SEO is historically associated with keywords, and getting them right is at the heart of promoting your website. But how do you know what your company’s keywords are, and how are you supposed to use them? In the past, keyword stuffing was the most important SEO strategy – as long as you got those identifying words into the document (over and over and over again), your page would get a high ranking.
With our complex ranking algorithms in play today, though, that won’t work – and will even get your page bumped down the list. In this ecosystem, you need to do more to get ahead.
You’ve built a business, so you surely have some sense of what your business’s keywords are. You may have even begun creating content based around those keywords. The problem is that it’s not enough just to create that content, but rather you need to be sure that your use of that keyword is sufficiently competitive. There are, of course, countless companies that you share keywords with, and you need to outperform them.
The good news about keyword performance and rankings is that there are plenty of tools to help you track your site’s performance against that of competitor brands. These tools will allow you to determine where your site ranks when you search different terms and on which terms your site performs best.
Finally, when checking your basic keyword performance, be sure to look at closer variants of the words. Issues like keyword order, relationship of keywords to certain prepositions, and use of synonyms, plurals, and tenses can all be leveraged to improve your site’s performance.
Another way to ensure that you’re using your keywords to the greatest possible effect is by hiring an SEO specialist to do keyword research. Rather than just focusing on how well your existing keywords perform, SEO firms work with your target audience to determine the best keywords to reach them.
As an industry insider, you may have an idea of what your keywords should be, but those words may be too niche or too technical for your marketing needs. The language that you use in-house or even with established customers may be different from what individuals seeking your services search for online. Websites need to strike a delicate balance between consistency in keyword use and the necessary linguistic variation that will allow you to grow your audience.
In addition to working with an SEO specialist, you can also use a keyword research tool to make sure you’re prioritizing the right keywords. These tools are a great way to discover related keywords that it’s easier to rank highly for – you just start with your seed keyword. These tools can also help you reverse engineer keywords used by your competitors. Identifying keywords in this way is also more cost-effective than just focusing on the ones you selected yourself.
One of the biggest changes in SEO strategy over the last few years is that, rather than emphasizing the volume of content produced, there has been a shift towards value. This approach, though, actually lends itself well to the post-keyword stuffing era. Instead of writing pages and pages of content, it’s more important that you develop strategic, meaningful posts that provide your readers with added value.
So what does this value-based approach to SEO look like? There are several key considerations, but one of the most valuable things you can do is to start by creating cornerstone content for your site. In practice, cornerstone content includes regularly updated – and therefore, regularly indexed – posts that help to generate automatic SEO. Other websites are likely to cite this kind of content on their pages. Cornerstone content is also sometimes referred to as a pillar page, and these pages often hinge on particular keywords.
Cornerstone or pillar content is so important to SEO that there’s actually a Google-recognized structure for building pillar content and its associated clusters. While pillar content is regularly updated to keep it relevant, cluster content is typically made up of subposts that are one-time pieces. There’s no need to update these regularly, but what the cluster posts do is support the ranking of the pillar page, which links out to the cluster posts.
Innovating On Your Keywords
With pillar and cluster posts, innovations on keyword tenses and synonyms, it may seem like there’s not much more you can do with your business’s keywords, but you’re not done yet. Another way to elevate your SEO is by finding different contexts in which to use these terms. For example, Google takes into account whether you use keywords in your URL and meta descriptions when it ranks website pages. In fact, putting keywords into your URL is one of the best ways to get your site noticed and ranked highly by search engines.
In addition to putting keywords into your URL and meta descriptions, your blog should prioritize many different types of content that use your keywords in different ways. Besides traditional blog posts, consider developing case studies, posts that share behind the scenes information about your business, and client profiles.
One major benefit to creating different types of content is that, by varying the types of posts, you’ll be placing your keywords in different contexts, and when search engines rank websites, one factor they consider is the surrounding language. This is also part of how they assess whether your content is of a high quality – certain patterns indicate that you’re properly applying the terms and not just generating spam to displace legitimate sites.
Don’t Go Overboard
As mentioned in the introduction, keyword stuffing used to be a major part of SEO, but now it can get your site downgraded, so you need to be judicious in your use of individual keywords.
Luckily, there are several tools you can use to make sure you’re striking a careful balance. Run your content through a keyword density checker. These websites not only allow you to determine how often you’re using your keywords relative to the overall content, but can also determine your keywords’ overall relevance. This process is known as term frequency-inverse document frequency and is used by search engines to rank your site, so you might as well investigate it yourself first.
Voice – The Next Frontier
If you’ve asked a friend a question and then posed that same query to a search engine, you know that we speak differently than we engage via text-based search, and this difference is newly relevant because of the rise of voice search. As more people adopt personal assistant technology, more search happens via voice, meaning that websites need to be optimized for this new format. And your website needs to adapt its content to be voice friendly.
So how do you change SEO to be responsive to voice? Voice search relies on natural language processing (NLP), so you need to think about the ways that users might speak about your website’s topic, rather than just how we write about it. That means you need to strike up a conversation. Working with focus groups can help you determine how clients may shift their search approach when speaking. Just because you’ve mastered keywords for written search, doesn’t mean you understand the nuances of voice search. Honing your voice search capabilities now, though, can put you ahead of the competition.
SEO is a complex process and to succeed, you need to strategically deploy countless different elements across your website – but keywords are the foundation that it’s all built upon. By selecting the right keywords, testing them regularly, and consistently monitoring your core competitors, you can take your place at the top of the rankings.
Just remember that you can’t rest on your rankings for long because SEO standards are always changing and your competitors are fighting for the top spot as well. Some days, SEO strategy can seem like simple jockeying for position, but it can make or break your business. You have to stay on top.