RWCHow often do you cast a critical eye over your website content?

Businesses update their blogs regularly as a matter of course. But they often neglect to maintain the copy on their main website. It’s surprising how quickly a regular web page can go out of date, and sometimes silly mistakes can slip through the net and go unnoticed for months.

If you can’t remember the last time you read your About Us page, it’s probably time for a content audit.

But there’s an even better reason to check your content. Google’s ongoing updates mean that some of the SEO or content writing techniques you’ve used are now out of date. In some cases, an effective content ‘trick’ from last year could earn you a hefty penalty in 2013. Even if you hired a professional web content writer, you probably need to look at this urgently.

Is it time for a rewrite? Here’s your checklist.

1. Keyword Anchor Text

It was once considered standard practice to use keywords as the anchor text for links, purely for the SEO benefits.

Now, it’s a massive no-no.

Naturally, there are some situations where you will simply have to link keywords; your site navigation is the best example of this. That’s fine, natural and to be expected. What you don’t want are:

  • Lots of weird looking keyword links in the body copy. They stick out and are easy to spot.
  • Keyword links to multiple landing pages (more on that later).
  • Link anchor text that’s not phrased in proper English (‘web design company London’, ‘jewellery Leeds’).

If you know there are links like this on your website, have the copy rewritten and rephrased to get rid of them as soon as possible. Replace these odd links with natural links that make sense editorially. At a push, ask your web content writer to use long-tail keywords rather than short phrases or single words.

(I covered this in our recent article about press releases too.)

2. Content Stuffed With Keywords

The keyword problem in section one, above, can be broadened out to cover general over reliance on keywords in content.

Unfortunately, keyword stuffing is a habit that’s hard to break.

When writing web content, it’s normal for me to write around keywords supplied by a client. I rely on synonyms and variations as well. But drilling keywords into text multiple times, or working towards a percentage density, is counter-productive and outdated.

How can you tell your content has been stuffed with keywords?

  • Your content feels stilted and doesn’t flow.
  • Reading aloud, you find yourself repeating the same word or phrase unnaturally.
  • Your SEO professional has mentioned density, percentages or frequency of keyword repetition.
  • Your web content writer hated writing it.

Google doesn’t like to see this kind of unnatural keyword use, and neither do human readers. You’d be surprised at how many people notice this technique – even on a subconscious level – and immediately back away from the website.

Finally, we’d hope nobody’s still putting keywords in <b> or <em> tags? If you are, hire a content writer right now and have that content replaced.

3. Poor Quality Guest Blogs

Branching out, let’s look briefly at an area of your site you may not monitor: old guest blogs.

Guest blogs are a controversial issue at the moment. Some people in the SEO community feel that poor quality guest blogs will be next on Google’s hit list.

We disagree – to a point. We think that quality will win out. As long as you’ve been commissioning and sharing good quality content, I can’t see that Google will care about a modest number of relevant links.

But that doesn’t mean guest blogging is completely future-proof. It could come under fire in a future update.

Protect yourself now:

  • Scan through old guest blogs and check the links embedded in them. Make sure none of them have been redirected to sites that you don’t want to be associated with.
  • Have guest blogs partially edited or rewritten if you have doubts about the quality. A good website content writer will be able to tweak them while retaining the original tone.
  • Critically analyse the content of new guest blogs. Is it as good as content you write yourself? If not, you’re within your rights to reject the post.
  • Don’t be tempted to use free guest blogs as filler material. Ensure you maintain a reasonable ratio of guest blogs and your own quality posts.
  • Think about removing the word ‘guest blogger’, ‘guest author’ and ‘guest post’ from your templates and themes.

4. Sitewide Links

Google’s not keen on seeing the same link on every page, and this could have implications for your web content.

Sometimes these links sneak into website content without us even realising. For example, a web designer or theme maker may have inserted a link back to their own site in the footer of the page to benefit from a little link juice or a referral. Sneaky links like this can creep in all over the place.

A web content writer can help you to pluck them out.

  • Critically analyse the areas of your theme or template that appear on every page.
  • Have footer and sidebar content rewritten to get rid of unnecessary links.
  • Nofollow anything you can’t afford to lose completely.
  • If you want to thank your theme designer, buy them a pint.

5. Thin Content Pages

Google’s not happy with so-called ‘thin pages’. But what makes a page super-skinny?

Essentially, a thin page is a content page that’s been written to attract search engines (primarily). The thin page will rarely offer any new information when compared to sibling pages; it’s simply a twist on another page, normally designed to target a slightly different keyword from the others.

Google’s adamant that page of web content shouldn’t exist purely to trick someone into clicking, nor should it have the sole aim of manipulating a search engine position. That means thin pages need to be removed or recycled.

Here’s how to check for thin pages on your site:

  • Flag all pages that contain very similar content to another page.
  • Read the pages aloud. Thin pages are usually tedious to write and even more tedious to read, particularly if you have reams of them on the same subject.
  • Evaluate the contents. If the page doesn’t ‘stand alone’ as a page of original, unique information, it’s a thin page.
  • Could you safely trash the page without losing any key details about your business?

Get your website content writer to bundle all of the information from your thin pages into one comprehensive page of information. Make sure your old thin pages are redirected with 301s so Google knows where that content has gone.

6. Poor Writing, Bad Spelling, Poor Structure

The final check in the list is perhaps the most important one of all.

Take a really hard, critical look at your website content and ask yourself:

  • Does it flow as well as it should?
  • Is it scannable?
  • Does it feel like a professional web content writer wrote it?
  • Did I throw it up in a hurry and forget about it?
  • Did I spellcheck it properly at the time?
  • Has anyone else ever proofread it?
  • Does it have all of the proper H1 and H2 headings?
  • Are all of my acronyms and obscure terms explained?
  • Could it have more bullet points to space it out?
  • Does it sell my business effectively?

It’s very difficult to be critical of your own website, particularly if you wrote the web content yourself. But you must try to be impartial. You’ll only spot flaws if you can see your website through the eyes of a potential customer.

If you’re too close to the subject to be critical, it might be a good idea to hire someone like me to take a look at it for you.

Steps to a Successful Content Rewrite

Analyse your entire website – not just the pages you have a reason to check. Read content in the footers, headings and sidebars, and don’t neglect the Contact and About pages. (The About page is the page customers always check, but it’s also the one businesses never read.)

Invite impartial feedback from a third party who can see your content with fresh eyes. Think about investing in a content audit to save time: you might be able to pick and choose areas to work on.

Finally, when having web content rewritten, don’t be put off by the price. Often, we find clients need fewer pages than they expected, and web content pages are also usually a lot shorter than you’d expect. The most important thing is to bring your content up to scratch with the rest of your site, including your blog, to make sure your clients enjoy visiting your website and – hopefully – spending some money.

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Claire Broadley is a freelance technical blogger for Red Robot Media. Hire Claire to write your business blog or technical user guides.