Mindlessly surfing the internet can lead to some interesting places. Anyone who has spent time idly clicking from one YouTube video to another will have experienced the feeling of “How on earth did I end up here?!

On a recent idle surf of the web, I found myself comparing British magicians for some reason. Working in the field of design and programming, I naturally found myself assessing their websites.

I’d like to share two examples of their search engine optimisation strategies. One is great, the other not so much. Can you guess which is which?

 

Tom London – a magician in London

At a guess, I’d say this guy’s name isn’t really Mr London, but I have to give kudos on the excellent choice of business name. I shared recently that search engines like seeing keywords included in the URL, and if your business name matches your business location, you’ve scored double points in the SEO stakes.

(NB. Tom’s website has been updated since this article was written)

His pages read robotically. It is hardly exaggeration to paraphrase them like so:

“Are you looking for a magician in London? Hire magician Tom London, a professional magician in London, able to make your next event in London a magical experience”.

It’s not the fanciest copywriting, but it’s jam-packed with the keywords Google will love.

That’s great SEO, right?

 

Read my mind… and my alt text

Another site belongs to Atlas Brookings, a guy who claims to be able to read minds.

Atlas’ site caught my designer’s eye. So I took a closer look.

In his source code he’s used the ALT property of the image tags to add keywords. Rather than using the ALT property to describe the image (which is what it was designed to do), he’s described himself – the images are programmed with ALT texts of “Nottingham_magician”.

That’s clever SEO, right?

 

Right and wrong and Panda

Take a guess – who is right, who is wrong, and what does a Panda have to do with it?

There is a lot of information on SEO available online, and unfortunately some of the well-intentioned tutorials are years out of date. On other sites the information is technically correct, but doesn’t work so well in practice.

So for a real-world analysis, I straight-out asked these guys how they were finding their results.

Atlas told me that his ALT text trick was a fairly recent addition. In his own words:

“… if you search “Nottingham magician”, I am on page 1 of Google. So it has certainly helped … I went from page 7 to page 1 since I made the changes about a month ago.”

Tom London, on the other hand, did not respond directly. Instead, he re-wrote his entire site to make it more readable! And since doing so, I notice he has soared in the Google rankings for the term “London Magician”. Stripping out all those keywords actually improved his SEO.

The reason is Google’s Panda algorithm.

 

How to tame a Panda

Google Panda was implemented years ago, but I still regularly meet self-proclaimed ‘SEO Experts’ who don’t know what it is.

In “ye olden days”, repeating your keywords over and over improved your search engine ranking. But whilst “Book magician Tom London, the London magician for magical events in London” appeals to search engines, it doesn’t read so well to humans.

Google realised this, and created the Panda algorithm to redress the balance. Now sites are promoted for having meaningful content, rather than just stacks of keywords.

The principle known as “keyword stuffing” has become redundant. Google will actually penalise you for doing it. And yet a surprising number of SEO writers still think it’s is the best way to get to Page 1 of Google.

Just as Tom London recently learned, you tame the Panda by creating readable content and stripping out excessive keyword phrases.

 

And the winner is…

Atlas’ site uses keywords logically and in clear sentences. His use of keyword phrases hidden in the ALT text of his image tags is a legitimate strategy to communicate with search engines without confusing the reader.

Using ALT text is currently an effective SEO strategy, but that could change. If the internet becomes cluttered with spammy pages abusing the system, you can bet Google will intervene.

The lesson is to ensure that your website designer is up to date with SEO strategies. People can say they have experience in SEO, but unless you probe deeper you won’t know if this “experience” came purely from reading an ancient edition of SEO for Dummies.

Your readers are your customers. They are also human, so write in a way that speaks to humans, not machines. Google Panda agrees.

Have you read any keyword-forced sites recently? Let me know in the comments below.