Keeping up on SEO best practices is a difficult job for business owners and leaders: If you study online articles long enough, you’re almost sure to find completely contradictory advice! Few SEO topics are more misunderstood than keywords. You’ll hear it said that keywords no longer matter, that Google doesn’t need (or even want) exact keywords to match website contact with search queries. At the other extreme, you’ll hear it said that keywords are still everything to SEO, that despite what Google says or implies, tactical use of keywords makes or breaks the campaign.
As you might expect, the truth about SEO keywords is somewhere in the middle. Keywords are still extremely important for SEO, but other factors are in play that have significantly changed the way keywords should be handled in a campaign. Let’s take a look.
Keywords on the Page
When I started doing SEO copywriting in 2004, keyword handling was a very precise activity. There were strict guidelines for where keyword phrases should appear in the text of a webpage, and how often they were to be repeated. There were a certain number of keyword phrases that could be optimized for a given word count, and rules for how many variations of a keyword could be incorporated. Data suggested the more rigidly these rules were adhered to, the higher a page of content would rank — even if the content itself was flawed.
Today, this is not the case. Google has become much more adept at interpreting the quality and thematic sense of a webpage without having to rely on a complex, formulaic handling of keywords. At this point, using the page’s one or two primary keyword phrases once or twice on a page is usually enough. It’s still advisable to use keywords in page titles and subheads, but for keywords to make the desired impression on Google’s crawlers, the content must be high in quality and highly relevant to your targeted keywords.
Keywords in Meta Tags
Meta information is coding on a webpage that human readers don’t always see, but Google crawlers do. Keyword treatment for SEO is a consideration for:
- Meta keywords, long overused and abused, no longer matter. So many people “stuffed” keywords into this field that Google stopped paying attention.
- Meta title tags, in contrast, continue to be extremely important. Title tags give Google a sense of what a webpage is about, and should be unique for every page and optimized with each page’s most important keyword. Title tags are seen by humans in the browser, giving them importance beyond SEO.
- Meta descriptions are snippets of text that appear under a link on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). These tags have no direct SEO impact, but are very important because they influence search engine users to click through on a link. Incorporating a page’s keywords in meta descriptions doesn’t hurt, but it’s more important to write them persuasively.
A final point to touch on is keyword selection. Trying to figure out which keywords to target in an SEO campaign has definitely become more complicated. Mobile search, and even more recently, voice search, are changing the words people use in their search queries. Mobile users tend to use fewer words than desktop users. Voice searchers tend to ask questions rather than input statements/phrases.
As the volume of mobile and voice search grows, keyword researchers will have to pay a great deal of attention to the sources of a website’s traffic. Organizations with a high percentage of mobile traffic, for instance, may want to target keywords most likely to be used on mobile devices. And, as people get more in the habit of framing search queries as questions, targeting keywords — and on-page content — that are in the form of questions will likely make a big difference in an SEO campaign’s success.
To discuss keywords and other aspects of SEO execution, contact us now.
About the author:
Brad Shorr brings decades of marketing, sales and management experience to the Straight North team as Director of B2B Marketing. With a lifelong passion for reading and writing, he has been an active and respected blogger since 2005. His firm, Word Sell, Inc. — acquired by Straight North in 2010 — was among the first to bring social media marketing concepts and strategies to the business community. A graduate of Northwestern University, Brad is a skilled SEO copywriter, social media marketer and content strategist.