Even though blogging is one of the best ways to boost an online reputation and increase market share at the same time, now is an incredibly hard time to be a blogger. There is just too much information out there.
Get this: While 81 percent of consumers trust information they read in blogs, there are some 6.7 million people blogging, according to stats compiled by Social4Retail. Readers want the data, but there’s just too much of it out there. They are simply drowning in content.
So it’s no wonder that people are becoming cynical about the whole business of blogging. Why should they bother reaching out with their words, when chances are (somewhat) good that they’ll never get noticed online?
In the past, I would have countered this cynicism with a primer about SEO. Find great keywords, I’d say, and then your articles will be found by search engines and the people who use them. A boost in rank will quickly follow, and your reputation concerns might fade away.
But in the aftermath of some pretty big Google algorithm changes, including both Panda and Penguin, I’ve seen more than a few articles that suggest SEO keyword techniques are outmoded and/or dead. Little reminders like “Keywords work!” just won’t cut it anymore.
Thankfully, I do have some ammo that suggests that we can, and should, continue to invest in keywords.
Back From the Dead
The idea that SEO is useless and therefore dead isn’t new. In fact, I found an article on just this topic on Search Engine Journal, and it was published all the way back in 2010.
But the technique persists, as do the claims that it will quickly fade away for good.
Here’s an example. In July, Lunabean Media published a blog post in which the writers suggested winery owners can “stop worrying about SEO.” The idea here is that search engines like Google have become so smart and so adept at delivering good results that there’s no real need to even try to boost your site’s performance. The search engines will find you, because the search engines are good.
In a separate post from The Social Marketers in October, the writers suggest the opposite. Here, they suggest that Google isn’t so much smart as it is self-protective. The changes made are somewhat arbitrary, these writers say, and the ever-shifting rules make it impossible to do well. And responding to those shifts might mean creating content that’s worthless to the end-user, and therefore not good for business.
Now, both of these blog posts do suggest that SEO has a place. But the writers also suggest that keywords shouldn’t be the focus of a writer’s work, and that SEO might not be worth expending a great deal of time on.
Why it Keeps Coming Up
I understand the temptation to urge writers to skip the keyword business. After all, loading up an article with the right keywords can feel a little robotic, and more than a little icky. Writers want to have a unique voice, and they want to use whatever words best express their ideas. Loading up a piece with keywords seems to interfere with that creative process, and it seems to make the whole enterprise mechanical, not personal.
Also, some bloggers approach Google algorithm changes with a sense of powerlessness. These writers want to win, to pop to the top of search engine results, and they don’t like the idea that the owners of the engines can wipe away their wins with a few keystrokes.
So I get it.
But are keywords really the hobgoblins of our work as bloggers? Sure, they’re a main part of doing SEO effectively, but aren’t they also just part of writing well for the electronic age? I think they are, and it seems there are others who agree with me.
Making Keywords Really Work
At the start of an SEO project, bloggers do a bit of digging to determine what keywords readers use in order to find articles on specific topics. (I use the Google AdWords tool, but Wordtracker offers a paid tool that also gets good reviews.) Those searches can take some time, but the payoffs can be huge.
As bloggers on Copyblogger have pointed out, keyword research is essentially market research. The words your searchers type in are the words they use when they want to find something, like a product or a service or a facility. Businesses can use this data to build better items to sell.
Individuals can also use this data to spot reputation problems they weren’t even aware of before. If I was working on solving a reputation management problem involving the term “revenge porn” and I found out that my name was also being attached to the word “fraud,” I’d know I had a bigger problem to solve. And keywords helped me spot it.
Those are big perks, but keywords can do even more. For reputation concerns, we want blogs that persuade and reassure, so that attacks seem to have less merit. This means that the pieces we write must be compelling and honest and true, and they must speak to issues that readers want to read about. B2B marketers want the same thing, so their readers will stick around and make a purchase. Keywords can make that happen.
Bloggers on SEER Interactive have done a great piece on how to pull together a blog that converts, and a big chunk of that piece has to do with keyword research. The experts there use keywords to determine what readers are specifically looking for in articles they read based on one keyword, and those additional keywords help them to deepen and fill out their articles, so they attract attention and keep readers focused.
That’s the kind of research that results in the in-depth, persuasive, compelling blog posts that boost reputations and increase market share. And that work matters. Consider this. A study from the Forrester Business Marketing Association and Online Marketing Institute found that 83 percent of marketers can’t attach a tangible business value to the work they put into online marketing. They know they should do it, but they don’t know how much it’s worth. I would bet the same sorts of stats apply to people who blog personally in response to a reputation attack. They know they should write, but they can’t prove that it works.
Keywords are saviors here, as they do double duty. Articles with good keyword placement can be found by search engines, and keyword research helps writers to craft articles that compel attention and close reading. This is the kind of content that does have value that can be measured by click-throughs, purchases and better online reputation scores.
So is SEO dead? Not by a long shot.
I think we’re just beginning to see the power of keywords properly placed. But, I fully expect that these same articles about SEO’s death will continue to appear online. It’s our job, as marketers, to prove those articles wrong.
And you can help me do it. Do you have a keyword success story to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.