Posted on 13th January 2016 by Sonia Mazzotta in SEO

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.

Keyword topics

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?

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.


This article by was posted on 13th January 2016

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