The way we think about keywords has changed dramatically over the years. However many of us are still guilty of thinking about keywords too much. I think you could probably argue that our focus on keywords is a vestige of the bad old days of SEO and digital marketing.
However, most SEOs will still put a lot of effort into keywords. And in part, they are right to put some effort into them. We still do of course. However, I sometimes wonder if we focus on keywords because we know that’s what clients expect us to focus on.
One of the core things to realise about SEO and keywords is that you start to get into a cycle where after the initial keyword research phase, additional rounds of keyword research and implementation become less and less profitable.
So what do SEO consultants do with keywords that most other businesses don’t? Good question! Sometimes a lot. Sometimes too much. Sometimes not enough.
What are keywords all about?
In marketing and advertising, keywords used to be something that we wanted to focus on. They could be described as the operative words of the piece. They are the ones that signpost the audience to let them know they’re in the right place. And just about any word can be a keyword.
Google regularly crawls websites using GoogleBot (a spider) and reviews your content. By reviewing the page Google is able to make a determination about what the page is all about. Studying keywords along the way. Essentially Google is trying to determine what your content is all about.
So Google is looking out for various keywords to work out what the page is all about. In the past if I wanted to get a page to rank for a certain phrase I would use the exact keyword in several places on the page, then repeat it in the body of the copy a certain number of times. This would change over the years but the basic principle would remain the same.
When someone searched in Google for the keyword I was optimising for, the SERP would be returned with a number of different pages listing the same thing and the winner would be determined by Google’s secret sauce: PageRank and the hundreds of other ranking factors they rely on.
But times have changed….
Now it’s not good enough just to add keywords to a page and hope that you’ve optimised the content. Google is not interested in the keywords on the page so much as the language you’re using and the relevance that has to the topic you specialise in. For example, GrowTraffic is all about digital marketing, mainly focussing on SEO. I’ve ranked highly for years for terms such as freelance SEO consultant, SEO consultancy and SEO consultant, so why if I tried to rank a page on the site for an unrelated term such as hairdressing, it’s not going to happen.There’s no relevance.
When you’re writing about a topic you are naturally going to incorporate the right kind of keywords in the content. If you don’t you won’t rank. It is that simple! Of course, it’s important to have an understanding about the keywords that people use. If I were to constantly refer to keywords as “search terms” in this article it might be less inclined to rank against people who are using the term. But there again Google may be able to understand that the phrase search terms is synonymous with the word keywords.
When speaking to an SEO consultant probably one of the first things I would do is try to understand where their mindset is at when thinking about keywords. Many SEOs are still stuck in the old way of doing things. They think about keywords in terms of how they can place them on the page. They are looking for how they can add them to the content or place them in the page title or alt tag or H tags. Whilst this is still important, more important is to create relevant content that’s rich in the phraseology of the sector you’re talking about and that contains words and phrases naturally used in written language.
Back in the bad old days, you would have an unlimited amount of variations of pages, targeting slightly different keywords, but basically all with the same intent. So as I mentioned above, for years I was at position 1 for freelance SEO consultant. Now this page was very well optimised for the freelance part of this phrase. I would essentially have had to create a new page to try to rank for the term SEO consultant or SEO consultancy. But why? Surely it’s the same thing? Surely the intention of the person searching for the results is basically the same? They want a consultant with a high level of competency in SEO to help them ours with their website.
Once upon a time, I may have included keywords about SEO in a blog post to help my other pages rank. Now I do it because it creates a thematic link and relevancy throughout the website. But also, because this is all about keywords – and because they no longer use ‘exact match indexing’ – Google will ‘understand’ I’m using our the SEO consultants keywords that we rank for to demonstrate our point. So likely discount them.
If this doesn’t make sense, you should consider it from Google’s perspective too. The more pages they have to keep in their index for different terms, the more it costs them. The bigger the internet the more money they have to spend on servers and power. So by working out the intent of pages, they can effectively reduce the number of pages people are putting out there. This is especially important in the age of content marketing when every man and their dog is creating content at a rapid rate of knots.
The use Google works now is all about semantics. It’s about the synonyms and phrases that pop up in everyday conversation and writing about a subject. And this does cause a problem for bloggers. Because you’ve got to have a reason to write a blog post.m You can’t simply write a blog post to help you rank for a certain topic, that’s just slightly different from a blog post you’ve previously written because Google will perceive them both to be about the same topic and discard them.
So just be careful when blogging and make sure you are blogging to add additional value to the topic you’re blogging about not just because you think you need to create a blog about the topic in order to generate visitors. This will not help you, it will just end up with issues of keyword cannibalisation, where multiple pages all rank for similar or the same keywords but none of them rank particularly well.
Moving on from semantic keywords
So you may have rightly ascertained that I’m being a little bit flippant to say you don’t need to worry about keywords. It’s still there, it’s still important and it still has an impact. You do need to understand your audience’s intent. You need to understand the types of words they’ll use to find certain products and services and those they won’t. I remember when I worked with a debt management company years ago. We spent ages getting rankings for terms like IVA (which was a product they sold) but in the end, people were most concerned about going bankrupt. It was by targeting these terms that we started to attract and convert people to the product terms. The intent is essential.
You’ve also got to have an understanding of semantic variants. My advice is to do some research on these, however, you don’t need to do too much because you’ll find the semantic variants will naturally occur in the copy you’re writing. Just write well structured well thought through copy and you’ll get there. The keywords and phrases will naturally occur, so stop adding small variations on the main keywords. This is going to cause you more trouble than it’s worth.
In the past one thing, we used to think about was the percentages. And I think it’s still important to think about the types of percentages of keyword occurrences in a piece of writing. But now we need to think about the percentage of keywords phrases and synonyms and related keywords that occur within a piece. This could be a signal to Google that we’re trying a bit too hard to include related keywords as it might not come across as being normal or natural.
In days gone by, an SEO consultant would do some keyword research, they would find the main keyword they wanted to target and then they’d start to break it out into multiple variations of the same keyword.
In the new world of semantics, we start with a large list of keywords and then categorise the list based on intent. Don’t try to include every variant because Google already views them as the same. If you try to include all of them you’re going to get dropped out of the rankings.
So how should you use keyword research?
One of the main things I do when carrying out keyword research is to try to work out what the competition is like in a sector, industry, niche and keyword set. You will be able to get a feel for how hard the competition is for the term, how much people are prepared to bid for the terms and how many pages are indexed for that term. This should give you a lot to be going at, but remember they are topics and not just a list of keywords.
Wherever possible tell your own story within your content and mix your keywords with those concepts. This way you will stand out from the crowd and will potentially rank for something that no one has thought about but which is getting traffic.
Be careful with money terms
When talking about money terms I’m talking about the terms that you want to rank for and that are going to drive conversions – either in the form of enquiries or sales. You are going to need to use these keywords everywhere on your website but you need to make sure that you don’t focus too much content around them that you end up cannibalising the page that has the opportunity to convert.
Page title and H1 tag
This might seem a bit old-fashioned to some, however, I still advocate putting the primary keyword in the page title and h tags (especially the H1 tag). This will benefit you from an optimisation perspective but also by signposting the user to your content in the SERPs.
Don’t do keyword stuffing
OK, so I don’t hear so much about this anymore. I think just about everyone realises that it’s probably not a good idea to shove all their keywords into a page. The general rule of thumb is if when you read a sentence back it feels forced, it probably is. If you are tripping over the same word over and over again then change it! (I realise this post says keyword a lot….).
How to think about voice search
Voice search is starting to become a big thing. I’ve been working with a tech company that has spent a considerable amount of time integrating their app with Alexa. The reason they are doing this is that it’s likely to be one of the main ways we interact with search in the future. I once wrote a blog post about automotive SEO and this was very much about considering how voice search would work. That was back in 20111, so it’s nice to see this coming to fruition.
I think the biggest thing to think about when creating content that could work with voice search is to use questions rather than statements. What’s more, don’t just ask any old question. Start thinking about the way you actually phrase questions in real life. And take note of the way other people around you phrase questions as well.
Whilst voice search will continue to grow in importance it’s not going to overtake typed queries anytime soon and probably won’t ever surpass typed queries. I’m not sure there a lot of SEO consultants out there that will optimise for voice search yet but no doubt it will start to happen.
So to roundup, SEO consultants are increasingly using keywords in a similar way to the rest of us. There are some things that need to be considered and being a consultant in this field you pick things up. But an SEO consultancy should be telling you to use terms the way you always do. If they spend ages on keyword research every month or two be worried!
Good luck with your keyword research. Don’t spend too much time on it. When you’re writing make sure you’re adding lots of industry terms and phrases to your copy. Just don’t spend too long thinking about it. If you need any help, please let us know.