What is the single most important factor for SEO?
Is it your sitemap? Is it internal linking? Is it external linking? Is it the quality of inbound links to your site? Is it the relevancy of your domain name? Is it how fast your site loads? Is it your content?
Depending on who you ask, the answer to all of these questions is yes.
Despite the lack of general consensus among SEO experts as to which of these factors is most important, one thing that can’t be debated is the importance of keywords.
In 2018, just as they did 20 years ago, keywords are incredibly important for search engine optimization. Although algorithms have become drastically more sophisticated over the years, the logic behind keywords remains consistent. Understanding the keywords that lead your audience to your site is still step one of the process, however, the utility of those keywords has changed.
Past Keyword Tactics for SEO Success
Back in the old days of the Internet, keyword usage and incorporation was so easy that all you needed was a keyboard to be an SEO expert. All you really had to do to rank high for a certain keyword was to create a page that used that keyword as many times as possible. Some websites even created pages with hidden keyword text that were camouflaged against an identically colored background.
These tactics became known as black hat marketing or marketing that was designed to trick search engines.
As search engines evolved to weed out obvious cases of black hat marketing, websites eventually began to adopt a practice known as keyword stuffing, which would incorporate as many instances of the same keyword as possible in a completely organic way.
It makes perfect sense. If your website is trying to rank for the keyword “wedding planner,” it’s only logical to include that keyword in your website text as much as possible. What better way to let search engines know you mean business with a certain keyword than to beat them over the head with it?
Search engines eventually evolved to figure out that human beings didn’t want to consume content that contained an overabundance of keywords. Real-life users are always looking for high-quality content, which is incredibly difficult to achieve if you’re jamming keywords in every possible spot, whether they flow with the content or not.
For years, marketers would only focus on the frequency and volume of keywords in given text, but search engines aren’t as easy to fool as they once were. Fast forward to today, and you can clearly see how keyword usage has changed.
The Internet was created as a digital superhighway for a couple of nerds to exchange ideas. Since then, it’s grown to become the epicenter of world commerce. With nearly 2 billion websites online, the competition for keywords has grown exponentially with it.
20 years ago, there really wasn’t much competition for keywords like coffee or cars. Unless you have ambitions of outranking Starbucks or Cars.com, you need to be more specific with your keywords by adding modifiers.
Modifiers are words that you can tag on before or after your keyword to provide a greater degree of specificity that’s more likely to reach your customers. If you’re the owner of a coffee shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the keywords that will reach your customers need to reflect that. Geomodified keywords drastically increase the likelihood that you will reach your target audience, which is especially important for brick and mortar businesses like coffee shops.
Long-tail keywords make it possible for your company to target the right audience while thinning the competition.
Where you place your keywords is just as important as which keywords you incorporate.
Imagine two craft beer breweries in the neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn. Each company is competing against the other for ranking at the top of search engine results for the keyword “Red Hook craft beer.” Both breweries have websites that are nearly identical in terms of how favorable they are to search engines, except for one key difference.
The first website’s product page is written as one long block of text with no headings. The long block of text makes no mention of the keyword until the very last sentence, the only instance it used the keyword.
The second website’s product page contains an H1 tag that explicitly uses the keyword. The text is broken up into neat sections organized with H2 tags that occasionally use the keyword. The keyword seamlessly and frequently in the text without overusing it. The URL slug also includes the keyword.
Which website do you think is going to show up first in search results?
Understanding keyword placement is to understand how websites are crawled. The logical flow is that search engines crawl the URLs first and the content second. Strategically placing keywords in places that are crawled sequentially lets search engines know the purpose of that particular web page.
In other words, search engines are just like everybody else. Make their work as easy as possible and you will be rewarded.
Latent Semantic Indexing Keywords
LSI keywords are a perfect example of overcomplicating a simple concept. Ignore the high-tech terminology and think of these keywords as keywords that sound the same as what you’re trying to rank for.
For example, if you’re trying to rank for “Red Hood craft beer,” you can use “craft beer in Red Hook,” “best craft beer in Red Hook,” “Red Hook breweries,” etc.
Google’s Hummingbird algorithm leverages similar sounding keywords and tries to deduce customer intent. There are many different ways a customer can let Google know that they’re looking for craft beer in Red Hook, and they’ve since evolved to take variations of keywords into consideration to identify consumer behavior.
If you’re not sure how to find LSI keywords, there are plenty of keyword research tools out there for you to use.
Fulfilling the User Experience
Keywords used to let search engines know what a page was about. When crawling pages, search engines would interpret the text, find a word that appeared very often, and determine that the web page must be about that word since it appears so often.
Now, search engines have evolved to become much more intuitive in determining the context of the keyword and how it relates not only to the content on the rest of the page but also to the rest of the site and other websites around the Internet.
As keywords continue to evolve, they will increasingly incentivize websites that deliver high-quality content that fulfills the user’s needs.
About the author
Francesco Montesanto is the Director of Marketing for ContentWriters, a boutique content creation agency focusing on a customer-first approach to digital marketing and storytelling for brands.