Through the years of “how to implement SEO” posts, we’ve received our fair share of startling comments. I think one of the ones that threw me the most was along the lines of, “This post is full of useless information. Everybody knows keywords no longer matter.”
I don’t know who “everybody” is, but whoever they are, you should stop listening to them. As in, right now.
Keywords in Days Gone By: What “Everybody” Says
I’ve read just about as many articles as I care to that talk about how the days are far gone when it was okay to stuff keywords in everywhere. It surprised me to see how many people saying that are actually well known in the industry. My question to you is, since when has it really been acceptable to stuff keywords?
There is a pervasive amount of articles by so-called optimization experts spouting the same thing. Keywords no longer matter, because the search engines don’t use them anymore, and “everybody” (whoever they are) knows that the keyword meta tag is a penalization waiting to happen.
I’ve read blog posts saying that “that blackhat stuff” is thankfully a thing of the past. -And while I agree that stuffing keywords is a blackhat tactic (i.e. unethical and stupid), the writers implied that any use of keywords fell under blackhat tactics.
So here we are now
After years of pouring over keywords, keyword effectiveness indexes (KEIs), keyword analyses, and keyword-rich content, you’re being told that keywords are a waste of time and a thing of the past.
This is blatantly, utterly false. If you believe “everybody”, you’re swallowing a lie that has the potential of causing your online business serious harm.
Two Points to Ponder About Keyword Usage
There are two really big reasons why we hold this view, and why we still use keywords in our strategy:
Reason #1: Google isn’t a person. Much like humans, it still uses words to figure out what your page is about.
The Logic: An often used statement having to do with keywords starts with, “Google doesn’t look at…”
One of my favorite comments ever on this topic was written by Disqus user Naill Flynn on a Search Engine Watch comment thread. Naill said,
“…Google is a pattern matching machine driven algo, not a person with glasses sipping a brandy while perusing the internet for fine content and reputable links…”
Thanks, Naill, for an excellent summary.
Google is a complex program, no doubt (or, to be specific for the more exact-minded out there, a set of complex programs). However, it is still a program – built by humans-, and that program only “looks” at what it’s told to look at – by humans.
Not to put too much of a sarcastic spin on things but, what is that program looking at if not content? And (ignoring the binary basis of code) what is content made up of if not words? What do we, humans, use to decide whether a page is relevant to what we’re looking for?
Reason #2: People use words to decide context and relevance.
The Logic: People search for information using words. Even when searching for an image we use words to find that image. Making sure that a page is optimized for a specific search term makes that page much more helpful to the user.
How do you decide on a search result? By looking at the search snippets, right? You look at the title, you look at the description, and then you decide which one promises you the most relevant result.
How can you make sure you’re creating snippets that bring higher click-throughs? Hint: keywords are involved here.
How Using Keywords Has Changed (and What You Can Do to Capitalize On It)
Now, I do agree that keyword usage has changed. For example, it used to be that we’d advise using the target term once in the on page title, once in the first paragraph, once in the middle and once at the end. Why? Because the Google algorithms hadn’t grown smart enough to rank a page based on more than exact match. Google’s grown since then, and so has the use of words in SEO.
Here are two take-aways to help you strengthen your marketing strategy and tweak your keyword usage:
1. Google looks for meaning, not just specific words. This first came up back in the day when Google picked up started to look at how context helps. We’re talking about conceptual – or indexing and relating based on context – not just content.
Applying this in a real world way
Much like a human, Google uses support content to decide what a page is about. One of my favorite examples is the word “jaguar”. Do you mean the car, the cat or the clothes? The search engines don’t know unless you provide them with surrounding context AKA supporting terms.
What this means to you: Long tail keyterms are extremely useful.
Do you still want your key terms in your snippet title? Yes, but maybe not just a single term. It’s more important than ever now to focus on what information you’re providing your visitors on a per page, per section, per site basis. Which brings us to the second point.
2. Intention is everything. With the use of long tail keyterms, it’s time to start looking at why the visitor is searching (if you haven’t already been), and address that in your snippet and on page.
Applying this in a real world way
When you’re writing content and thinking about key terms or long tail phrases, there is an important distinction between questions and statements. They’re worded differently; they mean different things. So, we might write an article stating that keywords still matter, and our title will be “Keywords Still Matter.” We’re trying to reach people who want to know the basics – what still works and what doesn’t. However, we could also address things like, “How to Make Keywords Still Matter,” which is a whole other article.
What this means to you: As you move forward in your SEO and marketing strategies, it’s important to think about how you want to reach your visitors and what kind of impression you want to give them. Do your long tails incorporate user intent? Does your content address user needs? Do you provide the information they’re looking for?
I’m going to make a stand right here and say that I don’t think there is ever going to be a time that key terms – in some way, shape or form – are useless. If nothing else, looking over them in respects to your content strategy will help keep your site on topic. Until you can search telepathically without using words, then I would focus on keywords.