Keywords are Overrated

Keywords Letters, Scrabble, Word

Guest Post By Rachel Lowe

It’s common for those with a passing acquaintance with SEO to believe that “keywords” and “optimization” are synonymous. As a result, they build their strategy around targeting high-volume words by incorporating keywords as much as possible throughout the page. However, as a full-time SEO specialist with 6+ years experience, I’m here to say one thing: stop.

Keyword research is important to understanding audience behavior and priorities, and there’s no denying that it’s important to reference them within strategic on-page elements. However, to build your SEO game plan solely around keyword copy-integration is to do yourself a great disservice. Since, to be honest, keywords are overrated.

Keywords: Don’t “force it” for the sake of keyword-stuffing

Many well-intentioned content producers prioritize the inclusion of keywords at the expense of the reading experience. The more references the merrier, right? Take note, not only is keyword stuffing ineffective, but it also weakens the reader’s first-impression of the website. What’s the good in capturing a user that has no interest in further engaging?

Google wants to provide the best user experience possible, so it’s unlikely to crawl a page that mentions pink cell phone case 62 times and consider it a great resource for pink cell phone cases. Take note, its algorithm has dramatically evolved from earlier days in which it relied upon the volume of references to understand relevancy to a topic. In fact, Google has released numerous changes meant to diminish spammy pages’ visibility.

What to do instead: write for your users

Keyword research is still helpful to provide insights into topics which have search interest, as well as popular related questions. This can serve as the foundation of your ideation in order to broaden your digital footprint, as well as to convey your expertise.

Be mindful of placing keywords in important ranking factors, such as the URL, title tag, and headers. However, when producing the copy, write with humans (and not bots) at the forefront of your mind. Keywords will naturally crop up within the copy without you having to “force it.”

Don’t blindly follow keyword search volume

Keyword research data typically includes national search volume and, for amateur SEO professionals, terms with more search volume should naturally be top targets. As tempting as this line of thinking may be, it leads too many content producers awry.

What to do instead: target the right audience rather than faceless search volume numbers

It was always best practice to prioritize long-tail key phrases (terms that are more detailed and, therefore, have less search volume). However, this is now more applicable than ever. Voice search encourages individuals to naturally use longer queries that report minimal search volume.

Furthermore, Google progressively provides search results meant to fit the searcher, especially in regards to location. Therefore, when applicable, make sure that all keyword research reflects the local region rather than casting a broad net. Similarly, think about what topics pertain to your audiences. Many companies’ blogs target keywords that are irrelevant to their services, meaning that any SEO-driven visits yield no benefits. For example, why would someone turn to a Chevy dealer for road trip ideas? What’s more, by providing a list of destinations, how does this particular Chevy dealer convey authority within the automobile space?

Don’t limit yourself to producing keyword-rich copy

Google has a growing interest in experiences outside of copy. This is evident in the increasing amount of images and videos that populate traditional search results, as well as their recent unveiling of “visual stories” to help publishers communicate primarily with visuals. What’s more, they recently acquired two tools — Eyefluence and Moodstocks — with the objective of harnessing their technologies to better understand imagery.

Content producers who limit themselves solely to creating keyword-rich copy may find their tactics less valuable in the upcoming years.

What to do instead: build experiences supplemented by supporting copy

With a general understanding of what questions or search terms are driving individuals to a page, consider what type of experience would best satisfy their needs. Perhaps it is a long blog post. However, don’t limit yourself! Ideas include:

  • Video. The inclusion of this suggestion shouldn’t be a shocker to most content marketers. However, a big misconception many share is that video footage needs to be professionally-shot to be effective. Companies have found success with low-budget videos, especially in regards to providing “how-to” instruction (like this video from Wilton). Plus, there are many animation tools that have a minimal learning curve.
  • Tools. When people have questions, they’ll almost always take the quick insight over a long-winded explanation. Why not give them an interactive experience that provides the customized answer they seek?

Tools are well-suited for websites offering financial advice, as seen with this example. However, marketers have found other creative opportunities to create tools. For example, Dulux offers its customers an online tool that simulates what paint colors would look like within their home.

  • Quality, unique images. Many content producers will painstakingly craft a 1,000+ word piece, only to hurriedly find a stock image to accompany their hard work. However, this is a missed opportunity to further underscore messaging, create supplementary social media materials, and provide further opportunity to receive links. What’s more, as search engines evolve to better understand visuals, they may start rewarding pages with unique imagery.

Whenever possible, try to use your own unique photographs to show authenticity. Similarly, consider adding explanatory text to the image to make it a strong, stand alone item. Plus, you can get your readership involved, too! David’s Bridal encourages customers to post images of their dress on product pages like this in order to provide a more robust on-page experience for potential shoppers.

Yes, it may take more resources to produce the multimedia or tool. However, by focusing on creating quality rather than quantity, you’re aligning to the preferences of both search engines and your users.

Don’t over analyze keyword tracking tools

When utilized to its maximum potential, data is powerful. Yet, there’s no denying that all third-party keyword tools are inevitably flawed, even Google Ads Keyword Planner. While the search volume numbers they provide are estimates, the largest missteps happen when reporting keyword rankings. This has always been a struggle, but increased customization and localization has made it especially tough for tools to accurately encompass the “average ranking” for users.

It’s tempting to analyze each keyword and to fret when it drops from position four to position six while another jumps three positions. However, this is a waste of time.

What to do instead: look at the bigger picture

When studying ranking data, focus on whether priority pages’ and the domain’s overall visibility increased or decreased. If yes, determine whether a group of similarly themed keywords all showed major loss. Remember, the goal is to leverage the data to determine next steps and assess KPIs, all which can be done without nitpicking single keywords.

Key Takeaway: keywords should be one piece of a greater strategy

In conclusion, keywords should be the jumping off point to a much deeper content strategy. Every change Google makes is to prioritize the user experience so, as an SEO-friendly marketer, you should as well.