Amy Merrill is an SEO manager at Page One Power, located in beautiful Boise, Idaho, USA. She’s looking forward to talking at BrightonSEO about a link building myth that drives her crazy, but if you’d like to connect in the meantime feel free to hit her up on Twitter.
I remember when I first started learning about SEO, link building and keywords. It was back in 2012, a chaotic and wild time to be entering the industry.
At the time I wrote lot of guest posts for third party sites, typically with a bio link back to my client using…yep you guessed it, exact match anchor text. I know, I know, but remember, I didn’t know any better–I don’t think many of us really did at the time.
Fast forward to the present, gone are the days of keyword stuffed articles, nonsensical bio links and unnatural exact match anchor text–from anyone reputable anyways–but there still seems to be a lot of confusion in regards to what exactly has replaced those old methods.
Let’s take a quick step back, most aspects of keyword research really haven’t changed that much.
Typical keyword research has gotten easier due to the inception and evolution of many of the popular tools used today (looking at you, SEMrush!) but realistically we’re still all compiling lists of keywords in Excel sheets using a variety of methods to determine the best head terms and long tail variations to target.
The biggest discrepancy isn’t in how keyword lists are compiled. The divide is a typical one for the SEO industry–the old way and the new way.
Marcus Tober had me feeling like a bobblehead last year at SMX Advanced in Seattle when he was talking about keyword topics. In case you missed it, he really hammered the point home that user intent comes first. Of course keywords are still important, but if you’re not using them to answer a searcher’s query you haven’t evolved as much as you should have.
Then he took it a step further and elaborated more on the idea of keyword topics. In the past emphasis was heavily placed on variations of a primary or head term. For example if you were trying to rank for dog beds you would also consider targeting terms like puppy beds, pet beds etc. Keyword topics take a different route. Instead of targeting variations of your head terms you want to target variations of the topic–which in this case is a huge variety of terms and phrases relating to dog ownership, care, feeding, and much more.
Tober’s key take away here is that keyword topics are better suited for answering searchers questions, and we need to stop worrying about targeting semantic variations of our keywords.
Keywords in 2016
In many ways, the antiquated practices of SEO through 2012 are laughable now, primarily because everyone has moved on, evolved. However, in a constantly changing industry it’s less laughable when the industry is moving on, but many potential clients and even some SEOs aren’t evolving with it.
To be clear, keywords are still important, but the way they are used has changed. Google no longer attempts to match queries based on keywords, instead Google attempts to delve into a searcher’s query and determine intent (and they are getting scary good at it!). So what exactly should you be doing?
- Do optimise your site using relevant keywords, just don’t count on that alone allowing you to rank for that term to the extend it used to.
- More is better. Instead of putting all your focus on a narrow pool of keywords you’re better off going for a broad range of terms, including middle and long tail variations.
- Use long tail terms to your advantage. These terms can tell you what searchers in your niche are asking. Write onsite content that addresses these common questions, in cases where this is especially well done, you might have a shot at ending up in a Google Answer Box.
- Pay attention to your internal linking structure, link those content pages back to your converting or money pages.
- Build relevant links back to the above content. Remember, a link is like a vote. If no one thinks your content is good enough to vote for Google’s not going to serve it up in search result over others who are doing it better.
- Do not use exact match anchor text unless it’s truly the most natural choice.
Finally, remember SEO isn’t an either/or game. You don’t want to focus on just optimizing for search engines, just as you don’t want to solely cater to the user. In the end the only way to come out on top is if everybody wins.