I was recently in a meeting with a client who asked, “How has SEO changed?” That’s a loaded question to say the least, and as anyone with search engine optimization experience knows, there are probably a million answers. The thing about SEO is that it’s always changing. Everything is in a constant state of flux, and what works this week might not work next week.
As my conversation with this client continued, I found myself talking about how on-page content optimization has evolved to focus more on searcher intent. If I were asked to name the single most important change in SEO, my answer would probably be the shift away from creating content that is simply designed to accommodate important keywords and toward creating content that provides value for users and matches the intent behind a search query. Google algorithm updates like Penguin and Hummingbird have forced SEOs everywhere to change their thinking about on-page optimization and content creation.
How Things Have Changed
If this sounds confusing, here’s a little background. In the old days of SEO, we focused on researching for keywords with low competition and high search volume, then placing these keywords on webpages. Sometimes, we even worried about repeating a keyword a certain number of times, a concept referred to as keyword density. In short, very little thought was given to the quality of the content. Pages and whole websites were being produced that were designed to cater to search engines and not people. It was all about just getting the words on the page.
While this content may have served the search engines well, it often wound up sounding strange to the reader (because keywords were often used far more than necessary and/or forced into the copy) and resulting in a poor user experience. Because Google wants to reward high-quality websites and provide its users with what they’re looking for, it’s no wonder that they’ve tweaked and improved their algorithm to favor websites that are created for people.
Yes, Keywords Still Matter
Before anyone gets too nervous, let me say that I do think keywords still matter. I just think they matter in a different way. Optimizing content now means thinking beyond simply plugging in keywords for the purposes of ranking well. Any content that is produced should contain keywords and be useful. Search engines do still rely on keywords when it comes to delivering search results, so they still need to be on the page. However, the engines are getting better at understanding context, what their users are looking for, and related concepts. That means that the information in your content is becoming more and more important. Your pages need to be relevant to the user; they can’t just contain the right words anymore.
When you’re adding content to your website, keep your audience in mind and empathize with them. Put yourself in their shoes and answer their questions. If you do, chances are you’ll create more engaging content that (whether you realize it or not) gives you the potential to be visible for countless searches. It takes more work, but your content will be of a higher quality, and Google will like you for it. It’s a win-win, right?
When clients ask for my advice about producing SEO-friendly website copy, I always tell them to remember their users. Building your content around your users instead of individual keywords is now a necessity, and it should have been all along. I think it’s a foolproof strategy, especially where Google is concerned.