Keyword-based SEO is a trap. Most of us know that keyword stuffing is a bad idea, but many aren’t aware that most of the effort put into keywords is of low consequence. Keywords shouldn’t be viewed as a primary metric but rather as a natural result of effective content that brings value to the target reader. Algorithms are smarter these days, and effective conversion comes from truly understanding the voice needed to reach the ideal target market.
SEO Isn’t Dead, but These Myths Must Die
Before we get too far into that, let me touch on stubborn, enduring SEO myths that need to bite the dust. Google’s algorithms underwent major changes in 2011 with its Panda update. A subsequent update in 2012, Penguin, pushed things even further. The primary focus was to reduce the impact of sleazy SEO tricks for ranking pages higher and increase the relevance of high-quality content:
- Keywords matter and we should stuff them anywhere we can.
- Keyword phrases stuffed into written content for supposed SEO gains are obvious. There’s no reason why “San Francisco car mechanic” should show up once, let alone 10 times, in a 500-word piece. Rather than getting ranked highly, all you’ll end up doing is losing credibility with your target reader and diminishing your search engine rankings.
- Links matter, too, so let’s swap links anywhere we can.
- The days of submitting a press release to dozens of directories for exposure are long gone. These directories worked during a time when search algorithms didn’t know how to differentiate a link from a reputable source and one from a site with millions of links meant to trick crawlers. Directories don’t work, and really, did they ever? I’m sure all the journos out there are just scouring directories to find that hidden nugget of a press release.
There are other myths, but these are our focus. The common thread between the two is the elimination of so-called SEO tricks that helped boost exposure at the expense of quality for the reader. Today, Google plays the role of the search engine police, penalizing sites that try to abuse these two strategies. But the real question is, why would you want to even try?
One thing to understand throughout this discussion is that we’re primarily concerned with optimization as it pertains to Google. While I won’t go as far as to claim other search engines—most notably, Bing, Yahoo! and Ask—don’t matter, it’s true that their combined market share pales in comparison to Google. Google users accounted for 68.8% of all U.S., desktop-based searches, according to a January 2016 report by comScore. Globally, that shot up to 89.3%.
Yet Google’s not the only company concerned with giving users a great experience, so it’s sensible that most of what we will explore will play nicely with all major search engines.
Content Is King, but Only in its Domain
We all know content is king, yet it can be argued that this is half right only. After all, quality content doesn’t actually get eyeballs to the site; it just keeps them there. What the adage really means to say is that, assuming you get your target market to your site, valuable, high-quality content is what will keep it there. This is important if you want a chance at having those readers respond to your calls to action. Remember, traffic for the sake of hits does nothing if it doesn’t accomplish specific goals:
• We need more buzz about an upcoming event to increase ticket sales and thus increase the chance of media coverage.
• We want more downloads of our brand’s app, leading to more in-app purchases and thus greater revenue.
•We want investors to learn of our brand to bring in more funding.
These goals make sense, and they provide a focus for SEO. Keywords help bring in traffic, but if those keywords misled the visitor into thinking the site would have other information than what was found, the marketing budget will have been spent without results. This abuse of keywords often is a primary culprit in wasted marketing budgets that yield little in the way of results.
All this is not to say that keywords are not relevant. The contrary is true. Keywords serve as an invitation to search engines and as validation to interested readers. If you’re bringing value to the reader, keywords happen naturally by way of writing on the subject matter. Search engines see this and reward the page with higher search result placement. In turn, readers find the content more relevant to their search and stick around longer.
The Keyword: What Is It Good For?
Where keyword strategy comes into play is in diversification and analysis of which versions of what you want to say yield the best results.
Representing a Republican candidate? “GOP polls” had nearly 12 million searches in February 2016, according to Google. “Republican polls” topped that with 15.8 million. Both were dwarfed by “presidential polls,” coming in at 52 million.
When writing about a subject, it pays to look at common themes and terms and compare them to similar terminology. Is there a term that says the same thing, wouldn’t require changing the text much (apart from rewriting a sentence or two), yet would show up more often when my target market searches for this information?
Keywords also play an important role in titles and headings. Search engine crawlers like to check for keywords within headings to determine just how relevant the page is. After all, if your main points have nothing to do with the keyword, how likely is it that the page is relevant to the search?
Titles are even more important. Eight of 10 people will read a given headline, but only two of 10 will
click on it to read the article, according to the content marketing gurus at Copyblogger. When content shows up in a search result or social media news feed, readers filter what they consume based on headlines. Journalists have been doing the same thing to your press releases for decades, be it by judging your elevator pitch, email subject line or Twitter pitch.
No Substitute for Quality
The main point to remember is that quality is, above all else, what will build successful exposure. Focusing on keywords and links for the sake of keywords and links brings about spam and results in wasted spending by your brand. The brand isn’t paying to get more people to click on a link; it’s paying for realized business goals.
As in the past, before the Internet changed the landscape, the basics still boil down to building value for a brand. Is your content doing justice to the brand?
• Is the voice representing the brand? If the writing doesn’t reflect the brand’s attitude, the target market won’t identify with it. It’s difficult to ask readers to follow through with a call to action if they
don’t think the brand is meant for them.
• Is your guest blog post targeting the right audience?Many in PR have taken to counting a guest blog post as a win if it lands on a highly trafficked site, but what use is that if the source site has no synergy with your goals? Seek sites that mesh with your brand’s needs—for example, a muscle-building forum if you’re a workout supplement brand; a programmer’s tip site if you’re working with a carpal tunnel surgeon; or perhaps a cultural appreciation site in which to place a blog from your exotic tours client.
• Are you addressing the reader’s needs, or the brand’s? I see this all the time with press releases, where there’s nothing interesting being said, but the fact that a press release has been issued helps stroke someone’s ego and calms a brand executive into thinking something is being done. These
are self-serving pieces that don’t answer the “Why should I care?” question, and they use keywords to bait readers into clicking on the release. This quickly diminishes a brand’s reputation, and it could hurt chances of the media bothering to take a look at future statements.
The Golden Rule
Many have butchered the golden rule to fit their theses, so I don’t feel too bad for using a similar analogy: Optimize your content the way you would want to have it optimized if you were searching for that information. That pretty much sums up Google’s approach to its algorithm refinements.
SEO isn’t meant to be a silver bullet for attracting Web traffic. Rather, it’s a reward for doing everything right. In PR, the goal is to present your brand in a good light and manage its reputation. Refining your writing, as well as being mindful of keyword strategy and collaborating via other channels, such as guest blogging or social media, results in a stronger brand and greater attention to your content.
We’re in this to build brands and reputations. Let’s not squander them by trying to game the SEO system.
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