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Few marketing strategies have seen as much evolution and development as search engine optimization (SEO). It’s been around as long as search engines have been around, but the modern approach is radically different from what people were doing in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Back then, the SEO game was all about keywords. Pick the right keywords for your strategy, weave them into every nook and cranny of your website, and eventually you would probably rank decently on queries that match those keywords.
Today? Ranking the target keywords is not that simple or easy. So should target keywords completely disappear from your campaign?
Absolute basics of SEO
In case you aren’t familiar with SEO, here’s a basic rundown. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about increasing your website’s ranking in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for queries relevant to your business. With the right strategy, you’ll rank higher, ultimately getting more visibility and driving more traffic.
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You will need to do several things to achieve this, such as improving the technical structure of your site, writing a lot of on-site content, and gaining backlinks. But historically, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle was to choose “target keywords” for your strategy – specific queries that you think your audience will use to find businesses like yours. Keywords with high traffic and minimal competition were handy fruits. With a sufficiently targeted approach, you could dominate the rankings for this term and gain tons of traffic.
Keyword stuffing fight and semantic search apocalypse
Why hate keywords?
It’s not really hate. Just a renewed perspective. You see, in the 2000s, companies around the world were practicing a tactic known as “keyword stuffing”. They loaded keywords into every piece of content produced by their site, whether that made sense or not. Entire pages were devoted to spamming the same word or phrase over and over again – and sometimes people “hid” keywords in the background of a page.
Why? Because if you spammed a keyword enough, you could probably rank for it.
However, that quickly changed as Google rolled out a number of updates that worked to penalize keyword spammers and reward pages with high quality written content. Gradually, the keyword stuffers realized that their tactics were no longer effective, and they began to update their strategies accordingly.
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At that time, the dominant strategy was to optimize “keyword density”. It was a smart way to play with the system. The writers knew that if a keyword appeared too many times it would set off a red flag with Google, but if it didn’t appear at all it would be difficult to rank for. So they calculated that if the word appeared a certain number of times, perfectly proportional to the remaining content, it would optimize the content for that keyword without being flagged as spam.
The 2013 Hummingbird update made things even more complicated by introducing “semantic search” functionality into Google, which has been refined over the years. Essentially, Google started looking at not only words and text phrases, but also the context of all written content. He began to rate user queries based on intention and subjective meaning, rather than analyzing queries as exact words, and began to rate site content in a similar fashion.
Due to this change, it is hypothetically possible to rank for a keyword that never appears once on your site. If your site has a high domain authority and writes content related to a certain topic, even if you only use synonyms and descriptive text to cover that topic, you could easily be successful.
So does that mean you need to give up target keywords altogether?
The modern relevance of keywords
In today’s SEO, the functional role of keywords has not disappeared; instead, it evolved. Keywords were once a tool that you could incorporate into your content to get a certain result. Today they are more like a guiding force for your strategy.
It is important to do keyword research in order to better understand your competition, the intent of your users, and even the flow of searches and web traffic. Once you understand the keywords and phrases your users are looking for and where your competition ranks, you can choose your targets and build your strategy around them.
The big difference is that today it doesn’t really pay off to practice consistent keyword density optimization – and keyword stuffing is definitely banned. In fact, your target keywords should only appear a handful of times in the content you optimize for them. Instead, you should focus on producing the best quality content possible and writing that is both informative and natural. With better content and greater user appeal (combined with a link building and content delivery strategy), you should have no problem ranking for the target queries you want – and avoiding penalties. from Google simultaneously.