The Evolution of Search Engine Optimization
By Andy Teipen
As search engines like Google get smarter and smarter about the SEO tricks marketers use, it begs the question: are keywords still relevant or even helpful anymore? The answer is a resounding yes. But, you have to be smart about how you use them, because the bots scanning your site aren’t just looking for keywords anymore. They are looking for key meaning.
Here’s what I mean by that. Back in the “olden days,” Google used to scan your site looking for the keywords that correspond to the search term just typed. So, if I typed in a search term like “cheap tacos in Indianapolis” it would serve up the websites with the most appearances of words “cheap” and “tacos” and “Indianapolis,” not getting the inference that I really meant “cheap taco restaurants in Indianapolis.” You would get some restaurant entries, but you might also get a taco recipe from an Indianapolis food blogger, or the school event that was giving out free tacos.
Today, the sophistication of search engines cuts two ways. First, it can derive more meaning from your search terms, no matter what their length. And, it can scan the content of your entire website, giving credit to synonyms and other content relating to cheap tacos in Indianapolis. So, as a consequence, your search will turn up the location listings for taco restaurants in Indianapolis that actually are inexpensive.
Effective? Yes. Creepy? Definitely. And it makes the content optimization of your website more important than ever.
Start with keyword research
Keywords generally fall into two categories:
- Broad keywords – Short (one-word or two-word) terms such as “marketing”
- Long-tail keywords – Longer phrases and questions that are more specific to your company or industry, such as “what to include in content marketing.” As search engines get more sophisticated, they are able to accommodate longer searches written in sentences, so long tail keywords are becoming ever more important.
Write your site for keyword meaning
Once you’ve prioritized your keywords, make sure you’re using them! Determine which keywords are most important to your site overall. If you want to inhabit a certain industry category, like “hand forged iron railings” then make sure you use that term for the highest-profile pages (including your home page).
Then, drilling down to the page level, analyze the content on your site and determine which 2-3 keyword phrases from your list accurately describe the content on each page. For basic content optimization, apply the keywords in title tags, meta descriptions, URLs and on-page text. This is incredibly important, because Google is now putting more emphasis on this first, then follows up to see that the pages clearly relate to the titles.
To take things a step further, optimize the content in your image tags, image alt text, and image URLs. Sometimes this can be more difficult than it should be. Some content management systems populate these items automatically.
Give the people what they want
Let me repeat what I said above: content optimization is a never-ending process. You can’t just update your tags and move on. Your keyword priorities should drive the content that you produce on an ongoing basis. Look at your keyword priorities. They’re high on the list because people are looking for information about this topic. For each high-priority keyword, develop content that answers their questions or helps them in another way.
Another way to optimize your content is to evaluate what’s working for you already. For example, I can also see which e-books people download from OSD’s website most often. That tells me we should produce more content about this subject.
The bottom line: content optimization is a science, but it’s not rocket science. Use the tools available to you and remember that when it comes to keywords, meaning should be more important than trickery.