, creating a detrimental user experience.
  • Excellent content-optimization tactics often include educational content, which carefully helps customers through a product process, such as signing up for a credit card or how to open a bank account.

GUESTS & RESOURCES:

Ben:                 Welcome to Optimization October on The Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this month we’re going to point the microscope at your content in what we’re calling Optimization October. Joining us as Jordan Kone, who is the lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. And, today Jordan and I are going to talk about what you need to know to make October the most optimized month for your content efforts.

But, before we hear from Jordan, I want to remind you that this podcast is brought to you by the marketing team at Searchmetrics. We are an SEO and content marketing platform that helps enterprise scale businesses monitor their online presence and make data driven decisions. To support you our loyal podcast listeners, we’re offering a complimentary digital diagnostic, where a member of our digital strategies team will provide you with a consultation that reviews how your website content and SEO strategies can all be optimized.

To schedule your free digital diagnostic, go to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic. Okay, on with the show. Here’s my conversation with Jordan Kone, lead SEO strategist and the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. Jordan, welcome to Optimization October.

Jordan:             All right, is there any Halloween themes that we’re going to be including into this episode?

Ben:                 How about I just do a wolf howl and we call it quits?

Jordan:             I’m not sure our listeners are going to enjoy that, but let’s just continue.

Ben:                 Ow ow oooowwooo. Okay. Moving on. So Jordan, we’re here to talk about content optimization this month. And, I think the important thing to think about is first off, what is content optimization? Talk to me a little bit about what you think content optimization really means.

Jordan:             Yeah, well content optimization in its fundamental form really even predates SEO. It’s fundamentally the practice of making content more useful to the end user, to the end consumer of the content. And, this goes way back. I mean, this goes back to traditional print and newspapers and magazines and other periodicals leveraging various tactics to entice readership. And, in some cases it’s experienced based, but obviously in most cases and in many cases it’s really about the substance, the text and how you optimize the text.

Ben:                 So, going in the way back machine, pre-internet era content optimization was how readable is your content? What’s the format? Is it eye catching? Right? What’s the font you’re using? Is it appropriate for print? Is it big enough? There’s lots of content optimization that’s been happening in the pre-digital age.

Now that we’re here and there’s this little website called Google, I think you’ve probably heard of it. Content optimization also has a different component where it has to do with how you’re ranking. Talk to me about some of the newer techniques going beyond just is your font pretty? Is it usable? Does it provide utility when somebody is on a page or a piece of marketing collateral to what actually helps drive visibility?

Jordan:             I think some of the fundaments are the same. The big differences here is that there’s so much more data available to us. We can visualize and understand the optimization that’s taken place in near real time, which we couldn’t do ever before. And, so in this now Googlesque world content optimization has taken a form in two directions. One that is really focused on the text, right? So, we’ve talked about this on many other episodes, so it’s things like TF-IDF and other really core elements around, is your texts meeting the criteria of the topic? The other component that content optimization really starts to move down is experience. Does the experience warrant the value that the consumer or the reader is looking for? And, does that match the topic?

Ben:                 So, I think that what you’re getting to is that it’s a data-driven practice, right? Content optimization, we have all of these signals that we can send to Google to have them understand what a piece of content is. We’re able to measure whether what we’re writing on the page is actually driving visibility. But, here’s the thing, you and I are not the only people that are creating content. Talk to me about the competitive practice of content optimization.

Jordan:             Yeah. So, the competitive practice, this is where it gets really insightful and in my opinion, this is the one area where we can reverse engineer, not only the nature of what content strategies are being used, but also what preferences or ranking factors Google is taking into account for different topics or categories. Ultimately, the competitive nature of content optimization is the practice of understanding or dissecting your competitive landscape and then creating criteria to understand what is working or not working within that competitive portfolio.

It is a practice that can be automated, in many cases. It’s something that we do here at Searchmetrics within what we call our content experience platform, but it is a practice that’s been used for many years, already. I mean there’s a lot of companies that have different approaches to looking at certain competitors and then segmenting what it is that they’re doing on the their site to perform, in Google search.

Ben:                 So, when you’re going through a content optimization exercise, how much are you looking at your internal data, trying to understand how your content is being accepted and viewed by Google? And, how much are you looking at what other brands are doing, trying to understand where there is an opportunity?

Jordan:             In my opinion, that’s an 80-20 rule. I mean you spend 20% of your time looking at your own data and content optimization. You spend 80% of your time looking at what’s happening in the market, what’s happening on your competitors and what’s happening in Google search.

Ben:                 Really? Because I assumed that it would be the opposite for an 80-20 rule, where you’re spending 80% of the time evaluating your content and trying to optimize it based on your signals. And, spending 20% of the time looking outward to try to understand what the landscape looks like. Why such a big focus on what the rest of the world is doing as opposed to how you can improve your own content?

Jordan:             The way that we look at content optimization, not only at Searchmetrics but I think a lot of really strategic brands, the way they look at content optimization is that this is an offensive practice. This is a set of tactics and efforts that are going to allow your brand, your assets, your content outperform everybody else. And, in those kinds of situations you really need to understand everything else that’s going on outside of your own ecosystem to really attack the market and outrank and out-position and grow your traffic in a very competitive practice.

And again, remember we’re talking about content optimization here. If we were spending all this time talking about say content creation or going through the content process or going through the structure and taxonomy of your website, these other topics are far different from the optimization discipline, which is really focused at gaining market share, gaining positions, gaining traffic from the competition.

Ben:                 Okay, so when you’re looking at competitors, try to understand what’s driving their success or their failures. What are some of the signals you’re looking at? What are you trying to understand about the landscape so, you can figure out how to improve your content?

Jordan:             So, there’s the basics, right? So, there’s the foundation, there’s all these identity and tactical elements, things like what are the core topics that this website is addressing? If we take e-commerce, right? So, what are the categories in the category structures? I mean we were just analyzing as a team, a athletic wear website. And, on that website it was really fascinating. They actually created running bundles.

So, they bundled three or four of their products to create a new product that is a running bundle. And, it included tights and a sports bra and maybe even a little coat or jacket and that became a running bundle, very creative. And, what that allowed them to do is gain more market share, gain more keyword rankings. And, now they’re one of the top brands in the running category when it comes to running apparel and footwear.

Ben:                 So, when you’re going through the content optimization, this seems like something that most brands aren’t doing constantly. Talk to me about the cadence. Is this a once in a blue moon thing? Is this something that you check in on once a year? Once a month, once a quarter or are you just always optimizing your content?

Jordan:             That’s a great question. And, this is a topic that we spend a lot of time analyzing and I would encourage all of our listeners to take the advice on cadence as one to be mindful that this isn’t just a data driven approach but this is also how your business is structured, how your resources are structured. And, different businesses have different sets of resources and you have to work within what you have available to you. But, in general cadence and how often you optimize your content is a derivative of your category, the industry that you’re in, as well as the nature of your competitors and how they’re managing their content process.

So, let’s take someone like Newsweek for example, their cadence of optimization is going to be quite frequent. They have to be optimizing their content, whether it’s evergreen content or news based content because they have both, very frequently because of the nature of their competitive set. And so again, this is a partly outward looking exercise, but in this particular theme when we talk about cadence, you also have to be mindful of what kind of resources and leverage do I have, internally, to make this plan take effect?

Ben:                 So, I think the story here is that there’s an opportunity to be optimizing your content consistently and that, really, comes down to your resources. But, when you’re doing content optimization, it’s not a time bound thing. It’s something that’s going to evolve over time. And, so you have an opportunity to constantly grow and get better. It leads us to the topic of over-optimization. What are you spending too much time optimizing your content? Is it possible to tweak and iterate too much to the point that you’re actually hurting yourself? Talk to me about over-optimization.

Jordan:             Hey, this is one of the topics that I’m actually quite passionate about because over-optimization is a theme that’s starting to really bubble up a lot in the SEO community and in the content community. So, there’s a lot of content owners and writers and editors who’ve been pressured by SEOs and SEO tools to really emphasize certain keywords or utilization of certain keywords or utilization of certain topics. And, this theme has emerged of over-optimization, “Oh, you’re over optimizing everything. Oh, stop stuffing everything with keywords.”

And, I really want to make a clear distinction here in between what is over-optimization and what is a variety of different tactics that shouldn’t be utilized. And so, over-optimization is the force by which both your content, the actual text that’s on your pages is combined with the experience, is creating a negative outcome in your results. And, that is largely a outcome of the two elements overemphasizing certain themes or topics.

So, what I mean by that is that you have texts that’s on all of your pages, right? You own the texts, you own the copy, but then you also own the experience. So, if we use the e-commerce example, you may have a product descriptions or category descriptions and reviews and maybe even UGC on the page. And, those are all texts that you can control. Subsequently, you also have products and you have inventory and you’re displaying subcategories and other things.

If those two experiences combined overemphasize the topics and themes that you want to rank for, you can in essence be over-optimized. But, it’s a combination of both of those factors. What this often gets confused with are themes like keyword stuffing, which is over using a keyword in your copy. Or, it becomes a theme that challenges the use of data, things like term frequency or vector frequency in your copy, because SEOs or copywriters say that those data points will force me to over-utilize keywords in the copy or the page.

In a nutshell, there are these tactics that you shouldn’t practice and then there is over-optimization which is a combination of both the content and the experience, together. And I hope that SEOs and content owners can really take flight with this theme because over-optimization, it is not the practice of these tactics that is really the root cause of a lot of the problems that websites run into.

Ben:                 My favorite tool at Searchmetrics is Content Experience. And, the gist of what that tool does is it tells you, “You have a page and if you want it to rank higher for X keywords, you need to include these words on the page.” And, I think that we’re … related to the topic of over-optimization, where you’re starting to use the keywords that can help you rank. And, then most people don’t have Searchmetrics’ content experience or a tool as effective as that tool. So, they’re just putting keywords in to try to rank for a specific term.

And, to me the line in the sand where you get into over-optimization is when you are putting in something that no longer makes any sense and your deteriorating the overall experience by making your content harder to read, harder to understand or you’re just crowding the page. Am I thinking about what over-optimization is the right way? To me it’s when it affects the experience.

Jordan:             Exactly. That’s the piece that I think a lot of the industry overlooks is the fact that over-optimization is in essence when it crosses over into the experience. And, I’ll give you a great example, right? We’ve talked about this on other episodes, the flower syndrome. If you look at a lot of the flower websites, any of the flower websites, 1-800-FLOWERS, ProFlowers, Teleflora, all of these websites-

Ben:                 Shout out to ftd.com.

Jordan:             Exactly, if you go to the bottom of any of these flower websites, they are all using a keyword stuffing and link stuffing strategy, bottom of the fold, often a very lightly shaded gray color text with a blurb about a dozen roses on their dozen roses page. And, this in essence could be considered any one of 10 different tactics that shouldn’t be used.

In the experience though, the overall experience, Google has said, “Hey, you know what, we’re good with this. We’re going to keep ranking these websites.” So in reality, are they over optimizing? No. As long as Google doesn’t crack down on it and the rest of the competitive set is playing within those rules. No. Are there a variety of tactics here that I wouldn’t agree with and I would advise them not to continue doing? Absolutely.

Ben:                 So, let’s talk a little bit more about who’s doing content optimization well. Who were some of your role models or templates for content optimization?

Jordan:             Sure. I think there’s a lot here that we can unpack and look at. One of my absolute favorites is, and really a darling in my opinion of the content space is NerdWallet. So, NerdWallet has really captured the hearts and minds of the finance and loan and insurance industries by producing great content that’s educating consumers on these products, right? How do I get a credit card? How do I get a bank account? How do I get a mortgage?

And, they’ve done an amazing job of marrying both the ability to address very specific and very high profile topics. Things like credit cards, things like bank accounts, and do it in a way where the experience is not just addressing the main pain point, but allowing consumers to understand what’s next, to understand the sequence by which you need to go through to open a bank account, to set up a new insurance policy.

And, so one of the things that I think they do really well is throughout … not only the content itself, but through many of the navigations and experiences, they’ll explain to you what is required if you want to switch your bank account, what is required if you need to set up an account as a foreigner in a different country. And, they really bring you through the sequence of steps. So, this is an amazing resource that goes beyond just addressing the topic with your content.

Ben:                 Okay. So they’re doing a nice job of creating a high volume of optimized content, but also there’s utility there because it’s educational, walking their customers through the flow of what they need to understand to be a consumer of their products. Give me another example in a different industry. Who else is doing a nice job with content optimization? How about somebody in e-commerce?

Jordan:             Yeah, so I mean, one of the great e-commerce examples that I like to talk a lot about is Nike. And, Nike is a unique one because although they are in the e-commerce space and they’re trying to sell their products direct to consumers, they are also the manufacturer. And, one of the commonly known facts about the e-commerce space is that typically the manufacturers of these brands are not great at dealing with e-commerce end of things. But, one of the great things that Nike has done is when you visit a lot of their pages, they are producing not just a category page or a product page that has information or inventory. They’re also providing very valuable insights on the page. So, they’re providing, in an essence, not only a description to their category, but in some cases they’re adding in values with learn more, additional details about this category or this inventory.

They’re bringing in expert content on the producer or the designers of these products. And, that has really helped them elevate their content to a place where they’re ranking for more themes and more topics and not just ranking for core branded terms, which would be expected, but getting into other subcategory or head terms that are incredibly challenging and very competitive with the retailers that are in that space.

Ben:                 So, give me an example of that type of head term.

Jordan:             Yeah Ben, that’s a great question. And, one of the great examples I like to bring up is girls’ basketball shoes.

Ben:                 A topic near and dear to my heart.

Jordan:             I’m sure it is. But, I think it’s actually really pertinent because for a variety of reasons. First of all, they’ve really started to expand their product inventory in this category. But, also this is a space that’s been predominantly dominated by retailers. For a long time, brands haven’t been able to really penetrate these subcategory type themes like girls’ basketball shoes. They’re now ranking, I’d say in the top one or two positions and the experience where they’re not only showcasing the inventory that’s available, but actually talking about some of the innovation of the designs that they’ve created for girls. And, so I think that’s really what makes this page really unique. And again, it’s about how do you differentiate both your experience and your content to rank higher?

Ben:                 So, give me an example of a brand that you think isn’t doing a great job with content optimization. Where do you see people struggling?

Jordan:             Absolutely, Ben. And, the interesting thing here is that one of the key brands that we monitor and they have some ups and downs with Google is Forbes. Forbes has a very aggressive experience that I think a lot of consumers would consider a bit intrusive. And, combined with the fact that a lot of their content and the content experience behind it can be very burdensome, right? So, a lot of clicks to access the content. Sometimes the content is very superficial in terms of its depth. But, Forbes is one of those brands that we constantly monitor for this core theme of content optimization.

Many of their assets are very valuable. It’s not to say that they’ve never produced good content, they certainly have. That combination of a good set of texts with experience, is one that I have seen Forbes go up and down with. And, I’d say that right now they’re one of the brands that we’ve noticed struggle, as of late, when it comes to their visibility and their ability to control rankings due to content optimization.

Ben:                 So, here’s the thing that drives me nuts. Forbes’ content is great in terms of what they’re writing about, how they’re writing it. The thing that drives me nuts, is you go to their page and it’s like pop-up after pop-up and video showing up overlaid over the text and I can’t actually read the article that I want to read. Is that what you’re considering content optimization? I mean are you counting that as part of the page?

Jordan:             Absolutely. That is, in essence, the experience that is prohibiting users from consuming the content that they want to access. And, really at its core, the experience in many cases as you, as you mentioned, is really the big blocker to having an enjoyable and ease of use on Forbes. The content itself is often really giving you what you want, but it’s so difficult to get ahold of it and to really consume it that I think that it’s a disturbing lack of content optimization within that organization

Ben:                 Outside of Forbes and their myriad of pop-ups and ways that they’re disrupting their high value content. Are there any other examples that you think of people that are not doing a great job with content optimization? Who’s struggling in this department?

Jordan:             Another example, and this isn’t a new one for folks, is going to be one of the old demand media brands, WikiHow. And, they’ve been one of those brands where it’s really difficult for Google to determine if the substance of the actual content that’s being presented is addressing the consumer’s problem. I’m sure all of you experienced this. You’ve visited a WikiHow page and you go, “Boy, that did not answer the question I had.” Bounce back to Google. You do four or five new searches, you finally figure out exactly what you’re looking for. And, that ultimately is at the crux of content quality, which is one of the tactics that exist that we didn’t discuss in detail.

But, that’s really at the core one of the major issues, but it’s a combination of the experience that WikiHow is taken, they’ve taken the strategy of using are very icon-like visual experience with the content substance that they provide. And, they’re are another one, those brands that we’ve seen over time here struggled in maintaining their rankings and position in Google.

Ben:                 So, at the end of the day, when we talk about content optimization, this is as much about the words that are on the page and sending the signals to Google as it is, figuring out what the right experience is and making sure that the consumers that are on your page are actually getting utility and you’re not disrupting that experience. Jordan, any last words about content optimization?

Jordan:             Absolutely. I think that one of the things I want to encourage everyone to really consider is that data is not your enemy, but overuse of data is a lack of judgment and a lack of good insights. And, so ultimately you want to use data to get to insights and help inform your content teams, your business teams, your marketing teams to drive towards a structured way of producing great content for your users and informing the other teams that control the experience. And, so combining that content resource with the webmasters and developers who are building the experience, that is the recipe to great content optimization.

Ben:                 Content optimization is a great example of SEO being a combination of an art and a science. There’s a data-driven component and there’s also a judgment component, which is how is your consumer going to consume the content? Are they going to get what they want and stay on your page? And, we’re going to investigate this topic for the rest of the month. So, that wraps up this episode of The Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Jordan Kone, lead SEO strategist and CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. We’d love to continue this conversation with you. So, if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find the link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter. His handle is jtkone, J-T-K-O-N-E or you can visit his web site, searchmetrics.com.

Of course, if you have general marketing questions, if you’d like to talk about this podcast or if you’re interested in being a guest on the show, you can find my contact information in our show notes or you can shoot me a tweet at benjshap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. if you’re interested in learning more about how to use search data to boost your organic traffic online visibility or to gain competitive insights, head over to searchmetrics.com/diagnostic for your complimentary advisory session with our digital strategies team. And, if you like this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit that subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed later this week. All right? That’s it for today, but until next time, remember, the answers are always in the data.

 

Tagged:
Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene is the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of Searchmetrics. Previously, Jordan was the Head of SEO and Content Development at eBay. During his time at eBay, Jordan focused on utilizing eBay content to improve user experience and natural search traffic.

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