How we find information has changed a lot over the years. The card catalog at your local library was probably mothballed long ago and replaced with a simple web client. The power and efficiency of search engines have made them the go-to resource for all manner of research related tasks.
But, before Google or Bing can track down what you’re looking for, they need a few hints to point them in the right direction. In most cases, that information comes in the form of keywords: user-submitted terms and phrases that search engines parse and scour the web to find.
State of the Algorithm: Semantics not Stuffing
In the early days of the web, search engines weren’t nearly as sophisticated as they are now. Webmasters could stuff their pages full of hidden text and unrelated keywords and manage to game the rankings. Today, that’s just not possible. Google and other search engines have tuned their algorithms to detect and penalize those tactics.
Moreover, machine learning and natural language processing is slowly enabling search engines to not just recognize words and phrases, but actually build a rudimentary understanding of their meanings. Google isn’t just looking for keywords anymore— it’s examining the context in which it finds them.
Consequently, keywords can’t be thought of as pixie dust that should be liberally spread about in the hopes of producing search engine magic, but rather as strategically selected, placed, and, most importantly, heavily analyzed business tools. Because Google now looks for the context in which you’re using keywords, you want to be as precise as possible when relating the keyword to the business objective of the content. For example, don’t just try to get search results for the word “content” try to get results for “content marketing for business”.
Content Rules the Web
Despite these developments, keyword analysis is still an essential component of a holistic SEO plan, especially for brands engaging in content marketing on platforms like social media networks and blogs. According to a study by Moz, a leading provider of SEO tools, keywords were listed as the third most important factor for search rankings.
A lot of information can be gleaned from a simple keyword. It is a window into the mind of your audience and an explicit representation of their intent, their needs, and their style of communicating.
With consumer habits in flux and ad blocking/ skipping increasingly common, it has never been more important for brands to nurture a robust content marketing plan. Audiences are filtering traditional promotional and advertising messages, so brands have adapted by creating content their target market not only won’t block, but will actively seek out, share, and engage with.
Keyword optimization extends the reach of that content by improving its visibility and rankings on organic (unpaid) search engine results. That not only spreads brand awareness, it turns blogs, social media pages, and the like into veritable lead generation machines.
The Perfect Keyword: High Volume, Low Competition
Finding the right keywords is a complicated undertaking. On the one hand, you want something that has high enough search volume to gain access to a large audience. On the other, the very highest volume terms will have so much competition that it limits their usefulness. That’s why most keyword research today focuses on highly targeted, long-tail phrases.
Long-tail refers to the shape of a statistical distribution involving a small number of items that are present in huge quantities and a large number that are present in small amounts.
For example, if you analyzed the view counts for every piece of content on YouTube, a few extremely popular videos would dominate the head of the chart, but millions more with just a few views would make up the long tail.
It might seem like those megahits at the front are where the action is, but for those who know how to use them strategically, there is incredible value to be exploited in a long-tail, where you have less competition and you’re targeting the most relevant segment of the broader audience.
One easy way to get started with long-tail keywords is to look for informational questions. For example, instead of analyzing: “inbound content marketing,” try “What is inbound content marketing?” You can also get deeper into the long-tail by adding actionable phrases like “tips” or “hacks” (e.g. “inbound content marketing tips”).
Because Google has gotten so good at figuring out the intent and context of keywords, not only will keyword stuffing not improve search engine results, it will actually harm them. Therefore, don’t think of your content as a place to cram keywords. Instead, find one or two long-tailed keywords that appeal to your target audience and build content around them.
That technique, often referred to as topic modeling, makes for higher quality, more readable content. It also ensures that whatever traffic you do attract is the right kind: visitors with a genuine interest in your content who are far more likely to convert than a random user that inadvertently finds themself on your doorstep.
Use the Tools
There are countless tools for analyzing keywords, like BuzzSumo, Answer the Public, Keywordtool.io, and others, but oddly enough, the most common method for finding volume and competition levels wasn’t actually designed for SEO, but rather for advertising.
Google’s AdWords offers a Keyword Planner that lets ad buyers check the prices for various keywords they are interested in bidding on. Though not a perfectly accurate representation of how competitive a keyword might be for SEO purposes, it provides a good jumping off point.
If you are starting from scratch and need to build a keyword list, the first thing to do is run a Keyword Planner search on terms and phrases closely related to your niche and record the many suggestions Google generates from them.
When using these keywords in content on blogs or other platforms, make certain you aren’t undercutting your efforts by failing to fully optimize every page they appear on. A properly keyword-optimized blog post, for example, should include your one or two main keywords for that piece in the headers (e.g. title and meta description), meta tags, and, of course, in the copy itself.
The Final Word
Keyword optimization serves so many objectives at once that it would be downright foolish to neglect it. Well chosen and placed keywords signal to search engines your main focus and help you organize and structure your own content. And, by analyzing the keywords being used to find your material, you can uncover valuable business insights about the needs and interests of your target audience.
There’s a world of information buried in a simple keyword… and an incredible opportunity to spread your message further.