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Dichotomy of the Real Estate Blog - Do You Please the Readers or Search Engines?

A little knowledge is dangerous thing, as can be a lot of it

Are you gaming? (Spy VS Spy image from XBox Game of the same name)The Challenge:
How to be found in Valley of Search and write Compelling Content that has you building relationships with your readers.

This article is not about helping you be more compelling of an author, but rather an effort to keep you from overstepping the comfort level with your readers and the search engines.

There are two very different concerns that people discuss, with all sorts of conflicting opinions.

What is the tipping point of including relevant keywords that will
a. Have you being found, but not enjoyed?
b. Have you punished for over stuffing?


They are not the same.  What your audience may find bothersome, can still be acceptable under the Google Guidelines to creating a Google friendly site.

That said, the understanding I have gained in order to stay within the comfort levels of both is the following: 

1. Write for the Reader.

You'll get your Optimization in the suggestions below, so let's get our priorities straight.

To build our business, we need to build relationships with the reader.  In order to do that, we need to create trust and value in our written offerings.

If your article looks like you are trying to over-market, the message will be lost.  The debate for this tipping point is subjective. 
Look at your article.  What do you think?  Do you like how it reads? 
If the answer is that you are unsure, then you might have a problem.

Do not over market your keywords2. Recognize Your Indicators

Different sections of your article carry more weight than others.  These make convenient and effective locations for keywords and phrases.  In most cases, it is the location of the keyword, not the number of times used in an article that has the most leverage.

The Title (or h2) of your article 'outweighs' the general body content by a ton.
The Headings (h3, h4, h5 etc) that you add to your article also will 'outweigh' general body content.
Sub-headings, the sentence(s) directly after Titles and Headings, also carry some significant SEO weight.
Links are alternate routes for the search engines’ spiders.  If you are sending them to other articles you have written, be keyword descriptive.

3. Hide the Keywords

(Warning, the following could be considered advanced, feel free to skip to #4)

Google can handle more keyword density (number of mentions of a keyword) than your reader.  So let’s find ways to continue to include them, and yet keep them out of sight.

Use Anchor Tags: Tucking keywords away into the  Easter Eggs tied to images, links and the “abbr” tag are a convenient way to have them in the article, but not in your face.  (Warning: At risk of Google Penalty, do not keyword stuff these areas either.)

Edit the Post Slug: In full-featured blogging platforms, the Permalink (Article URL) can be changed to include keywords in place of the standard duplication of the Article’s Title.
      For Example: An article’s title such as “Screwed or Glued” normally has the URL structure like this:
                      http://www.JODRealty.com/screwed-or-glued
      Editing the Post Slug allows you to change the URL to something more search engine friendly such as:
                      http://www.JODRealty.com/fixtures-in-your-chapel-hill-home

Edit the Title Tags for the Posts, Categories and Pages :
Similar to editing the Slug, plugin enhanced blogs allow you to edit the Title Tags (Those words that appear at the very top of your Internet browser).  Keywords work nicely in the Title Tags because the search engines take them into account and your reader pays no heed to them.

4. Use Pronouns

Replacing nouns (potential keywords) with pronouns like it, she, he, them, etc. won't help your keyword density.
However, if you are pushing the bounds of readable, it might be time to make a few replacements.

Do not risk Google penalties5. Use Modifiers

Modifiers are non keywords that have been included to enhance or buffer keywords.
Instead of beginning every title, heading and link with the same keyword(s), throw something else in there first, or to break up a keyword phrase.
Ex: "Real Estate Blogging Advice" might be the phrase we want to be found for, so perhaps we modify it to read: "Professional Blogging Advice for Real Estate" instead.

6. Use Stemming

Blog, Blogs, Blogger and Blogging are all different. 
Mixing different, yet similar and related terms not only broadens your searchability, but curbs the overuse of one keyword.

7. Use Common Sense

If what you are publishing feels like you might be ‘gaming’ for search engine placement, then it probably is. 
Google isn’t worth more than most countries for being easily fooled.

 So remember, your readers' threshold for digesting keywords is certainly less than that of Google. 
This alone makes it important to consider their experience first. 
After all, you are in the business of relationships, not Adwords.

Great websites that support the above advice:
Aaron Wall’s SEO Book
Matt Cutts’ Blog
SEOMoz.org
Google’s Own Guidelines


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Comments

Once again, Jim, you've given me more stuff to think and about, read and research. It ain't easy being a full-time Realtor and SEO / Blogging expert at the same time, which is why I'm glad i have you to drag me along.

I often feel self-conscious when writing and "fitting in" my selected keywords. One thing I do always do though is use multiple local examples: instead of just mentioning on street/neighborhood/school I always mention three. I don't feel that is phony.

I definitely don't want to come off to my readers as merely trying to manipulate the search engines. Poof, there goes your trust.

But what I will tell you is that it is frustrating to see competitor realtors higher on google with clearly inferior websites and content (and worse SEO stats, if the firefox SEO plugin is to be believed) - who have clearly architected their sites for SEO and are doing all sort of unnatural things for a high placement. I can only hope that potential clients / readers see through this charade as easily as I do.

Maybe using keywords in a blog post is similar to how you would dress for a first date, because a blog post is really your first introduction to a potential client. You want to get their attention but don't want to wear something that makes you look sleazy.

Great post Jim! And great analogy Kevin!

I wouldn't worry too much about your competitors websites and search engine placement. If they have clearly built a website for SEO, their readers will see through that, just like they do the keyword padding that goes on. I am willing to wager that the vast majority of consumers will skip right past those sites until they find yours. A site that is rich in local content and transparent is going to win with today's online consumer every time.

My two cents.

Jim-
Love this list. Pretty good stuff.

I would just be careful on keyword stuffing into these "easter eggs" as you call them. They are usually seen as an obvious attempt to spam. Much like the "alt" tag was abused, the title tags can be seen as abuse. As long as it is used for what it was intended one should be fine. But writitng a paragraph of heavy duty keyword density for a link title as an example is a bad idea. Not that you are suggesting this, but it is a slippery slope, that at best is neutral, and at worse a reason for a penalty or delindexing.

Kevin W - That analogy is awesome.
Charles W - Your 2 cents bought my agreement with your opinion.
Tim O - Thanks for bringing detail to the concern. I have amended the section with a Warning. Right On!

Very informative. I'm still learning it all and really appreciate your post.
Thanks

Good Post. Folowing this will do a lot to keep the dogs at bay.

There is definitely an art to writing SEO. It needs to sound natural and flow. I see so many blogs that are cramped full of keywords, stuffed to the gills with links that make you feel like you're walking through a Las Vegas casino -- many with capital letters screaming click here; it's pretty clear that lots of bloggers are trying but have no idea what they are doing. I say read it back to yourself out loud. If it sounds funny, don't post it.

Timely and sharp article, Jim!

Jim, as I mentioned to you privately, this post is gold.

I think too many people, realtors included, worry too much about how Google sees their site. Google is worth more than many small countries because they excel at their job. Most people see Google's job as "helping users find stuff on the internet" so it behooves Google to do that ( let's not go into the nitpicky details of "search doesn't earn money for Google" and how Google expects to make a buck ).

My point is this. If Google's moneymaking is predicated on people's perceptions of how well Google returns results for what they're searching, then Google had darn well better be returning good results. And if they don't they'd better be figuring out why. If you search for "buying a guitar amps" and you don't get sites that sell guitar amps or you don't get buying guides for guitar amps, there's something wrong with the search.

So write your content, and ping aggregators and whatever it is that you do to get your content out there, but always remember, Google isn't your editor; write it in your voice, as if you were speaking to a client, to a human, and Google "should" follow your lead. You're selling to clients, not a search tool.

That said, your tips on setting up your writings is spot on, with regards to headings. Making your post "semantically correct," with a heading, a body, and a footer, and within the body subheadings. Your writing should have images that carry meaning and explanatory footnotes if someone doesn't understand the images ( I mean alt attributes for image tags). These "semantics" will help the Google algorithm ( any computer, really ) parse your words into something and help it match people searching for your information. In fact, with your writing a web page, a blog post, or whatever, you're really selling to two audiences. You're selling to your clients, and you're selling to Google. Your post itself is the value your clients get, but Google's algorithms can only see value in the semantic structure of the post. Google doesn't care about /what/ you're writing about, but it does care about how you assemble it. Keywords, et cetera.

I've said more than I really wanted to, but I'm going to continue anyway. Just because I'm like that. I was reading on another site about an interesting way to watch how Google accesses your pages ( how often it checks for updates ). If you sign up for Google's webmaster tools, you can see when the last time Google's spider crawled you. Let me quote the original site:

-----[ quote ]-------
When G first indexes your site, the crawl rate will be rather slow, maybe once a week or something, maybe slower. When it returns and finds new content, it will increase the crawl rate and come back sooner the next time. If there is no new content, it will decrease the rate, and wait a little longer before checking back with you. Some sites, like Digg are indexed almost constantly by google because the content is constantly changing, whereas static sites may only be checked every month or so, maybe longer. There has been quite a bit of recent speculation that newer content is given a lot of favor in google search rankings, so it’s really important to have your crawl rate high to take full advantage.
Source=http://www.nickycakes.com/new-content-dollars/
-----[ end quote ]-------

So, if you want to have your site high in the rankings, it's important to post early and often. And you can use Google's own tools to watch it happen. When you do post early and often, follow the semantic rules that you have laid out here, but pretend you're speaking to a human. Again, you're not selling real estate ( or widgets, or whatever ) to Google, you're selling Google _content_. ( You're selling the real estate to humans ). Google's algorithms determine the value of what you're selling them based on the semantic structure of what you've given them.

Back and forth, back and forth...balance, it's tricky. I write first for readers, then check to see if I have enough for Google to find me, then back again to see how it looks to readers and so on. It's not so much a fight, rather teetering...getting the balance right.

Thank you explaining and mapping title, heading, subheading and links, I understand this a little better now. And "Stemming" that was something I had never thought of.

I don't think I've ever commented on this blog before but I read it often. Finding the balance between compelling to readers and juicy for Google is so tough - so tough in fact that sometimes I just can't blog at all. So many tips - keep keywords in your title, but make your title interesting, but use long tail key words as the first four words of your title, but make people want to click it...or whatever else is good for SEO. I have a perfectly great topic to write on but can't come up with a sexy enough title that's keyword relevant and that will compel people to actually read it.

Anyway - maybe I'm getting TOO hung up on the Google aspect...part of me says "what's the point if it doesn't come up in Google?" and the other says "But what's the point if people won't read it?"

Oy...

Karen (and any others interested in a Title Remix),

Send me the working title and short 1 sentence description of the article and I'd be happy to take a stab at writing a title that covers all the bases.

Jim

Great insight! #3 is really one that i'll think about more now. Thanks!

Thanks for the info. It is so hard for me to write good content and then have it found so it can be read. I'll have to improve in both areas.

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