A couple of weeks back I asked you to submit your questions on search engine optimisation. There was a decent response and I’ve now picked a few which we’ll answer individually over the next few days.

To make sure we’re giving out the best information we can, I spoke to one of the SEO experts behind our SEO service, InstantTraffic. They offered some great advice which I’ve included too.

We tried to pick what we thought were the most interesting questions we received, so sorry if yours didn’t make the cut this time.

Much of my content is for registered users only. How do I optimise it?

One of our readers, Claire, left a comment asking how Google deals with sites that require you to register before you can see all the content:

“How can I use SEO effectively, when the site requires registration and purchase of credits before you can view the material? For instance, there may be interesting content about the Titanic that customers can’t get to until they’ve registered and purchased.

Our answer

It’s tricky to optimise sites which require visitors to register before they can view content, because Google can’t see anything which is contained in a members only area.

Sites which operate in this way typically put lots of their most interesting and valuable information in the members area, because having something of value there encourages people to sign up.

However, all that detailed, keyword-rich information can’t then be accessed by search engines. So although people are more likely to sign up once they reach the site, the chance of them finding the site through Google is actually lower, because fewer pages have been indexed.

Here’s the first, most important thing to remember: you must always serve the same content to search engines and normal visitors.

It’s technically possible to identify when a search engine is visiting your site and present lots of keyword-rich, highly optimised text in place of the log in screen.

However, such behaviour is likely to get you blacklisted quickly on Google. So if you try and hide the content from visitors and show it only to search engines, you risk a crash in your rankings if (or when) Google notices.

I’m afraid this means that there isn’t an easy solution to this problem. If your content is hidden from people, it’s going to be hidden from Google too.

So you really need to experiment with your site in order to find the sweet spot where there’s enough content hidden to encourage registration, but enough freely available that your site ranks well in Google.

One suggestion is to make more information freely available, but only the stuff that people can find elsewhere anyway.

To use the Titanic example, there’s plenty of information available about the ship online. So do some reasearch and find out what on your site is actually unique. Once you’ve identified that, put it behind the log in screen, but make everything else available publicly.

This gives you a compromise. You’ll have a good amount of keyword-rich text for Google to index, but you’ll also have some premium content that people have to register to read. And because it isn’t available anywhere else, it should be easier to persuade people to sign up.

(You are not required to use your unique content in order to optimise well – you just need to use wisely the content that you can reveal.)

Other sites approach this problem in different ways too. For instance:

  • Increase what’s available to members, so it’s about more than just content. For instance, you could allow members to submit their own questions to experts, take part in forum discussions and more.This allows you to reduce the amount of members only content, while still making the effort of signing up worthwhile.
  • Hide part of your articles. You need to tread carefully with this one, because it can annoy your readers. But some websites make half an article publicly available, while making the other half available to members only.Sometimes nothing’s worse than getting half way through an article, only to be told to register in order to finish reading it, so it might pay to be a bit cleverer about this approach.For instance, publish a high-level summary which offers valuable information in itself. Then make more detailed information on the same subject available to members.

Do you have any additional suggestions for Claire? Please leave them in the comments. And don’t forget to check back later this week, when we’ll be answering another of your SEO queries.

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