How to Avoid Common SEO Bad-Practices by Identifying the Semantic Intent and Context of Long-Tail Keywords
You may not even realize you are using black hat methods, but you always have to consider whether or not your SEO tactics are something you would want Google and other search engines to know about. Oftentimes we know when we are doing something we shouldn’t be, and as long as it works well for us, we tend to ignore the fact that it may be against Google’s Guidelines, and could therefore get our websites (and businesses) into trouble.
The Old Way of Doing SEO
Before Google released more advanced algorithms, such as Penguin, many webmasters used black hat methods to manipulate search engines in order to achieve high rankings on Google. At that time, it actually worked to spin articles, buy links and use the same keyword excessively on web pages and in anchor texts.
In those early days, webmasters would have actually encouraged you to use these SEO tactics to achieve your desired ranking. It was very difficult to attain a first-page position on Google and other search engines without utilizing black hat or gray hat tactics. There are many different types of black hat methods – some are more unethical than others. The ones that are less manipulative to search engines are referred to as “gray hat.”
Today, Google has become much more aware of over-optimization and other tactics that lead to quality websites getting a page-eight position, while those who know how to get backlinks and bend the system get a first page position, even if their website content is low grade. Google is now paying more attention to social media since these platforms give a clearer picture of what people view as good content. As Google optimizes its search algorithms, SEO has become a much more nuanced and subjective field. Webmasters have to eliminate their use of gray hat tactics and focus more on aligning the quality and context of the content to those sought by a target audience.
Even today, people and businesses execute black and gray hat SEO techniques, naively thinking they will not get be penalized. This charade can’t last forever, and eventually their sites will experience a major drop in ranking as a result of over-optimization and their attempts to “game” the system. Bouncing back to their old position will be a long, tough journey.
Examples of Black Hat SEO Tactics
Keyword Stuffing – Using keywords excessively on your pages to rank higher for the phrase.
Cloaking – When a website owner shows visitors one page but then shows something else to search engines.
Doorway Pages – Making websites that are highly over-optimized and then redirecting visitors to another website.
Examples of Gray Hat SEO Tactics
Article Spinning – The process of making many versions of the same content and then submitting it to hundreds of different article directories.
Link Exchange and Three Way Exchange – Exchanging links with other webmasters to get backlinks. In the three way method, there is an exchange between three websites that makes it difficult for Google to spot.
Buying and Selling Links – Website owners may buy or sell links to generate unnatural backlinks.
If you’re concerned about the state of your SEO—or just want to follow Google’s best practices for SEO—the following exercise will show you how to interpret keyword data to create content that solves the problem posed by your target audience.
How to Analyze Long-Tail Keywords to Optimize Your Website and Content for Your Audience
This exercise is designed to establish user intent for a given search query. We know what our potential audience is searching for—but in what context are they searching? Create a report detailing the search terms your page ranks for in Google Analytics or in Google Search Console. Filter the report based on the primary keyword for which you are optimizing the page.
Take, for instance, the following example. The page-level query report is sorted according to most clicks from the search engine result page (SERP), and filtered by the terms “high blood pressure,” and “exercise.” The “primary” or “target” keyword is “high blood pressure.”
“Exercise,” in this instance, is the secondary search term, in this case, sometimes called a “secondary,” “qualifying” or “proximity” keyword. The page in question lists common misconceptions about high blood pressure—however, the page-level content audit indicated that the page would receive higher-quality clicks by setting “High Blood Pressure” as the target query, with “Exercise” as the qualifying keyword.
Adding a third layer of semantic context for improving the on-page SEO, is the term “precautions.” Of further aid, in this example, is the third query (remember that the queries have been ranked by clicks to the site). Looking at the syntax of the query—punctuation isn’t included in search engine keyword data—it’s clear that the query is structured as a question.
This is important for several reasons. First, the use of the verb “can” in a first-person perspective (“Can I”) indicates a degree of caution on the part of the user. Analyzing the lexical semantics, along with the subject-matter—it’s clear the user is not seeking permission.
Rather, users asking this particular question to Google are seeking information about the health risks or dangers associated with high blood pressure and exercise. Including the tertiary proximity keyword “precautions” in our analysis of traffic drivers to our page yields more insight into the information sought by the target audience. To quickly summarize the context in which users land on our page…
- The largest group of visitors, currently, arrives on the page after looking for a list of risks associated with HBP. The context in which they land on the page is cynical; it’s clear from user’s word choice that they perceive risk from the start.
- The second visitor segment approaches the topic somewhat differently. Here, users approach the subject more open-endedly, asking whether or not, in effect, individuals with HBP are physically able to exercise.
Tip: in cases where a large number of users come to a page from a search query in question-form, answering the question directly in the first line can significantly improve PageRank, especially when a website is optimized to take advantage of Google’s featured snippets.
Combining these two sides yields a conclusion that the content most likely to attract and convert this user segment is to focus the page content on the degree to which individuals with high blood pressure can exercise, in addition to detailing the risks. As search engine algorithms become increasingly advanced in their Natural Language Processing capabilities, what were previously considered “industry best-practices” (maintaining an aggressive backlink strategy, having a too-high ratio of keyword density to overall copy) will likely be perceived increasingly as gray—or in some cases, black—hatted SEO tactics.