Are keywords really dead?

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As SEO evolves, we must remain cognisant of how search engines favour content.

Today, the internet is saturated with content: the mediocre, the outstanding and the redundant.

Algorithms have had to adapt to seek out the most valuable nuggets of wisdom from that saturated landscape; content which is relevant to the user and adequately satisfies their queries.

Keywords were once the bread and butter of great SEO, but algorithms are evolving in line with new trends.

Once upon a time, you could grab that coveted number one spot by simply slotting your chosen keyword into your site at every opportunity.

Of course, Google quickly learned that this was not demonstrative of genuine, helpful content and it was quickly deemed a ‘black hat’ technique. The domain owner would be penalised accordingly with lower rankings, poor authority and in some cases, complete removal from search engine listings.

A more considered and diligent approach was favoured instead. By crafting compelling content which logically weaved target keywords within the body, meta descriptions and alt text using your chosen keywords (with a density of 3%), you had the formula for successful SEO.

While keywords are still very much a prominent part of any SEO strategy, focusing on keywords alone can cause many problems. Organisations risk competing with themselves in search engines, and keywords alone fail to recognise the value of context, topics and synonyms.

Outside of the walls of Google, most SEO knowledge is based on speculation, experimentation and educated guesses. But what we can be sure of is that what was once a top determining factor is now a contributing factor, in amongst a culmination of new techniques.

The following points talk about some powerful new trends which are contributing to better SEO , and are cognisant of evolving trends and algorithm updates.

Topic-based content

Yes, keywords still have their place, but focusing too much on keywords could be to your detriment. If you write a lot about particular topics, you should think about organising you site into topic clusters.

Topic-based content was a term coined in 2017 after we first saw search engines shifting away from keyword concentrated algorithms. The technique advises on choosing a broad, core topic (logically, something core to your business) and creating and supporting content associated with that topic (subtopics.)

Your subtopics will aim to answer more specific queries associated with the core subject, (for example, SEO could be a core topic, while inbound links would be a subtopic) all while linking bi-directionally to enhance your internal link structure.

The idea is that these ‘topic clusters’ enhance your site architecture and signal to search engines that your site is a subject matter expert on a topic. It helps search engines understand context and present the user with a rich resource that can answer any additional questions they may have. What’s more, by building a rich and authoritative resource, you are more likely to acquire backlinks from other sources.

Social media sharing

The relationship between social sharing and SEO is becoming more prevalent as the Google E-A-T algorithm looks for evidence of authenticity and expertise. When people share content with their social media followers, it is likely they have found value in it in some form or another.

The more social shares your content generates, the more likely Google is to regard your content as valuable.

Content promotion is now a crucial component of your wider SEO strategy. But to be successful you must obtain genuine impressions, engagement and interactions from target audiences. This could involve, for example, strategically placing your content on platforms that are preferred by your target audiences. There are many ways to attract clicks and opens, but the real value lies in shares. In order to encourage more shares, your content needs to be aligned with your audience’s expectations.

Equally, it’s important not to forget the impact of aesthetically pleasing posts with a neatly cropped and sized image, and an intriguing caption, all of which can encourage more opens and shares.

Inbound links

Inbound links are extremely convincing of expertise and quality. Ultimately, they signal to search engine crawlers that your content is of high value, since others are using it to bolster their own content.

To attract more inbound links, and in addition to creating highly original, authentic and useful content, ensure your site speed is optimal, everything is responsive and accessible. Attention to detail will increase the likelihood of securing an inbound link from another source.

Domain authority

Domain authority was developed by software company Moz and determines a website’s ability to rank on search engines using a score of 1-100. The higher your score, the more likely you are to rank. But how is domain authority calculated?

It takes into account a multitude of factors – around 40 to be precise. This could be anything from number of inbound links, to the quality of those links, to root domain.

The best way to improve your score, again, comes down to compelling and relevant content which earns you high-quality backlinks. But this will never be achieved overnight. To check your domain authority you can use Moz’s checker, MozBar.

Snippets

We need to talk about Google snippets!

Google featured snippets are the new coveted spot on SERPs (search engine results pages).

Known as number 0, they are placed above position 1 and selected by search engines based on the content’s ability to quickly and efficiently answer a searchers quality in ‘snippet format’.

Some big names have experimented with Q&A boxes, inserted into the middle of longer form content to try and quickly sum up the answer in one to two sentences.

Depending on the quality and conceived value, Google will award the snippet space accordingly.

How ranking authority is calculated for snippets is different in that many users won’t actually click through to your site because their answer is satisfied without that need. It’s actually this absence of bouncing that signals to Google you have provided value.

Voice search

As voice search proliferates, we cannot ignore its influencer in helping search engines select the most relevant content. One of the best ways to achieve voice search optimised content is to so consider the questions your prospects have. If you can align your content to answer these questions, and consider conversational language, it will be easier for search engines to pair your content with voice queries. Consider how differently people speak, to how they type. This can help inform blog titles and Q&A forms, which are greatly returned resources for voice searches.

So, to reflect on the title of this post, it’s safe to say that keywords should still be an integral part of your research and strategy. Not only do they help you build content, they will lead you down to the right pathway to constructing questions, ideas and topics that your searchers have in mind. But businesses must keep their minds and eyes open to the ever-changing nature of the internet, and how customers interact with it. How we search for information will always be the evolving.

Our advice? Do not ignore keywords by any means. Use them deliberately, but for the user rather than the search engine.

Write with questions and terminology your visitors use in mind, and the rest will follow. And always remember the Google E-A-T algorithm: expertise, authority and trust!

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