Note: The article was originally written and published for Influx Interactive on August 9th, 2017.
It is 2017, and the great obsession continues.
The habit of stuffing websites with keywords under the excuse of “Search Engine Optimisation” (SEO) has not ceased. While keywords are still relevant, they are not as glorified as they once were.
Back in the 2000s, Google directed SEO practices by placing much importance on keywords. Brands earned big bucks by having their websites rank on the first — or at the very least, on the second — of Google’s search engine result pages (SERPs). All they had to do was to become “content mills” and “link farms” by shoehorning keywords into their website content.
They soon ran out of luck.
Updates that bucked the trend
To get rid of the content mill syndrome, Google started updating its algorithm—the rule that determines how a web page must rank in the SERPs.
Websites were banished for various reasons: too many ads, low quality or plagiarised content, or purchased backlinks (hyperlinks from other sites that point to a website citing its content) aimed at ranking well in the SERPs.
Sites that matched their domain names exactly with Google’s search keywords like “puppiesforadoption.com” or contained keywords that belonged to spammy search queries (e.g. queries about obscene content) got the boot. The recent Fred update blacklisted many sites for employing “black-hat” techniques like focussing on ad revenue instead of creating useful content for the user.
Banned brands still get a chance to play
In answer to websites’ search for redemption, more algorithmic updates like Google’s Pigeon, Mobile Friendly, Hummingbird, and Rank Tracker were launched. These updates tailored location-based results for search queries, ranking mobile-friendly sites higher than the rest with emphasis on “meaning technology”.
Meaning Technology is where Google analyses an entire search query and matches results with it. Instead of matching just two or three words in the search query, the search engine digs deeper to understand the meaning of the entire phrase or sentence.
For instance, when you ask, “What is ice cream made of?”, Google gives you the details of the list of contents that make up ice cream. It doesn’t just match the three words “ice” or “cream” or “made”; and bombard you with results like “what is ice made of” or “what is cream made of”, or give you a list of ice cream parlours.
So, what’s hot on the plate?
Google now employs Semantic Search to understand the intentions of the user and the context of the search to improve the accuracy of search results. Gauging the user’s browser activity, IP address, navigation behaviour, linked accounts, and employing a whole bunch of other tactics, Google tailors customised results for him/her.
Google also provides localised results. What does that mean to the user? If you search for ice cream parlours, Google will list the parlours based on your location. Google’s Possum update makes sure that localised results are listed for the user.
When a search engine crawls web pages, it identifies the most-used keywords that give a holistic picture of the pages, and indexes them in the SERPs accordingly. This is Latent Semantic Indexing.
Google has introduced many SERPs features like Adwords, shopping results, answer box, newsbox, related questions, and a gazillion more. The most relevant answers to your question appear as organic search results on these SERP features.
Content is the new Holy Grail of SEO
Fresh, original, and engaging content will draw users to your website consistently and recurrently. Google regards content with more than 2000 words as informative and impactful to the user. It can be keyword-centric but it has to be meaty. It should be focussed and directly answer a user’s query and not be mere click-bait. While all these may help your website gain more traction, just becoming a topical authority won’t do; your brand has to rank high as a social authority too.
Your content should be shared frequently by people from different IP addresses across the globe. You have to update your content frequently to get proper periodical social shares because Google doesn’t rank abandoned sites. The other websites that link to your website should themselves be of high quality. Your website gets more search engine clout if Forbes or Mashable were to link to one of your articles.
Yes! Though Google’s algorithms have made sure that keywords cannot be used carelessly, they are still here to stay. But the frequency with which you use keywords will be lower, the way you place keywords at certain positions in the website will be more important, and certain types of keywords will be favoured over others.
Harping on Google’s page rankings will lead nowhere. This has to be coupled with several other metrics to understand if a website is favoured by the search engine or not.
It takes time to gain Google’s trust in order to rank on the first- page SERPs. This is the “indexed age”, or the date and time from when Google first noticed your website and listed it in its SERPs. A webpage or a site that consistently shows up on Google would, over time, increase its indexed age and trust with Google better than a newbie that has just joined the game.
Still hot on keywords?
Long-tail keywords are better than the short-tail ones. These will let you rank well in localised search results
- Meta descriptions and Alt Texts still rule the scene. They give the search engine and, therefore, the user a gist of what your website is about
- Search-keywords need not be used verbatim in your website’s content; words that imply the same meaning will do. Google will still be able to make sense of what you have to say
- If you want your brand to sound “affordable”, “stylish”, “pricey” or “luxurious”, you need not include these words on your website. Google taps into your website’s content and user behaviour and employs other strategies to feature your brand in localised SERPs
Do not alter your content to suit the keywords. Instead, write content that will make your audience clearly understand what your brand is about and how it can help them.
The keywords are not the crux anymore; they just accessorise your content.