Why Keywords are No Longer Top Priority for SEO
Any clued-up marketer will know that relying on keywords for SEO is long past its sell-by date. Long gone are the days where you could strategically place a select few keywords and phrases throughout your content and achieve significant results. SEO is, and always was, far more complex than implementing a solid keyword strategy.
Keywords were once the foundation of SEO and could yield fantastic results. However, some people took advantage by overloading their content with search terms in a bid to manipulate Google’s algorithms. This soon backfired when Google released Penguin - an update that penalises websites for keyword stuffing, among other black hat SEO techniques.
Google’s Keyword Planner Is Inaccurate
Another reason why keywords have faltered in SEO is because the tools we have at our disposal are largely inaccurate. Marketers would rely on data provided in Google’s Keyword Planner and other similar tools to inform their strategies for both paid and organic search. However, around 6 years ago Google made a switch to encrypted search which meant that keyword data was no longer available to website owners.
Google Search Rankings aren’t What They Used to be
What’s more, Google’s algorithms have become far more advanced and can measure a multitude of imperceptible factors to determine rankings. Search results are now personalized to the user, which means they can differ from one person to the next, even when they use the exact same search term. The results shown are based on the user’s location, their search history and device among other factors. So ironically, companies are more likely to see their own website on the first page of Google results because they typically spend a lot of time on their webpages. However, don’t be fooled into thinking your site ranks number one organically! Who ranks first organically? No one knows! It is a mystery.
For SEO practitioners like myself, this means there is no formula that can guarantee desired results; the guidelines have become somewhat blurred and ambiguous. Nonetheless, if we understand Google’s core algorithm updates, from Panda and Penguin to Pigeon and Hummingbird, we can decipher best practice for improving search rankings!
How to Improve SEO in 2020
All too often people misunderstand SEO and have unrealistic expectations; usually to be on the first page of search results for their top keywords within a few months. With the best will in the world this is just not going to happen.
SEO is a long game, it can take years to become a respected and trustworthy authority. Consistency and patience are key.
Here are several techniques you can adopt to improve your Google rankings:
Satisfy user intent
Google looks for content that explicitly answers a user’s search query quickly, clearly and with sufficient detail. Make sure your content provides a concise answer to a relevant question, perhaps sign post it by writing the question itself as a heading or the page title. Once you have answered the question be sure to go into more detail using other media such as video and infographics as well as links to additional resources.
Create high-quality original content
Google’s Panda update can outsmart even the most creative of content duplicators. Do not try to rewrite a piece of content using synonyms and changing the structure of sentences, it will have adverse effects on your SEO. Make sure that your content is your own and more importantly that it is well-formatted, uses natural language and is informative.
Secure relevant backlinks
The Penguin update looks for high-quality and trustworthy links from reputable websites to yours, these are called backlinks. Backlinks should be from relevant websites that offer similar products and services to your company. The linked webpages, (their page linking to yours,) should have content that is related. What’s more, its important to have backlinks coming from a range of different websites.
There is an understanding that the more backlinks you have the higher up the page you will rank in Google. This theory has been brought about by comparing the top websites that rank organically for a given keyword. The website ranking first tends to have more backlinks than any other. Although, be sure to bear in mind that the quality of backlinks is just as important.
Contextualize your keywords
As mentioned, Google’s updates give less prominence to keywords. However, they should still form part of your SEO strategy. Google’s Hummingbird update interprets the user intent behind a search query and delivers the webpage that best qualifies. As a result, the context around keywords and semantic search are now more important for SEO. This requires a shift from using defined keywords toward creating pillar content and topic clusters.
Hubspot illustrates how this strategy might look.
Consider each element to be a piece of content, typically a blog post, the pillar content in the middle is the anchor for your target keyword, it should be long-form content such as an all-encompassing ultimate guide. Each piece of cluster content focuses on a specific area under the umbrella topic and links to the pillar content. These internal links aid your SEO and push your pillar content to the forefront. The idea is that your website has multiple related webpages that are highly informative and useful to a reader. It also enables you to answer questions about a topic rather than an individual and specific keyword. These are the foundations of an inbound marketing strategy.
Although these SEO techniques may seem ambiguous, remember that despite how complex its algorithms are Google is a machine after all, and so there must be identifiable parameters that your website and content should adhere to in order to satisfy Google, its users and ultimately your target audience!