With the growing importance of vocal search in Google, you might be tempted to think that keywords are no longer relevant in search engine optimization (SEO) but you couldn’t be more wrong! When Google’s main algorithm was replaced by Hummingbird in 2013 in keeping with the trend of vocal search, it only aided the transformation of keyword usage and today, SEO is seeing a resurgence of long-tail keywords or key phrases with three or more words.
Keywords Past and Present
Earlier, in the 90’s up until 2011 there was a simple thumb rule to highlight your page or website in search engines – research the content to identify certain keywords and literally plaster the site with those words in order to drive traffic to it. The ranking would usually depend on the density of a niche keyword, or the ratio of keywords to total word count. That changed with the 2011 Google Panda update when sites trying to reach the top ranking by heavy use of keywords were penalized. Then came the Hummingbird update in 2013 with its ‘semantic search’ and now in 2017, things are a little different.
Post-Hummingbird, your website still needed to contain words that were ranked as popular queries, but with content relevance and user engagement gaining precedence over mindless keyword usage, it was not the frequency that mattered, it was the placement of keywords in the site. With search engines becoming more intuitive, visibility is no longer restricted by the old school notions of peppering content with select keywords, the importance has shifted to the meaning behind those words and that is semantic search. Today search engines crawl the sites based on the theme of the content not the density of keywords in it.
The relevance of keywords in SEO today
Since the SEO landscape has evolved and search engines now analyze the meaning behind the questions posed by users rather than the words themselves, the new age trend is to use popular key phrases. For example, a search of the words “make a cherry pie” would turn up the same result as “how to make a cherry pie,” – recipes of cherry pie – the word ‘make’ and ‘cherry pie’ are common to both, but the latter is a more popular search query, and websites about making a cherry pie are more likely to rank higher. The point therefore is, if you are simply using the individual words “make,” and “cherry pie” for irrelevant content your site is not SE optimized but if you talk about the process of making a cherry pie even without frequently using those words, it will be picked up by search engines.
Maximizing the effectiveness of keywords
Therefore, it is safe to say that keyword usage is still relevant to SEO, but the way it is used has changed; the emphasis is no longer on quantity, but quality. To get above your competition and put your site on the top of the list with a high ranking, you need to ensure that your content theme matches the popular key phrase. While there are a number of factors that influence the effective use of keywords in SEO today, the most important points to remember are:
- Original content and Keyword placement
It is the relevance of the content, its popularity and user engagement that will determine if your site is search engine optimized. Search engines, especially Hummingbird looks for the meanings behind your words or ‘semantic search’ as it is called, so make your content matter, place your key phrases correctly to clearly convey your meaning. Provide value to your target audience and your site will surely receive a high ranking.
- Title and Title tags
Use the right words to frame your page title in order to create the perfect Meta tag. Ensure that the site/content title contains a phrase whose meaning is similar to the keyword you want to target.
Identify your audience and use relevant tags. Apart from headings and tags, use longtail keywords in your url, sub-headings, image captions etc.
- Effective Linking and Social Media
Increase your visibility by building effective relationships with other relevant and similar sites and linking back to them. Internal linking where you interlink your site content and create a good sitemap is just as important.
Don’t forget about the importance of social media and utilize Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social platforms to maximize the clicks on your site.
- Organization and Pagination
Organize your site in a way that it is well structured and easy to navigate. Try adhering to the well-known header-body-sidebars- footer structure with pertinent content in each section.
Pagination will only aid by making your site easier for search engines to scan and categorize.