Bundling Content to Target Keywords
If you're managing a site with a large amount of content, you're probably doing well from a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective. However, my guess is that you could increase your keyword targets without actually creating any new content. It has recently come to light that the NY Times has taken two similar approaches for expanding their keyword reach and according to the reports both are quite successful. Marshall Simmonds and Matthew Brown continue to impress!
So before I describe these techniques, let me re-iterate that you need a lot of content. I'm talking hundreds and more likely thousands of articles. Otherwise, you'll just end up with low quality pages that Google, Yahoo, and MSN will ignore.
First of all, take a look at this page from the NY Times. Notice that the page looks like a category page, but is really just a thinly veiled search results page. In this case, the results center around the keyword smoking. This keyword is supported by the URL, a basic page heading surrounded by h1 tags, breadcrumb navigation to help with cross-linking, and what's probably a dynamic sentence at the top that includes the keyword. This page is rewarded with position #9 in Google's search results. Not too bad for a page with no original content.
Now multiply this keyword targeting effort by 26 (for each letter in the alphabet) and the hundreds of keywords that appear for each letter and you can imagine the positive impact this technique can have on search engine traffic. And none of this content needs to be reviewed, edited, or approved because it's all been done before. Kudos to the NY Times SEO team!
A related technique they're employing doesn't even pretend to hide the search results nature of the pages. With this second approach, the NY Times is “allowing” internal search result pages to get indexed. Loren Baker describes an example and flat out calls this search engine spam. Danny Sullivan reminds us about a warning from Google to keep search result pages out of their index. Of course, this is the NY Times and we've seen them break new ground before. After all, they're the same folks that introduced the whitehat SEOs to legitimate cloaking.
For us regular SEOs, I'd suggest going the way of the topic or category page. Sure the underlying technology may be equivalent to a user doing a search, but at least you can control exactly what keywords to target by pre-defining the search terms. In this regard I share a similar opinion with John Andrews who sees these tactics as just another feather in one's competitive webmastering cap. The real problem is that with the NY Times joining Wikipedia in dominating the search results, it's going to remain hard to rank for generic terms so you're going to need to be creative about what you target.