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Do Keywords Still Matter?

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In the past, ranking well in search engines depended heavily on optimizing your posts for the right keywords. But, as people unraveled Google's algorithms, webmasters using black-hat tactics keyword-stuffed and spammed their way higher in results. This made it more difficult for webmasters with quality content to index well. As search engines get smarter, they give more accurate results, so individual keywords now matter far less than they did in the past. What matters now if you want your content to be seen?

Semantic search: What it is and why it matters.

Despite the changes in how search works, I still hear from a lot of customers who are worried about specific keywords. But, matching exact keywords is way less important than it used to be. Google says that 70 percent of search results are based on synonyms to the keywords entered into search. So, don't get hung up on whether "racing bicycles" or "racing bikes" will gain you better rank. They're both good.

Semantic search is less about the individual words in a query and more about what the surfer wants. In the past, if I did a search for "boat sales Florida," it would bring up a mess of boats for sale, articles about boats, and ads for boat shows. Semantic search understands that the searcher wants to look at boats for sale, so pages that are geared toward selling boats in Florida will come back higher in the results.

The most important part is searcher intent.

I always tell customers that instead of thinking in terms of how to do well in the search engine results, they should focus on what information will best satisfy their surfers' queries. What can you say that will help them most? Focus on creating this content and producing enough of it to become an authority.

I find this is the winning approach to SEO over time. Google has always said that what they want from webmasters is high quality content. By striving to give just that, we can make content that will index better than any piece written to exploit the latest search engine algorithms. You won't have to worry about falling out of favor as tricks are caught and algorithms adjusted.

Plus, your web content also serves as your first advances toward your prospects. Give them the content they want to build trust.

Keywords are not entirely irrelevant.

This doesn't mean that keywords are completely useless. Google still needs to use the text on your page to learn what an individual page is about and what your business offers. Instead of worrying about how many times the relevant words appear, focus on where they are placed. Google looks at key areas, which include your title and headers. Including your most relevant keywords there is more important than reaching a specific density in your body copy.

Long tail keywords are making a comeback.

If you've been in digital marketing for a few years, you probably remember the sudden excitement for long tail keywords five or six ago. They're back in the spotlight, but it's different than it was before. In the past, we'd get excited about long tail keywords because the low competition made it easier to rank well. Now, they're exciting because of what they tell us about what a surfer wants. We're focusing on the keyword phrases that are most relevant to our subjects. Long tail keywords tell you not just what people are searching but what they are hoping to find. By meeting surfer expectations, you can rank better and get more visitors to your pages. And, the words don't need to be all together, as Google is smart enough to put together words that are farther apart on the page. For instance, if you are trying to rank for "Thai take-out Baltimore," you can have "Thai," "take-out" and "Baltimore" in separate areas and still do well, which can lead to content that works much better on the page.

The most important thing to remember is last year's neat trick is this year's no-go. I'll go for best practices over clever exploits every time. What it takes to rank well in the search engine results is going to continue to evolve as devices, surfer expectations, and search engines change. By continuing to study what your prospects and the search engines want, you can continue to get the visibility you need to thrive.

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