Over the years, a lot has changed about the way SEO handles keywords.
Back in the day, keywords were precious gems that websites religiously maintained. SEO specialists targeted specific keywords pertaining to a website’s business, and then dutifully inserted them in title tags, alt tags, meta tags, and into the main content itself. A careful balance of the keyword mix and density had to be achieved so that it wouldn’t look stuffed and spammy, which obviously Google doesn’t like. And just to be sure, both the singular and plural version of various keywords were optimized.
Problem is, Google and all the other search engines are always changing their algorithms, so no single keyword or link building strategy is guaranteed to be permanently successful. Which believe it or not, is actually a good thing, as it levels the playing field. Everyone has a chance to rank high on search results as long as they deserve it.
What’s New in SEO?
Of course, keywords are still really important for search engine optimization. After all, keywords are what we type in those search boxes when we’re looking for something we need or want, whether that’s entertainment, info, a product, or service. Keywords are the life-blood of Google—as much as 96% of Google’s revenue comes from advertising. Here’s an infographic on Google’s revenue breakdown last 2013.
It makes sense then for Google to bring out the most relevant results for every keyword typed in by a user.
However, in today’s SEO, specific keywords don’t have the same power they used to. Gone are the days where webmasters could rig a website’s ranking just by stuffing the page with keywords. In the past, keyword-stuffed articles were easily promoted by search engines just because they had the right mix of keywords in them, even if those articles did not exactly serve users’ needs.
With Google’s Hummingbird update, search engines have become more intuitive when it comes to relevant results. It’s all about giving a quality user experience now - create relevant content that’s actually useful for your visitors and Google will reward your efforts.
The result is a win-win situation for everyone involved: users find what they’re looking for, worthy advertisers gain customers and grow their business, and Google gets paid!
Let’s face it,keyword stuffing has never been a good idea, regardless of how effective it might have been at some point. Moz citesfour** **truths about search traffic, to which we’ll add a fifth one:
- Majority of your website’s traffic comes from keywords you didn’t optimize for.
- Ranking #1 for a keyword doesn’t guarantee thousands of visits.
- Keyword research tools will not bring your website to your full ranking potential.
- Search engines sell keywords grouped into concepts and themes.
- Since Google has enforced (not provided) and hidden our keyword data, we can no longer rely on just specific keywords alone.
Rebuilding Keyword Strategy
Forget Keywords, Focus on Concept.
Forget keyword placement in your website—that tactic only makes your website’s content awkward to read and fit only for the search engines’ robot crawlers. When you focus on the concept and theme you are writing about, and you honestly deliver usable content, the keywords will naturally fall into place. The result is graceful, natural-sounding content for your website which users will want to read.
Content Is King, But Distribution is Queen.
We really like this revised maxim by Jonathan Perelman. Yes, content is still king, but we should take it one step further. Give your users good, quality content which they will want to read and then share and spread around in social networks. Enrich user experience with memorable images, catchy infographic, and useful links to related topics.
Consider People and Topics.
Again, forget keywords for a while. As Moz.com recommends, create content focused “on specific kinds of people and the topics they’re interested in”. As you build quality content, Google eventually recognizes your honest SEO efforts and will consider your website as a terrific and authoritative resource for the particular info you’re dealing with. The keywords you need for your site will naturally come in.
Internet users are savvier now, and they know exactly what they want, especially since Google has been giving them the most precise and relevant answers they need for a while now. So be specific with your keywords, because users type in specific search queries now, sometimes even whole sentences like “how to hire affordable SEO company”.
So instead of the very broad main keyword, add modifiers such as location, time/date, quality/price, intent or action, gender, even a brand. The result is what’s called long-tailed keywords—very specific keywords filtered by the above modifiers. There’s actually less competition for long-tailed keywords, which in turn makes them more affordable to bid on for PPC, and they take into account what actual users are more likely to type into those search boxes.
Thus, the very broad “SEO” keyword becomes, “SEO company Shanghai”, “affordable web design agency”, “hire SEO company”, “SEO strategy 2014”, etc. When you explore the many possible modifiers typed in by real-world users, you expand your keyword strategy exponentially.
Get a Little Help from Google.
Google's AdWords Keyword Tool is still very much an excellent resource for planning your keywords. From there, you can get keyword suggestions, search volume for various keywords, and a nice grouping of themed keywords. Of course, there are other great keyword research tools out there. As we’ve said, SEO is still hinged on keywords, but you shouldn’t solely rely on them. Track your keywords within two or three of these tools so as to triangulate data. Just don’t get too obsessed with keyword ranking though!
It’s time we got smart about using keywords. Google and all the other search engines have become more sophisticated than ever before, just like Internet users out there. In turn we web developers and webmasters should do our part for the online community by creating great, meaningful websites.
Ultimately, the best keyword strategy is one that focuses on useful, relevant, and shareable quality content first before worrying about keywords.