Content Continues To Be King
In late September, Google finally confirmed officially what many of us have suspected for years - that the <meta name=”keywords”...> tag attribute (hereafter simply “the keywords meta tag”) in web pages has no effect on Google search results rank.
Fundamentally, what this means is that attempts to tell Google what your web site is about don’t work - Google will figure this out for itself thank you. Pretending to be something you are not won’t work. Tricks to make yourself look better than you are won’t work. Google of course uses various methods of its own to determine where you should rank in search engine results and will largely see through attempts to spoof it. Primary among those methods is to ascertain what the content of a website really is. Getting the content right is the single best way to ensure Google’s approval - plus it serves to entice and engage online readers, and to build quality incoming links.
Some Tags Are Better Than Others
There’s a bit more to the tags issue though. Web developers/designers insert various tags and tag attributes into web pages that are either necessary or useful and that are used by search engines, but not necessarily for search rank. For example, if you choose “View > Page Source” for a web page in Firefox, for example, the code behind the page you can see will contain entries like:
among many others, such as the example code snippet shown below (click to enlarge)
The keywords meta tag has traditionally been applied to inform search engines of the primary focus of the website. This is the one Google doesn’t read anymore, saying that “Because the keywords meta tag was so often abused, many years ago Google began disregarding the keywords meta tag”.
On the other hand, Google is not the only game in town, and Bing has a slightly different approach saying that the keywords meta tag “is not the page rank panacea it once was back in the prehistoric days of Internet search. It was abused far too much and lost most of its cachet. But there’s no need to ignore the tag. Take advantage of all legitimate opportunities to score keyword credit, even when the payoff is relatively low.”
Search results do make use of other tags however, at least for result display purposes. The page title and description meta tags are used by Google directly in displaying its search results - for example the first result in the figure below (click to enlarge) shows the title and description meta tag that we “fed” to Google using the code shown above. While the effect of the title and description meta tags on the actual search result position is not clear, it is certainly important to have them correct and meaningful for the user who ultimately looks at those search results since they must create an impact and give immediate information if you are to capitalise on your search ranking. At least this is one area over which you have definite control.
The Dual Online User
This highlights one key tenet in getting your website just right online. It needs to be right for dual users - firstly, for the search engine that has to read and assess the site and determine how to return the address in search results, and secondly for the viewer who will click on results and ultimately interact with your site. The approach to optimising for these dual users is quite different but there are overlaps, content being the primary one.
What Search Engines Like
Google works very hard to make sure that its search results are as relevant as possible to the search phrase used. The more accurate Google is, the more likely people will continue using it and the more money it will make from displaying relevant adverts. So Google really needs to get it right.
The Google webcrawler program trawls the web and reads the code behind web pages, attempting to categorise the sites in its database. While the algorithm it uses to assess websites is no doubt complex, it is basically a dumb machine and must make judgement calls only on what is presented to it in plain text. The domain name, page title, the description tag are a starting point, but unless the information and wording contained therein are backed up by solid content on the page that reinforces the title and description, then the Google webcrawler feels that something is amiss and the ranking of the site will suffer.
To take an extreme example, suppose your page title is “Boutique Hotel in Dublin”, and your description tag is “We are a boutique hotel in Dublin”, but then your entire page content is about dog kennels. Then the Google webcrawler won’t consider your site a good result to show to anyone who is searching for information about “boutique hotels in Dublin” or about “dog kennels” for that matter. The structure and the content are simply not matching up. A web page has to do exactly what it says on the tin or it will be punished.
When a person searches for a specific phrase, like “boutique hotels in Dublin”, then Google really wants to display information about “boutique hotels in Dublin” and about nothing else. The likely best candidates are websites that have domain names that use the terms “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” AND page titles that use the terms “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” AND page content that makes regular use of the words “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” (preferably repeated use to up the keyword “density” of the content, but not too much use so that Google again is suspicious of your motives!). If external websites have links to this site that use the terms “boutique”, “hotel” and “dublin” in the text of the link, then Google further approves since other websites appear to be sending people to the site based on the same search terms, so the external link endorsement is worth something to Google.
Getting To The Top
So it is clear that the content of your website really needs attention to ensure that any search terms you want to be found for are targeted in your copy and are matched with page titles, descriptions and where possible web domains. For example, if as a hotel, your location is a key issue for your business, then refer to it at least four or five times in the content on your home page. Likewise for any other issues important to your business: if your spa treatment is a primary earner, then have a spa treatment page, with a title referring to spa treatment, a file name referring to spa treatment, content mentioning the spa treatment a number of times, images with file names relating to spa treatment and image alt descriptions referring to spa treatment and so on. Remember, the webcrawler that is trying to assess your page has no interest in colour schemes, Flash content, text rendered as images, photographs or aesthetics - it can only read information clearly presented to it in text form, so you need to get every element of the page “singing off the same hymn sheet” in order to make your point.
Writing good content that can target keywords of the right density to Google but still be interesting enough to catch the online user’s eye is a difficult task. But it is also important that the content evolves as far as Google is concerned. Continually refreshing content is therefore critical also for search ranking, and one of the best ways to tackle the content issue is through the use of blogs.
Blogs are an easy and natural way to write content. Hotels can write on specific events, festivals, nearby attractions, recipes from their kitchen, unusual guests requests, all sorts of things, and use the blog simply as the newspage for the site. These entries make for interesting reading and are naturally full of good keyword content about your hotel and your area. It is also a way to involve more of your staff in contributing content and give them more ownership of the customer experience, as well as inviting customers to comment also.
There are many hotels who now build their entire web presence around a blog and booking engine only, eliminating completely the static brochure approach that typifies many hotel websites. For a good introduction to what blogs can do for your hotel and for your hotel website’s content, check out the video Interview with Juli Lederhaus of Hawthorne Hotel in Massachusetts available on YouTube.
Get What You Deserve
The bottom line is: the best way to get to the top of the search engine results listings is to deserve it. Forget the tricks and instead strive to give information that people are actually looking for and are interested in. With the recent launch of Google’s Sidewiki, people will increasingly pass public comment on your website in any case, so chances are you will begin to get feedback that you must tend to through dynamic content whether you like it or not.
Content of websites continues to be king. In the end, for search engine position and keeping users interested, there really is nothing else to beat it.
Dr Des O’Mahony is CEO and Founder of Bookassist, the leading online strategy and technology partner for the hotel industry. Follow Bookassist on Twitter at twitter.com/bookassist