combat writer on seo

A Military Combat Writer Takes a Look at SEO

Dan, one of our full time writers, is the guest author of this blog. With degrees in communication and history, Dan has been a professional writer in the U.S. military as a combat correspondent for over eight years, and was a journalist for the Stars and Stripes European edition. His experience has included penning press releases from a cot in the deserts of Iraq, and writing breaking news from his Ford Focus in a Bavarian snowstorm. We asked him to write about how Google looks at SEO and linking strategy.

Ok, let’s start with a little disclaimer. I am fairly new to the SEO world. I have been writing professionally for a decade now, but somehow missed out on how to increase search engine rankings while I was following U.S. soldiers around in Iraq.

I always assumed you write something interesting people read it, and it moves up on the SERP. But now I am finding there is far more to it than I initially thought.

After leaving the military I realized I was missing a lot of skills that were necessary to be an effective multimedia journalist or copywriter in today’s Web-driven market. So after two college degrees, a certification course in SEO copywriting, and a lot of time spent on YouTube watching Google’s experts talk about this stuff, and daily practical use of creating original content at Express Writers, I am starting to get the hang of it.

From reading some of the SEO and copywriting experts’ articles on the subject, I noticed how links were very helpful when gathering research on a topic. So, I decided to use links more often when I was writing. I began to research links and found out it is hard to know a natural link from what Google considers an unnatural link.

Now, I feel like I have to cross my fingers when including a link with a post online? Man, I hope Google does not flag this one. You never really know do you?

Sometimes you can write a quality post, with a unique angle, with links connecting to what you view as beneficial content for your reader and it can be flagged as an unnatural link. There are two possible problems here. One, Google thinks your post or the link you are using is, in fact, low quality. Two, there is a discrepancy in what you think a natural link is and what Google’s algorithm thinks a natural link is.

Google’s algorithm is not perfect. You can deliver an excellent post with solid “natural” links, and somehow you could still get flagged, or the site linking to you also could get tagged. The problem is Google does not precisely define natural links, leaving SEO gurus a bit agitated.

“Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors,” according to Google.

Natural links are the only links valuable to your search results. But this is often simply not the case. You can write posts specifically for the benefit of your targeted audience and still get flagged by Google because your link is somehow still being labeled unnatural.

“Unnatural links to your site are placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines,” explains Google.

To make sure of this I consulted SEO experts with far more experience than myself. In her recent blog on Search Engine Land, Julie Joyce points out that not all user-generated links are useful links, even if they appeared to pass all the natural link rules. It seems that even if you are producing natural content, it could still get pinged either manually or by the Big G machine.

Google lists examples of these types of links as link schemes and doorway pages.

Ok, I understand Google’s algorithm is based on links, and quality search results drive their business. Hence, the reason they try everything in their power to make sure link schemes or doorway pages are not impacting rankings. But there is a fine line between link schemes, doorway pages, and keyword phrases. Right?

What if I am car rental service in Tampa, Florida? Of course, I am going to mention Tampa as a key phrase, but what if Google’s algorithm figures my website is a doorway page.

“Multiple pages on your site with similar content designed to rank for specific queries like city or state names.”

As the basis of the Google algorithm ranking system, links will be around for a long time. Simply because there is no better alternative at the moment, according to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team. The better the links are connecting to your site the higher you rank in search results. The problem is spam and the use of manipulative links and Google’s algorithm’s inability to accurately decipher between natural and unnatural links.

How To Create Successful Links in Your SEO Content

On their Webmaster Guidelines Google gives this explains guidance: “The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.”

Useful content equals more links to other sites because readers’ find value in what you write.

So what is the best way to make your content go viral without upsetting Google?

If you follow Google’s error message guidance for “thin content with little to no added value”, there are several easy to follow characteristics of what is considered user-centric content. In other words, content that will get you better rankings. You need to ask yourself the following things:

  • Does this content add value to my readers? Will it benefit my reader?
  • Is this content original?
  • Is this content unique or does it have a unique angle?

Things such as thin affiliations or syndication will cause a page or Website to be flagged and sometimes removed from Google’s search results. So, it seems pretty straightforward. Put in a lot of research and work into your articles, build experience in your field and then write stuff that will engage your readers and benefit them, and your SERP ranking will increase.

There are still ways that you could be doing this and still be getting flagged, as mentioned in Joyce’s blog post above, but those must be dealt with in stride. Focus on producing high-quality content that will benefit your readers, and the rest should come together naturally.

Photo credit: Yobro10 / iStock

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