Dr. Sitelove or: How I Learned to Forget Keywords & Love Quality Content

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SEO has been declared dead many a time since its inception, but it’s actually more akin to undead at this point, stumbling around moaning for brains while everyone complains about how much better it used to be … oh wait, that’s The Walking Dead.

But, keyword-based SEO isn’t much better off than a TV show that should’ve been cancelled a long time ago. While it’s still an important part of online marketing, its role has been much diminished in recent years, as internet overlord Google has continued to hone its algorithms to reward high quality content over SEO based purely on keywords.

In fact, a study of 600,000 keyword phrases found that 18% of the web pages in position 20 or higher in search rankings didn’t actually contain the keyword on the page at all. Out of the 17 main factors Google looks at for figuring out a site’s ranking, according to that study, keywords don’t even show up until 12th on the list.

Instead, the factors that help a website rank highly include direct visits, time spent on the site, total backlinks and other factors that tell Google that people want to visit the site, spend time on it and reference it. In other words, people like this content, therefore it must have a lot of value.

Google also checks the content for signs of quality within the text on the page. In order to know what makes good quality content, it helps to know what the internet overlord considers to be poor quality content, which is:

Keyword stuffing, especially if those keywords are irrelevant

Creating content that is largely just copies of content that already exists

Typos, poor spelling, bad grammar

Overly long sentences and/or paragraphs

Content that has little to no formatting with huge chunks of text

Too many links that are not relevant to the content on the page

Lists of keywords on the page, especially if they’re hidden

Thin content, especially on pages where it should be more substantial, like a blog

Worse than getting a low rank from the overlord, you could even get scrubbed from the search results altogether. Here is the full list of things that will get you deindexed by Google.

What’s more important than keywords?

The short answer is, almost everything.  

Much like the aforementioned study, Google’s SEO starter guide doesn’t even mention how to properly use keywords until about halfway through. The only mentions of keywords prior to that are four separate places where the guide says not to overuse them or shoehorn them into your technical SEO elements.

The actual advice for keywords is also quite scant, simply advising that your keyword strategy be tailored to your audience. In other words, if your audience is highly informed about your subject, use specific keywords that they would know and if your audience is less informed about your subject, use more generic keywords that a person who is less familiar with your subject would be likely to use.

Right after that tidbit, the guide goes back to what’s truly important: quality.

To really drive the point into your brain, the guide spends far more time talking about the importance of good site navigation and making the quality of life better for your website visitors, meaning Google seems to care much more about the layout and helpfullness of your site than the keywords used on it.

All of this information points to an obvious conclusion: search engines are designed to “care” much more about giving their users the best possible information and not “care” about how you use your meticulously researched keywords.

With voice search increasing in popularity, search engines are getting even pickier about exact keyword matches. If someone says “best taco restaurant near me,” the search engine wants to be able to display a list of the “top rated Mexican restaurants” in an area rather than having their users struggle through a list of results that have the exact match for keywords, but ultimately aren’t that helpful.

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5 Ways to Ditch Your Keyword Research and Concentrate on What Matters: Quality

Now that you know what the internet overlord looks for and what it looks to avoid, here are five tips for you to follow to make sure your site includes the former and avoids the latter.

1. Write for humans, not machines.

Straight from the top of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines under “Basic Principles” is this piece of (what should be common sense) advice.  

Whatever product or service you offer isn’t going to be used by a computer algorithm. It’s going to be used by a human being, so write your content to be read by a living, breathing person. Ask yourself:

Does this content help my users?

Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?

You can still use your keyword research, but the point isn’t to put those words into the text, per se, it’s to answer your visitors’ search queries. So, use your research to find out what need your users have and then create content that fills that need.

You’re trying to satisfy visitors’ search intent. The better you can do that, the more visitors you’ll get, the more time they’ll spend on your site, the more other sites will link to yours, etc. Those are the things at the top of the rankings criteria.

If you need some help connecting your keywords to your visitors’ needs, try using Answer the Public or just searching for a given keyword yourself to see what questions are being asked pertaining to that keyword. Note the content that ranks highest, particularly the sites’ organization, their layout and how the content relates to the keyword.

2. Be Your Biggest Writing Critic

Read sites related to your industry that get a lot of traffic and learn from them. See what topics they cover and how they cover them and try to emulate (not copy) what they do.

Good writing 101:

Use strong action verbs when you can and keep your sentence structure clear.

Follow an outline for your content that tells people what they can expect from it and then delve deeper into each point.

Use a conversational tone, but don’t get too unprofessional.

Utilize editing. Whether you do it yourself or you have someone else do it, go back and look at your content after a certain amount of time to see where you can improve it. Can people follow it logically? Are the sentences too long? Is everything as clear and compelling as it can be?

3. Read

Not just anything, read good quality content so you can learn from it and try to emulate it in terms of clarity and structure. Just like you learn how to play music by listening to people who have mastered the art form, you learn good writing by reading good quality writing.

4. Pay Attention to the Signals Your Audience is Giving You

Your analytics will tell you which of your pages get the most views, which ones get the best responses, which ones get the most comments and which ones people spend the most time on. Use this information to give people more of what they want and see where you need to improve your content.

5. Don’t Forget the Basics

If you’re struggling to think of topics to write about, don’t be afraid to tackle some of the basics that may have been covered thousands of times already. If you’re an internet marketing company, you might make your own beginner’s guide to SEO, even though it’s a subject that’s been done to death. It still helps your audience learn and your take on it might be better than what’s out there already.

If nothing else, these articles teach you the basics of good writing for your audience, (your human audience, that is).

It’s clear that you need to stop obsessing over keywords and concentrate on the quality of your content to please both your audience and the internet overlord.

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