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If You’re Only Focused on Keywords, Here’s Why You’re Thinking Wrong

Julia McCoy discusses why keywords were a focus in old SEO days, and why they aren't today. Learn what you should be focusing on for better online content.

Does anyone else remember the old days of SEO? Realistically, they weren’t that long ago, but in the age of the internet, even a few years is practically an eon. A lot has changed since people began optimizing their websites for search engines.

Back in the day, SEO essentially meant “put in the keywords we want to be associated with our content – and make sure there are LOTS.”

Makes sense, right? Presumably, if someone is searching for “local fair trade coffee” and your website has a page with 15 instances of the term, Google is going to think it’s perfect for what the person is after. Except that’s not how SEO works anymore – at all.

Content Marketing

Why Thinking Along the Lines of Just Keywords Doesn’t Work Anymore

Stuffing your content with keywords just doesn’t appeal to search engines anymore, and it never really appealed to your readers.

Just think – when you’re reading web content or blogs, seeing the same key terms dropped over and over again can be frustratingly disruptive.

Google and other search engines realized this and began trying to pick which content to display based on more relevant factors than just keywords. The E-A-T and Y-M-Y-L standards, a 160-page doc released in late 2015 that defines how Google looks at and ranks websites, reinforced that Google is looking for humanized content in today’s web rankings.

While this makes the job of your average SEO expert a little more challenging, it’s been an effective way of ensuring quality content is reaching readers.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for a little search engine optimization – quite the opposite, actually.

Now, there are more techniques than ever to ensure your work is reaching the right people.

So how do you balance it?

Here’s how you can begin to think beyond the keywords.

Are You Giving the People What They Want?

When you search for something on Google, what are you hoping to find?

That’s the first question you need to ask. Because once you understand your own search behavior, you can empathize with your own audience.

The thing is this – people don’t go searching for keywords. They go searching for answers to their questions, and you just happen to use keywords to make those answers easier to find.

Where people get confused is by thinking the keywords themselves are more important than user intent (which is to have their questions answered/problems solved.)

Google and the rest of the search engines are very aware of this. In an effort to give searchers the best possible results, they are now looking to showcase content that meets the intent of their users.

When you’re designing your content strategy, closely consider the what your users want.

Why would they want to visit your page? Is it to purchase a product to make their life easier, or perhaps to learn about a subject they were previously ignorant of?

Whatever the reason, your content (and the keywords associated with it) need to be tailored to the intent of your users – not merely acting as a “catchall” to try to maximize traffic.

Not only will Google give preference to you for your valuable content, you’ll also find the users coming to your website are converting better.

Whether that means making inbound sales or simply building a deep subscriber list, if your audience is finding your site with intent, they will be more likely to engage with it in the way you want them to.

Are You Offering Hyper-Relevant and High-Quality Content?

Once you’ve determined the intent of your users, and matched keywords to that intent, you need to deliver on your promise.

There’s a reason we get annoyed at reading keyword-stuffed blog posts – they seem distinctly self-serving with little care given to the reader.

It’s not only your audience that hates that bad SEO habit, but it’s also search engines, too.

One of the best things you can do for your SEO is to make sure you invest in deep, meaty, relevant content that your audience looks forward to engaging with.

You’ll also want it to be super-specific, not a hodge-podge of general information. That way, your content can be viewed as expert in one particular area, rather than a jack of all trades, but a master of none. Content like that is a dime-a-dozen online.

Sure, this is good for your users, but how does it benefit your SEO?

The single most important thing Google uses to determine a websites authority are how many backlinks from other websites it has.

And you know what people link back to? Exceptional content.

It’s Not About ‘What’: It’s About ‘Where’ With Keywords

Like almost everything in life, quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to keywords.

Your article could be 50% filled with the keyword you’re targeting, but it won’t matter at all (except maybe negatively) to search engines if they’re all stuffed into your footer.

Knowing where to place keywords is the most important thing to consider nowadays.

Your slug, header, H2, and image alt text will all have more of an impact than just injecting it into your body paragraphs.

Take advantage of these places to maximize their effectiveness, and only use your keywords where they sound natural and unobtrusive in the rest of your content.

Conclusion: What’s the Verdict?

Here’s the real question – do keywords even matter in modern SEO? In short: yes. But they matter significantly less than they used to.

Unfortunately, many still have the old mindset of, “stuff ’em in, the more the merrier.” It didn’t make content any better back in the old days, and it certainly doesn’t now.

Not only does this fail to benefit SEO efforts, but it can actually hinder them. Plus it can make most written content sound forced and clunky.

Modern techniques have evolved with the search engines. Put simply; it’s about appealing to people now – not machines.

And that’s a really good thing. Because an engaged, satisfied user isn’t just more likely to click a link. They’re also likely to share your site, and even convert.

By carefully assessing user intent, writing super precise, ridiculously relevant content, and applying keywords in their proper places, you can make your content as appealing to search engines as it is to your audience.



Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Express Writers. Used with permission.
In-post Photo: Mazirama/

Category SEO
VIP CONTRIBUTOR Julia McCoy Founder, Author, Educator at The Content Hacker™

Julia McCoy is an 8x author and a leading strategist around creating exceptional content and presence that lasts online. As ...

If You’re Only Focused on Keywords, Here’s Why You’re Thinking Wrong

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